William Elliot Griffis.

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citizens during the excitement and frenzy of the festivals; of their
presence in the wayside shrines; of the philosophy, hideousness or
pathos of the subject, we cannot here enter. We simply call attention to
their existence, and to a form of thought, if not of religion, properly
so-called, which has survived all imported systems of faith and which
shows what the native or indigenous idea of divinity really is - an idea
that profoundly affects the organization of society. To the enlightened
Buddhist, Confucian, and even the modern Shintoist the
phallus-worshipper is a "heathen," a "pagan," and yet he still practises
his faith and rites. It is for us to hint at the powerful influence such
persistent ideas have upon Japanese morals and civilization. Still
further, we illustrate the basic fact which all foreign religions and
all missionaries, Confucian, Buddhist, Mahometan or Christian must deal
with, viz.: That the Eastern Asiatic mind runs to pantheism as surely as
the body of flesh and blood seeks food.

Tree and Serpent Worship.

In prehistoric and medieval Japan, as among the Ainos to-day, trees and
serpents as well as rocks, rivers and other inanimate objects were
worshipped, because such of them as were supposed for reasons known and
felt to be awe-inspiring or wonderful were "kami," that is, above the
common, wonderful.[21] This word kami is usually translated god or
deity, but the term does not conform to our ideas, by a great gulf of
difference. It is more than probable that the Japanese term kami is the
same as the Aino word _kamui_, and that the despised and conquered
aboriginal savage has furnished the mould of the ordinary Japanese idea
of god - which even to-day with them means anything wonderful or
extraordinary.[22] From the days before history the people have
worshipped trees, and do so yet, considering them as the abodes of and
as means of communication with supernatural powers. On them the people
hang their votive offerings, twist on the branches their prayers written
on paper, avoid cutting down, breaking or in any way injuring certain
trees. The _sakaki_ tree is especially sacred, even to this day, in
funeral or Shint[=o] services. To wound or defile a tree sacred to a
particular god was to call forth the vengeance of the insulted deity
upon the insulter, or as the hearer of prayer upon another to whom guilt
was imputed and punishment was due.

Thus, in the days older than this present generation, but still within
this century, as the writer has witnessed, it was the custom of women
betrayed by their lovers to perform the religious act of vengeance
called _Ushi toki mairi_, or going to the temple at the hour of the ox,
that is at 2 A.M. First making an image or manikin of straw, she set out
on her errand of revenge, with nails held in her mouth and with hammer
in one hand and straw figure in the other, sometimes also having on her
head a reversed tripod in which were stuck three lighted candles.
Arriving at the shrine she selected a tree dedicated to a god, and then
nailed the straw simulacrum of her betrayer to the trunk, invoking the
kami to curse and annihilate the destroyer of her peace. She adjures the
god to save his tree, impute the guilt of desecration to the traitor and
visit him with deadly vengeance. The visit is repeated and nails are
driven until the object of the incantation sickens and dies, or is at
least supposed to do so. I have more than once seen such trees and straw
images upon them, and have observed others in which the large number of
rusted nails and fragments of straw showed how tenaciously the
superstition lingered.[23]

In instances more pleasant to witness, may be seen trees festooned with
the symbolical rice-straw in cords and fringes. With these the people
honor the trees as the abode of the kami, or as evidence of their faith
in the renown accredited in the past.

In common with most human beings the Japanese consider the serpent an
object of mystery and awe, but most of them go further and pay the
ophidian a reverence and awe which is worship. Their oldest literature
shows how large a part the serpent played in the so-called divine age,
how it acted as progenitress of the Mikado's ancestry, and how it
afforded means of incarnation for the kami or gods. Ten species of
ophidia are known in the Japanese islands, but in the larger number of
more or less imaginary varieties which figure in the ancient books we
shall find plenty of material for fetich-worship. In perusing the
"Kojiki" one scarcely knows, when he begins a story, whether the
character which to all appearance is a man or woman is to end as a
snake, or whether the mother after delivering her child will or will not
glide into the marsh or slide away into the sea, leaving behind a trail
of slime. A dragon is three-fourths serpent, and both the dragon and the
serpent are prominent figures, perhaps the most prominent of the kami or
gods in human or animal form in the "Kojiki" and other early legends of
the gods, though the crocodile, crow, deer, dog, and other animals are
kami.[24] It is therefore no wonder that serpents have been and are
still worshipped by the people, that some of their gods and goddesses
are liable at any time to slip away in scaly form, that famous temples
are built on sites noted as being the abode or visible place of the
actual water or land snake of natural history, and that the spot where a
serpent is seen to-day is usually marked with a sacred emblem or a
shrine.[25] We shall see how this snake-worship became not only a part
of Shint[=o] but even a notable feature in corrupt Buddhism.

