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would be destroyed, resolved to preserve the truth. He therefore had the
records carefully examined, compared, and their errors eliminated. There
happened to be in his household a man of marvellous memory, named Hiyéda
Aré, who could repeat, without mistake, the contents of any document he
had ever seen, and never forgot anything which he had heard. This person
was duly instructed in the genuine traditions and old language of former
ages, and made to repeat them until he had the whole by heart. "Before
the undertaking was completed," which probably means before it could be
committed to writing, "the emperor died, and for twenty-five years Aré's
memory was the sole depository of what afterwards received the title of
'Kojiki.' ... At the end of this interval the Empress Gemmi[=o] ordered
Yasumar[=o] to write it down from the mouth of Aré, which accounts for
the completion of the manuscript in so short a time as four months and a
half,"[1] in A.D. 712.

It is from the "Kojiki" that we obtain most of our ideas of ancient life
and thought. The "Nihongi," or Chronicles of Japan, expressed very
largely in Chinese phrases and with Chinese technical and philosophical
terms, further assists us to get a measurably correct idea of what is
called The Divine Age. Of the two books, however, the "Kojiki" is much
more valuable as a true record, because, though rude in style and
exceedingly naïve in expression, and by no means free from Chinese
thoughts and phrases, it is marked by a genuinely Japanese cast of
thought and method of composition. Instead of the terse, carefully
measured, balanced, and antithetical sentences of correct Chinese, those
of the "Kojiki" are long and involved, and without much logical
connection. The "Kojiki" contains the real notions, feelings, and
beliefs of Japanese who lived before the eighth century.

Remembering that prefaces are, like porticos, usually added last of all,
we find that in the beginning all things were in chaos. Heaven and earth
were not separated. The world substance floated in the cosmic mass, like
oil on water or a fish in the sea. Motion in some way began. The
ethereal portions sublimed and formed the heavens; the heavier residuum
became the present earth. In the plain of high heaven, when the heaven
and earth began, were born three kami who "hid their bodies," that is,
passed away or died. Out of the warm mould of the earth a germ sprouted,
and from this were born two kami, who also were born alone, and died.
After these heavenly kami came forth what are called the seven divine
generations, or line of seven kami.[2]

To express the opening lines of the "Kojiki" in terms of our own speech
and in the moulds of Western thought, we may say that matter existed
before mind and the gods came forth, as it were, by spontaneous
evolution. The first thing that appeared out of the warm earth-muck was
like a rush-sprout, and this became a kami, or god. From this being came
forth others, which also produced beings, until there were perfect
bodies, sex and differentiation of powers. The "Nihongi," however, not
only gives a different view of this evolution basing it upon the dualism
of Chinese philosophy - that is, of the active and passive
principles - and uses Chinese technical terminology, but gives lists of
kami that differ notably from those in the "Kojiki." This latter fact
seems to have escaped the attention of those who write freely about what
they imagine to be the early religion of the Japanese.[3]

After this introduction, in which "Dualities, Trinities, and Supreme
Deities" have been discovered by writers unfamiliar with the genius of
the Japanese language, there follows an account of the creation of the
habitable earth by Izanami and Izanagi, whose names mean the
Male-Who-Invites and the Female-Who-Invites. The heavenly kami commanded
these two gods to consolidate and give birth to the drifting land.
Standing on the floating bridge of heaven, the male plunged his
jewel-spear into the unstable waters beneath, stirring them until they
gurgled and congealed. When he drew forth the spear, the drops trickling
from its point formed an island, ever afterward called Onokoro-jima, or
the Island of the Congealed Drop. Upon this island they descended. The
creative pair, or divine man and woman, now separated to make a journey
round the island, the male to the left, the female to the right. At
their meeting the female spoke first: "How joyful to meet a lovely man!"
The male, offended that the woman had spoken first, required the circuit
to be repeated. On their second meeting, the man cried out: "How joyful
to meet a lovely woman!" This island on which they had descended was the
first of several which they brought into being. In poetry it is the
Island of the Congealed Drop. In common geography it is identified as
Awaji, at the entrance of the Inland Sea. Thence followed the creation
of the other visible objects in nature.

