William Elliot Griffis.

The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji online

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men. The personification and pedigree of the sun were late figments. To
connect their ancestors with the sun-goddess and the heavenly gods, was
a still later enterprise of the "Mikado reverencers" of this earlier
time. Both the god-way in its early forms and Shint[=o] in its later
development, were to them political as well as ecclesiastical institutes
of dogma. Both the religion which they themselves brought and cultivated
and the aboriginal religion which the Yamato men found, were used as
engines in the making of Mikadoism, which is the heart of Shint[=o].

Not until two centuries after the coming of Buddhism and of Asiatic
civilization did it occur to the Japanese to reduce to writing the
floating legends and various cycles of tradition which had grown up
luxuriantly in different parts of "the empire," or to express in the
Chinese character the prayers and thanksgivings which had been handed
down orally through many generations. These norito had already assumed
elegant literary form, rich in poetic merit, long before Chinese writing
was known. They, far more than the less certain philosophy of the
"Kojiki," are of undoubted native origin. It is nearly certain that the
prehistoric Japanese did not borrow the literary forms of the god-way
from China, as any one familiar with the short, evenly balanced and
antithetical sentences of Chinese style can see at once. The norito are
expressions, in the rhythmical and rhetorical form of worship, of the
articles of faith set forth in the historic summary which we have given.
We propose to illustrate the dogmas by quoting from the rituals in Mr.
Satow's masterly translation. The following was addressed to the
sun-goddess (Amatéras[)u] no Mikami, or the
From-Heaven-Shining-Great-Deity) by the priest-envoy of the priestly
Nakatomi family sent annually to the temples at Isé, the Mecca of
Shint[=o]. The _sevran_ referred to in the ritual is the Mikado. This
word and all the others printed in capitals are so rendered in order to
express in English the force of "an untranslatable honorific syllable,
supposed to be originally identical with a root meaning 'true,' but no
longer possessing that signification." Instead of the word "earth," that
of "country" (Japan) is used as the correlative of Heaven.

Ritual in Praise of the Sun-goddess.

He (the priest-envoy) says: Hear all of you, ministers of the
gods and sanctifiers of offerings, the great ritual, the
heavenly ritual, declared in the great presence of the
From-Heaven-Shining-Great-DEITY, whose praises are fulfilled by
setting up the stout pillars of the great HOUSE, and exalting
the cross-beams to the plain of high heaven at the sources of
the Isuzu River at Uji in Watarai.

He says: It is the sovran's great WORD. Hear all of you,
ministers of the gods and sanctifiers of offerings, the
fulfilling of praises on this seventeenth day of the sixth moon
of this year, as the morning sun goes up in glory, of the
Oho-Nakatomi, who - having abundantly piled up like a range of
hills the TRIBUTE thread and sanctified LIQUOR and FOOD
presented as of usage by the people of the deity's houses
attributed to her in the three departments and in various
countries and places, so that she deign to bless his [the
Mikado's] LIFE as a long LIFE, and his AGE as a luxuriant AGE
eternally and unchangingly as multitudinous piles of rock; may
deign to bless the CHILDREN who are born to him, and deigning to
cause to flourish the five kinds of grain which the men of a
hundred functions and the peasants of the countries in the four
quarters of the region under heaven long and peacefully
cultivate and eat, and guarding and benefiting them to deign to
bless them - is hidden by the great offering-wands.

In the Imperial City the ritual services were very imposing. Those in
expectation of the harvest were held in the great hall of the
Jin-Gi-Kuan, or Council of the Gods of Heaven and Earth. The description
of the ceremonial is given by Mr. Satow.[11] In the prayers offered to
the sun-goddess for harvest, and in thanksgiving to her for bestowing
dominion over land and sea upon her descendant the Mikado, occurs the
following passage:

I declare in the great presence of the
From-Heaven-Shining-Great-DEITY who sits in Isé. Because the
sovran great GODDESS bestows on him the countries of the four
quarters over which her glance extends, as far as the limit
where heaven stands up like a wall, as far as the bounds where
the country stands up distant, as far as the limit where the
blue clouds spread flat, as far as the bounds where the white
clouds lie away fallen - the blue sea plain as far as the limit
whither come the prows of the ships without drying poles or
paddles, the ships which continuously crowd on the great sea
plain, and the road which men travel by land, as far as the
limit whither come the horses' hoofs, with the baggage-cords
tied tightly, treading the uneven rocks and tree-roots and
standing up continuously in a long path without a break - making
the narrow countries wide and the hilly countries plain, and as
it were drawing together the distant countries by throwing many
tons of ropes over them - he will pile up the first-fruits like a
range of hills in the great presence of the sovran great
GODDESS, and will peacefully enjoy the remainder.