Pantheism's Destruction of Boundaries.[26]

In its rudest forms, this pantheism branches out into animism or
shamanism, fetichism and phallicism. In its higher forms, it becomes
polytheism, idolatry and defective philosophy. Having centuries ago
corrupted Buddhism it is the malaria which, unseen and unfelt, is ready
to poison and corrupt Christianity. Indeed, it has already given over to
disease and spiritual death more than one once hopeful Christian
believer, teacher and preacher in the Japan of our decade.

To assault and remove the incubus, to replace and refill the mind, to
lift up and enlighten the Japanese peasant, science as already known and
faith in one God, Creator and Father of all things, must go hand in
hand. Education and civilization will do much for the ignorant _inaka_
or boors, but for the cultured whose minds waver and whose feet
flounder, as well as for the unlearned and priest-ridden, there is no
surer help and healing than that faith in the Heavenly Father which
gives the unifying thought to him who looks into creation.

Keep the boundary line clear between God and his world and all is order
and discrimination. Obliterate that boundary and all is pathless morass,
black chaos and on the mind the phantasms which belong to the victim of
_delirium tremens_.

There is one Lawgiver. In the beginning, God. In the end, God, all in


"In the great days of old,
When o'er the land the gods held sov'reign sway,
Our fathers lov'd to say
That the bright gods with tender care enfold
The fortunes of Japan,
Blessing the land with many an holy spell:
And what they loved to tell,
We of this later age ourselves do prove;
For every living man
May feast his eyes on tokens of their love."

- Poem of Yamagami-no Okura,
A.D. 733.

Baal: "While I on towers and banging terraces,
In shaft and obelisk, behold my sign.
Creative, shape of first imperious law."

- Bayard Taylor's "Masque of the Gods."

"Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my
silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of
men, and didst commit whoredom with them, and tookest thy
broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine
oil and mine incense before them. My meat also which I gave
thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou
hast even set it before them for a sweet savor: and thus it was,
saith the Lord GOD." - Ezekiel.

If it be said (as has been the case), 'Shintoism has nothing in
it,' we should be inclined to answer, 'So much the better, there
is less error to counteract.' But there _is_ something in it,
and that ... of a kind of which we may well avail ourselves when
making known the second commandment, and the 'fountain of
cleansing from all sin.'" - E.W. Syle.

"If Shint[=o] has a dogma, it is purity." - Kaburagi.

"I will wash my hands in innocency, O Lord: and so will I go to
thine altar." - Ps. xxvi. 6.


The Japanese a Young Nation.

What impresses us in the study of the history of Japan is that, compared
with China and Korea, she is young. Her history is as the story of
yesterday. The nation is modern. The Japanese are as younger children in
the great family of Asia's historic people. Broadly speaking, Japan is
no older than England, and authentic Japanese history no more ancient
than British history. In Albion, as in the Honorable Country, there are
traditions and mythologies that project their shadows aeons back of
genuine records; but if we consider that English history begins in the
fifth, and English literature in the eighth century, then there are
other reasons besides those commonly given for calling Japan "the
England of the East."