Izanagi's Visit to Hades and Results.

After the birth of the god of fire, which nearly destroyed the mother's
life, Izanami fled to the land of roots or of darkness, that is into
Hades. Izanagi, like a true Orpheus, followed his Eurydice and beseeched
her to come back to earth to complete with him the work of creation. She
parleyed so long with the gods of the underworld that her consort,
breaking off a tooth of his comb, lighted it as a torch and rushed in.
He found her putrefied body, out of which had been born the eight gods
of thunder. Horrified at the awful foulness which he found in the
underworld, he rushed up and out, pursued by the Ugly-Female-of-Hades.
By artifices that bear a wonderful resemblance to those in Teutonic
fairy tales, he blocked up the way. His head-dress, thrown at his
pursuer, turned into grapes which she stopped to eat. The teeth of his
comb sprouted into a bamboo forest, which detained her. The three
peaches were used as projectiles; his staff which stuck up in the ground
became a gate, and a mighty rock was used to block up the narrow pass
through the mountains. Each of these objects has its relation to
place-names in Idzumo or to superstitions that are still extant. The
peaches and the rocks became gods, and on this incident, by which the
beings in Hades were prevented from advance and successful mischief on
earth, is founded one of the norito which Mr. Satow gives in condensed
form. The names of the three gods,[4] Youth and Maiden of the Many
Road-forkings, and Come-no-further Gate, are expressed and invoked in
the praises bestowed on them in connection with the offerings.

He (the priest) says: I declare in the presence of the sovran
gods, who like innumerable piles of rocks sit closing up the way
in the multitudinous road-forkings.... I fulfil your praises by
declaring your NAMES, Youth and Maiden of the Many Road-forkings
and Come-no-further Gate, and say: for the OFFERINGS set up that
you may prevent [the servants of the monarch] from being
poisoned by and agreeing with the things which shall come
roughly-acting and hating from the Root-country, the
Bottom-country, that you may guard the bottom (of the gate) when
they come from the bottom, guard the top when they come from the
top, guarding with nightly guard and with daily guard, and may
praise them - peacefully take the great OFFERINGS which are set
up by piling them up like a range of hills, that is to say,
providing bright cloth, etc., ... and sitting closing-up the way
like innumerable piles of rock in the multitudinous
road-forkings, deign to praise the sovran GRANDCHILD'S
augustness eternally and unchangingly, and to bless his age as a
luxuriant AGE.

Retreating to another part of the world - that is, into southwestern
Japan - Izanami purified himself by bathing in a stream. While washing
himself,[5] many kami were borne from the rinsings of his person, one of
them, from the left eye (the left in Japanese is always the honorable
side), being the far-shining or heaven-illuminating kami, whose name,
Amatéras[)u], or Heaven-shiner, is usually translated "The Sun-goddess."
This personage is the centre of the system of Shint[=o]. The creation of
gods by a process of cleansing has had a powerful effect on the
Japanese, who usually associate cleanliness of the body (less moral,
than physical) with godliness.

It is not necessary to detail further the various stories which make up
the Japanese mythology. Some of these are lovely and beautiful, but
others are horrible and disgusting, while the dominant note throughout
is abundant filthiness.

Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain, who has done the world such good
service in translating into English the whole of the Kojiki, and
furnishing it with learned commentary and notes, has well said:

"The shocking obscenity of word and act to which the 'Records'
bear witness is another ugly feature which must not quite be
passed over in silence. It is true that decency, as we
understand it, is a very modern product, and it is not to be
looked for in any society in the barbarous stage. At the same
time, the whole range of literature might perhaps be ransacked
for a parallel to the naïve filthiness of the passage forming
Sec. IV. of the following translation, or to the extraordinary
topic which the hero Yamato-Také and his mistress Miyadz[)u] are
made to select as the theme of poetical repartee. One passage
likewise would lead us to suppose that the most beastly crimes
were commonly committed."[6]

Indeed, it happens in several instances that the thread by which the
marvellous patchwork of unrelated and varying local myths is joined
together, is an indecent love story.

