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aloof. They bow their heads and burn incense
before the shrines in company with the disciples
of Shaka and of Shinto. How much violence
they do to their own religious convictions in
thus acting, how much homage they pay to the
god of expediency, need not be inquired. " Men
can be strangled with a strand of soft silk," says
a Japanese proverb. The impalpable essence of
Japanese patriotism takes the place of the soft
strand in this instance. The divine origin of the
Emperor, the unbroken line of his descent from
the immortals, the guardianship that his deified
ancestors extended to the realm and its people,
these are essential bases of Japanese patriotism.
It is a passionate patriotism, a fierce patriotism,
overlaid from time to time in the past by ashes
of disloyal ambition or domestic dissension, but
now fanned into strong flame by the wind of
Western masterfulness and intolerance. Whether
any Japanese subject could openly dissociate him-
self from the tenets of this national cult for
patriotism in modern Japan is nothing less than
a national cult and could yet lead a pleasant,
peaceful existence, is at least problematical. At
any rate, there has been no evident tendency
towards dissociation. Some compromise seems
to have been effected between conscience and
convention. It must be added, also, that worship



as a unit of a large company on the State occa-
sions alluded to above, is not the only ordeal
prescribed by custom. Any official, humble or
exalted, who is ordered to proceed abroad on
public business, must, before leaving Japan, pro-
ceed to the Hall of Reverence and perform an
act of homage or worship, whichever definition
he pleases to adopt. That is a duty ; there is
no option. Possibly it is regarded in the light
merely of a farewell declaration of allegiance.
Possibly, also, the main body of the Christians
in Japan accept the subtle distinction privately
drawn by some of their fellow-believers, that so
long as there is no worship in spirit, genuflec-
tions performed by the body have no connection
with religion. But it is singular that this ques-
tion has always been excluded from the sphere
of public discussion, and singular also that Chris-
tians do not apparently recognise how plainly
they are differentiated from the rest of the nation
by the absence of any representative on ceremonial
occasions in the Hall of Reverence. There is no
native Christian prelate in Japan. There are
Roman Catholic and Protestant hierarchs of
European and American origin, an Archbishop
and several Bishops and Archdeacons, but as
yet no Japanese subject has attained such dig-
nity. Each sect, however, has its senior pastor
or father of Japanese nationality, and until these
attend the ceremonials in the Hall of Reverence,
as do the chief representatives of Buddhism, the



Christian element of the population will continue
to be marked as standing aloof from rites which,
in the eyes of patriotic Japanese, are connected
with the very basis of nationalism.

The days set apart for these ceremonials within
the Palace are not marked by any act of general
devotion without, since the Emperor worships in
lieu of his people. They are merely observed as
national holidays. Every householder hangs the
national flag before his gate, but visits are not
paid to temples or shrines, nor is there any other
evidence of a special occasion. It should be
noted, too, that the description given here applies
only to the ceremonial system organised sub-
sequently to the Restoration in 1867. Prior to
that time, the deities supposed to preside over
worldly affairs were worshipped at fifteen set
seasons annually. But these rites have been
reduced and simplified. Formerly the deities
that gave abundant crops, the deities that
warded off plague and pestilence, the deities that
breathed the spirit of vigour into things animate
and inanimate, the deities that guarded against
conflagrations, the deities that quelled evil demons,
the deities that laid to rest wandering souls of
the dead, the deities that made rain fall in time
of drought, all these were severally and col-
lectively placated. But now the Shinto of the
State has made a step towards monotheism.
Amaterasu is worshipped as the supreme being ;
her descendants, the ancestors of the Emperor,



receive homage as associated deities performing a
special tutelary role ; l the other members of the
pantheon are collectively reverenced.

