William Elliot Griffis.

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Buddhists a precedent and potent example. Shint[=o], as a state religion
or union of politics and piety, with its system of shrines and
festivals, and in short the whole Kami no Michi, or Shint[=o] as we know
it, from the sixth to the eighth century, was in itself (in part at
least), a case of the absorption of one religion by another.

In short, the Mikado tribe or Yamato clan did, in reality, capture the
aboriginal religion, and turn it into a great political machine. They
attempted syncretism and succeeded in their scheme. They added to their
own stock of dogma and fetich that of the natives. Only, while
recognizing the (earth) gods of the aborigines they proclaimed the
superiority of the Mikado as representative and vicegerent of Heaven,
and demanded that even the gods of the earth, mountain, river, wind, and
thunder and lightning should obey him. Not content, however, with
absorbing and corrupting for political purposes the primitive faith of
the aborigines, the invaders corrupted their own religion by carrying
the dogma of the divinity and infallibility of the Mikado too far.
Stopping short of no absurdity, they declared their chief greater even
than the heavenly gods, and made their religion centre in him rather
than in his alleged heavenly ancestors, or "heaven." In the interest of
politics and conquest, and for the sake of maintaining the prestige of
their tribe and clan, these "Mikado-reverencers" of early ages advanced
from dogma to dogma, until their leader was virtually chief god in a
great pantheon.

A critical native Japanese, student of the Kojiki and of the early
writings, Professor Kumi, formerly of the Imperial University in
T[=o]ki[=o], has brought to light abundant evidence to show that the
aboriginal religion found by the Yamato conquerors was markedly
different at many vital points, from that which was long afterward
called Shint[=o].

If the view of recent students of anthropology be correct, that the
elements dominating the population in ancient Japan were in the south,
Malay; in the north, Aino; and in the central region, or that occupied
by the Yamato men, Korean; then, these continental invaders may have
been worshippers of Heaven and have possessed a religion closely akin to
that of ancient China with its monotheism. It is very probable also that
they came into contact with tribes or colonies of their
fellow-continentals from Asia. These tribes, hunters, fishermen, or rude
agriculturists - who had previously reached Japan - practised many rites
and ceremonies which were much like those of the new invaders. It is
certain also, as we have seen, that the Yamato men made ultimate
conquest and unification of all the islanders, not merely by the
superiority of their valor and of their weapons of iron, but also by
their dogmas. After success in battle, and the first beginnings of rude
government, they taught their conquered subjects or over-awed vassals,
that they were the descendants of the heavenly gods; that their
ancestors had come down from heaven; find that their chief or Mikado was
a god. According to the same dogmatics, the aborigines were descendants
of the earth-born gods, and as such must obey the descendants of the
heavenly gods, and their vicegerent upon the earth, the Mikado.

Purification of Offences.

These heaven-descended Yamato people were in the main agriculturists,
though of a rude order, while the outlying tribes were mostly hunters
and fishermen; and many of the rituals show the class of crimes which
nomads, or men of unsettled life, would naturally commit against their
neighbors living in comparatively settled order. It is to be noted that
in the god-way the origin of evil is to be ascribed to evil gods. These
kami pollute, and pollution is iniquity. From this iniquity the people
are to be purged by the gods of purification, to whom offerings are duly

He who would understand the passion for cleanliness which characterizes
the Japanese must look for its source in their ancient religion. The
root idea of the word _tsumi_, which Mr. Satow translated as "offence,"
is that of pollution. On this basis, of things pure and things defiling,
the ancient teachers of Shint[=o] made their classification of what was
good and what was bad. From the impression of what was repulsive arose
the idea of guilt.

