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In Session: Reenvisioning the Land of the Gods: Reinterpretations of Japan's History and Religion after the Mongol Invasions
2: Like a Fierce God: Reenvisioning the Enemy in the Legend of Empress Jingū
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Emily B. Simpson
Dartmouth College, United States
The legend of Empress Jingū’s conquest of the Korean peninsula, originally appearing in the eighth century chronicles Kojiki and Nihonshoki, is well-known for its many divine elements, including possession scenes, omens fulfilled and a multiplicity of gods. These elements provided the origin stories for many shrines in Western Japan and connections with major cults, notably Hachiman’s. However, the legend’s focus on the successful conquest of a foreign enemy has also been key to its longevity, and subsequent conflicts with the continent brought Jingū to mind. In particular, the Mongol Invasions of the late thirteenth century inspired a renaissance of the Jingū legend in the fourteenth, with the addition of several new motifs.
One such motif is Jinrin, a demon with multiple heads and immense power from the continent who threatened Japan before being slain by Jingū’s husband Emperor Chūai. In this paper, I suggest that the addition of Jinrin plays an important role in reenvisioning Jingū’s conquest as a war against evil. Though Jinrin may have an antecedent in earlier Jingū narratives, Jinrin emerges in the medieval Hachiman tradition in several origin narratives and picture scrolls. Jinrin’s invention provides a visual representation of the threat of the Korean kingdoms and an opportunity for Chūai’s heroism and honorable death, creating a clear juxtaposition between depraved Korea and ethical Japan. Thus, Jinrin provides a vibrant example of how the belief in Japan as the “land of the gods” (shinkoku) galvanized a reinterpretation of historical and religious narratives of early Japan.