Shrines are divided into four official grades,
State, provincial, prefectural, and divisional or dis-
trict. There are subdivisions. State shrines are
dedicated, for the most part, to the divine ances-
tors, but at a few the objects of worship are
sovereigns or subjects that attained special dis-
tinction. Between a State shrine of the first
grade and a district shrine of the last, there is, of
course, a great difference in standing, but there
need not be any corresponding difference in the
relative importance of the deities worshipped
there. Sometimes the object of worship at a
State shrine of most imposing character is vener-
ated elsewhere under circumstances that suggest
an altogether inferior being. It is simply a
question of local repute, financial capabilities, or
other independent causes, just as in the Occident
the same God is prayed to in city cathedrals and
village churches. The shrine of the Sun God-
dess, the Daym-gu of Ise, stands at the head of
all, but scarcely a hamlet in the realm is without
a Daijin-gu of its own under the alias of Myo-jin.
As for the number of the deities, it has never
been counted by official statisticians. But the
shrines that enjoy any considerable popularity
are comparatively few, not more than ten in all. 2
The incomes enjoyed by these shrines are not

1 See Appendix, note 56. 2 See Appendix, note 57.



formidable. Some can boast of forty thousand
yen annually ; some of only a few hundreds.
Small grants from the State, supplemented by the
offerings of the pious and the sale of amulets, are
the sources of revenue. The special functions
assigned by the people to the deities worshipped
at these shrines are various. No one knows
what spirit of heaven or earth is venerated at the
Suiten-gu in Tokyo, and the shrine enjoys the
peculiar distinction of being the private property
of a nobleman. It stands within the precincts
of his residence, and contributes a handsome sum
to his yearly maintenance. 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 juxta-
position of " spheres of influence," against the
pains of parturition. The deity of Inari secures
efficacy for prayer and abundance of crops ; the
Taisba presides over wedlock ; the Kompira shares
with the Suiten-gu the privilege of guarding those
that " go down to the deep."

The rest confer prosperity, avert sickness, cure
sterility, bestow literary talent, endow with war-
like prowess, and so on. There are no less than
193,476 Shinto shrines in Japan, but 14,766
priests suffice to perform the rites of the creed.
It will be asked how one priest manages to
officiate at thirteen shrines, which is the aver-
age. The answer is that he does not officiate,
as folks in the West understand the term. It



may be said generally of the Shinto shrines that
not more than one service is performed there
annually. The building stands frequently unin-
habited, apparently untended. Now and then a
worshipper comes, grasps the thick hempen rope
that hangs in front, sways it against the gong
across which it is suspended, and having thus
summoned the presiding spirit, mutters a brief
prayer, deposits two or three cash in the alms-
chest, and goes his way. The Buddhists have
108,000 temples and 54,000 priests. It will be
seen that many of these temples cannot fare
better in the matter of ministrations than do the
Shinto shrines.

As Shinto shrines are officially graded, so are
the priests l connected with them. But the rank
held by the greatest of the latter corresponds only
with that of a local governor or a vice-minister
of State. The hierarchy does not climb to a
lofty elevation ; there is no Archbishop of Canter-
bury, no Pope of Rome. Nor would the emolu-
ments of office excite the envy of an English
rector. The official allowance, when there is
one, varies from 100 yen to 33 yen monthly.
Supplemented by a portion of the income accru-
ing to the shrine, the portliest stipend of a Shinto
priest probably amounts to twenty pounds sterling
per month. In order to qualify for the magnifi-
cent chance of such opulence, he has to pass an
examination, unless, indeed and the contin-

1 See Appendix, note 58.



gency is not rare his father and forefathers
have been priests for ten generations.

Buddhist priests have no official rank, nor are
their temples graded. They live on the contri-
butions of their parishioners and on the income
derived from lands that were of great extent and
large wealth-yielding capacity until the Govern-
ment of the Restoration reduced their area to a
mere fraction of its original dimensions.


Chapter VI


IT will have been gathered, from what has
been already written, that the Japanese are
superstitious. They believe in ghosts, in
demons, in the possession of supernatural
powers by animals, in the efficacy of divination,
and in the potency of spells and amulets. Of
course the degree of such credulity varies greatly
in the different strata of society, the upper and
the educated classes giving themselves little con-
cern about theories and traditions which play no
small part in the lives of the low-born and the
ignorant. That differentiation should be always
remembered in reading what follows.