In rituals translated by Mr. Satow, the list of offences is given and
the defilements are to be removed to the nether world, or, in common
fact, the polluted objects and the expiatory sacrifices are to be thrown
into the rivers and thence carried to the sea, where they fall to the
bottom of the earth. The following norito clearly shows this.
Furthermore, as Mr. Satow, the translator, points out, this ritual
contains the germ of criminal law, a whole code of which might have been
evolved and formulated under Shint[=o], had not Buddhism arrested its

Amongst the various sorts of offences which may be committed in
ignorance or out of negligence by heaven's increasing people,
who shall come into being in the country, which the Sovran
GRANDCHILD'S augustness, hiding in the fresh RESIDENCE, built by
stoutly planting the HOUSE-pillars on the bottom-most rocks, and
exalting the cross-beams to the plain of high heaven, as his
SHADE from the heavens and SHADE from the sun, shall tranquilly
ruin as a peaceful country, namely, the country of great Yamato,
where the sun is soon on high, which he fixed upon as a peaceful
country, as the centre of the countries of the four quarters
thus bestowed upon him - breaking the ridges, filling up
water-courses, opening sluices, double-sowing, planting stakes,
flaying alive, flaying backwards, and dunging; many of such
offences are distinguished as heavenly offences, and as earthly
offences; cutting living flesh, cutting dead flesh, leprosy,
proud-flesh, ... calamities of crawling worms, calamities of a
god on high, calamities of birds on high, the offences of
killing beasts and using incantations; many of such offences may
be disclosed.

When he has thus repeated it, the heavenly gods will push open
heaven's eternal gates, and cleaving a path with might through
the manifold clouds of heaven, will hear; and the country gods,
ascending to the tops of the high mountains, and to the tops of
the low hills, and tearing asunder the mists of the high
mountains and the mists of the low hills, will hear.

And when they have thus heard, the
Maiden-of-Descent-into-the-Current, who dwells in the current of
the swift stream which boils down the ravines from the tops of
the high mountains, and the tops of the low hills, shall carry
out to the great sea plain the offences which are cleared away
and purified, so that there be no remaining offence; like as
Shinato's wind blows apart the manifold clouds of heaven, as the
morning wind and the evening wind blow away the morning mist and
the evening mist, as the great ships which lie on the shore of a
great port loosen their prows, and loosen their sterns to push
out into the great sea-plain; as the trunks of the forest trees,
far and near, are cleared away by the sharp sickle, the sickle
forged with fire: so that there ceased to be any offence called
an offence in the court of the Sovran GRANDCHILD'S augustness to
begin with, and in the countries of the four quarters of the
region under heaven.

And when she thus carries them out and away, the deity called
the Maiden-of-the-Swift-cleansing, who dwells in the
multitudinous meetings of the sea waters, the multitudinous
currents of rough sea-waters shall gulp them down.

And when she has thus gulped them down, the lord of the
Breath-blowing-place, who dwells in the Breath-blowing-place,
shall utterly blow them away with his breath to the
Root-country, the Bottom-country.

And when he has thus blown them away, the deity called the
Maiden-of-Swift-Banishment, who dwells in the Root-country, the
Bottom-country, shall completely banish them, and get rid of

And when they have thus been got rid of, there shall from this
day onwards be no offence which is called offence, with regard
to the men of the offices who serve in the court of the Sovran,
nor in the four quarters of the region under heaven.

Then the high priest says:

Hear all of you how he leads forth the horse, as a thing that
erects its ears towards the plain of high heaven, and deigns to
sweep away and purify with the general purification, as the
evening sun goes down on the last day of the watery moon of this

O diviners of the four countries, take (the sacrifices) away out
to the river highway, and sweep them away.

Mikadoism Usurps the Primitive God-way.

A further proof of the transformation of the primitive god-way in the
interest of practical politics, is shown by Professor Kumi in the fact
that some of the festivals now directly connected with the Mikado's
house, and even in his honor, were originally festivals with which he
had nothing to do, except as leader of the worship, for the honor was
paid to Heaven, and not to his ancestors. Professor Kumi maintains that
the thanksgivings of the court were originally to Heaven itself, and not
in honor of Amatéras[)u], the sun-goddess, as is now popularly believed.
It is related in the Kojiki that Amatéras[)u] herself celebrated the
feast of Niinamé. So also, the temple of Isé, the Mecca of Shint[=o],
and the Holy shrine in the imperial palace were originally temples for
the worship of Heaven. The inferior gods of earthly origin form no part
of primitive Shint[=o].

