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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.
Kim Sujung :
Sujung Kim is assistant professor of religious studies at DePauw University.Sujung Kim is assistant professor of religious studies at DePauw University.
Emily B. Simpson, Dartmouth College:Indeed, Kim shows us how consideration of a particular deity can revolutionize the history of a particular sect, as the Tendai Jimon have been vastly understudied when compared to the Tendai Sanmon. Her monograph also demonstrates how multidisciplinary approaches can provide useful tools for considering topics in which source material is sparse . . . [T]he text is invaluable to scholars of Japanese religions in adding complexity and richness to the medieval religious landscape, acknowledging and exploring the networks of the East Asian Mediterranean, and contributing to our growing knowledge of the role of deities in Japanese religious history.
Robert F. Rhodes, Otani University, Kyoto:As this study shows, Shinra Myōjin is an extremely complex and enigmatic figure. By placing this deity in the context of the various, often overlapping, economic, political and cultural networks, Kim has succeeded in providing us with both a rich and nuanced view of the various roles played by Shinra Myōjin and new insights into the ways in which the religious imagination functioned in medieval Japan. It is without doubt an exciting new addition to the scholarly literature on Japanese religions.
Lehel Balogh, Hokkaido University:Kim’s approach to presenting the development of the character of Shinra Myōjin in Japanese religious lore is equally innovative and fascinating. She challenges the customary notion concerning this widely worshipped divinity that he was a Korean deity who simply decided to move over to Japan in order to protect a Japanese Buddhist tradition. Instead, Kim takes pains to reveal “the sociocultural and mythological networks within which this deity was embedded.” Furthermore, she maintains that this network ought to be conceived as being beyond the national and cultural boundaries of Korea and Japan.
Paul Groner, professor emeritus, University of Virginia: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 L. Swanson, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture: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.
Tansen Sen, New York University Shanghai: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.
Charlotte Eubanks, Pennsylvania State University:Kim’s maritime approach takes a bold stand in its refusal to read modern, national boundaries, and the geopolitical borders and institutional parameters of Asian Studies, onto the complexities of a rich sociocultural network that spanned seas, transcended languages, and spread across vast distances. . . . [Her] work takes a transcultural and interdisciplinary approach that should be of interest to any scholar, regardless of discipline, who is committed to rethinking East Asia in regional and maritime (rather than misleading and anachronistic national) terms. . . . Kim’s ambit [is] to “overcome the more commonplace Japan-centric view of medieval Japanese religion.” In this, she has succeeded remarkably, and in record time, with an efficient and brisk writing style.
Andrew Macomber, Oberlin College: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.
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