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In Session: Reenvisioning the Land of the Gods: Reinterpretations of Japan's History and Religion after the Mongol Invasions
1: In the Aftermath of the Divine Winds: The Ritual Defense against the Mongols and the Medieval Reimagining of Japan
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Jacqueline I. Stone
Princeton University, United States
Modern scholarly accounts of the attempted Mongol invasion of Japan have focused on the military defense. However, massive efforts were also poured into ritual countermeasures, chiefly coordinated by the court. Sūtras were copied and recited, buddha images commissioned, and enemy-subduing rites performed. While the actual fighting was brief and localized, protective rites were conducted throughout the archipelago and spanned several decades, giving the ritual defense a superior visibility. The claim that Japan had been saved by the intervention of its local deities or kami took shape, not among warriors, but within the elite world of the courtiers, clerics, and shrine priests involved in these protective prayers. This paper examines the origins of the tradition that “divine winds” had repelled the Mongol fleets and how it transformed images of the kami and of Japan’s place in the Buddhist cosmos. One source for that tradition was reports from temples and shrines, claiming rewards for the success of their prayers, that represented local deities as actual combatants, armed with divine weapons, who had gone forth from their sanctuaries to engage the enemy. The ritual defense also stimulated the production and dissemination of secret transmissions, previously confined to Buddhist monastic lineages, that deployed esoteric hermeneutics to refigure Japan’s cosmological status from a “marginal land in the last age” (masse hendo) to a unique, superior realm. With the Mongol defeat, the seeming evidence of the kami’s numinous protection propelled such ideas into the public sphere, catalyzing a broad reimagination of Japan as timeless and sacred.