Shinto: the Way of the Gods - W. G. Aston - ebook

Nature deities seldom confine themselves to their proper nature functions. Shinto exhibits an increasing tendency to recognize in them a providence that influences human affairs. Even in the older Shinto there are examples of the Gods exercising a providential care for mankind outside of their proper spheres of action. The Sun-Goddess not only bestows light on the world, but preserves the seeds of grain for her beloved human beings. She watches specially over the welfare of her descendants the Mikados. Susa no wo, the Rain-storm personified, is the provider of all kinds of useful trees. Practically, all the deities are prayed to for a good harvest, or for rain. Even man-Gods, like Temmangu, may be appealed to for this purpose. Any God may send an earthquake or a pestilence. In 853 there was a great epidemic of smallpox. An oracle from Tsukiyomi, the Moon-God, indicated the means of obtaining relief from this plague, and since then people of every class pray to him when it is prevalent. The Ujigami and Chinju, family and local protective Gods, might be chosen from any class of deities. A modern Japanese writer [40] says: "No one knows what spirit of heaven or earth is venerated at the Suitengū, [41] in Tokyo. But despite the anonymity of the God, people credit him with power to protect against all perils of sea and flood, against burglary, and, by a strange juxtaposition of spheres of influence, against the pains of parturition. The deity of Inari secures efficacy for prayer and abundance of crops; the Taisha [great shrine of Idzumo] presides over wedlock; the Kompira shares with the Suitengū the privilege of guarding those that 'go down to the deep.' The rest confer prosperity, avert sickness, cure sterility, bestow literary talent, endow with warlike powers, and so on."

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Table of contents

















W. G. Aston

ISBN: 9788892698116
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As compared with the great religions of the world, Shinto, the old Kami cult of Japan, is decidedly rudimentary in its character. Its polytheism, the want of a Supreme Deity, the comparative absence of images and of a moral code, its feeble personifications and hesitating grasp of the conception of spirit, the practical non-recognition of a future state, and the general absence of a deep, earnest faith--all stamp it as perhaps the least developed of religions which have an adequate literary record. Still, it is not a primitive cult. It had an organized priesthood and an elaborate ritual. The general civilization of the Japanese when Shinto assumed the form in which we know it had left the primitive stage far behind. They were already an agricultural nation, a circumstance by which Shinto has been deeply influenced. They had a settled government, and possessed the arts of brewing, making pottery, building ships and bridges, and working in metals. It is not among such surroundings that we can expect to find a primitive form of religion. The present treatise has two objects. It is intended, primarily and chiefly, as a repertory of the more significant facts of Shinto for the use of scientific students of religion. It also comprises an outline theory of the origin and earlier stages of the development of religion, prepared with special reference to the Shinto evidence. The subject is treated from a positive, not from a negative or agnostic standpoint, Religion being regarded as a normal function, not a disease, of humanity. This element of the work owes much to the continental scholars Réville, Goblet D'Alviella, and Pfleiderer. In anthropological matters, I have been much indebted to Dr. Tylor's 'Primitive Culture' and Mr. J. G. Frazer's 'Golden Bough.' I should not omit to express my obligations to my friend Mr. J. Troup for assistance with the proofs and for a number of useful corrections and suggestions. Ch. K.--Mr. B. H. Chamberlain's translation of the Kojiki. Nihongi.--Translation of the Nihongi by W. G. Aston. T.A.S.J.--Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan.


