Shinra Myōjin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian “Mediterranean”

Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824877996
Published: November 2019
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824888442
Published: October 2020

Additional Information

194 pages | 10 b&w illustrations, 2 maps
  • About the Book
  • This ambitious work offers a transnational account of the deity Shinra Myōjin, the “god of Silla” worshipped in medieval Japanese Buddhism from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. Sujung Kim challenges the long-held understanding of Shinra Myōjin as a protective deity of the Tendai Jimon school, showing how its worship emerged and developed in the complex networks of the East Asian “Mediterranean”—a “quality” rather than a physical space defined by Kim as the primary conduit for cross-cultural influence in a region that includes the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the East China Sea, and neighboring coastal areas. While focusing on the transcultural worship of the deity, Kim engages the different maritime arrangements in which Shinra Myōjin circulated: first, the network of Korean immigrants, Chinese merchants, and Japanese Buddhist monks in China’s Shandong peninsula and Japan’s Ōmi Province; and second, that of gods found in the East Asian Mediterranean. Both of these networks became nodal points of exchange of both goods and gods. Kim’s examination of temple chronicles, literary writings, and iconography reveals Shinra Myōjin’s evolution from a seafaring god to a multifaceted one whose roles included the god of pestilence and of poetry, the insurer of painless childbirth, and the protector of performing arts.

    Shinra Myōjin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian “Mediterranean” is not only the first monograph in any language on the Tendai Jimon school in Japanese Buddhism, but also the first book-length study in English to examine Korean connections in medieval Japanese religion. Unlike other recent studies on individual Buddhist deities, it foregrounds the need to approach them within a broader East Asian context. By shifting the paradigm from a land-centered vision to a sea-centered one, the work underlines the importance of a transcultural and interdisciplinary approach to the study of Buddhist deities.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Sujung Kim, Author

      Sujung Kim is assistant professor of religious studies at DePauw University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • In a work that is ground-breaking in many ways, Sujung Kim investigates the identity and role of the deity Shinra Myōjin in the Jimon tradition of Japanese Tendai. Primary source material on the subject is sparse: Kim acknowledges this problem and analyzes her subject in a multidisciplinary fashion, utilizing several theoretical perspectives coherently and convincingly. Although some scholars may question aspects of her analysis, challenges are to be expected in a book that is this innovative and thought-provoking.
      —Paul Groner, professor emeritus, University of Virginia
    • Sujung Kim has written an outstanding study of a transregional deity that is conceptualized within a framework of maritime connectivity between Korea and Japan. Her analysis of textual and art historical sources is superb. She not only offers insight into the circulation and transformation of Buddhist ideas, but also proposes new ways of examining translocal diffusion of religious ideas. This book is a major contribution to the field of maritime interactions in the East China Sea and more broadly to the study of intra-Asian connections. It adds to the understanding of the transmission of Buddhism across Asia, interactions between Korea and Japan during the medieval period, as well as to the complexities of cross-cultural intercourse and influences.
      —Tansen Sen, New York University Shanghai
    • This is a refreshing and insightful look at medieval Japan’s social and religious milieu. The syncretistic amalgamation of various religious figures—buddhas, bodhisattvas, kami, devas, and others—is often seen as a particularly Japanese phenomenon. And yet without denying its distinctive Japanese flavor, the author shows that this brew is an international and multicultural mix, including deities from India, China, and Korea that are transformed in a new context. The image of an “East Asian Mediterranean” is especially useful in understanding medieval Japanese religion and culture from a broader geographical and social perspective.
      —Paul L. Swanson, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture
    • In her provocative study, Sujung Kim seeks to recover a medieval Japanese mythic imagination surrounding Korea by examining the curious figure of Shinra Myōjin, a deity whose name points squarely to the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla. Adopting as her framework the East Asian “Mediterranean” . . . she challenges our habitually landlocked view of Japan as an isolated entity and forces us to grapple with the ways that maritime interactions with and images of the continent shaped premodern Japanese Buddhism. . . . Kim should be commended for effectively utilizing a limited evidence base to craft an innovative study that opens new avenues of inquiry.
      —Andrew Macomber, Oberlin College, Monumenta Nipponica, 75:2 (2020)
  • Supporting Resources