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Translation Workshop "Ryukyu Shintoki"

Translation workshop

Ryûkyû Shintôki 琉球神道記

(Records of Ryûkyû Shintô)

by Taichû Shônin 袋中上人 (1552-1639)

Date: June 19-21, 2014, 14.00-18.00; 10.00-18.00

Venue: Seminar Room 212a, Karl Jaspers Centre, Voßstraße 2, Bldg. 4400, Heidelberg

Organized by project MC 3.1 "Economies of the Sacred"

Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe"


Workshop Description

Ryûkyû Shintôki 琉球神道記 (c. 1603-1606) is probably the oldest surviving text that provides historical descriptions of the religious landscape and life on the Ryûkyû Islands (Ch. Liuqiu, Okin. Ruuchuu), before the Satsuma feudal domain (Satsuma-han 薩摩藩) established its suzerainty over the Ryûkyû Kingdom in 1609. Throughout their history, the Ryûkyû islands, stretching southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan, were a site of multiple polities and peoples, with a unique position at the crossroads of maritime, diplomatic, religious, and trade routes connecting the coastlines of Japan, southern China, Korea, Taiwan, and later (often despite the maritime bans and trade restrictions), reaching out to further global destinations via Siam, the Philippines, and the Dutch Formosa. 

Recorded by the Buddhist Pure Land priest Taichû Shônin 袋中上人 (1552-1639) at the request of the court officials, Ryûkyû Shintôki, on the one hand reflects the founding legends, traditional beliefs, ritual practices, and mythology of the pre-1600s Ryûkyû archipelago. On the other hand, this five-volume collection charts what can be seen as historical attempts to ‘replicate’ on Ryûkyû’s soil a certain religious landscape, one that was constructed and developed by the Buddhist-Shinto milieu (Jp. shinbutsu shûgô 神仏習合; lit. ‘merging kami and buddhas’) of medieval Japan. The Buddhist cults well known throughout East and Southeast Asia, the icons and teachings of esoteric Buddhism (Jp. Mikkyô 密教), as well as the combinatory worship of local serpent deities, and Japan’s medieval Ryôbu Shintô 両部神道 played significant roles in the construction of the multifaceted and hybrid religious culture of pre-modern Ryûkyû.

This workshop’s aim is to produce an annotated translation of Ryûkyû Shintôki, while focusing on the processes of transfer, adoption, adaptation and/or rejection of religious concepts, icons, rituals and practices. Rather than outlining certain “influences” and tracing their origins, the translators’ gaze will be fixed on Ryûkyû as a site of transcultural exchanges and tensions, on the local conditions and landscapes and the religious imagination invoked to transform them.

Taichû Shônin 袋中上人 (1552-1639)

Born in 1552 at Iwaki in Mutsu region of northern Japan (modern Iwaki town, Fukushima Prefecture, the Tôhoku region), Taichû Shônin (holy man Taichû) took his Buddhist vows at the age of fourteen. Although he studied a variety of Buddhist teachings, Taichû was most profoundly linked with the Pure Land branch of Japanese Buddhism.
In 1602, at the age of 51, he decided to travel to Ming China. However, his plans resulted instead in a three-year stay in the kingdom of Ryûkyû (1603-1606). In 1611, Taichû went to Kyoto and constructed a hut on the spot of an earlier medieval temple, which previously housed a Buddhist community practicing nenbutsu 念仏, chanting the name of Buddha Amitabha. During the following years, Taichû edited the Ryûkyû Shintôki, before relocating to other temple sites in the eastern part of Kyoto. The first edition of Taichû’s treatise was published by his disciple only after his death, in 1648.

(Source: Internet)


Dr Anna Andreeva (Cluster “Asia and Europe”, University of Heidelberg)

Anna Andreeva (Ph.D., Cantab., 2006) is a research fellow and lecturer at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at the University of Heidelberg, where she teaches courses on the cultural and religious history of pre-modern Japan. She spent several years of postdoctoral studies at Harvard (2006-2007) and Cambridge (2007-2010), before joining the Cluster to work on a project “Medicine and Religion in Pre-Modern East Asia” in 2010. During 2012-2013, she was a visiting researcher at International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, before coming back to Heidelberg where she currently directs a project on the economies of the sacred. Her book, “Assembling Shinto: Buddhist Approaches to Kami Worship in Medieval Japan” has recently been accepted for publication by Harvard Asia Center. She currently works on the history of childbirth and women’s health in pre-modern Japan.

Dr Chiara Ghidini (University of Naples)

Chiara Ghidini studied Japanese and Tibetan cultures and languages at L'Orientale University in Naples, and Chinese and Japanese Classical Poetry at the Italian School of East Asian Studies in Kyoto under the supervision of late Prof Antonino Forte. She received her Master's Degree in Japanese Classical Poetry at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and her PhD in Japanese Cultural History at Cambridge. Currently, she is Lecturer in Japanese Studies and East Asian Religions at L'Orientale University in Naples. Her PhD research focused on Orikuchi Shinobu and his Book of the Dead, a topic that got her interested in the (re-)construction of antiquity within modern Japan, as well as in ethnographic writing and Japan's colonial cultural policies. She has done fieldwork in the Ryukyus, Taiwan and Palau, in the attempt to investigate local cultural/religious practices which have been informed, promoted, altered or altogether obliterated by Japan's policies of assimilation and control in the post-Meiji era. She has written two monographs, one on Orikuchi and his Book of the Dead and one on the cultural history of the term "aware", and several articles on Japan's cultural history in Italian, English and Japanese.

The workshop organizers wish to thank Dr. Tineke D’Haeseleer (Leiden/Princeton) and Ms. Kay J. Duffy (Princeton) for assisting with rare references, and Mr. Filippo Benedetti for providing the photo taken during the fieldwork in Okinawa conducted by Dr Chiara Ghidini in September 2012.

(1) The Unjami Ritual, Dana Village, Iheya Island, Okinawa. September 3, 2012. Fieldwork by Chiara Ghidini (University of Napoli), photo by Filippo Benedetti