MATERIALS FOR THE STUDY OF SHINTO.Prehistoric Shinto.--Ethnologists are agreed that the predominant element of the Japanese race came to Japan by way of Korea from that part of Asia which lies north of China, probably by a succession of immigrations which extended over many centuries. It is useless to speculate as to what rudiments of religious belief the ancestors of the Japanese race may have brought with them from their continental home. Sun-worship has long been a central feature of Tartar religions, as it is of Shinto; but such a coincidence proves nothing, as this cult is universal among nations in the barbaric stage of civilization. It is impossible to say whether or not an acquaintance with the old State religion of China--essentially a nature-worship--had an influence on the prehistoric development of Shinto. The circumstance that the Sun was the chief deity of the latter and Heaven of the former is adverse to this supposition. Nor is there anything in Japan which corresponds with the Shangti of the ancient Chinese. There are definite traces of a Korean element in Shinto. A Kara no Kami (God of Kara in Korea) was worshipped in the Imperial Palace. There were numerous shrines in honour of Kara-Kuni Idate no Kami. Susa no wo and Futsunushi have Korean associations. Until the beginning of the fifth century of our era, writing was practically unknown in Japan. It is certain, however, that a considerable body of myth, together with formal rituals, was already in existence, having been transmitted from generation to generation by the Nakatomi and Imbe, two hereditary priestly corporations attached to the Mikado's Court. We hear also of Kataribe, or corporations of reciters, who were established in various provinces, especially in Idzumo, a primæval centre of Shinto worship. They are mentioned in the Nihongi under the date a.d. 465, and were still in existence in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately we know little about them beyond the circumstance that they attended at the capital, and delivered their recitals of "ancient words" on the occasion of the Mikado's coronation. These must have helped to furnish material for the written mythical and quasi-historical narratives which have come down to us. Kojiki.--The oldest of these is a work entitled the Kojiki, or 'Records of Ancient Matters.' It was compiled by Imperial order, and completed in a.d. 712. The preface states that it was taken down from the lips of one Hiyeda no Are, who had so wonderful a memory that he could "repeat with his mouth whatever was placed before his eyes and record in his heart whatever struck his ears." English readers may study this work in an accurate translation contributed by Mr. B. H. Chamberlain to the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan in 1882. It is preceded by a valuable introduction. Nihongi.--The mythical narrative of the Nihongi, or 'Chronicles of Japan,' also an official compilation ( a.d. 720), is not quite so full as that of the Kojiki, and it has the disadvantage of being composed in the Chinese language. But it has one feature of great interest. The author, or some nearly contemporary writer, has added to the original text a number of variants of the current myths, thus enabling us to correct any impression of uniformity or consistency which might be left by the perusal of the Kojiki or Nihongi alone. These addenda show that there was then in existence a large body of frequently irreconcilable mythical material, which these works are attempts to harmonize. A translation of the Nihongi by the present writer forms Supplement I. of the Transactions of the Japan Society (1896). Dr. Florenz's excellent German version of the mythical part of this work may also be consulted with advantage. It has copious notes. Kiujiki.--A third source of information respecting the mythical lore of Japan is the Kiujiki. A work with this name was compiled a.d. 620, i.e., one hundred years before the Nihongi, but the book now known by that title has been condemned as a forgery by native critics. Their arguments, however, are not quite convincing. The Kiujiki is in any case a very old book, and we may accept it provisionally as of equal authority with the Kojiki and Nihongi. It contains little which is not also to be found in these two works. Unlike them, the Kiujiki makes no attempt to be consistent. It is a mere jumble of mythical material, distinct and conflicting versions of the same narrative being often dovetailed into one another in the most clumsy fashion. It has not been translated. Idzumo Fudoki.--This work, a topography of the province of Idzumo, was compiled about a.d. 733. It contains a few mythical passages. The Kogoshiui was written in 807. It adds a very little to the information contained in the Kojiki and Nihongi. Shôjiroku.--In this work, which is a sort of peerage of Japan (815), the descent of many of the noble families is traced from the deities of the Shinto Pantheon. Yengishiki.--Our principal source of information for the ceremonial of Shinto is the Yengishiki, or 'Institutes of the Period Yengi' (901-923). It gives a minute description of the official Shinto ritual as then practised, together with twenty-seven of the principal prayers used in worship. These prayers, called norito, were now, so far as we know, for the first time reduced to writing, but many of them must be in substance several hundreds of years older. Some have been translated by Sir Ernest Satow for the Asiatic Society of Japan (1879-81), and the series is now being continued by Dr. Karl Florenz, whose translation of the Ohoharahi (1899) is a notable addition to the English reader's means of studying Shinto. Motoöri and Hirata.--The writings of the native scholars Motoöri, Hirata, and others during the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth are an indispensable source of information. No part of this voluminous literature has been, or is likely to be, translated. The English reader will find a good account of it in Sir Ernest Satow's 'Revival of Pure Shinto,' contributed to the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan in 1875. By "Pure Shinto" is meant the Shinto of the Kojiki, Nihongi, and Yengishiki, as opposed to the corrupt forms of this religion which sprang up under Buddhist influence in later times. The above-named works contain fairly ample materials for the study of the older Shinto. They have the advantage of showing us this religion as seen by the Japanese themselves, thus leaving no room for the introduction of those errors which so often arise from the unconscious importation of modern European and Christian ideas into the accounts of other rudimentary cults. It should be observed that it is the State religion to which these records chiefly relate. Of the popular beliefs and practices at this time we are told but little. The Nihongi, and, to a lesser extent, the Kojiki, are somewhat influenced by Chinese ideas; but this element is generally recognizable. Buddhism was introduced into Japan towards the middle of the sixth century, and was widely propagated under the regency of Shôtoku Daishi, who died a.d. 621; but there is little or no trace of it in the older Shinto. For a long time there was a marked antagonism between the two religions which served to protect the latter from such adulteration. The Fūzoku Gwahō, a modern illustrated magazine, is a rich store of information respecting modern Shinto and the folk-lore and superstitions which are associated with it.


DEIFICATION OF MEN. The importance of the deification of human beings in Shinto has been grossly exaggerated both by European scholars and by modern Japanese writers. Grant Allen, for example, says, in his 'Evolution of the Idea of God': "We know that some whole great national creeds, like the Shinto of Japan, recognize no deities at all, save living kings and dead ancestral spirits." He was probably misled by the old writer Kaempfer, whose ignorance of the subject is stupendous. The truth is that Shinto is derived in a much less degree from the second of the two great currents of religious thought than from the first. It has comparatively little worship of human beings. In the Kojiki, Nihongi, and Yengishiki we meet with hardly anything of this element. None of their great Gods are individual human beings, though at a later period a few deities of this class attained to considerable eminence and popularity. An analysis of a list of "Greater Shrines," prepared in the tenth century, yields the following results: Of the Gods comprised in it, seventeen are nature deities, one is a sword, which probably represented a nature deity, two are more or less legendary deceased Mikados, one is the deified type and supposed ancestor of a priestly corporation, one is the ancestor of an empress, and one a deceased statesman. Deified Individual Men.--Like Nature-Gods, Man-Gods may be divided into three classes--namely, deified individual men, deified classes of men, and deified human qualities. The first of these classes comprises the Mikados, living or dead, and numerous heroes, of whom Yamato-dake, the legendary conqueror of the eastern part of Japan, and Sugahara (Tenjin), the god of learning, may be quoted as examples. Phases of Conception.--They are variously conceived of, as follow:-- I. X, alive or dead, is a great man, worthy of our love, reverence, gratitude, or fear. II. X, sometimes when alive, more frequently when dead, is possessed of superhuman powers, usually borrowed from those of nature, such as the control of the weather and the seasons, and of diseases. III. X's powers reside not in his body but in a more or less spiritual emanation from it.