Phallic Symbols.

To form one's impression of the Kami no Michi wholly from the poetic
liturgies, the austere simplicity of the miyas or shrines, or the
worship at the palace or capital, would be as misleading as to gather
our ideas of the status of popular education from knowing only of the
scholars at court. Among the common people the real basis of the god-way
was ancestor-worship. From the very first this trait and habit of the
Japanese can be discerned. Their tenacity in holding to it made the
Confucian ethics more welcome when they came. Furthermore, this
reverence for the dead profoundly influenced and modified Buddhism, so
that today the altars of both religions exist in the same house, the
dead ancestors becoming both kami and buddhas.

Modern taste has removed from sight what were once the common people's
symbols of the god-way, that is of ancestor worship. The extent of the
phallus cult and its close and even vital connection with the god-way,
and the general and innocent use of the now prohibited emblems, tax
severely the credulity of the Occidental reader. The processes of the
ancient mind can hardly be understood except by vigorous power of the
imagination and by sympathy with the primeval man. To the critical
student, however, who has lived among the people and the temples devoted
to this worship, who knows how innocent and how truly sincere and even
reverent and devout in the use of these symbols the worshippers are, the
matter is measurably clear. He can understand the soil, root and flower
even while the most strange specimen is abhorrent to his taste, and
while he is most active in destroying that mental climate in which such
worship, whether native or exotic, can exist and flourish.

In none of the instances in which I have been eyewitness of the cult, of
the person officiating or of the emblem, have I had any reason to doubt
the sincerity of the worshipper. I have never had reason to look upon
the implements or the system as anything else than the endeavor of man
to solve the mystery of Being and Power. In making use of these emblems,
the Japanese worshipper simply professes his faith in such solution as
has seemed to him attainable.

That this cultus was quite general in pre-Buddhistic Japan, as in many
other ancient countries, is certain from the proofs of language,
literature, external monuments and relics which are sufficiently
numerous. Its organic connection with the god-way may be clearly shown.

To go farther back in point of time than the "Kojiki," we find that even
before the development of art in very ancient Japan, the male gods were
represented by a symbol which thus became an image of the deity himself.
This token was usually made of stone, though often of wood, and in later
times of terra-cotta, of cast and wrought iron and even of gold.[12]

Under the direct influence of such a cult, other objects appealed to the
imagination or served the temporary purpose of the worshipper as
_ex-voto_ to hang up in the shrines, such as the mushroom, awabi,
various other shells and possibly the fire-drill. It is only in the
decay of the cultus, in the change of view and centre of thought
compelled by another religion, that representations of the old emblems
ally themselves with sensualism or immorality. It is that natural
degradation of one man's god into another man's devil, which conversion
must almost of necessity bring, that makes the once revered symbol
"obscene," and talk about it become, in a descending scale, dirty, foul,
filthy, nasty. That the Japanese suffer from the moral effluvia of a
decayed cult which was once as the very vertebral column of the national
body of religion, is evident to every one who acquaints himself with
their popular speech and literature.

How closely and directly phallicism is connected with the god-way, and
why there were so many Shint[=o] temples devoted to this latter cult and
furnished with symbols, is shown by study of the "Kojiki." The two
opening sections of this book treat of kami that were in the minds even
of the makers of the myths little more than mud and water[13] - the mere
bioplasm of deity. The seven divine generations are "born," but do
nothing except that they give Izanagi and Izanami a jewelled spear. With
this pair come differentiation of sex. It is immediately on the
apparition of the consciousness of sex that motion, action and creation
begin, and the progress of things visible ensues. The details cannot be
put into English, but it is enough, besides noting the conversation and
union of the pair, to say that the term meaning giving birth to, refers
to inanimate as well as animate things. It is used in reference to the
islands which compose the archipelago as well as to the various kami
which seem, in many cases, to be nothing more than the names of things
or places.