No trustworthy traditions exist which carry the known history of Japan
farther back than the fifth century. The means for measuring and
recording time were probably not in use until the sixth century. The
oldest documents in the Japanese language, excepting a few fragments of
the seventh century, do not antedate the year 712, and even in these the
Chinese characters are in many instances used phonetically, because the
meaning of the words thus transliterated had already been forgotten.
Hence their interpretation in detail is still largely a matter of

Yet the Japanese Archipelago was inhabited long before the dawn of
history. The concurrent testimony of the earliest literary monuments, of
the indigenous mythology, of folk-lore, of shell-heaps and of
kitchen-middens shows that the occupation by human beings of the main
islands must be ascribed to times long before the Christian era. Before
written records or ritual of worship, religion existed on its active or
devotional side, and there were mature growths of thought preserved and
expressed orally. Poems, songs, chants and _norito_ or liturgies were
kept alive in the human memory, and there was a system of worship, the
_name_ of which was given long after the introduction of Buddhism. This
descriptive term, Kami no Michi in Japanese, and Shin-t[=o] in the
Chinese as pronounced by Japanese, means the Way of the Gods, the t[=o]
or final syllable being the same as tao in Taoism. We may say that
Shint[=o] means, literally, theoslogos, theology. The customs and
practices existed centuries before contact with Chinese letters, and
long previous to the Shint[=o] literature which is now extant.

Whether Kami no Michi is wholly the product of Japanese soil, or whether
its rudimentary ideas were imported from the neighboring Asian continent
and more or less allied to the primitive Chinese religion, is still an
open question. The preponderance of argument tends, however, to show
that it was an importation as to its origin, for not a few events
outlined in the Japanese mythology cast shadows of reminiscence upon
Korea or the Asian mainland. In its development, however, the cultus is
almost wholly Japanese. The modern forms of Shint[=o], as moulded by the
revivalists of the eighteenth century, are at many points notably
different from the ancient faith. At the World's Parliament of Religions
at Chicago, Shint[=o] seemed to be the only one, and probably the last,
of the purely provincial religions.

In order to gain a picture of life in Japan before the introduction of
Chinese civilization, we must consult those photographs of the minds of
the ancient islanders which still exist in their earliest literature.
The fruits of the study of ethnology, anthropology and archaeology
greatly assist us in picturing the day-break of human life in the
Morning Land. In preparing materials for the student of the religions of
Japan many laborers have wrought in various fields, but the chief
literary honors have been taken by the English scholars, Messrs.
Satow,[1] Aston,[2] and Chamberlain.[3] These untiring workers have
opened the treasures of ancient thought in the Altaic world.[4]

Although even these archaic Japanese compositions, readable to-day only
by special scholars, are more or less affected by Chinese influences,
ideas and modes of expression, yet they are in the main faithful
reflections of the ancient life before the primitive faith of the
Japanese people was either disturbed or reduced to system in presence of
an imported religion. These monuments of history, poetry and liturgies
are the "Kojiki," or Notices of Ancient Things; the "Manyöshu" or Myriad
Leaves or Poems, and the "Norito," or Liturgies.

The Ancient Documents.

The first book, the "Kojiki," gives us the theology, cosmogony,
mythology, and very probably, in its later portions, some outlines of
history of the ancient Japanese. The "Kojiki" is the real, the dogmatic
exponent, or, if we may so say, the Bible, of Shint[=o]. The
"Many[=o]shu," or Book of Myriad Poems, expresses the thoughts and
feelings; reflects the manners and customs of the primitive generations,
and, in the same sense as do the Sagas of the Scandinavians, furnishes
us unchronological but interesting and more or less real narratives of
events which have been glorified by the poets and artists. The ancient
codes of law and of ceremonial procedure are of great value, while the
"Norito" are excellent mirrors in which to see reflected the religion
called Shint[=o] on the more active side of worship.

