The Exorcist: Yuten and Genroku Politics

Dr. Beatrice Bodart-Bailey

Lecture 2004-09-27

Her special field of interest has been political developments in 16th and 17th-century Japan. Among her major publications are Kenperu to Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, transl. Naka Naoichi (Tokyo, Chuo Koronsha, 1994), The Furthest Goal: Engelbert Kaempfer's Encounter with Tokugawa Japan, coedited with Derek Massarella (U.K., Japan Library, 1995), and Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed (University of Hawai'i Press, 1999). Those members of the ASJ whose memories go back far enough will recall that she addressed us in November 1989, on "Unpublished Illustrations of 17-century Japan: The Drawings and Collection of Engelbert Kaempfer", a memorable presentation which was enlivened with the use of slides.

The Jodo sect monk Yuten Shonin (1637-1718) succeeded where others failed in freeing women from demonic possession by his gift of hearing the voices of vengeful spirits. His first spectacular success occurred in Kanbun 12 (1672) while attached as gakuso, or acolyte studying the scriptures, to a temple in Shimo-osa (present-day Chiba), the Iinuma Gukyōji. Yuten subsequently moved to the Zojo temple at Edo, but then, aged nearly fifty, he crossed his name off the temple register and spent the next thirteen years as a wandering monk. Yet even though he shunned religious status and affiliation, his impact on society was significant, and, as he attended the afflicted, the stories of his exorcisms began to circulate even in print.

Yuten came to be patronized by Keisho-in, the mother of the fifth Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi, who is said to have called on him in his hermit's hut on the outskirts of Edo. In Genroku 12 (1699) he was in unprecedented fashion summoned to Edo castle and promoted from being a lowly wandering monk to the position of head priest of one of the Jodo sect's eighteen major temples in the Kanto area. In samurai terms, his status had become equal to that of a daimyo with a fief of 100,000 koku. The following year he was further promoted by an appointment as head priest to the Iinuma Gukyoji temple in Shimo-osa, the very temple where he had performed his first famous act of exorcism. Finally in Hoei 1 (1704), he was placed in charge of Koishikawa Denzuin in Edo, a temple next in standing only to the Zojo ancestral temple at Shiba.

Unlike other priests who had risen under the fifth shogun and his mother, Yuten was not retired on the death of the fifth shogun. To the contrary: under the sixth shogun Ienobu, Yuten was promoted to one of the highest posts in the religious hierarchy, namely to the headship of Zojoji at Shiba. Even when at the age of seventy-six Yuten asked to retire, he was refused on the grounds that his brain was still in perfect working order. When he finally did retire, the sixth shogun established a temple for him in Meguro that still bears his name today.

This presentation looks at the significance of Yuten's work within the framework of late seventeenth-century customs and politics.