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samurai class, always distinguished for stability, courage,
and loyalty to those in authority, had stood the supreme
test of yielding up rights gained by centuries of evolution,
and Japan, as we now know it, was created. A marvel
truly to all save those who have read her history deeply
and aright.



IN nothing does Japan differ from most other great
nations more than in its religion or faith of the people.
In the case of almost every civilised race the pre-
vailing religious belief which they now hold is of exotic
growth, having little or nothing to do with the national
life, and playing a very unimportant part in national growth.
The one remarkable exception to this rule in ancient times
was that of the Jewish people, with whom, indeed, their
national life and religious belief was so closely allied as
to be almost indistinguishable. In the literature of their
race it is frequently difficult at first to realise whether
the spiritual or the national is being referred to. And it
is probable that the extraordinary patriotism and loyalty
of the individual to the race to which he belongs, which
appears on every page of Jewish history, is attributable
to this fact. There is, indeed, something approaching
the sublime in the record of the Hebrews, who, owning
not a foot of their native land nationally, scattered in
all parts of the inhabitable world, persecuted, distrusted,
and disliked, still proclaim their undying, inextinguish-
able belief that they are God's chosen people, and amidst
all difficulties, in spite of all discouragement, still exist
as an example of a strangely distinct and wonderfully
homogeneous people.

In the national faith of Japan, the ancient Shinto faith,



which has survived all the trying vicissitudes of former
and modern times, and has resisted all efforts of alien
creeds to supplant it, one finds the one other religion
which is pre-eminent for its patriotism. In Japan it
remains to-day not merely the real faith of the Japanese
as a whole, but the embodiment of the loyalty of the
people to the motherland ; consolidating the national life
and ambitions as no other influence could do. It is for
this reason that there can be but one answer to the
inquiry, " What is the religion of the Japanese? "

It is true that many Japanese are Buddhists, and not
a few are Confucianists, but all are Shintoists ; for the
Shinto faith is not merely the State religion, but part
and parcel of the spirit and life of every inhabitant of
the Mikado's empire. Religion and patriotism are with
them, as with the Jews, indissoluble. There are a few
adherents amongst the Japanese, more especially in the
towns, of various types of the Christian faith ; but no alien
religion has really taken root in Japan, and certainly none
has become identified in any way with the national life.

With regard to matters relating to the blending of
religion and patriotism, the Hebrews and the Japanese
are strangely alike. But how immeasurably different have
been their destinies ! The first, with not a vestige
of empire remaining, still dominates the chief civilised
nations by means of its religion, astounding acuteness and
intelligence, and the material wealth of individuals. The
second, with jthe tenets of her religious faith scarcely
known to the people of other nations, has come to be
regarded as one of the greatest and most progressive
powers of modern times.

The Shinto faith, which forms so unique an example
of the survival untouched through the ages of a primitive
religion, however deserves attention, not alone for that
reason. For it is interesting also because of its general


tendency, as well as because its tenets are so opposite to
those of more Western civilisations.

In modern times one has heard in our own land the
assertion oft repeated by preachers of all denominations,
that whilst the outward seeming of religion flourishes very
much as of yore, a great deal that is most vital — the
heart and life of religion — has declined. In Japan, by
some strange working of fate and the development of the
human mind, the essence of the Shinto worship is still
the most vital force in the nation's life, though many of
the ancient shrines are sadly deserted, and the outward
evidence of the prevalence of religion is almost entirely
lacking. And although its theological traditions are openly
and entirely discredited, and the acts of worship (where
performed) are recognised as the outcome of pure cere-
monialism, yet the heart of the Shinto faith remains the
mainspring of the nation, from which is derived its aston-"
ishing and immutable loyalty.

