Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have martyrs occupied an important position in Shinto tradition?

Shinto tradition reveres many religious heroes who died defending their emperor and homeland. They are martyrs in the broadest sense of the term. They died not for a religious creed narrowly defined, but out of allegiance to the larger complex of beliefs that has been integral to Japanese history and culture. People like the cultural icon Sugawara Michizane (845-903), who is said to have perished as a result of his convictions, take their place alongside the royal heroes, the princes who died in defense of the imperial house. Shrines designated as “nation-protecting” shrines are dedicated to the memory of war dead. They enshrine as kami the souls of all who gave their lives out of conviction. Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo is a fine example of such a martyr memorial.


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