Shinto: The ancient religion of Japan - W. G. Aston - ebook
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Kami is the ordinary Japanese word for God. It means primarily above, superior, and is applied to many other things besides deities, such as nobles, the authorities, the ‘missus,’ the hair of the head, the upper waters of a river, the part of Japan near Kiōto, etc. Height is in every country associated with excellence and divinity, no doubt because the first deities were the Sun and other Heavenly objects. We ourselves speak of the ‘Most High’ and use phrases like ‘Good Heavens’ which testify to a personification of the sky by our forefathers. But though Kami corresponds in a general way to ‘God,’ it has some important limitations. The Kami are high, swift, good, rich, living, but not infinite, omnipotent, or omniscient. Most of them had a father and mother, and of some the death is recorded. Motoöri, the great Shinto theologian, writing in the latter part of the eighteenth century, says:— ‘The term Kami is applied in the first place to the various deities of Heaven and Earth who are mentioned in the ancient records as well as to their spirits ( mi-tama ) which reside in the shrines where they are worshipped. Moreover, not only human beings, but birds, beasts, plants and trees, seas and mountains, and all other things whatsoever which deserve to be dreaded and revered for the extraordinary and pre-eminent powers which they possess, are called Kami . They need not be eminent for surpassing nobleness, goodness, or serviceableness alone. Malignant and uncanny beings are also called Kami if only they are the objects of general dread. Among Kami who are human beings I need hardly mention first of all the successive Mikados—with reverence be it spoken....

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W. G. Aston

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Table of contents

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY

CHAPTER II GENERAL CHARACTER OF SHINTO

CHAPTER III MYTH

CHAPTER IV THE GODS

CHAPTER V THE PRIESTHOOD

CHAPTER VI WORSHIP

CHAPTER VII MORALITY AND PURITY

CHAPTER VIII DIVINATION AND INSPIRATION

CHAPTER IX LATER HISTORY

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY

Origins.—The Japanese are in the main a continental race. Their language and physical characteristics show conclusively that they come from Northern Asia, and geographical considerations indicate that Korea must have been their point of embarkation. Indeed a desultory emigration from Korea to Japan continued into historical times. When we say Northern Asia we exclude China. The racial affinity of the Japanese to the Chinese, of which we hear so often, really amounts to very little. It is not closer than that which unites the most distantly related members of the Indo-European family of nations. The Japanese themselves have no traditions of their origin, and it is now impossible to say what form of religion was professed by the earliest immigrants. No inference can be drawn from the circumstance that Sun-worship is common to them with many North-Asiatic races. The Sun is, or has been, worshipped almost everywhere. There is distinct evidence of a Korean element in Shinto, but, with the little that we know of the old native religion of that country, anything like a complete comparison is impossible. Some have recognised a resemblance between Shinto and the old state religion of China, and it is true that both consist largely of Nature-worship. But the two cults differ widely. The Japanese do not recognise Tien (Heaven), the chief Nature-deity of the Chinese, nor have they anything to correspond to their Shangti—a more personal ruler of the universe. The Sun is masculine in China, feminine in Japan. The Sun-goddess takes precedence of the Earth-god in Japan, while in China Heaven and Earth rank above the Sun and Moon. Some Chinese traits are to be found in the old Shinto documents, but they are of later origin, and are readily distinguishable from the native element. A few similarities exist between Shinto and the religion of the Ainus of Yezo, a savage race which once occupied the main island of Japan. But it is reasonable to suppose that in this case the less civilised nation has borrowed from its more civilised neighbour and conqueror rather than vice versa. It is significant that the Ainu words for God, prayer, and offering, are taken from the Japanese. If the Malay or Polynesian element, which some have recognised in the Japanese race, has any existence, it has left no trace in religion. Such coincidences as may be noted between Shinto and oceanic religions, myths and practices are attributable to the like action of common causes rather than to inter-communication. The old Shinto owes little to any outside source. It is, on the whole, an independent development of Japanese thought. Sources of Information.—The Japanese had no writing until the introduction of Chinese learning from Korea early in the fifth century of our era, and the first books which have come down to us date from the beginning of the eighth. One of these, called the Kojiki (712) is said to have been taken down from the lips of a man whose memory was well stored with the old myths and traditions of his country. He was perhaps one of the guild of ‘reciters,’ whose business it was to recite ‘ancient words’ at the ceremony which corresponds to our coronation. The Kojiki is a repertory of the old myths and legends, and, in the latter part, of the ancient history of Japan. The Nihongi, a work of similar scope, though based more on an existing written literature, was produced a few years later (720). It quotes numerous variants of the religious myths current at this time. There are voluminous and most learned commentaries on these two works written by Motoöri and Hirata in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the ritual of Shinto our chief source of information is the Yengishiki, a compilation made early in the tenth century. It contains, along with minute directions regarding offerings, ceremonies, etc., a series of the norito (litanies) used in Shinto worship which are of the highest interest, and of great, though unequal, antiquity. The above-mentioned authorities give a tolerably complete account of the old state religion of Japan, sometimes called ‘Pure Shinto,’ in order to distinguish it from the Buddhicised cult of later times. Its palmy days may be taken to extend from the seventh to the twelfth century. Shinto, literally ‘The Way of the Gods,’ is a Chinese word, for which the Japanese equivalent is Kami no michi.