Fire-myths and Ritual.

Fire is, in a sense, the foundation and first necessity of civilization,
and it is interesting to study the myths as to the origin of fire, and
possibly even more interesting to compare the Greek and Japanese
stories. As we know, old-time popular etymology makes Prometheus the
fore-thinker and brother of Epimetheus the after-thinker. He is the
stealer of the fire from heaven, in order to make men share the secret
of the gods. Comparative philology tells us, however, that the Sanskrit
_Pramantha_ is a stick that produces fire. The "Kojiki" does indeed
contain what is probably the later form of the fire-myth about two
brothers, Prince Fire-Shine and Fire-Fade, which suggests both the later
Greek myth of the fore- and after-thinker and a tradition of a flood.
The first, and most probably older, myth in giving the origin of fire
does it in true Japanese style, with details of parturition. After
numerous other deities had been born of Izanagi and Izanami, it is said
"that they gave birth to the Fire-Burning-Swift-Male-Deity, another name
for whom is the Deity-Fire-Shining-Prince, and another name is the
Deity-Fire-Shining-Elder." In the other ancient literature this fire-god
is called Ho-musubi, the Fire-Producer.

Izanami yielded up her life upon the birth of her son, the fire-god; or,
as the sacred text declares, she "divinely retired"[14] into Hades. From
her corpse sprang up the pairs of gods of clay, of metal, and other kami
that possessed the potency of calming or subduing fire, for clay resists
and water extinguishes. Between the mythical and the liturgical forms of
the original narrative there is considerable variation.

The Norito entitled the "Quieting of Fire" gives the ritual form of the
myth. It contains, like so many Norito, less the form of prayer to the
Fire-Producer than a promise of offerings. Not so much by petitions as
by the inducements of gifts did the ancient worshippers hope to save the
palace of the Mikado from the fire-god's wrath. We omit from the text
those details which are offensive to modern and western taste.

I declare with the great ritual, the heavenly ritual, which was
bestowed on him at the time when, by the WORD of the Sovran's
dear progenitor and progenitrix, who divinely remain in the
plain of high heaven, they bestowed on him the region under
heaven, saying:

"Let the Sovran GRANDCHILD'S augustness tranquilly rule over the
country of fresh spikes which flourishes in the midst of the
reed-moor as a peaceful region."

When ... Izanami ... had deigned to bear the many hundred
myriads of gods, she also deigned to bear her dear youngest
child of all, the Fire-producer god, ... and said:

"My dear elder brother's augustness shall rule the upper
country; I will rule the lower country," she deigned to hide in
the rocks; and having come to the flat hills of darkness, she
thought and said: "I have come hither, having borne and left a
bad-hearted child in the upper country, ruled over by my
illustrious elder brother's augustness," and going back she bore
other children. Having borne the water-goddess, the gourd, the
river-weed, and the clay-hill maiden, four sorts of things, she
taught them with words, and made them to know, saying: "If the
heart of this bad-hearted child becomes violent, let the
water-goddess take the gourd, and the clay-hill maiden take the
river-weed, and pacify him."

In consequence of this I fulfil his praises, and say that for
the things set up, so that he may deign not to be awfully quick
of heart in the great place of the Sovran GRANDCHILD'S
augustness, there are provided bright cloth, glittering cloth,
soft cloth, and coarse cloth, and the five kinds of things; as
to things which dwell in the blue-sea plain, there are things
wide of fin and narrow of fin, down to the weeds of the shore;
as to LIQUOR, raising high the beer-jars, filling and ranging in
rows the bellies of the beer-jars, piling the offerings up, even
to rice in grain and rice in ear, like a range of hills, I
fulfil his praises with the great ritual, the heavenly ritual.