In a critical study, either of the general body of national tradition or
of the ancient documents, we must continually be on our guard against
the usual assumption that Chinese civilization came in earlier than it
really did. This assumption colors all modern Japanese popular ideas,
art and literature. The vice of the pupil nations surrounding the Middle
Kingdom is their desire to have it believed that Chinese letters and
culture among them is an nearly coeval with those of China as can be
made truly or falsely to appear. The Koreans, for example, would have us
believe that their civilization, based on letters and introduced by
Kishi, is "four thousand years old" and contemporaneous with China's
own, and that "the Koreans are among the oldest people of the world."[5]
The average modern Japanese wishes the date of authentic or official
history projected as far back as possible. Yet he is a modest man
compared with his mediæval ancestor, who constructed chronology out of
ink-stones. Over a thousand years ago a deliberate forgery was
officially put on paper. A whole line of emperors who never lived was
canonized, and clever penmen set down in ink long chapters which
describe what never happened.[6] Furthermore, even after, and only eight
years after the fairly honest "Kojiki" had been compiled, the book
called "Nihongi," or Chronicles of Japan, was written. All the internal
and not a little external evidence shows that the object of this book is
to give the impression that Chinese ideas, culture and learning had long
been domesticated in Japan. The "Nihongi" gives dates of events supposed
to have happened fifteen hundred years before, with an accuracy which
may be called villainous; while the "Kojiki" states that Wani, a Korean
teacher, brought the "Thousand Character Classic" to Japan in A.D. 285,
though that famous Chinese book was not composed until the sixth
century, or A.D. 550.[7]

Even to this day it is nearly impossible for an American to get a Korean
"frog in the well"[8] to understand why the genuine native life and
history, language and learning of his own peninsular country is of
greater value to the student than the pedantry borrowed from China. Why
these possess any interest to a "scholar" is a mystery to the head in
the horsehair net. Anything of value, he thinks, _must_ be on the
Chinese model. What is not Chinese is foolish and fit for women and
children only. Furthermore, Korea "always had" Chinese learning. This is
the sum of the arguments of the Korean literati, even as it used to be
of the old-time hatless Yedo scholar of shaven skull and topknot.

Despite Japanese independence and even arrogance in certain other lines,
the thought of the demolition of cherished notions of vast antiquity is
very painful. Critical study of ancient traditions is still dangerous,
even in parliamentary Nippon. Hence the unbiassed student must depend on
his own reading of and judgment upon the ancient records, assisted by
the thorough work done by the English scholars Aston, Satow,
Chamberlain, Bramsen and others.

It was the coming of Buddhism in the sixth century, and the implanting
on the soil of Japan of a system of religion in which were temples with
all that was attractive to the eye, gorgeous ritual, scriptures,
priesthood, codes of morals, rigid discipline, a system of dogmatics in
which all was made positive and clear, that made the variant myths and
legends somewhat uniform. The faith of Shaka, by winning adherents both
at the court and among the leading men of intelligence, reacted upon the
national traditions so as to compel their collection and arrangemeut
into definite formulas. In due time the mythology, poetry and ritual
was, as we have seen, committed to writing and the whole system called
Shint[=o], in distinction from Butsud[=o], the Way of the Gods from the
Way of the Buddhas. Thus we can see more clearly the outward and visible
manifestations of Shint[=o]. In forming our judgment, however, we must
put aside those descriptions which are found in the works of European
writers, from Marco Polo and Mendez Pinto down to the year 1870. Though
these were good observers, they were often necessarily mistaken in their
deductions. For, as we shall see in our lecture on Riy[=o]bu or Mixed
Buddhism, Shint[=o] was, from the ninth century until late into the
nineteenth century, absorbed in Buddhism so as to be next to invisible.

Origins of the Japanese People.

Without detailing processes, but giving only results, our view of the
origin of the Japanese people and of their religion is in the main as

The oldest seats of human habitation in the Japanese Archipelago lie
between the thirtieth and thirty-eighth parallels of north latitude.
South of the thirty-fourth parallel, it seems, though without proof of
writing or from tradition, that the Malay type and blood from the far
south probably predominated, with, however, much infusion from the
northern Asian mainland.

Between the thirty-fourth and thirty-sixth parallels, and west of the
one hundred and thirty-eighth meridian of longitude, may be found what
is still the choicest, richest and most populous part of The Country
Between Heaven and Earth. Here the prevailing element was Korean and

To the north and east of this fair country lay the Emishi savages, or

In "the world" within the ken of the prehistoric dwellers in what is now
the three islands, Hondo, Kiushiu and Shikoku, there was no island of
Yezu and no China; while Korea was but slightly known, and the lands
farther westward were unheard of except as the home of distant tribes.

