Thursday, February 27, 2020, 18:15 - 20:30


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A Social History of the Ise Shrines, published in the new Bloomsbury Shinto series, is the first attempt in any language to write a critical history of the Ise shrines from their 7th century origins to the present day. The method authors adopt is to highlight multiple agents, and the dynamic role they played in making and remaking the Ise shrines across time. Today, the Shinto establishment identifies Ise as the unchanging essence of beautiful Japan. What we find remarkable, rather, is the shrines’ ability to shift constantly throughout history, as they adapt to different social, political and economic circumstances. There can be no doubting their enduring and vital cultural importance.

In his talk, John Breen focuses on three issues, all of which feature to some degree in the book. The first concerns the place of Ise and, indeed, of the Sun Goddess, in 21st century Japan. He suggests that the recent enthronement rites are especially revealing in this regard. In the second part of his talk, Breen explores Ise in its pre-Meiji guise, when it was by far the most popular and vibrant pilgrimage site in the land. Finally, he addresses the Ise shrines’ radical transformation in the mid-nineteenth century.

The speaker is a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. Previously he taught Japanese and Japanese history at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London.) He has published widely on Japan’s imperial institution and on Shinto. In addition to this book (co-authored with Mark Teeuwen), he is editor of Henyo suru seichi Ise (変容する聖地伊勢 ) published in 2017 by Shibunkaku (思文閣出版) and author of two books in Japanese, Shinto monogatari: Ise jingū no kingendaishi (神都物語伊勢神宮の近現代史) in 2015 by Yoshikawa Kobunkan (吉川弘文館) and Girei to kenryoku: Tennō no Meiji Ishin (儀礼と権力天皇の明治維新) in 2011 by Heibonsha (平凡社). With Mark Teeuwen, he also co-authored A New History of Shinto in 2011 by Wiley-Blackwell.

The library committee is offering a cocktail party - "Meet the Author - starting at 6:15 pm, followed by a set dinner with one drink at 6:40 pm (Menu: Small Green Salad/ Braised Sole with Vegetables/ Bread/ Dessert/ Coffee or Tea with ONE DRINK (one from orange juice/ oolong tea/ white wine/ red wine). Drinks can be ordered on a cash basis from the bar in the room. Book Break charges are 3,100 yen/ 4,100 yen (members/ non-members) per person. The member price is applicable to members’ guests.


To FCCJ members: Sign up now at the reception desk (03-3211-3161) or on the FCCJ website. To help us plan proper seating and food preparation, please reserve in advance, preferably by noon of the day of the event. Those without reservations will be turned away once available seats are filled. Reservations cancelled less than 72 hours in advance will be charged in full.


To non-members: Sign up now at the reception desk by email ( Please reserve and pay in advance by Friday, February 21st, 2020. Those without reservations will be turned away once available seats are filled. No refund is available unless event is cancelled for the reasons on our part. Any attendees with food restriction should inform the reception desk ( three days before the event.


(The Talk will be in English)