Not many painful superstitions attach to the
lower orders of creation. Birds, animals, or fishes
that have lived to a great age in secluded places
are regarded as tutelary spirits, especially when
they have an awe-inspiring aspect, as is the case
with the bear, the monkey, the eagle, the cat-fish,
the eel, the turtle, and the snake. Rustics call
these creatures nushi (master), and treat them
with profound reverence. A cognate form of
superstition is to revere doves as messengers



of Hachiman (the god of war), rats as those of
Daikoku (the deity of wealth), centipedes as those
of Blshamon (the god of fortune), and ants as those
of the Sun Goddess. A notable exception to
this generally kindly view is connected with the
origin of the earthquake. That source of gravest
alarm to the Japanese is believed to be due to
a giant cat-fish (namazu) which lies buried under
the "land of the gods." Over its head is built
the shrine of Daimyo-jin at Kashima in the
province of Hitachi, and that deity is supposed to
have his feet planted on the monster's snout.
Whenever the god reduces the pressure or alters
the position of his feet, the cat-fish writhes and
the earth quakes. Beside the shrine stands a stone
called "the pivot rock" (kaname-ishi]. It is in
the form of a rude pillar, and the people believe
that it penetrates to an enormous depth and
reaches to the head of the cat-fish.

It is probable that had wild animals been at
any time a source of terror to the Japanese, the
fact would find expression in their superstitions.
But Japan was never troubled by the fiercer beasts
of prey, lions and tigers, nor yet by venomous
reptiles. If her island chain once formed a part
of the Asiatic continent, as is generally believed,
it would seem inevitable that the tiger should
have made his home in Japanese forests. But
there is no evidence that either tiger or lion ever
roamed the wilds of Japan. Snakes abound, but
with one solitary exception the mamushi they



are absolutely harmless. Wolves, however, were
certainly numerous and destructive in ancient
times, though they may now be said to survive
in the realm of tradition only ; and bears occa-
sionally showed formidable propensities, though
they, too, are to-day regarded merely as the
hunter's quarry. At present the wild dog the
" mountain dog " (yama-inu) is the only beast
that inspires terror. He is not a wolf, but merely
a dog that has never been domesticated. The
Japanese dog is a valueless brute. In the stage
of puppy-hood he presents some attractive features
of fluffiness and rotundity, and artists have often
recognised his picturesque qualities. But a few
months of life suffice to convert him into an ill-
shapen, unsightly, and useless cur. Except with
children, therefore, he is never a pet, and he
requites their kindness by eating them. Even
within the precincts of the capital, during recent
years, packs of dogs, starving outcasts, have been
known to pull down a child in one of the waste
spaces that mark the sites of former feudal

Nevertheless the deity of animals is regarded
as an inhuman monster whom in ancient time it
was considered necessary to placate by means of
human sacrifices. Tradition has become much
confused about this custom. Many Japanese
believe that human beings were among the offer-
ings originally made to the tutelary deities, in
conjunction with fish, vegetables, and products of




industry. But the best authorities agree that
such sacrifices were made to the god of wild
beasts only. The victim was always a girl, and
the manner of selecting her was singular. From
the earliest ages, the archer's weapons have been
regarded with the utmost reverence in Japan.
Having been originally instrumental in bringing
"the barbarous autochthons under the celestial in-
vaders' sway, the bow and the arrow subsequently
became symbols of security against all perils, and
in that sense were fixed upon the ridge-pole of
a newly erected roof. The habit survives still.
Not in remote country districts only, but even in
the great cities, houses may to-day be seen with
a bent bow and an adjusted arrow standing where
a chimney would protrude its head from a West-
ern roof. It is said that, in prehistoric times,
the bow and arrow assumed that position by an
exercise of supernatural power. A householder
rising in the morning would find that his roof
had been thus distinguished during the night,
and the event was accepted as a divine intimation
that the eldest unmarried daughter of the family
must be sacrificed. She was buried alive, the
supposition being that her flesh served as a repast
for the deity. But the priests by and by found
a more profitable manner of disposing of these
unfortunate girls : they were sold as slaves. The
tradition is a mixed record of practical knavery
and gross superstition. The bow-and-arrow sign
plainly indicates that rustic ignorance was ex-

