F. (Frank) Brinkley.

Japan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) online

. (page 11 of 16)
Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 11 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tresses to weave these ropes. There is abundant
life in the faith still.

With regard to the relations between religion
and the State in Japan, it may be said that, up
to the beginning of the ninth century, Shinto
was the only officially recognised religion, though
Buddhism enjoyed so much favour. A special
department (Shingi-kari) of Shinto ceremonies



managed all matters connected with worship,
and stood at the head of the public offices.
From the establishment of the capital at Kyoto,
however, the influence of Buddhism began to be
felt, not in open opposition, but rather as an
overshadowing and absorbing system, which, by
appropriating the chief traditional features of its
rival, gradually deprived the latter of individu-
ality and therefore of power. Still the imported
faith remained long without State recognition.
Its priesthood, though growing in wealth and
number, and practically autocratic within the
domain of religious affairs, enjoyed no official
exemptions or privileges. Their hierarchs were
appointed without reference to the secular authori-
ties, and were not included in the roll of official
grades. Under the Tokugawa Government a
change took place. Following the example of
their great predecessor, lyeyasu, the Sboguns rul-
ing in Yedo spared no pains to cement their rela-
tions with Buddhism by extending to it ample
patronage and support. Yet, even while striking
monuments of that munificence grew up in the
splendid mausolea at Shiba, Uyeno, and Nikko,
the political status of the creed might have
remained unaltered had not the advent of Chris-
tianity and the Government's crusade against it
led the third Sbogun, lyemitsu, to conceive the
necessity of establishing a certain measure of State
control over religious affairs. Regulations were
then (early in the seventeenth century) issued


that no priest should be promoted unless he had
given evidence of erudition by passing an exami-
nation and unless he had led a life consistent
with the tenets he taught. Further, in order
to qualify for establishing a new or an indepen-
dent temple, a priest must have devoted at least
thirty years to investigation of the doctrine he
undertook to propagate, and twenty years' study
was declared an essential preliminary to public
preaching, which also was forbidden to a priest
if his conduct showed any lapse from strict moral-
ity. A novice had to be of approved ability and
aptitude; no man might remain in a monastery
unless he spent his time in study and strictly
observed the moral law ; a branch temple was
required under all circumstances to obey the
instructions of its principal temple ; disputes
among priests must be referred to the head of the
sect, and might thereafter be carried to Yedo on
appeal ; radical changes in the denomination of
a sect were forbidden, and though an abbot might
pass over to a different sect, it was illegal for him
to transfer his whole congregation without the
sanction of his feudal chief or of the Yedo authori-
ties, a veto sufficient in itself to prove how
little importance the people attached to sectarian
questions. Buddhism further became at that
epoch an openly recognised instrument in the
State's campaign against Christianity. To be
borne on a temple register was considered neces-
sary evidence of non-adherence to the alien creed.



The sect to which a man belonged, the regularity
of his visits to a place of worship, the amount of
his contributions for religious purposes, his ob-
servance of periodical rites, his habits as to keep-
ing an image of Buddha in his house and praying
before it morning and evening, concerning all
these things the priests were expected to furnish
information, and they thus acquired a distinctly
official status in the eyes of the nation. Other-
wise, however, the State exercised little control,
the priesthood retaining competence to elect their
own prelates, enforce their own canons, and
administer their own affairs. Only when propa-
gandism was associated with grossly mischievous
practices did the law interfere. Thus, at the
close of the eighteenth century, a branch of
the Spirit Sect fell under the displeasure of the
authorities for constructing an edifice where long
fasting and prayers, supposed to be rewarded
by a personal manifestation of the Buddha, were
carried to such fanatical excess that several people
lost their reason and even their lives. Another
strange abuse occurred, about the same time, at a
temple in Yamato, where the priests claimed
power to procure for the faithful a painless
admission to Nirvana. They made good their
promise by placing the victim in a coffin and
killing him with spear-thrusts delivered secretly
from beneath during a loud clamour of chaunting
and prayer. This tragedy ultimately assumed a
more refined form. In lieu of a coffin the priests



