Rural religious landscape constituents and social structure

Satoshi Imazato

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Social geographical studies concerned with rural societies in Japan until the 1970's dealt almost exclusively with the relationship between settlement forms and social structure (distribution of social groups or strength of social unity). Although religious landscape as place has attracted new attention since the 1980's in order to elucidate the symbolic meaning of space, most of the existing literature has not taken relation between landscape and social structure into consideration so far. Keeping such a drawback in mind, this article seeks to clarify the relation by grouping social functions of constituents of rural landscape, which are represented by religious objects, for instance, shrines, jizo (guardian deity statues) and graveyards. Note that the term social structure in this study concerns comprehensive relations associated with intra-settlement social groups and traditional rural households. To pursue this aim, Aso, a mountain village located in the western part of Shiga Prefecture, Japan, was selected as the study field. With respect to the time span, the period from the Edo period to the present is taken up to examine historical changes of landscape. Based on remarkable changes in the local municipality's boundary and landscape, the four periods were established. There are various possible subjects associated with rural landscape, but the main focus here is restricted to social groups in the village. The second section is devoted to an investigation of relationships between social group systems and social structure in the village under consideration. Social groups of hongo (formerly influential hamlets) are classified into the three different hierarchical levels: mura (self-government organizations), Kami / Shimo (organizations for supporting agricultural and Buddhist-temple activities) and kumi (mutual aid organizations). The social groups Kami / Shimo, as well as the four kumis check each other. The three edago (hamlets formerly subordinated to hongo) generally belonged to the kumi level, but it is considered that an edago evolved to the mura level. Moreover, there was a strict social hierarchy of households, especially until the prewar period. This is an outline of the social structure in the study field. In the third and fourth sections, specific functions of social landscape constituents are identified in relation to social life, social structure-mentioned in the second section-and location of constituents themselves concerned with these. The term “social landscape constituent” here is used to denote landscape elements owned, managed and used by a social group. The functions of the constituents can be classified into five categories: mental unification, self-assertion, mutual understanding, territory declaration and memorial services for the dead. Due attention is not paid to such functions as community properties, production facilities and infrastructure, because of lack of enough information. From this procedure, however, the matrices of social landscape constituents are prepared for every period defined earlier.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-480
Number of pages23
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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