Organizing gods, parishes and parishioners: Ujigami, chinjugami and ubusugami

Ujiko Chizu (the Map of Ujiko) The map shows the locations of feudal warriors' residences, temples and shrines, towns, villages, slopes, and bridges, giving an idea of what the castle town of Kanazawa used to look like. Image credit:

Ujiko Chizu (the Map of Ujiko*)
The map shows the locations of feudal warriors’ residences, temples and shrines, towns, villages, slopes, and bridges, giving an idea of what the castle town of Kanazawa used to look like. Image credit:

(*Ujiko means people under the protection of the local deity) The map of the Ujiko of Ushiura Shrine, which is owned by the shrine, was made in 1631. It shows 14 villages in Ishikawa County and is called “Kashu Ishikawa-no-kohri Utsushi Ezu 加州石川郡写絵図” (Pictures of Ishikawa County, Kashu Prefecture).

ikke ujigami 一家氏神

maki ujigami まき氏神

yashiki ujigami 屋敷氏神 – yashikigami 屋敷神 “estate deities”

ubusunagami – 産土神

chinjugami 鎮守神 tutelary deities – chinju 鎮守 regional deity, local deity


“Clan kami,” in ancient Japanese society, an ancestral kami or other tutelary worshiped by individuals sharing the same clan (uji) name. As a result of historical changes in the composition of groups worshiping such kami, however, ujigami today are most frequently identified with local chthonic tutelaries (including both chinjugami and ubusunagami).

As medieval warrior clans strengthened their presence on the local manors known as shōen, they gradually adopted local indigenous tutelaries as their own ujigami, and the people worshiping those ujigami likewise evolved from consanguineous familial organizations to groups linked by the mere sharing of residence in the same geographical area. This process thus resulted in the merging of clan kami (ujigami) and local geographical tutelaries (ubusunagami).

Around the same time, shrines to chinjugami-originally enshrined as the tutelaries of specific buildings or pieces of land-came to be formally dedicated (kanjō) within noble-owned manors as well, leading to a merging of ujigami and chinjugami. Today, ujigami cults can be broadly classified into three types.

The first is the “village ujigami”; in this type, each local resident is considered a “clan member” (ujiko) and participates in worshiping the kami.

The second is called variously yashiki-ujigami or ie-ujigami, a type of kami enshrined in a small shrine (hokora) within the grounds of individual family dwellings.

The final type is referred to as an ikke-ujigami or maki-ujigami, and occupies an intermediate position between the other two types, since it is worshiped by all members of an extended family (ikke) or local neighborhood grouping (maki).

Source : Iwai Hiroshi, Kokugakuin 2005


The tutelary kami of one’s birthplace. Also known as ubusuna. A variety of orthographical representations for the term ubusuna are found historically, including 本居, 生土, 参土, 宇夫須那, and 産須那. In any case, the element ubu means birth, though opinion is divided regarding the significance of suna.

In some locales, the ubusunagami appears related to the ubugami, a tutelary of infants and pregnant women; in these cases, it is customary to pay respects immediately following childbirth at a small shrine (hokora) to the ubusunasama or ubugamisama located within the residential grounds.

While the conceptual basis for ubusunagami originally differed from those for ujigami and chinjugami, the three are frequently confused. Medieval warrior clans strengthened their presence on shōen (manors) by acting as protectors of local villages, and in the process, they adopted as clan tutelaries kami with strong local territorial affiliations, resulting in an amalgamation of the local ubusunagami and clan ujigami. From this period one thus finds historical documents that read both 産神(ubugami) and 氏神(ujigami) as ubusuna.

In the early modern period, the traditional relationship between a clan tutelary (ujigami) and its protégés (ujiko) was mirrored by the custom of using the term ubuko 産子 to refer to the followers of an ubugami.

Finally, based on the etymology of the terms ubusunagami (or ubugami) and ubuko, examples are frequently seen in which the traditional first post-natal shrine visit (hatsumiyamōde) and other ordinary worship at an ujigami shrine are alternately referred to as ubusunamairi (paying worship at the ubusuna).

Source: Iwai Hiroshi Kokugakuin


A kami acting as a tutelary of a circumscribed geographical region or area of land.
Believed to have originated with the qié-lán-shen (Jp. garanjin 伽藍神), tutelary deities of temple compounds in China, the growth of kami-buddha syncretism (shinbutsu shūgō) led to the dedication (kanjō) of various kami within the precincts of temples in Japan as well.

Famous examples of such temple tutelaries include
Niu Myōjin at Kongōbuji (Mt. Kōya),
Sannō Gongen at Enryakuji (Kyoto), and
Kasuga Myōjin at Kōfukuji (Nara).

Based on this practice, kami were later dedicated as tutelaries of the nation and palace, followed by tutelaries of provinces and castles, and even noble manors (shōen) and domains. Some of the guardian kami thus dedicated included the Ise and Kamo shrines as tutelaries of the nation and capital, and the Ichi no miya shrines as provincial tutelaries. As tutelaries of shōen estates, various kami of the capital region were selected for their deep ties to the noble proprietors of such estates, while the Sannō Shrine (present-day Hie Jinja) was dedicated by Tokugawa Ieyasu as a tutelary of the shogun’s castle in Edo.

In other cases, kami were dedicated as the protectors of the homes of individual families. These tutelaries were originally selected for their characteristics as powerful kami with the ability to subdue local indigenous land spirits, and make them subject to the new resident, with the end of providing safety to the region and its occupants. With time, however, such dedicated outside tutelaries became confused with the indigenous local land spirits themselves, so that from the medieval and particularly in the early modern period, a wide variety of shrines with differing lineages and histories came to be broadly known as village chinjugami.

In some cases, shrines originally dedicated by local gentry families rose to the status of clan kami (ujigami), and thence came to be celebrated as chinjugami of all people living within the geographical village; in others, the development of new land would be accompanied by the dedication of a shrine as the ubusunagami 産土神 (residents’ tutelary) for the occupants of the new land, and that kami would subsequently come to be called the chinjugami of the newly developed geographical area.

Such trends were furthered by the government’s system of temple registration (terauke) during the early modern period; under this system, shrines were placed under the management of Buddhist temples, with the result that many shrines came to be viewed as the chinju of the associated temple. Through this process, chinjugami came to be viewed as little different from ujigami and ubusunagami, and the chinjugami came to be worshiped as a divine tutelary of all the people living within its realm. This is the significance of the term chinju no mori (“grove of the chinju”) which is used to describe the groves of trees at modern Shinto shrines.

Source: Suzuki Kentaro, Kokugakuin 2005

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