Three distinct lines of tradition point to the near peninsula or the
west coast of Japan as the "Heaven" whence descended the tribe which
finally grew to be dominant. The islands of Tsushima and Iki were the
stepping-stones of the migration out of which rose what may be called
the southern or Tsukushi cycle of legend, Tsukushi being the ancient
name of Kiushiu.

Idzumo is the holy land whence issued the second stream of tradition.

The third course of myth and legend leads us into Yamato, whence we
behold the conquest of the Mikado's home-land and the extension of his
name and influence into the regions east of the Hakoné Mountains,
including the great plain of Yedo, where modern T[=o]ki[=o] now stands.

We shall take the term "Yamato" as the synonym of the prehistoric but
discernible beginnings of national life. It represents the seat of the
tribe whose valor and genius ultimately produced the Mikado system. It
was through this house or tribe that Japanese history took form. The
reverence for the ruler long afterward entitled "Son of Heaven" is the
strongest force in the national history. The spirit and prowess of these
early conquerors have left an indelible impress upon the language and
the mind of the nation in the phrase Yamato Damashi - the spirit of
(Divine and unconquerable) Japan.

The story of the conquest of the land, in its many phases, recalls that
of the Aryans in India, of the Hebrews in Canaan, of the Romans in
Europe and of the Germanic races in North America. The Yamato men
gradually advanced to conquest under the impulse, as they believed, of a
divine command.[9] They were sent from Takama-no-hara, the High Plain of
Heaven. Theirs was the war, of men with a nobler creed, having
agriculture and a feudal system of organization which furnished
resources for long campaigns, against hunters and fishermen. They had
improved artillery and used iron against stone. Yet they conquered and
pacified not only by superior strategy, tactics, weapons and valor, but
also by advanced fetiches and dogma. They captured the religion of their
enemies as well as their bodies, lands and resources. They claimed that
their ancestors were from Heaven, that the Sun was their kinswoman and
that their chief, or Mikado, was vicegerent of the Heavenly gods, but
that those whom they conquered were earth-born or sprung from the
terrestrial divinities.

Mikadoism the Heart of Shint[=o].

As success came to their arms and their chief's power was made more
sure, they developed further the dogma of the Mikado's divinity and made
worship centre in him as the earthly representative of the Sun and
Heaven. His fellow-conquerors and ministers, as fast as they were put in
lordship over conquered provinces, or indigenous chieftains who
submitted obediently to his sway or yielded graciously to his prowess,
were named as founders of temples and in later generations worshipped
and became gods.[10] One of the motives for, and one of the guiding
principles in the selections of the floating myths, was that the
ancestry of the chieftains loyal to the Mikado might be shown to be from
the heavenly gods. Both the narratives of the "Kojiki" and the liturgies
show this clearly.

The nature-worship, which was probably practised throughout the whole
archipelago, became part of the system as government and society were
made uniform on the Yamato model. It seems at least possible, if
Buddhism had not come in so soon, that the ordinary features of a
religion, dogmatic and ethical codes, would have been developed. In a
word, the Kami no Michi, or religion of the islanders in prehistoric
times before the rise of Mikadoism, must be carefully distinguished from
the politico-ecclesiasticism which the system called Shint[=o] reveals
and demands. The early religion, first in the hands of politicians and
later under the pens and voices of writers and teachers at the Imperial
Court, became something very different from its original form. As surely
as K[=o]b[=o] later captured Shint[=o], making material for Buddhism out
of it and overlaying it in Riy[=o]bu, so the Yamato men made political
capital out of their own religion and that of the subject tribes. The
divine sovereign of Japan and his political church did exactly what the
state churches of Europe, both pagan and Christian, have done before and
since the Christian era.

Further, in studying the "Kojiki," we must remember that the sacred
writings sprang out of the religion, and that the system was not an
evolution from the book. Customs, ritual, faith and prayer existed long
before they were written about or recorded in ink. Moreover, the
philosophy came later than the practice, the deeds before the myths, and
the joy and terror of the visible universe before the cosmogony or
theogony, while the book-preface was probably written last of all.

The sun was first, and then came the wonder, admiration and worship of

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 4 of 31)