In the Shinto faith as it is recognised to-day, we find
something far more profound and far-reaching in its effects
than the survival of mere tradition or ceremonialism. It
stands for character in the highest and best sense ; courage,
honour, courtesy, and above all, the spirit of unswerving
loyalty. The foundations of Shintoism are compact of
filial piety, the zest for the performance of duty, and the
willingness, which has been often evidenced of late years
to the whole world, of individuals to lay down even life
itself for a principle without hesitation or demur, or inquiry
as to the reason why such a supreme sacrifice should be
required. It is religion transformed or engrafted upon
hereditary moral impulse, and translated into ethical in-
stinct In a word, it is the Yamato Damashii y or " Soul
of Japan."

When one seeks for a reason for the unique patriotism
of the Japanese race, it is not going too far to assign as


one cause the long period of isolation which, as a nation,
Japan has undergone. And when one remembers the
beautiful land in which the faith of the people has been
fostered, and the worship of nature which forms an impor-
tant feature of Shinto religion, one can understand how
this may have easily developed into a sentient feeling
of national pride, which there is, indeed, much in the
exceptional conditions of Japanese life to encourage.

It must also be remembered that the Shinto faith is
distinguished by its extraordinary unifying spirit. In it
there are none of the controversial elements which play
so important a part in most other creeds. In it there is
nothing concerning which it is possible to quarrel! And
perhaps for this reason many are inclined to dispute that
it is a religion at all.

How strange, indeed, to most Western minds must
appear a faith which is ruled by no set of dogmas, and
possesses no infallible book ; no semblance of a creed
as it is generally understood, no sharply denned moral
code, no idols, no distinct priesthood, and neither threat
of punishment after death for those who err, or promise
of joy for those who live good lives. One not unnatural
result of this has been that the Japanese race has never
been afflicted nor divided by wars of religion ; and the
attitude of the Japanese mind towards other faiths has
been sympathetic if not acceptive. The missionary efforts
of alien religions have invariably been received with
courtesy and consideration at first. It has only been when
the suspicion that these foreign propagandists might have
ulterior and political motives likely to prove injurious to
or subversive of the State that persecution has resulted.
And although it has been stated to the contrary, it is
perfectly safe to assert that the sword has never been
drawn on any one solely because of his religious opinions.

But the power of the Shinto religion in stimulating the

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spirit of patriotism which permeates and unifies Japanese
life is not solely attributable to what may be termed its
negative characteristics. Its positive virtues have also
contributed their share in past times to this development.

That a faith which may be said to have been kept
alive by the nation's state of isolation should present much
that is mysterious to speculative Western minds is little
to be wondered at, and many have been the attempts to
range and define its positive elements. Some students
and authorities have sought to attach to it the reproach
of phallicism ; whilst others have professed to trace the
cult of hypnotism in its modern observances. But how-
ever much those who have thought deeply and given
the greatest amount of research to the subject may differ
upon some points, there are two upon which no such diver-
gence of opinion exists. All are agreed that two of the
most salient features of Shinto are nature worship
and reverence for dead ancestors. Few influences could
be found better calculated than these to inspire and
build up love of and loyalty to such a land as Japan in
a race so sensible to the influence of all that is beautiful
as are the Japanese. Born to a heritage of wonderful
beauty, it is little to be marvelled at that the people should
have been inspired by it with a religious reverence for,
and an almost fanatical and idolatrous abstract love of their
native land itself.

The story of isolated nations as regards their great and
outstanding patriotism has ever been the same. Holland
guarded by her dykes, Switzerland by her mountains, the
British Isles by their girdle of seas, have one and all been
distinguished as lands where the love of country has been
fostered until it has become almost a religion.

Much the same circumstances have affected the destinies
of Japan. Here, where scenes of romantic and almost
indescribable beauty are wedded to all the wilder and more


mystic elements of grandeur which comes from a volcanic
origin, and where every valley, glade, crag, and cliff is
clothed with the richest vegetation, it is little wonder that
the spirit of the people has been influenced in the direction
of a patriotism which has made that of most other nations
sink into insignificance. Then the race itself is endued
with a singular sense of beauty, which has made Nature-
worship not merely a possible but a natural faith.

