- Hirata, Atsutane
- (1776-1843)A proponent of fukko shinto (restoration Shinto) and perhaps the greatest single influence on Shinto in the modern period, Hirata was born into the Owada samurai family in Akita in the far north-west of Japan. He initially studied Confucianism but ran away to Edo at the age of 23, was adopted into a samurai family called Hirata and later claimed that in 1801 he had become a disciple of the eminent kokugaku scholar Motoori, Norinaga, though this was the year of Motoori's death and the two may never have met. He set himself up as a teacher with the literary name Masuganoya and wrote anti-Confucian tracts including in 1806, though it did not become known until many years later, the Honkyo gaihen, an innovative work of Shinto theology influenced by the Christianity of Matteo Ricci and others as known from Ming China. In later works which included his own commentary on and rewriting of the Kojiki he developed a unique interpretation of Shinto beliefs, assigning the role of supreme deity of the Shinto pantheon (above Amaterasu) to the deity Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami, the first of three heavenly deities named in the Kojiki. He argued that Japan was the country nearest to the Pole Star where the creator deity lived, and the Japanese were therefore the purest human beings and should follow the promptings of their heart, needing no moral creed. However, foreign influences had polluted Japan. He rejected the orthodox kokugaku concept of a shadowy afterworld of yomi and instead posited an underworld presided over by Okuni-nushi-no-kami, judge of the dead, an idea supported by reference to Chinese and Indian concepts of the afterlife which, Hirata claimed, had actually originated in Japan. His reverence for the emperor and his ethnocentricity proved inspirational to nationalists at the end of the Tokugawa period who sought to restore the emperor and repel foreigners and who, after the Meiji restoration, were among the architects of what came eventually to be known as state Shinto (kokka shinto). Hirata's ideas were particularly attractive to shrine priests in the pre-Meiji decades who saw in his teachings a possible means of raising their status and overcoming the dominance of Buddhism. Although Hirata acquired more than 500 followers in his lifetime, a number which more than doubled after his death, his views were regarded as dangerously unorthodox by the shogunate who in 1841 banned his writings and ordered him to return to Akita where he died two years later. From the point of view of modern Shinto theology Hirata is seen as the scholar-activist who put Motoori's ideas into practice and contributed most to the modern 'revival' of Shinto. In the first years of the Meiji government Shinto administrators were disastrously split between 'Hirata' and 'Okuni' factions, the Hirata faction claiming that Shinto priests should be exclusively concerned with (high-status) state rites rather than getting involved in preaching doctrines to the common people.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.