CHAPTER II GENERAL CHARACTER OF SHINTO

Kami is the ordinary Japanese word for God. It means primarily above, superior, and is applied to many other things besides deities, such as nobles, the authorities, the ‘missus,’ the hair of the head, the upper waters of a river, the part of Japan near Kiōto, etc. Height is in every country associated with excellence and divinity, no doubt because the first deities were the Sun and other Heavenly objects. We ourselves speak of the ‘Most High’ and use phrases like ‘Good Heavens’ which testify to a personification of the sky by our forefathers. But though Kami corresponds in a general way to ‘God,’ it has some important limitations. The Kami are high, swift, good, rich, living, but not infinite, omnipotent, or omniscient. Most of them had a father and mother, and of some the death is recorded. Motoöri, the great Shinto theologian, writing in the latter part of the eighteenth century, says:— ‘The term Kami is applied in the first place to the various deities of Heaven and Earth who are mentioned in the ancient records as well as to their spirits ( mi-tama) which reside in the shrines where they are worshipped. Moreover, not only human beings, but birds, beasts, plants and trees, seas and mountains, and all other things whatsoever which deserve to be dreaded and revered for the extraordinary and pre-eminent powers which they possess, are called Kami. They need not be eminent for surpassing nobleness, goodness, or serviceableness alone. Malignant and uncanny beings are also called Kami if only they are the objects of general dread. Among Kami who are human beings I need hardly mention first of all the successive Mikados—with reverence be it spoken.... Then there have been numerous examples of divine human beings both in ancient and modern times, who, although not accepted by the nation generally, are treated as gods, each of his several dignity, in a single province, village, or family.... Amongst Kami who are not human beings, I need hardly mention Thunder [in Japanese Naru Kami or the Sounding God]. There are also the Dragon, the Echo [called in Japanese Ko-dama or the Tree Spirit] and the Fox, who are Kami by reason of their uncanny and fearful natures. The term Kami is applied in the Nihongi and Manyōshiu to the tiger and the wolf. Izanagi gave to the fruit of the peach, and to the jewels round his neck names which implied that they were Kami.... There are many cases of seas and mountains being called Kami. It is not their spirits which are meant. The word was applied directly to the seas or mountains themselves as being very awful things.’ The Kami-Beneficent.—The saying of the old Roman poet that ‘Fear first made the Gods’ does not hold good of Shinto. It is rather, as Schiller called the worship of the gods of Greece, a Wonnedienst, a religion inspired by love and gratitude more than by fear. The three greatest gods, viz. the Sun-goddess, the Food-goddess, and Ohonamochi (a god of Earth, the universal provider), are all beneficent beings, though they may send a curse when offended by the neglect of their worship or an insult to their shrines. Their worshippers come before them with gladness, addressing them as fathers, parents, or dear divine ancestors, and their festivals are occasions of rejoicing. But there are some malevolent or mischievous deities who have to be propitiated by offerings. The Fire-god, as is natural in a country where the houses are built of wood and great conflagrations are frequent, is one of these, and, in a lesser degree, the Thunder-god and the deity of the Rain-storm. The latter has, however, good points. He provides trees for the use of humanity, and rescues a maiden from being devoured by a great serpent. Lafcadio Hearn’s view that Shinto was at one time a religion of ‘perpetual fear’ is unsupported by evidence. Classes of Kami.