VOL. V. 13


ploited by dishonest priests. On the other hand,
the superstitious fancy must have existed or it
could not have been played upon. There is
little hope, apparently, of ascertaining the details
of a custom which probably ceased to be prac-
tised before the first records of popular life were
compiled. What adds to the perplexity of the
whole tradition is that the monster at whose
shrine these sacrifices (hitomi-goku, literally, offer-
ings of a human body) are said to have been
made, is spoken of by some writers as an animal
in the service of Shakamuni. The responsibility
of the barbarous rite would therefore rest with
Buddhism. But the sanctity of life has always
been a fundamental tenet of the Buddhist re-
ligion. Thus the tradition becomes altogether
vague and untrustworthy as to its details. Noth-
ing can be accepted as certain except the fact that
human sacrifices were made to propitiate the
deity of wild beasts, and that human beasts sub-
sequently turned the superstition to their own
villanous uses.

Another form of human sacrifice believed to
have been common in early ages and said to
have been witnessed by men of the present gen-
eration, was called iki-uzume, or burying alive.
The prevalent idea about this custom is that, at
the inception of some great work, such as the build-
ing of a bridge or the erection of a castle, a
human being was buried alive near the founda-
tions to secure stability. But facts and fancies



are here commingled. What really happened
was this. In the era of forced labour, when
every adult rustic had to contribute a certain
number of days' work annually to the service of
the State or of his liege lord, it was usual for the
official superintendent of these unwilling toilers
to stand over them with a bare-bladed spear in
hand. Any display of laziness justified fatal re-
course to the spear, and the corpse of a man thus
done to death was treated as so much inanimate
material thrown between the piles of an em-
bankment or tossed into the foundations of a
building. That species of fierce incitement was
generally resorted to when extraordinary expedi-
tion had to be attained : when an inundation had
to be averted, a river dammed before the flowing
of the tide, a fortification constructed on the eve
of attack, or a work concluded in anticipation of
the advent of some great man. It proved, of
course, highly efficacious, and may serve in some
degree to explain the really wonderful achieve-
ments that stand to the credit of human effort
in mediaeval, and even in modern, Japan. Two
corpses are said to be mouldering under the
scarps of the futile forts hurriedly erected for the
defence of Yedo (Tokyo) in the interval between
Commodore Perry's first and second comings ;
and looking down from Noge hill in the suburbs
of Yokohama, one may see the shrine of a ser-
vant girl who sacrificed herself to expedite the
reclamation of a swamp behind the foreign set-

1 9S


tlement. Such incidents, however, had not in
their origin any legitimate connection with

Since the English word " nightmare " indi-
cates that the subjective character of that natural
disturbance was not recognised when the Anglo-
Saxon language came into existence, the student
is prepared to find a corresponding superstition
among the Japanese. They used to believe, and
the lower orders do still believe, that a rat pos-
sesses some demoniacal power which it exercises
maliciously during the night. But nobody con-
cerns himself much about the question. Half a
page of history, however, is devoted to the ac-
count of an imperial nightmare, the work of a
very strange monster. The Emperor Shirakawa
II. (1153 A. D.) was the victim of the visita-
tion. Every night he fell into convulsions, and
neither medicine nor prayer gave him relief.
It was observed that at the moment of his seiz-
ure a dark cloud emerged from a forest eastward
of the Palace and settled over the roof of His
Majesty's chamber. The court, in conclave, de-
cided that a warrior's weapon was needed, and
invited the renowned Yorimasa to undertake the
task. That night, as the cloud floated to its
place and the Emperor's paroxysm overtook him,
Yorimasa, with a prayer to the god of war on his
lips, shot an arrow into the heart of the cloud.
There fell to the ground a monster with the head
of an ape, the body of a serpent, the legs of a




tiger, and the strident cry of the fabulous bird nue.
Yorimasa received as reward an imperial sword
and a Palace maiden, and the Emperor's night-
mare ceased. There could be no doubt in the
minds of later generations about the accuracy of
these facts, for even the name of the beautiful
girl bestowed on Yorimasa was known : it was
" Sweet-flag " (Ayame). Such a detail raised the
record to the rank of authentic history in the
eyes of people who believed the wind to be
the breath of a mighty spirit and the stars to be
the sources of rain-drops.