A thousand years after the traditions of the Kojiki had been committed
to writing, and orthodox Shint[=o] commentators had learned science from
the Dutch at Nagasaki, the stirring of the world mud by Izanagi's
spear[7] was gravely asserted to be the cause of the diurnal revolution
of the earth upon its axis, the point of the axis being still the jewel
spear.[8] Onogoro-jima, or the Island of the Congealed Drop, was
formerly at the north pole,[9] but subsequently removed to its present
position. How this happened is not told.

Life in Japan During the Divine Age.

Now that the Kojiki is in English and all may read it, we can clearly
see who and what were the Japanese in the ages before letters and
Chinese civilization; for these stories of the kami are but legendary
and mythical accounts of men and women. One could scarcely recognize in
the islanders of eleven or twelve hundred years ago, the polished,
brilliant, and interesting people of to-day. Yet truth compels us to say
that social morals in Dai Nippon, even with telegraphs and railways, are
still more like those of ancient days than readers of rhapsodies by
summer tourists might suppose. These early Japanese, indeed, were
possibly in a stage of civilization somewhat above that of the most
advanced of the American Indians when first met by Europeans, for they
had a rude system of agriculture and knew the art of fashioning iron
into tools and weapons. Still, they were very barbarous, certainly as
much so as our Germanic "forbears." They lived in huts. They were
without writing or commerce, and were able to count only to ten.[10]
Their cruelty was as revolting as that of the savage tribes of America.
The family was in its most rudimentary stage, with little or no
restraint upon the passions of men. Children of the same father, but not
of the same mother, could intermarry. The instances of men marrying
their sisters or aunts were very common. There was no art, unless the
making of clay images, to take the place of the living human victims
buried up to their necks in earth and left to starve on the death of
their masters,[11] may be designated as such.

The Magatama, or curved jewels, being made of ground and polished stone
may be called jewelry; but since some of these prehistoric ornaments dug
up from the ground are found to be of jade, a mineral which does not
occur in Japan, it is evident that some of these tokens of culture came
from the continent. Many other things produced by more or less skilled
mechanics, the origin of which is poetically recounted in the story of
the dancing of Uzumé before the cave in which the Sun-goddess had hid
herself,[12] were of continental origin. Evidently these men of the
god-way had passed the "stone age," and, probably without going through
the intermediate bronze age, were artificers of iron and skilled in its
use. Most of the names of metals and of many other substances, and the
terms used in the arts and sciences, betray by their tell-tale etymology
their Chinese origin. Indeed, it is evident that some of the leading
kami were born in Korea or Tartary.

Then as now the people in Japan loved nature, and were quickly sensitive
to her beauty and profoundly in sympathy with her varied phenomena. In
the mediæval ages, Japanese Wordsworths are not unknown.[13] Sincerely
they loved nature, and in some respects they seemed to understand the
character of their country far better than the alien does or can. Though
a land of wonderful beauty, the Country of Peaceful Shores is enfolded
in powers of awful destructiveness. With the earthquake and volcano, the
typhoon and the tidal wave, beauty and horror alternate with a swiftness
that is amazing.

Probably in no portion of the earth are the people and the land more
like each other or apparently better acquainted with each other. Nowhere
are thought and speech more reflective of the features of the landscape.
Even after ten centuries, the Japanese are, in temperament, what the
Kojiki reveals them to have been in their early simplicity. Indeed, just
as the modern Frenchman, down beneath his outward environments and his
habiliments cut and fitted yesterday, is intrinsically the same Gaul
whom Julius Cæsar described eighteen hundred years ago, so the gentleman
of T[=o]ki[=o] or Ki[=o]to is, in his mental make-up, wonderfully like
his ancestors described by the first Japanese Stanley, who shed the
light of letters upon the night of unlettered Japan and darkest Dai

