Goryo shinko (御霊信仰)

Goryo shinko is a Japanese belief that threatening natural disasters and epidemics are caused by "onryo" (restless spirits of people who died with a grudge or met an unnatural death) and that awing, reposing, and respecting these souls as "goryo" ("honorable spirits") will help to avoid their curses and bring peace and prosperity to society.

What is a spirit?
It is common for people around the world to believe that once a man dies, his soul leaves his body. Even in Japan, we've had a similar belief since primitive times, as shown in the crouched burial position of the Jomon period. So, it is safe to conclude that the people then believed that departed spirits or souls could bring various misfortunes to the living. In ancient times there was a rise in the belief that departed souls of those deposed politically or defeated in war would bring calamity upon their opponents or enemies, giving birth to goryo shinko during the Heian period.

Before looking into goryo shinko itself, we should know more about what people from ancient times, the middle ages, and the present thought about the spirit. Generally speaking, they commonly believed in spirit as Emperor Kammu, Fujiwara no Michinaga, and Takauji ASHIKAGA feared apparition. In the Nara period, divination, which dealt with the spirits of people who were alive, became popular not only among the imperial family and court nobles but also among common people. So, a belief in onryo (restless souls) or goryo (honorable spirits), which we are going to discuss, should not be regarded as unique.

From Onryo to Goryo
Experiencing rampant political battles and wars throughout the ancient period, people must have developed a firm belief in onryo. Onryo are the departed spirits of people who died with a grudge or died unnaturally like those deposed or defeated in wars. Onryo will bring misfortune not only to political opponents and enemies, but also to society in general (often in the form of an epidemic). A chronological list of people who were believed to have become onryo includes Fujiwara no Hirotsugu, Princess Inoe, Prince Osabe, and Prince Sawara. The Heian period saw the rise of a belief that reposing these souls by restoring them to their former ranks or giving them posthumous names or court ranks, and deifying them as gods would encourage them to bring peace and stability to people in return as "goryo", chingo no kami (guardian gods). This is goryo shinko. To repose departed souls, rituals called "Goryoe" were held in the imperial court. According to Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku (the sixth of the six classical Japanese history texts), the first identifiable Goryoe ritual was held at Shinsen-en Temple on May 20, 863.

Typical gods deified in goryo shinko are enshrined in Kami shimo goryojinja Shrine in Kyoto. They are Hassho-goryo (eight departed spirits) enshrined in Kami goryojinja Shrine: Emperor Sudu (Price Sawara and imperial price of Emperor Konin), Empress Inoe (Imperial Princess Inoue and the empress of Emperor Konin), Prince Tato (the imperial prince of Emperor Konin), Fujiwara no Maetsukimi (Hirotsugu Fujiwara), Tachibana no Maetsukimi (Tachibana no Hayanari), Fumi no Maetsukimi (Funya no Miyatamaro), Honoikazuchi no kami (Sugawara no Michizane), and Kibi Daijin (Kibi no Makibi). Beside the above, the following are also included: Imperial Prince Iyo, Fujiwara no Yoshiko (Mrs. FUJIWARA and the mother of Imperial Prince Iyo), the retired Emperor Sutoku, Fujiwara no Yorinaga (Uji no Akusafu), Emperor Antoku, the retired Emperor Gotoba, the retired Emperor Juntoku, and the retired Emperor Tsuchimikado.

Although goryo shinko prevailed since the Heian period, there is no consensus on how far back we could go to identify when it in fact started. Proof of an onryo found in a credible historic record is the example of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu written in Gembo's Sotsuden of Shoku Nihongi (the second of the six classical Japanese history texts), but scholars are divided over whether there had been onryo earlier than that. Takeshi UMEHARA's theory that Prince Shotoku was an onryo, as discussed in his book, "Kakusareta Jujika" ("Hidden Crucifix"), is not backed by much credible evidence. However, Naohiko YAEGASHI's theory, that seeks evidence by backing Umehara's theory on the demise of the Soga clan's head family (Soga no Emishi and Soga no Iruka), and Kazuomi TADA's view, that points to evidence in the death of Prince Otsu, are logically valid although both refer to writings of later times as proof, including "Fusoryakki" and "Yakushiji-Eng". Yasuhiro TERASAKI, the author of "Prince Nagaya" (in "Jinbutsu Sosho" ("Book Series of People")), associates the smallpox epidemic, from 735 that eventually killed the four sons of the Fujiwara clan, with the onryo of Prince Nagaya. His theory about Prince Nagaya might be true because he and Fujiwara no Hirotsugu lived almost during the same period. However, as Masatsugu HONGO points out, because the stories about the onryo of Prince Nagaya and Hirotsugu in the Shoku Nihongi were compiled as late as the Heian period, when goryo shinko prevailed, it may have been altered in order to intrigue the people at the time; some say that onryo can not be found earlier than that of Prince Sawara. It would be safe to conclude that it's difficult to obtain evidence for onryo from the Nara period or earlier.