The outcome of this same Nature-worship is easily
traceable in many ways. One must be familiar to all
travellers in Japan. To them the torii or sacred arch or
gateway may mean little or nothing. It is too common to
long excite interest in the minds of the average traveller.
To the Japanese, however, it means much.

In construction — whatever its materials may be, whether
wood, stone, or metal — its form never varies. It consists
of two columns or posts slightly inclined inwards, upon
which is placed a horizontal cross-beam with projecting
ends, beneath which is another beam having its ends fitted
into the upright columns. Constructed of such simple
materials, these always graceful torii yet exhibit in a re-
markable degree the dexterity which is possessed by the
Japanese for producing the most excellent results with the
simplest of materials. These detached arches, which are
found throughout Japan often in the most unexpected
places, always span the path where it approaches sacred
ground. But it differs from the consecrated portals of all
other countries from the circumstance that it does not
necessarily imply that it stands at the entrance to or near
a temple. Over and over again it is discovered at the
entrance to a mountain path or set in the deep and silent
glades of a wood. Sometimes it appears on the shores of
a lake quite close to the water's edge ; at others in a clump
of bushes or trees amidst the wide and monotonous expanse
of the rice-fields ; at others on the bluff of a cliff, or at the


entrance to a cavern. If one explores when it is found at
the beginning of a path and follows the latter, one is led
sometimes, it is true, to a temple — often almost deserted,
sometimes falling into abject decay ; but more frequently
the path beyond the torii leads but to a primitive shrine,
in which nothing will be discoverable. But it has its
reason, for close by, if one searches, there will be found
some suggestion for Nature-worship ; it may be a tiny
crystal stream, a gnarled tree-trunk once a magnificent
forest giant, a grove of stately trees, or a lovely fern-clad
rock of uncommon size and shape. These are the reasons
for the tiny shrine, which was not built to receive an idol,
but, as it were, to consecrate its beautiful environment.

And again, many a time the curious traveller who
follows the path beneath the torii will at the end be
greeted with neither temple nor shrine. The end of the
path is some spot where a wide and lovely prospect is
unfolded to the eye, a vision of beauty or impressive
grandeur which is to the Japanese mind and heart more
sacred than either.

It is — strange though it may seem — at such places
that the Japanese find the true habitations of their religion,
which, as we have sought to show, is more an intense love
of Nature and a burning patriotism than a collection of
dogmas or theological tenets. But though these two
things form a great part of the Shinto faith they are not
all. Were it so there would, indeed, be nothing in it to
have prevented Japan experiencing a like fate to that
which befell Greece, a country between whose life and
that of Japan many interesting similarities can be traced.
Were Shintoism merely Nature-worship, and had the
religion of the Japanese race been purely and solely a form
of sestheticism, the nation would doubtless have drifted
into the effeminacy and degenerateness which proved the
ruin of ancient Greece. But in it there was another


factor — a virile element, which has served to keep Japan
true to the noblest form of patriotism, as well as inspired
her with an overmastering love of country and loyalty.
Without most of the outward elements which are com-
monly looked for in a religion, Shintoism possessed a
great and lasting stimulus to duty, and has proved a
wonderful character-builder.

It is in the ever loyal devotion to the memory and
example of the dead, which is commonly called ancestor-
worship, and in the sentiment and practice of filial
obedience which Japan has recently shown, that the source
of the strength and energy which has enabled her to
accomplish so much in the hard-fought field and on the
high seas must be looked for.

China first and then Russia (both unwieldy and corrupt)
have learned to their cost how strong can be a nation,
though astonishingly inferior numerically, when such a
national faith as that of Japan has to be reckoned with.