prepared a bronze vessel shaped like a lotus-
flower, and the worshipper having been laid
within the petals of this emblem of paradise, his
body was pierced by concealed blades. Such
extreme abuses were rare ; but in general, despite
the rules spoken of above, the priests, corrupted
by prosperity, sank into a state of ignorance and
self-indulgence during the Tokugawa epoch,
violating the austere tenets of their faith and
breaking their vows of celibacy. The tests of
erudition prescribed by law as a preface to pro-
motion lost all practical value. High office was
purchased with money rather than earned by
merit. Prayers and ceremonials were sold. If
a priest won renown by zeal and devotion, a
crowd of sordid followers attached themselves to
him, perverting his fame into an instrument of
gain. Abbots bought the privilege of calling
their temple the repository of some nobleman's
mortuary tablet in order that they might blazon
his crest on the furniture and curtains of the
chancel. Many priests of noble character, pro-
found piety, and wide erudition still upheld the
best traditions of the creed, but the general moral
level of the Buddhist clergy fell to an exceedingly
low point.

It does not appear, however, that these priestly
abuses brought popular discredit on the faith.
The middle and lower classes remained unshaken
in their belief. In almost every household an
image of Buddha stood enshrined, and at morn



and eve prayers and the fumes of incense ascended
thence to heaven, while, in addition to these acts
of daily worship, there were unfailing visits to
temples to tell rosaries and place flowers in
memory of the dead, and there were pilgrimages
to the thirty-three shrines of Kwannon, to the
twenty-four sanctuaries of the Spirit Sect, the
twenty-five of the Pure Land, the eighty-eight
of Daishi, to those of the Seven Deities in spring
and of the six Amidas in autumn, to the six Jizo
at all times, or to the twelve Yakushi, or the
thirty Benzaiten, or the twenty-one temples of
Nichiren, or the thousand sacred places of the
central provinces. In short, Buddhism with its
fetes, its festivals, its ceremonials, its duties to the
dead, its pilgrimages, its sermons, and its registers,
occupied as large a place in the daily life of the
Japanese middle and lower orders as Christianity
has ever occupied in the life of any Western
nation, though the former never exercised the
same emotional influence as the latter, nor ever
furnished an equally potent code of practical

It must be repeated, however, that Shinto, the
ancient faith of the land, retained its place side by
side with Buddhism. If in every district a temple
stood for the worship of Buddha, there stood also
a shrine for supplications to the guardian deity
(Ujigamt), and if each household had a Buddhist
image, it had also a Shinfo altar. From the Nara
epoch when, as already stated, the Buddhist prop-



agandists grafted the indigenous faith upon the
imported by recognising the Shinto deities to be
incarnations of Buddha, the two creeds became
a duality (riyobu Shinto), and the Japanese nation
presented the unique spectacle of a people paying
homage to two systems of religion simultane-
ously. Not until the fifteenth century was any
serious attempt made to separate them again.
Yoshida Shingu (1489-1492) then sought to
popularise a cult which he called " pure Shinto"
but which was in reality indebted for many of
its doctrines and ceremonies to the Tendai Sect
of Buddhism. Ritualism was the distinguishing
feature of this form of Shinto. In the seventeenth
century three scholars Hagiwara Kanetomo,
Ideguchi Yenka, and Yamasaki Ansai promoted
another renaissance. Their doctrine, when care-
fully analysed, is found to have been an attempt
to refer the origin of Japanese theology to the
philosophy of China, the philosophy of the male
and female principles. The effect of this impor-
tation of Chinese theories into the ancient faith
of Japan was to call into existence a school of
thinkers, culminating in the eighteenth century
with Mabuchi, Motoori, and Hirata, who en-
deavoured to purge Shinto from Buddhist and
Confucian elements alike and to reestablish its
connection with the beginnings of Japanese his-
tory. This last revival, being based on the
century's oldest annals and associated with its
most revered traditions, differed from that of