Izanagi, after shedding tears over his consort, whose death was caused
by the birth of the fire-god, slays the fire-god, and follows her into
the Root-land, or Hades, whereupon begins another round of wonderful
stories of the birth of many gods. Among these, though evidently out of
another cycle of legends, is the story of the birth of the three
gods - Fire-Shine, Fire-Climax and Fire-Fade, to which we have already

The fire-drill mentioned in the "Kojiki" suggests easily the same line
of thought with the myths of cosmogony and theogony, and it is
interesting to note that this archaic implement is still used at the
sacred temples of Isé to produce fire. After the virgin priestesses
perform the sacred dances in honor of local deities the water for their
bath is heated by fires kindled by heaps of old _harai_ or amulets made
from temple-wood bought at the Mecca of Japan. It is even probable that
the retention of the fire-drill in the service of Shint[=o] is but a
survival of phallicism.

The liturgy for the pacification of the gods of fire is worth noticing.
The full form of the ritual, when compared with a legend in the
"Nihongi," shows that a myth was "partly devised to explain the
connection of an hereditary family of priests with the god whose shrine
they served; it is possible that the claim to be directly descended from
the god had been disputed." The Norito first recites poetically the
descent of Ninigi, the grandchild of the sun-goddess from heaven, and
the quieting of the turbulent kami.

I (the diviner), declare: When by the WORD of the progenitor and
progenitrix, who divinely remaining in the plain of high heaven,
deigned to make the beginning of things, they divinely deigned
to assemble the many hundred myriads of gods in the high city of
heaven, and deigned divinely to take counsel in council, saying:
"When we cause our Sovran GRANDCHILD'S augustness to leave
heaven's eternal seat, to cleave a path with might through
heaven's manifold clouds, and to descend from heaven, with
orders tranquilly to rule the country of fresh spikes, which
flourishes in the midst of the reed-moor as a peaceful country,
what god shall we send first to divinely sweep away, sweep away
and subdue the gods who are turbulent in the country of fresh
spikes;" all the gods pondered and declared: "You shall send
Aménohohi's augustness, and subdue them," declared
they. Wherefore they sent him down from heaven, but he did not
declare an answer; and having next sent Takémikuma's augustness,
he also, obeying his father's words, did not declare an
answer. Amé-no-waka-hiko also, whom they sent, did not declare
an answer, but immediately perished by the calamity of a bird on
high. Wherefore they pondered afresh by the WORD of the heavenly
gods, and having deigned to send down from heaven the two
pillars of gods, Futsunushi and Takémika-dzuchi's augustness,
who having deigned divinely to sweep away, and sweep away, and
deigned divinely to soften, and soften the gods who were
turbulent, and silenced the rocks, trees, and the least leaf of
herbs likewise that had spoken, they caused the Sovran
GRANDCHILD'S augustness to descend from heaven.

I fulfil your praises, saying: As to the OFFERINGS set up, so
that the sovran gods who come into the heavenly HOUSE of the
Sovran GRANDCHILD'S augustness, which, after he had fixed upon
as a peaceful country - the country of great Yamato where the sun
is high, as the centre of the countries of the four quarters
bestowed upon him when he was thus sent down from
heaven - stoutly planting the HOUSE-pillars on the bottom-most
rocks, and exalting the cross-beams to the plain of high heaven,
the builders had made for his SHADE from the heavens and SHADE
from the sun, and wherein he will tranquilly rule the country as
a peaceful country - may, without deigning to be turbulent,
deigning to be fierce, and deigning to hurt, knowing, by virtue
of their divinity, the things which were begun in the plain of
high heaven, deigning to correct with Divine-correcting and
Great-correcting, remove hence out to the clean places of the
mountain-streams which look far away over the four quarters, and
rule them as their own place. Let the Sovran gods tranquilly
take with clear HEARTS, as peaceful OFFERINGS and sufficient
OFFERINGS the great OFFERINGS which I set up, piling them upon
the tables like a range of hills, providing bright cloth,
glittering cloth, soft cloth, and coarse cloth; as a thing to
see plain in - a mirror: as things to play with - beads: as things
to shoot off with - a bow and arrows: as a thing to strike and
cut with - a sword: as a thing which gallops out - a horse; as to
LIQUOR - raising high the beer-jars, filling and ranging in rows
the bellies of the beer-jars, with grains of rice and ears; as
to the things which dwell in the hills - things soft of hair, and
things rough of hair; as to the things which grow in the great
field plain - sweet herbs and bitter herbs; as to the things
which dwell in the blue sea plain - things broad of fin and
things narrow of fin, down to weeds of the offing and weeds of
the shore, and without deigning to be turbulent, deigning to be
fierce, and deigning to hurt, remove out to the wide and clean
places of the mountain-streams, and by virtue of their divinity
be tranquil.

