Danka system

Danka system

The was a citizen registration system established in Japan during the Tokugawa period to stop the diffusion of Christianity and detect hidden Christians, but which soon became a government-mandated and Buddhist temple-run system to monitor and control the population as a whole. For this reason, the system survived long after Christianity in Japan had become a spent force. It's also known as because of the certification issued by a Buddhist temple (or terauke, because the tera, or temple would issue an uke, or certificate) that a citizen was not a Christian. Although never written into law, the system nonetheless quickly became a universal and extremely important feature of Tokugawa Japan. The system was officially abolished only after World War II.

The danka system and the terauke

The system begun in 1638 when, in reaction to the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-38), the bakufu decided to stamp out the Christian religion. Buddhist temples were therefore ordered to start writing temple registration terauke for all their (term meaning "households affiliated to a temple" or "parishioner"). The system had three tiers, at the lower of which was the temple which issued the terauke. Local government officials would then collect all certificates of affiliation, bind them in ledgers called and submit them to higher authorities. The idea was to force Christians to become affiliated to a Buddhist temple, while making the monitoring of suspected Christians easier.

The very first registries in existence are dated between 1638 and 1640 and, unsurprisingly, come from areas where the Christian religion was strong, for example Kyoto, its province and Kyūshū. Registries in other areas aren't found until the second half of the 17th century, but individual terauke, which clearly served the same purpose, are.

Because in 1664 the bakufu ordered to all daimyōs the establishment in their domain of an officer of religious investigation called or , from the following year registries of religious affiliation started being produced nationwide.

In 1671 the registry's format was standardized. The document had to record all peasant households, state the number of men and women of each town, plus the totals for all districts and the province. The intendant had to keep the registry and send a one-page summary to higher authorities. Further, all departures from the community due to marriage, work or death were to be recorded. This registry format was maintained unchanged until 1870, three years into the Meiji era. Since the order explicitly states that "Naturally, it is appropriate to investigate many things, and not only at the time of inquiry into religion", the system clearly had from the beginning purposes that went beyond religion. The result was an Edo equivalent of today's household registry, set apart only by the temple's obligation to specify a family temple and the citizens' to obtain a terauke. In some regions, the right to issue certificates was called ,a right which gradually became a source of great power for the temples. Not only was a certificate issued after payment of a fee, but it gave religious authorities the power of life and death over parishioners.

This document had to be obtained every year after an inspection at one's temple of affiliation. Those who for some reason couldn't obtain a temple certification were recorded as hinin (non-persons) and thereafter subject to discrimination, or simply executed as Christians. Not only peasants, but even samurai and Shintō priests could not live or function within society without a terauke, which had assumed a role similar to that of identity papers now. It was necessary to get married, to travel, to gain access to certain jobs. After 1729 the breaking of ties between a temple and a danka (or ) was formally outlawed, making the link between a danka and a temple impossible to break. This eliminated competition for parishioners between temples, giving a man and his family no possibility to change temple of affiliation. By the late 17th century the system had become an integral part of the Tokugawa state apparatus.

The Gojōmoku

A document purporting to be a bakufu law regulating in great detail the certification of religious affiliation process appeared around 1735 and had thereafter large circulation all over Japan. Dated 1613 and called \"Individual Rules Concerning the Certification of Religious Affiliation for Danka\" (Gojōmoku Shūmon Danna Ukeai No Okite (御条目宗門旦那請合之掟)), it's demonstrably a forgery probably created by the temples themselves, whose interests it serves.
That the document is a fake is proven beyond doubt by the fact that it lists among the forbidden religions not only Christianity, but also the and subschools of the Nichiren sect. Since the two schools were outlawed respectively in 1669 and 1691, the stated date of issue must be wrong. The likely reason it was chosen is that it's the year in which Tokugawa Ieyasu's was issued, and because the following year temples were ordered to start issuing terauke.

The document is often found in temples and collections all over the country and it appears to have been believed genuine even by most Meiji era historians. The Gojōmoku, which gives additional power over parishioners to the temples, is mentioned occasionally by temple registries and, when a danka did not meet its conditions, the temple certification wasn't issued. Its provisions caused considerable problems between danka and temples.

The document first defined four duties.

  • Duty to visit the temple on several yearly occasion. Failure to make the visits could cause the removal of the danka's name from the registry..
  • Duty to perform two services on the day of the ancestor memorial service. Failure to provide adequate entertainment for the priest meant being branded as a Christian.
  • Duty to make the family temple perform all memorial and funerary services.
  • Duty of anyone capable of walking to be present at memorial services for ancestors.

It then defined five rights of the temple.

  • A danka had to perform certain acts in favor of the temple, including making offerings and providing free labor. Failure to do so meant being branded as a Fuju-fuse sect member.
  • A danka had to obey its temple and give money to its priests.
  • Regardless of how long a danka group had been faithful, it was always to be subject to religious investigation to determine the possible emergence of heresy..
  • After someone's death, just looking at the corpse the priest could determine what the defunct's true religion had been.
  • The danka was always to follow his temple's orders.

Consequences of the danka system

The consequences of two centuries of danka system and of the bureaucratization of Buddhism were numerous and profound, first of all for Buddhism itself. The chasm between allowed and forbidden sects became much deeper. If on the one hand Buddhism allowed a diversification of its authorized sects, on the other it punished tendencies that put in question the political status quo. A danka was registered at the closest temple regardless of its religious affiliations, so these became gradually less important. As a consequence of all these factors, differences among sects allowed by the government got watered down and Buddhism became more uniform, not least because the Shogunate had a say in matters of religious orthodoxy. During the Edo period, Buddhism therefore offered few new ideas (with the possible exception of the reform of Zen sects). On the contrary, the development during the same period of Japanese Confucianism and Shinto and the birth of the so-called \\"New Religions\\" produced interesting ideas.

The so-called or funeral Buddhism of today, where Japanese Buddhism's essential function has become confined to the performance of funerals and memorial services, is a consequence of the danka system, as is the sale of posthumous names (or ) . Buddhist temples today are primarily cemeteries.

The dissolution of the danka system after World War II meant for Buddhism a great loss of income, and therefore financial insecurity.

Lastly and most importantly, the danka system and the widespread resentment it created are considered to be one of the primary causes of the haibutsu kishaku, a violent movement that at the beginning of the Meiji era caused the destruction of a high number of temples all over Japan. Considering Buddhism's close association with the Tokugawa, it can't be a surprise that Buddhist monks were regarded as state agents and that several sectors of the Edo society began trying to find alternate ways to satisfy their spiritual needs.

In spite of its history, Buddhism had however decisive advantages over both Shinto and Confucianism that during the Meiji era made it impossible to replace it with either. With its many rituals (the jūsan butsuji, or thirteen Buddhist rituals), Buddhism could better help people cope with death. Moreover, Shinto associates death and pollution, so it's intrinsically less suitable to funerary ceremonies, while Confucianism in Japan did not concern itself much with funerals. Lastly, Buddhism had a country-wide infrastructure that neither Shinto nor Confucianism could match. In other words, after two centuries of legal monopoly on funerals, Buddhism was far better equipped for them than its competition.



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