Yoshida in that it dispensed with rituals and
ceremonials, and from that of Yamasaki in that
it totally eschewed the doctrine of the Tang and
the Ting. It appealed essentially to the erudite
section of the nation, whereas to the eyes of the
illiterate it presented a cold, emotionless aspect,
supplying neither a formula of worship nor a
doctrine that could be connected with the in-
terests of daily life. From that point of view
the Shinto of Yamasaki Ansai was preferable
for the sake of its association with the Book of
Changes, with divination, and with fortune-tell-
ing ; and the Shinto of Yoshida, since it furnished
for every disciple the mechanical refuge of a
thousand-times-iterated prayer, and for the pil-
grim a supplication to which he could attune
his steps as he ascended and descended a sacred
mountain. 1 Speaking broadly, Shinto holds its
place with the masses for the sake of its supersti-
tions and its polytheism. Originally, a distinc-
tion existed between the Ubusuna-no-Kami, or
local deity, and the Uji-gami, or household deity.
But this difference ultimately ceased to be con-
sidered, and daily devotions at the domestic shrine
were addressed to whichever deity presided over
the worshipper's sphere of occupation or interest.
In some cases the attributes of the ancient deities
had become confused, and even their names for-
gotten, 2 but men did not trouble themselves about
such things so long as some tutelary power could

1 See Appendix, note 52. 3 See Appendix, note 53.



be invoked on every occasion and for every purpose.
Perhaps the most intelligible way of differentiat-
ing the practical aspects of the two creeds is to
say that the Shinto deities are invoked in connec-
tion with all the joys and successes of life; the
Buddha is worshipped in connection with its
sorrows and bereavementSc No light is kindled
nor any incense burned before the Hotoke at New
Year's time or on other festive occasion, and when
death or sickness visits a house, the Shinto altar,
in turn, stands without worship.

It will readily be conceived that special rites
have to be performed when petitions of great
import are offered to heaven, the o-komori,
for example, which means twenty-one days of
unceasing prayer within a shrine ; the kankon y
or pouring ice-cold water over the naked body
in midwinter ; the hadashi-mairi, or barefooted
worship ; the hiyakudo-mairi y or hundred acts of
devotion, and so on. But in general the pilgri-
mage is the greatest effort demanded of a Shinto
or Buddhist believer.

Neither religion can lay claim to State protec-
tion in modern times. The Tokugawa Govern-
ment added to the body politic a new class of
officials called 'Jisha-bugyo, whose duty was to
administer the secular laws in all matters relating
to religion, and who were chosen from among
the most influential nobles in the Empire. The
Church was thus removed beyond the pale of the
ordinary tribunals, and brought under the pur-



view of the highest powers in the State. But
the scholastic movement in the eighteenth cen-
tury for the revival of pure Shinto assisted so ma-
terially to reestablish the doctrine of the Throne's
divinity, and thus to prepare the way for the
Restoration in 1867, that the Meiji Govern-
ment naturally identified itself with a creed of
such political utility. The Jisfia-iwgyo, whose
authority had extended to Shinto and Buddhism
alike, were abolished, and in their stead was estab-
lished the Sbingi-sbo t an office which ranked above
all the State departments, and was practically a
resuscitation of the Sbingi-kan already mentioned.
It is not to be doubted that the aim of the more
radical reformers of the time was the ultimate
suppression of Buddhism and the elevation of
Shinto to the rank of a State church. For
whereas the affairs of Shinto received direct super-
intendence from the new office, those of Bud-
dhism ceased to be recognised by officialdom;
the Buddhist temples were stripped of the greater
part of their large estates, and since they neces-
sarily lost at the same time the munificent pa-
tronage that had been extended to them by the
feudal nobles, a season of decadence and impov-
erishment overtook them. But Buddhism had
twined its roots too strongly round the hearts of
the people to be overthrown by an official storm.
Steadily it reasserted its influence, until, in 1872,
the Sbingi-sho was replaced by the Kyobu-sho, an
office ranking lower than its predecessor, but still

J 75


very high in the administrative organisation.
From this office the priests of the two religions
received equal recognition, and the same official
title (kybdb-shokii). Thenceforth the Govern-
ment's purpose of identifying the interests of
Church and State gradually ceased to have prac-
tical force, until (in 1884) the ranks and titles
of the priests were abolished ; the various sects
were declared perfectly free to choose their own
superintendents and manage their own affairs,
and in the administrative organisation there re-
mained only an insignificant Bureau of Shrines
and Temples [Shaji-kyoku] to deal with questions
from which the secular authority could not pru-
dently dissociate itself. 1 The last tie that bound
the Church to the State was severed by the pro-
mulgation of the Constitution in 1889, the twenty-
seventh article of which declares that, " within
limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and
not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, Jap-
anese subjects shall enjoy freedom of religious