Among all superstitions connected with ani-
mals in Japan, faith in the supernatural attributes
of the fox is most widely entertained. This
notion was originally imported from China.
The fox, according to popular tradition, can
assume human form and is also capable of enter-
ing into a man or woman. Roaming over a
grassy plain, the animal picks up a skull, puts it
on his head, and facing towards the north star,
worships. At first he performs his religious
genuflections and obeisances slowly and circum-
spectly, but by and by his motions become con-
vulsively rapid and his leaps wondrously active.
Yet however high he jumps towards the star, his
skull-crown remains immovable. After a hun-
dred acts of worship, he becomes capable of
transforming himself into a human being, but if he
desires to assume the shape of a beautiful maiden,
he must live in the vicinity of a graveyard. As



a girl he is the central figure in numerous
legends. His very name ki-tsu-ne y " come and
sleep " is derived from such a legend, an
ancient legend of the year 545 A. D. Ono, an
inhabitant of Mino, spent the seasons longing for
his ideal of female beauty. He met her one
evening on a vast moor and married her. Simul-
taneously with the birth of their son, Ono's dog
was delivered of a pup, which, as it grew up,
became more and more hostile to the lady of the
moors. She begged her husband to kill it, but
he refused. At last, one day, the dog attacked
her so fiercely that she lost heart, resumed her
proper shape, leaped over a fence, and fled. " You
may be a fox," Ono called after her, " but you
are the mother of my son, and I love you. Come
back when you please ; you will always be wel-
come." So, every evening, she stole back and
slept in his arms. The illiterate Japanese, even
of the present day, though he may not entertain
any very positive faith in such occurrences, pre-
serves toward them a demeanour of respectful un-
certainty. Not many years ago, a Tokyo journal
published a recent experience of a physician in
Tochigi prefecture. Summoned at midnight to
assist a lady in her confinement, he found, on
arrival at her house, that the event was over, and
that only some trifling medicines were needed.
Having received his fee and been regaled with
macaroni, he returned home. But the next
morning, when he opened his purse, he saw that



the coins handed to him at his patient's residence
were withered leaves. He hastened to revisit
the place, and, guided by the tracks of the cart
which had come to fetch him the preceding
night, had no difficulty in reaching the spot.
The house had disappeared. There was only a
tea plantation in the midst of which a young fox
lay dying. The macaroni alone was real : of
that fact the physician was able to assure himself,
and its provenance was explained by the discovery
that macaroni prepared for a wedding feast in a
neighbouring hamlet had been stolen on the
same evening. There are scores of such stories,
and hundreds of folks that listen to them gravely.
There are also weak-minded persons to whose
imagination these legends appeal so vividly that
they become subjective victims of fox-possession.
They bark like a fox, exhibit the utmost aversion
to dogs, and otherwise lose their human identity.
In many cases these imaginary seizures are cured
by the aid of a priest. The patient is informed
that means of enticing the fox to return to the
hills have been provided, and that, at a certain
hour and in obedience to a religious incantation, the
animal will take its departure. Such remedies,
attended by success, as they generally are, have
the effect of confirming the superstition, and in
rural districts few Japanese are entirely without
belief in the phenomenon of fox-possession

History contains records widely credited that



attest the supernatural powers of the fox. On
the Nasu moor (Nasu-no-/iara) in the province
of Shimotsuke there used to stand a large rock
known as sessho-seki, or the stone of death. It
had been bewitched by a fox, and any living thing
that touched it man, bird, or animal perished.
In the year 1 248 the Emperor Fukakusa II.
commissioned a priest of renowned piety, Genno,
to exorcise the evil spirit. Genno repaired to the
moor, invoked the aid of Buddha, and struck the
rock with his staff, whereupon the big stone split
into fragments, and a beautiful girl, stepping out,
thanked the priest with tears and vanished.

To the badger somewhat similar powers are
attributed, but it is regarded rather as a mis-
chievous practical joker than as a malicious
demon. One of its most celebrated exploits as a

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 12 of 16)