In the case of the Japanese it may be said that their
dead are always with them ; not simply, as is the case with
many other nations, in traditions of brave and knightly
acts, and lingering memories of a past chivalry, but as
though their forbears, whose deeds are enshrined in legend
and story, are themselves reincarnated and present in the
field to encourage their descendants of to-day in deeds of
valour and self-sacrificing patriotism. In the mind of the
Japanese soldier of whatever rank is the fixed and im-
mutable idea present that all the heroes of his country's
past — emperors, princes, chiefs, and leaders — as well as the
revered and worshipped ancestors of his own household,
look down and witness his deeds of valour.

It must, however, be remembered that this is not the
sole element of national power which is derived by the
Japanese from their national faith. For from out their
reverence for the dead, and for the living as age creeps on,


has also sprung that astonishingly complete and unswerving
obedience, which has made of the people a vast community
of law-abiding and patriotic citizens, and of its army one
of the most effective and well-organised forces of modern
warfare. That from the Japanese youth of to-day should
be evolved a loyal patriot and a magnificent soldier should
cause little surprise when long years of unquestioning
obedience to the elders of his family are remembered,
backed up by centuries of similar discipline, under which
his ancestors themselves learned the arts of war and the
duty of the individual to the State.

It is not alone the vast resources of the Japanese nation
which makes the study of this interesting and progressive
people fascinating ; but it is also the undreamt-of develop-
ments, which will probably be the outcome of the intense
love of the fatherland, knit to many centuries of practice in
filial piety and unswerving loyalty to the living symbol of
power and the nation's great dead.

And thus the Shinto faith, though truly devoid of all
the features generally associated with conventional religious
beliefs, has yet in it the essentials of a true and time-
enduring and even immutable faith, with a power to inspire
a heart-whole patriotism, and ensure an unexampled faith-
fulness to national ideals and earnestness in life.

It is because of this — and because in love of their
country and in unswerving loyalty to it the Japanese are
undivided — that this faith, which they share with the early
Greeks and Romans, but which they alone amongst the
civilised nations have been able to keep alive and develop,
has unified their ideals of life more completely than that of
any other nation.

In Japan there is (as we have before said) but one
true religion, the faith of Shinto, which has no stated
commandments, and lives neither in books nor in rites —
but in the heart of the Japanese people, of which it forms



the highest emotional religious sentiment and expression ;
immortal, and ever new. And underlying all the array
of curious and strange superstitions which lie upon its
surface, and the simple myths and fantastical magic, there
throbs an animating and magnificently potent spiritual
force — the whole and entire soul of a patriotic race with
all its motives and intuitions. And those who would
comprehend either it or the race over which it holds so
complete and in many ways so beneficent a sway, must
get to know that mysterious thing, in which the sense of
abstract beauty, the power of art, and the compelling
force of an enduring loyalty and patriotism have become
inborn, ever present and abiding.

But though the Shinto faith has survived almost un-
modified for ages, and Japan has remained throughout
the centuries immune from hostile invasion, she has been
again and yet again subject to invasion by one power,
which, though never able to destroy or supplant the
ancient national faith, has nevertheless deeply affected
and modified the social conditions and intellectual life of
the nation.

Few countries, indeed, have escaped being subdued
by the missionaries of some exotic religious faith, and in
a limited sense such a fate has also been that of Japan.
But the fact remains, that the various alien religions
which have from time to time been introduced, and have
even to a certain extent taken root within her confines,
have failed to change in any essential respect the national
faith, and thus it is possible for Japan to claim that she has
held her unique record as the unconquerable by religious
invasion, as she has held it in her entire exemption from
successful physical attack. In almost all other lands in-
vaded by alien religions, the ancient faiths have either
entirely disappeared, or have become so deeply modified
as to be ultimately almost unrecognisable. But in the


case of Japan this has not happened. Indeed, the reverse
has proved the case, and rather has the alien faith been
gradually, as it were, grafted upon the ancient one ; and
whilst the would-be proselytisers have been themselves
converted, their own faith has become little more than an
appendage of or supplementary to the ancient and only
living religion of the Mikado's Empire.