Shinto, however, remains the unique creed of
the Imperial House. Appended to the Con-
stitution by which freedom of conscience was
unequivocally granted to the people, were three
documents, a preamble, an Imperial oath in the
Sanctuary of the Palace, and an Imperial speech,
every one of which contained words that left no
doubt of the sovereign's rigid adherence to the

1 See Appendix, note 54.

I 7 6



patriarchal faith of Japan. In the preamble His
Majesty said : " Having, by virtue of the glories
of our ancestors, ascended to the throne of a
lineal succession unbroken for ages eternal; de-
siring to promote the welfare, and to give devel-
opment to the moral and intellectual faculties of
our subjects who have been favoured with the
benevolent care and affectionate vigilance of our
ancestors, and hoping to maintain the pros-
perity of the State in concert with our people
and with their support, we hereby promulgate,"
etc. ; in the Imperial oath he said : " We, the
successor to the prosperous throne of our pre-
decessors, do humbly and solemnly swear to the
Imperial founder of our house and to our Im-
perial ancestors that, in consonance with a great
policy coextensive with the heavens and with the
earth, we shall maintain and secure from decline
the ancient form of government. . . . These
laws (the Constitution) contain only an exposi-
tion of grand precepts for the conduct of the
government, bequeathed by the Imperial founder
of our house and by our other Imperial ancestors.
That we have been so fortunate in our reign . . .
as to accomplish this work, we owe to the glori-
ous spirits of the Imperial founder of our house
and of our other Imperial ancestors;" and in the
Imperial speech he says: "The Imperial founder
of our house and our other Imperial ancestors, by
the help and support of the forefathers of our
subjects, laid the foundation of our empire upon a

VOL. V. - 12


basis which is to last for ever. That this bril-
liant achievement embellishes the annals of our
country, is due to the glorious virtues of our
sacred Imperial ancestors and to the loyalty and
bravery of our subjects, their love of country, and
their public spirit." There is no ambiguity here,
nor, indeed, any feebleness of language. The
Mikado, looking back to the immortals as his
progenitors, and persuaded that his dynasty and
empire have their protection and the protec-
tion of the successive Mikados now enrolled
in the ranks of the gods, believes that the past
twenty-six centuries of his house's rule and his
realm's integrity are an earnest of unbroken con-
tinuity awaiting both in the future. People in
the Occident, who listen with the calm born of
long custom while their monarchs proclaim them-
selves king or emperor " by the grace of God,"
and who join to the echoes of their triumphal
paeans a prayer for the abiding contenance of the
" Lord of Hosts," can scarcely claim an unquali-
fied title to criticise the more comprehensive,
though not more robust faith of the Empferor
of Japan.

The various religious ceremonials observed at
Court are all on the strict lines of orthodox Shinto.
On the first day of the first month the Shiho-bai
(four-quarter adoration) is celebrated. The Em-
peror worships the Sun Goddess, whose shrine is
at Ise, as well as the celestial and terrestrial dei-
ties, and makes offerings before the Imperial cen-



otaphs, praying for the happiness of his people
and the peace of his reign. On the third of the
same month, the Imperial ancestors and the dei-
ties of heaven and earth are again worshipped,
and petitions, now more particularly connected
with the tranquillity and prosperity of the reign,
are addressed to these supernatural guardians, in a
ceremonial called the Genshi-sai (festival of the
beginning) ; the significance being that the new
year's work of administration commences with
worship. On the eleventh of the second month
the Kigen-setsu (memorial of the origin) is held,
to commemorate the accession of the first mortal
Emperor, Jimmu. On the seventeenth of the
tenth month, the first rice of the year, and sake
brewed from it, are offered to the Sun Goddess,
the ceremony being called Kanname (divine tast-
ing). On the twenty-third of the eleventh
month, a similar rite the Nilname (new tasting)
is performed, the difference being that the
first fruits are now offered to all the deities. The
birthday of the Emperor himself is also cele-
brated, and four solemn mourning services are
performed, one on the anniversary (thirtieth Jan-
uary) of the death of the late Emperor (Komei) ;
the second on that (third April) of the death
of the first Emperor (Jimmu) ; the third and
fourth in memory of all the Imperial ancestors.
These two last are called Shunki-kbrei-sai (worship
of the Imperial spirits at the vernal equinox), and
Shiuki-korei-sai (worship of the Imperial spirits at



the autumnal equinox), and take place on the
spring and autumn equinoctial days, respectively.
Ancestral worship thus constitutes a prominent
feature of all the religious rites in the Palace.