The Kojiki reveals to us, likewise, the childlike religious ideas of the
islanders. Heaven lay, not about but above them in their infancy, yet
not far away. Although in the "Notices," it is "the high plain of
heaven," yet it is just over their heads, and once a single pillar
joined it and the earth. Later, the idea was, that it was held up by the
pillar-gods of the wind, and to them norito were recited. "The great
plain of the blue sea" and "the land of luxuriant reeds" form "the
world" - which means Japan. The gods are only men of prowess or renown. A
kami is anything wonderful - god or man, rock or stream, bird or snake,
whatever is surprising, sensational, or phenomenal, as in the little
child's world of to-day. There is no sharp line dividing gods from men,
the natural from the supernatural, even as with the normal uneducated
Japanese of to-day. As for the kami or gods, they have all sorts of
characters; some of them being rude and ill-mannered, many of them
beastly and filthy, while others are noble and benevolent. The
attributes of moral purity, wisdom and holiness, cannot be, and in the
original writings are not, ascribed to them; but they were strong and
had power. In so far as they had power they were called kami or gods,
whether celestial or terrestrial. Among the kami - the one term under
which they are all included - there were heavenly bodies, mountains,
rivers, trees, rocks and animals, because those also were supposed to
possess force, or at least some kind of influence for good or evil. Even
peaches, as we have seen, when transformed into rocks, became gods.[14]

That there was worship with awe, reverence, and fear, and that the
festivals and sacrifices had two purposes, one of propitiating the
offended Kami and the other of purifying the worshipper, may be seen in
the norito or liturgies, some of which are exceedingly beautiful.[15] In
them the feelings of the gods are often referred to. Sometimes their
characters are described. Yet one looks in vain in either the "Notices,"
poems, or liturgies for anything definite in regard to these deities, or
concerning morals or doctrines to be held as dogmas. The first gods come
into existence after evolution of the matter of which they are composed
has taken place. The later gods are sometimes able to tell who are their
progenitors, sometimes not. They live and fight, eat and drink, and give
vent to their appetites and passions, and then they die; but exactly
what becomes of them after they die, the record does not state. Some are
in heaven, some on the earth, some in Hades. The underworld of the first
cycle of tradition is by no means that of the second.[16] Some of the
kami are in the water, or on the water, or in the air. As for man, there
is no clear statement as to whether he is to have any future life or
what is to become of him, though the custom or jun-shi, or dying with
the master, points to a sort of immortality such as the early Greeks and
the Iroquois believed in.

It would task the keenest and ablest Shint[=o]ist to deduce or construct
a system of theology, or of ethics, or of anthropology from the mass of
tradition so full of gaps and discord as that found in the Kojiki, and
none has done it. Nor do the inaccurate, distorted, and often almost
wholly factitious translations, so-called, of French and other writers,
who make versions which hit the taste of their occidental readers far
better than they express the truth, yield the desired information. Like
the end strands of a new spider's web, the lines of information on most
vital points are still "in the air."

The Ethics of the God-way.

There are no codes of morals inculcated in the god-way, for even its
modern revivalists and exponents consider that morals are the invention
of wicked people like the Chinese; while the ancient Japanese were pure
in thought and act. They revered the gods and obeyed the Mikado, and
that was the chief end of man, in those ancient times when Japan was the
world and Heaven was just above the earth. Not exactly on Paul's
principle of "where there is no law there is no transgression," but
utterly scouting the idea that formulated ethics were necessary for
these pure-minded people, the modern revivalists of Shint[=o] teach that
all that is "of faith" now is to revere the gods, keep the heart pure,
and follow its dictates.[17] The naïveté of the representatives of
Shint[=o] at Chicago in A.D. 1893, was almost as great as that of the
revivalists who wrote when Japan was a hermit nation.

The very fact that there was no moral commandments, not even of loyalty
or obedience such as Confucianism afterward promulgated and formulated,
is proof to the modern Shint[=o]ist that the primeval Japanese were pure
and holy; they did right, naturally, and hence he does not hesitate to
call Japan, the Land of the Gods, the Country of the Holy Spirits, the
Region Between Heaven and Earth, the Island of the Congealed Drop, the
Sun's Nest, the Princess Country, the Land of Great Peace, the Land of
Great Gentleness, the Mikado's Empire, the Country ruled by a Theocratic
Dynasty. He considers that only with the vice brought over from the
Continent of Asia were ethics both imported and made necessary.[18]

