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Engi Shiki

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Commentary by Dr. Delmer Brown, Professor Emeritus of History, University of California Berkeley

The Engi Shiki (Regulations and Laws of the Engi Era) is a 50-volume work compiled between in 907 and 927. The first 10 volumes are Imperial Shinto regulations (jingi) and the last 40 are codifications of criminal (ritsu) and administrative (ryô) law. Contemporary chronicles have linked post-645 Great Reforms to the institution of Chinese-style criminal and administrative law, causing historians to refer to these years as the ritsuryo period. But subsequent studies indicate that many other areas of life were fundamentally transformed by the drastic steps taken by the Imperial court to bolster Imperial control in the face of a possible invasion of Japan by the great T'ang empire of China. Chinese forms of Buddhism were introduced and supported by the Imperial Court in order to sanctify Imperial control, and belief in one particular Kami (Amaterasu, the divine ancestress of the Imperial line) was used to develop a powerful religious system referred to as Imperial Shinto.

The centrality of Imperial Shinto to the Great Reforms, and to the Imperial rule of Japan since then, is disclosed by the authority and activity of the Council of Imperial Shinto Affairs (Jingikan). Positioned directly under the Emperor and along side the Great Council of State (Daijôkan), its high-ranking officials administered a network of shrines headed by the Ise Grand Shrine where the spirit of Amaterasu was, and still is, enshrined. In addition to handling the personnel affairs of a huge and growing priesthood capped by the current occupant of the throne, this Council of Imperial Shinto Affairs regulated thousands of rituals performed at fixed times of the year, especially the Great Enthronement Ceremony (daijôsai) held at the beginning of a new reign. This Imperial Shrine system, supported by numerous private estates (shôen), has lasted with ups and downs until the present day.

Because Imperial Shinto was felt to be vitally important for strengthening and maintaining Imperial control, official compilers of the Engi Shiki placed the ten volumes of Imperial-Shinto regulations ahead of the 40 volumes on criminal and administrative law. Now an English translation of the first ten volumes, made by Dr. Felicia Bock and published by the Sophia University Press, has been electronically cross-tagged, paragraph by paragraph, with an old edition of the Japanese original: Engi Shiki, printed by Hayashi Izuminojo and published by Shohakudo in Meireki 3 (1657), a copy of which is in the Mitsui Collection of Berkeley's East Asian Library.