No material differences distinguish the routine
of these ceremonials : to know one is to know all.
Within the Palace there is a large hall, the
Kashiko-dokoro, or a place of reverence, con-
structed of milk-white, knotless timbers, carefully
joined and smooth as mirrors but absolutely de-
void of decoration. At one end stands a large
shrine, also of snow-pure wood, with delicately
chased mountains of silver gilt. It encloses a
model of the sacred mirror, representing the great
ancestress, the Sun Goddess. Flanking it are two
smaller shrines, one dedicated to all the Imperial
ancestors since Jimmu, the other to the remain-
ing deities of the Shinto pantheon. Before each
shrine stands a censer. The floor is covered with
rice-straw mats having borders of white damask,
and within the folding doors of the shrines hang
curtains woven out of bamboo threads. At the
appointed hour generally the grey of morning
sakaki l boughs are laid beside the shrines, and
provision of incense (sbinko^ is made ; after which
the officials of the Bureau of Rites and those of
the Imperial Household file in and seat them-
selves on either side of the hall. The doors of
the shrines are then opened, and offerings of
various kinds vegetables, fish, cloth, and so

1 See Appendix, note 55.

I 80


forth are carried in and ranged before them,
solemn music in Japanese style being performed
the while. Thereafter the princes of the blood
and all officials of the two highest ranks (shinnin
and chokuniri\ 9 as well as the peers of the " musk
chamber " (Jako-no-ma) and the "golden-pheasant
chamber " (Kin&et-no-ma), enter, and when they
are seated, the Emperor himself appears, and pro-
ceeding slowly to the shrines, bows his head,
takes a branch of sakakl with pendent go-hei, and
having waved it in token of the purification of
sins, ignites sticks of incense and places one up-
right in each censer, thereafter repeating a ritual
(noto). So long as the Emperor is present in the
hall, all the officials remain standing. His Majesty
then retires, and, on his departure, worship of the
same kind, but without any prayer, is performed
by a representative of the Prince Imperial, by the
princes of the blood, and by the various officials,
each in due order of rank. Finally, the offerings
are removed, the shrines are closed to accompani-
ment of music, as before, and all retire. An in-
terval of a few minutes succeeds, and then once
more the officials of the Household Department
resume their seats, preparatory to worship by the
Empress Dowager and the Empress. The routine
and rites are exactly as before, but the official
worshippers are different. They now include
nobles of all orders, officials of the two inferior
grades (sonin and harming Shinto and Buddhist
superintendents, and the chief priests of the Monto



Sect. The ceremony, owing to the numbers that
take part in it and the unvaried solemnity of their
procedure, occupies a long time, but is of the
simplest character.

It is significant that the chief representatives
of Buddhism join in these acts of Shinto worship ;
but since, as already shown, the apostles of Bud-
dhism in Japan combined their creed with the
indigenous faith by declaring, in the eighth cen-
tury, that the Buddha of Light (Dainicbi Nyorai,
the Indian Birushanabutsu) had been incarnated
as Amaterasu in Japan, as Saka-muni in India,
and as Confucius in China, Buddhist hierarchs
of modern times merely obey the tenets of their
religion when they bow before the Shinto shrine
in the Hall of Reverence. Christianity, how-
ever, has made no such adaptation. Yet among
the body of officials who meet in the Kashiko-
dokoro there must be many Christians. It would
be possible for these men to absent themselves
on the ground of sickness. In no country does
a conventional excuse receive more generous rec-
ognition than in Japan. The plea of " indis-
position " is accepted without scrutiny, and is
understood to be serviceable as an explanation no
less than as a reason. But if officials that profess
Christianity and attend Christian places of wor-
ship made a habit of standing aloof, on whatever
plea, from the services conducted by the Emperor
in honour of the Sun Goddess and the spirits of
the Imperial ancestors, there cannot be any doubt



about the impression that such differentiation
must ultimately produce upon the mind of the
nation. In point of fact Christians do not stand

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 11 of 16)