All this has been solemnly taught by famous Shint[=o] scholars of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and is still practically
promulgated in the polemic Shint[=o] literature of to-day, even after
the Kojiki has been studied and translated into European languages. The
Kojiki shows that whatever the men may have been or done, the gods were
abominably obscene, and both in word and deed were foul and revolting,
utterly opposed in act to those reserves of modesty or standards of
shame that exist even among the cultivated Japanese to-day.[19] Even
among the Ainos, whom the Japanese look upon as savages, there is still
much of the obscenity of speech which belongs to all society[20] in a
state of barbarism; but it has been proved that genuine modesty is a
characteristic of the Aino women.[21] A literal English translation of
the Kojiki, however, requires an abundant use of Latin in order to
protect it from the grasp of the law in English-speaking Christendom. In
Chamberlain's version, the numerous cesspools are thus filled up with a
dead language, and the road is constructed for the reader, who likes the
language of Edmund Spencer, of William Tyndale and of John Ruskin kept

The cruelty which marks this early stage shows that though moral codes
did not exist, the Buddhist and Confucian missionary were for Japan
necessities of the first order. Comparing the result to-day with the
state of things in the early times, one must award high praise to
Buddhism that it has made the Japanese gentle, and to Confucianism that
it has taught the proprieties of life, so that the polished Japanese
gentleman, as to courtesy, is in many respects the peer and at some
external points the superior, of his European confrère.

Another fact, made repulsively clear, about life in ancient Japan, is
that the high ideals of truth and honor, characteristic at least of the
Samurai of modern times, were utterly unknown in the days of the kami.
Treachery was common. Instances multiply on the pages of the Kojiki
where friend betrayed friend. The most sacred relations of life were
violated. Altogether these were the darkest ages of Japan, though, as
among the red men of America, there were not wanting many noble examples
of stoical endurance, of courage, and of power nobly exerted for the
benefit of others.

The Rise of Mikadoism.

Nevertheless we must not forget that the men of the early age of the
Kami no Michi conquered the aborigines by superior dogmas and fetiches,
as well as by superior weapons. The entrance of these heroes, invaders
from the highlands of the Asian continent, by way of Korea, was
relatively a very influential factor of progress, though not so
important as was the Aryan descent upon India, or the Norman invasion of
England, for the aboriginal tribes were vastly lower in the scale of
humanity than their subduers. Where they found savagery they introduced
barbarism, which, though unlettered and based on the sword, was a vast
improvement over what may be called the geological state of man, in
which he is but slightly raised above the brutes.

For the proofs from the shell heaps, combined with the reflected
evidences of folk-lore, show, that cannibalism[22] was common in the
early ages, and that among the aboriginal hill tribes it lingered after
the inhabitants of the plain and shore had been subdued. The conquerors,
who made themselves paramount over the other tribes and who developed
the Kami religion, abolished this relic of savagery, and gave order
where there had been chronic war. Another thing that impresses us
because of its abundant illustrations, is the prevalence of human
sacrifices. The very ancient folk-lore shows that beautiful maidens were
demanded by the "sea-gods" in propitiation, or were devoured by the
"dragons." These human victims were either chosen or voluntarily
offered, and in some instances were rescued from their fate by
chivalrous heroes[23] from among the invaders.

These gods of the sea, who anciently were propitiated by the sacrifice
of human beings, are the same to whom Japanese sailors still pray,
despite their Buddhism. The title of the efficient victims was
_hitoga-shira_, or human pillars. Instances of this ceremony, where men
were lowered into the water and drowned in order to make the sure
foundation for bridges, piers or sea-walls, or where they were buried
alive in the earth in order to lay the right bases for walls or castles,
are quite numerous, and most of the local histories contain specific
traditions.[24] These traditions, now transfigured, still survive in
customs that are as beautiful as they are harmless. To reformers of
pre-Buddhistic days, belongs the credit of the abolition of jun-shi, or
dying with the master by burial alive, as well as of the sacrifice to
dragons and sea-gods.

Strange as it may seem, before Buddhism captured and made use of
Shint[=o] for its own purposes (just as it stands ready to-day to absorb
Christianity by making Jesus one of the Palestinian avatars of the
Buddha), the house or tribe of Yamato, with its claim to descent from
the heavenly gods, and with its Mikado or god-ruler, had given to the

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 6 of 31)