In this ritual we find the origin of evil attributed to wicked kami, or
gods. To get rid of them is to be free from the troubles of life. The
object of the ritual worship was to compel the turbulent and malevolent
kami to go out from human habitations to the mountain solitudes and rest
there. The dogmas of both god-possession and of the power of exorcism
were not, however, held exclusively by the high functionaries of the
official religion, but were part of the faith of all the people. To this
day both the tenets and the practices are popular under various forms.

Besides the twenty-seven Norito which are found in the Yengishiki,
published at the opening of the tenth century, there are many others
composed for single occasions. Examples of these are found in the
Government Gazettes. One celebrates the Mikado's removal from Ki[=o]to
to T[=o]ki[=o], another was written and recited to add greater solemnity
to the oath which he took to govern according to modern liberal
principles and to form a national parliament. To those Japanese whose
first idea of duty is loyalty to the emperor, Shint[=o] thus becomes a
system of patriotism exalted to the rank of a religion. Even Christian
natives of Japan can use much of the phraseology of the Norito while
addressing their petitions on behalf of their chief magistrate to the
King of kings.

The primitive worship of the sun, of light, of fire, has left its
impress upon the language and in vernacular art and customs. Among
scores of derivations of Japanese words (often more pleasing than
scientific), in which the general term _hi_ enters, is that which finds
in the word for man, _hito_, the meaning of "light-bearer." On the face
of the broad terminal tiles of the house-roofs, we still see moulded the
river-weed, with which the Clay-Hill Maiden pacified the Fire-God. On
the frontlet of the warrior's helmet, in the old days of arrow and
armor, glittered in brass on either side of his crest the same symbol of
power and victory.

Having glanced at the ritual of Shint[=o], let us now examine the
teachings of its oldest book.


"Japan is not a land where men need pray,
For 'tis itself divine:
Yet do I lift my voice in prayer..."

Hitomaro, + A.D. 737.

"Now when chaos had begun to condense, but force and form were
not yet manifest, and there was naught named, naught done, who
could know its shape? Nevertheless Heaven and Earth first
parted, and the three Deities performed the commencement of
creation; the Passive and Active Essences then developed, and
the Two Spirits became the ancestors of all things." - Preface of
Yasumar[=o] (A.D. 712) to the "Kojiki."

"These, the 'Kojiki' and 'Nihongi' are their [the Shint[=o]ists]
canonical books, ... and almost their every word is considered
undeniable truth."

"The Shint[=o] faith teaches that God inspired the foundation of
the Mikadoate, and that it is therefore sacred." - Kaburagi.

"We now reverently make our prayer to Them [Our Imperial
Ancestors] and to our Illustrious Father [Komei, + 1867], and
implore the help of Their Sacred Spirits, and make to Them
solemn oath never at this time nor in the future to fail to be
an example to Our subjects in the observance of the Law
[Constitution] hereby established." - Imperial oath of the
Emperor Mutsuhito in the sanctuary in the Imperial Palace,
T[=o]ki[=o], February 11, 1889.

"Shint[=o] is not our national religion. A faith existed before
it, which was its source. It grew out of superstitious teaching
and mistaken tradition. The history of the rise of Shint[=o]
proves this." - T. Matsugami.

"Makoto wo moté KAMI NO MICHI wo oshiyuréba nari." (Thou
teachest the way of God in truth.) - Mark xii. 14.

"Ware wa Micni nuri, Mukoto nari, Inochi nari." - John
xiv. 6. - The New Testament in Japanese.


"The Kojiki" mid its Myths of Cosmogony.

As to the origin of the "Kojiki," we have in the closing sentences of
the author's preface the sole documentary authority explaining its scope
and certifying to its authenticity. Briefly the statement is this: The
"Heavenly Sovereign" or Mikado, Temmu (A.D. 673-686), lamenting that the
records possessed by the chief families were "mostly amplified by empty
falsehoods," and fearing that "the grand foundation of the monarchy"

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 5 of 31)