The parish guild, or miyaza, has been studied by Japanese scholars from various perspectives and disciplines. While not wishing to disparage other approaches to the subject, in this paper I shall treat the institution as a socio-religious monopoly. A monopoly, by definition, is a group that restricts or denies resources, services, or markets to other segments of a society. While the word is generally confined to economics—where one thinks of medieval guilds and modern cartels—the concept can be profitably extended to other areas of society. The sociology of religion, for example, provides us with a wide variety of monopolies. These groups restrict access to the sacred, just as economic monopolies corner markets. Access to the sacred can be controlled in various ways—e.g., by maintaining an exclusive kinship tie with the gods (clans), by means of a purity-pollution complex (caste), or by control of a sacramental system necessary for salvation (sacerdotal priesthoods).

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