Additionally, Motohiko IZAWA, a novelist who wrote "Gyakusetu no nihonnshi" ("Japanese History in Paradox"), says in his book that ancient Japanese, under the influence of Chinese Civilization, believed that spirits totally neglected by their decendents would become onryo, which he defines as "the stage before goryo shinko", and that due to the incident of Prince Nagaya and the four Fujiwara sons, the stage developed into a typical Japanese onryo shinko whereby the departed soul of a man who died because of a false charge would become an onryo. Izawa's theory is not convincing because of the following: (1) it simply and fully accepts Umezawa's view (2) it fails to examine the onryo of the Asuka period, including those of Prince Arima and Otsu (both of whom are considered to have died because of false accusations), and, therefore, (3) it concludes that the case of Prince Nagaya is epoch-making.

There's not much written about Onryo during the ancient period, but the book; Gukansho ("Jottings of a Fool," completed by the Tendai monk Jien in the Kamakura period) says that this onryo /// and that onryo appear to take revenge. At least, Jien says that onryo will not appear without a reason; they will take their revenge. We are not certain whether Jien's view was shared among people in ancient times and during the middle ages, but according to what he wrote, people then definitely thought that when someone died an unnatural death or died with a grudge, they became onryo.

Although the practice of reposing onryo came under the strong influence of Buddhism during the Northern and Southern Dynasty period, goryo shiko did not decline, even in the pre-modern era, where Seibei YAMBE was enshrined in the Warei jinja Shrine and Sogo SAKURA in the Sogo-Reido Shrine. This trend is not any more obvious than in the Taihei-ki (Japanese historical epic written in the late 14th century); although under the influence of Buddhism, it attributes the turmoil of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period to Onryo, which it believes, has the power to overturn society. This view may have been derived and developed from Hogen Monogatari and Tale of the Heike, which believe that the turmoil in the society like Gempei kassen (battles between the Heishi clan and Minamoto clan) were caused by the onryo of Sutokuin.

Generally, Gongoro KAMAKURA (Kagemasa KAMAKURA) is thought to be a typical figure deified in goryo shinko; this is partly because he was a super hero (not because he became an onryo) and partly because of the worship of ancestors. Gongoro KAMAKURA, who was a one-eyed warrior, should also be examined in terms of ethnology (under the category of 'one-eyed goblin').

Gion shinko
We have 'ekijin shinko', which is close to goryo shinko. This is similar to goryo shinko in that it deifies the angel of death like the Hoso Kami (the god of smallpox and the god of flu) to prevent such diseases. One that is nationally well-known is gion shinko, which deifies Gozu Tenno (deity said to be the Indian god Gavagriva). Gozu Tenno, which had been believed to bring diseases and misfortunes to people, was enshrined in Yasaka-jinja Shrine in Kyoto, giving birth to gion shinko.
Many shrines that bear the names; "Yasaka-jinja Shrine," "Gion-jinja Shrine," and "Yagumo-Jinja Shrine," had once enshrined Gozu Tenno (they often have aliases that contain the sound of "tenno" at the end.)
Due to the Meiji government's policy on religion, however, some shrines enshrined Susanohno Mikoto.

Gion-matsuri Festival, which is still held in the present day, is derived from the worship of Gozu Tenno.

Other
There are a lot of names that contain the sound of "goro", which is close to "goryo", including Goryo-jinna Shrine in Kamakura City and Yagoroudon-matsuri Festival in Osumi-hanto Peninsula, Kagoshima Prefecture and in the south of Miyazaki Prefecture.

The term "Goro-zuka," burial sites seen across the country where gorinto (five-stored towers) are erected or where stones are piled up, may have been previously pronounced "Goryo-zuka". This is also part of goryo shinko.

In the middle ages, the Emperor was in the habit of Katachigae (a practice of approaching a destination in a different direction than going directly from one's house) for fear of onryo every time he passed through the neighborhood of Mikoshi-gosyo in Gion. This is called "Gion katatagae," "Goryoe onkatatagae gyoko," or "Katatagae gyoko," and there was no one right way to say it. Some say, however, that katatagae was simply a way to avoid streets that were too crowded.