The gods have been conspicuously absent in recent studies of Japanese religion. However, a cursory look at esoteric Buddhism reveals that the gods (and demons) are at the center of the rituals performed by all schools of Japanese Buddhism, beginning with the Shingon and Tendai schools. The medieval period, in particular, saw the emergence of a new type of gods, which have been characterized as “strange deities” (ijin). To understand these gods, one must abandon the “essentialist fallacy” that consists in considering them as individuals, and focus instead on their position in a symbolic network involving other gods, institutions, people, and objects.
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