So it still remains true that, although Japan has ex-
tended to teachers of alien creeds a frank and even open-
handed hospitality, no very substantial number of converts
have ever been made from the national faith of Shintoism.
Buddhism and Confucianism have both in the past entered
and endured in Japan, but it is nevertheless true that no
Japanese on becoming attached to either of those faiths
has ceased to be a Shintoist. Indeed, for one to have
done so would have been regarded as an act of treachery
to the nation and to the Imperial sway. Shinto and
Buddhist temples may, in many instances, be found in
Japan existing side by side, with the same priest officiating
at and caring for both.

But although there is no scope for religious propa-
gandists of alien creeds who do not at once recognise that
the Shinto faith must, of necessity, remain supreme, the
hospitality, which we have referred to as being extended
to all, has only been withdrawn in one single instance,
and then only when it had been glaringly abused.

It was because Confucianism when it entered Japan
did so with neither idea of conquest nor fired with an
ardent desire for conversions, that it was welcomed as
something capable of adding to the nation's well-being.
It was found to supply the code of morals with which
Shintoism does not concern itself, but which were a
necessary adjunct to the native faith, and in addition it
gave sanction to the reverence for the aged and the
departed, upon which the foundations of Shintoism rest.


Thus for three centuries, more as a system of learning
and dogma than as a proselytising faith, it was made
welcome, and flourished. Chiefly over the minds of
the more learned and those of scholars, Confucianism un-
doubtedly attained a remarkable ascendency, and during
its sway the Shinto faith existed with it side by side, and
from it derived a certain purifying grace which led to the
abandonment of many of those superstitions and purely
mystical elements which had during the ages become
attached to Shintoism.

Buddhism, which reached Japan some time during the
fifth century, was at first a much more militant invasion
than that of Confucianism. But it was in the end destined
to undergo the same process of adoption, for the Japanese
were not slow to recognise Buddhism as possessing certain
elements which were capable of strengthening and supple-
menting the deficiencies that undoubtedly existed in the
native faith. This was (as we have seen) without dogma
or established tenets, and these things Buddhism was
capable of supplying.

This new religion, which rivals that of Rome itself in
the impressive ornateness of its services and the splendour
lavished upon its decorative embellishments, ultimately
gave to Shintoism (which lacked these distinctive features)
a new life ; and to the culture of the nation's sense of
beauty a new incentive and trend. Buddhism, which has
been received and adopted by the Turanian races alone,
just as the Christian faith has made progress chiefly
amongst nations of the Aryan family, was welcomed by
the Japanese, and found a congenial soil in which to strike
its roots. But, notwithstanding this, and the fact that the
great majority of the Japanese are nominally professing
Buddhists, this alien faith, that it might survive, had ulti-
mately to adapt itself to the ancient one of the Japanese
people. It is true that Buddhism is nowadays in evidence


throughout Japan as the faith of the common people, but
it is equally certain that by its acceptance they have never
contemplated the abjuration of their ancient and truly
national religion. The only way in which Buddhism was
able to ensure for itself even a nominal ascendency was
by the taking into its own pantheon the whole of the
Shinto gods, and by inducing the belief that it was only
another form of the old faith which had held its place in
the heart and life of the nation for so many centuries.

There was a re-naming of the deities which the Japanese
had always held in reverence ; and the festivals which had
grown dear to them were associated with the days con-
secrated to Buddhist saints. The means taken were
subtle, but by such as we have indicated was the alien
faith offered to and made acceptable in the eyes of the
Japanese people.

Buddhism itself made great concessions, and upon it
were brought to bear all the influences of Japanese patriot-
ism, which were gradually and surely assimilated. But
the old faith remained unaltered in all essentials. Pro-
foundly as the alien religion in many respects affected
Japanese life and character — providing new impulses to
the aesthetic life of the people, adding new and pictur-

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 3 of 23)