Ujigami (Tutelary Deities in Shinto) (氏神)

Ujigami is a Shinto god (Shinto) jointly enshrined by the people living in a community (village) in Japan. The people who live around and believe in an ujigami call one another ujiko (shrine parishners). In modern days, the term, "ujigami" is often treated as a synonym for the deities chinjugami and ubusunagami.

This page describes ujigami, chinju, ubusunagami, and ujiko.

As ujigami is written as a god of 'uji' (clan), it originally meant the ancestral or tutelary god enshrined by a ruling family in the area who formed a clan, ancient clanship.

Subsequently, after the Heian period, the term, 'ujiko' came to include not only the consanguineous members of a clan but also the people who lived with them. This relates back to the fact that in early medieval times an udi (clan) organization, which assumed the form of ancient clanship, was formed by commoners in the local community in Japan.

After medieval times, 'ujiko' referred to the entire people who lived in the areas surrounding a ujigami and participated in its festivals. Ujigami thus became indistinguishable from chinju and ubusunagami. The people who enshrine a tutelary god are called 'ujikoju' or 'ujikodo,' whose representative called ujikosodai plays a central role in assisting the rituals and festivals at the shrine. The one who worships a tutelary god without living around its shrine is called 'sukeisha' (worshipper), who together with ujiko, are collectively called 'ujiko-sukeisha' (parishners and worshippers).

A well-known example of a clan's tutelary god are the Fujiwara clan's Kasuga deities (Kasuga Shrine) which includes its ancestral god Amenokoyane. This is classified as the older form of tutelary god worship based on ancestral gods. The same can be said of Umenomiya-taisha Shrine worshipped by the Tachibana clan. Among post-medieval examples, in which ujigami became synonymous with chinju and ubusunagami, are the god of Hachiman (Hachiman-gu Shrine) worshipped by the Minamoto clan and the Three Goddesses of Munakata (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine) by the Taira clan. The Ise-jingu Shrine which enshrines the imperial ancestral god, thus regarded as a special shrine was the sole tutelary god of the Imperial Family before the Edo period. Today, however, it is recognized as the universal tutelary god of the entire nation.

Chinju (Tutelary Deity of Land)
Chinju is a god who has settled in a land to protect it and its people. After the Heian period, manorialism was formed. Private domains of nobility, warriors and temples were established. This led to the collapse of clan society as well as the erosion of ujigami worship. The feudal lords instead enshrined the guardian gods of the lands to protect their manors from wars and disasters. These guardian gods were called the gods of chinju. By the Muromachi period, however, they became marginalized as the manorial system declined. Their shrines eventually merged with those of ujigami, which mostly continues to this day.

Ubusunagami (Tutelary Deity of One's Birthplace)
As the tutelary god of one's birthplace, ubusunagami was believed to protect him all through his life. It was the same for chinju of most Japanese who used to live in the same place from the cradle to the grave. This process made ujigami identifiable as chinju. Such ujigami worship is still observed in shichigosan (a celebration for three-, five-, and seven-year-old children). Omiyamairi ((the custom of) taking one's baby to a shrine) was originally one of the initiation rituals in which a baby was taken to the tutelary to ask the permission to become a member of the local community.

Ujiko (Shrine Parishner)
The relation between ujigami and ujiko generally comes into effect when a child becomes an ujiko of the tutelary of his family or of the shrine in the neighborhood. As Omiyamairi is made to ubusunagami the guardian god of a child's birthplace, ubusunagami is often treated as ujigami or the tutelary. Omiyamairi is not necessarily the same as the initiation ritual of ujiko. As mentioned above, however, in practice it often means the latter since the distinction between ujigami and ubusunagami was lost. This is why a baby is usually given ujikofuda (an ujiko amulet) at Omiyamairi. Unless one is born into a family that has worshipped the tutelary deity and participated in rituals and festivals at the shrine over many generations, he takes his baby to the tutelary god and simply follows convention. In fact, many people do so without knowledge or awareness of being shrine parishners.

Similarly, a bridegroom or bride who marries into the spouse's family often performs the initiation ritual of ujiko by visiting the tutelary god of the family. Nowadays, participation in shrine ceremonies and festivals and devotion to the tutelary, parishners' duties, have become perfunctory, perhaps because the populace who support and participate in Shinto rituals and festivals have aged and declined. Many families merely install kamidana (a household Shinto altar), in which sacred jewels and ujiko amulets are placed, and to which offerings are given.

[Original Japanese]