Not one of the first Mikados was deified after death, the deification of
emperors dating from the corruption which Shint[=o] underwent after the
introduction of Buddhism. Only by degrees was the ruler of the country
given a place in the worship, and this connection was made by
attributing to him descent from Heaven. In a word, the contention of
Professor Kumi is, that the ancient religion of at least a portion of
the Japanese and especially of those in central Japan, was a rude sort
of monotheism, coupled, as in ancient China, with the worship of
subordinate spirits.

It is needless to say that such applications of the higher criticism to
the ancient sacred documents proved to be no safer for the applier than
if he had lived in the United States of America. The orthodox
Shint[=o]ists were roused to wrath and charged the learned critic with
"degrading Shint[=o] to a mere branch of Christianity." The government,
which, despite its Constitution and Diet, is in the eyes of the people
really based on the myths of the Kojiki, quickly put the professor on
the retired list.[25]

It is probably correct to say that the arguments adduced by Professor
Kumi, confirm our theory of the substitution in the simple god-way, of
Mikadoism, the centre of the primitive worship being the sun and nature
rather than Heaven.

Between the ancient Chinese religion with its abstract idea of Heaven
and its personal term for God, and the more poetic and childlike system
of the god-way, there seems to be as much difference as there is
racially between the people of the Middle Kingdom and those of the Land
Where the Day Begins. Indeed, the entrance of Chinese philosophical and
abstract ideas seemed to paralyze the Japanese imagination. Not only did
myth-making, on its purely æsthetic and non-utilitarian side cease
almost at once, but such myths as were formed were for direct business
purposes and with a transparent tendency. Henceforth, in the domain of
imagination the Japanese intellect busied itself with assimilating or
re-working the abundant material imported by Buddhism.

Ancient Customs and Usages.

In the ancient god-way the temple or shrine was called a miya. After the
advent of Buddhism the keepers of the shrine were called kannushi, that
is, shrine keepers or wardens of the god. These men were usually
descendants of the god in whose honor the temples were built. The gods
being nothing more than human founders of families, reverence was paid
to them as ancestors, and so the basis of Shint[=o] is ancestor worship.
The model of the miya, in modern as in ancient times, is the primitive
hut as it was before Buddhism introduced Indian and Chinese
architecture. The posts, stuck in the ground, and not laid upon stones
as in after times, supported the walls and roof, the latter being of
thatch. The rafters, crossed at the top, were tied along the ridge-pole
with the fibres of creepers or wistaria vines. No paint, lacquer,
gilding, or ornaments of any sort existed in the ancient shrine, and
even to-day the modern Shint[=o] temple must be of pure hinoki or
sun-wood, and thatched, while the use of metal is as far as possible
avoided. To the gods, as the norito show, offerings of various kinds
were made, consisting of the fruits of the soil, the products of the
sea, and the fabrics of the loom.

Inside modern temples one often sees a mirror, in which foreigners with
lively imaginations read a great deal that is only the shadow of their
own mind, but which probably was never known in Shint[=o] temples until
after Buddhist times. They also see in front of the unpainted wooden
closets or casements, wands or sticks of wood from which depend masses
or strips of white paper, cut and notched in a particular way.
Foreigners, whose fancy is nimble, have read in these the symbols of
lightning, the abode of the spirits and various forthshadowings unknown
either to the Japanese or the ancient writings. In reality these
_gohei_, or honorable offerings, are nothing more than the paper
representatives of the ancient offerings of cloth which were woven, as
the arts progressed, of bark, of hemp and of silk.

The chief Shint[=o] ministers of religion and shrine-keepers belonged to
particular families, which were often honored with titles and offices by
the emperor. In ordinary life they dressed like others of their own rank
or station, but when engaged in their sacred office were robed in white
or in a special official costume, wearing upon their heads the _éboshi_
or peculiar cap which we associate with Japanese archæology. They knew
nothing of celibacy; but married, reared families and kept their scalps
free from the razor, though some of the lower order of shrine-keepers
dressed their hair in ordinary style, that is, with shaven poll and
topknot. At some of the more important shrines, like those at Isé, there
were virgin priestesses who acted as custodians both of the shrines and
of the relics.[26]

In front of the miyas stood what we should suppose on first seeing was a
gateway. This was the _torii_ or bird-perch, and anciently was made only
of unpainted wood. Two upright tree-trunks held crosswise on a smooth
tree-trunk the ends of which projected somewhat over the supports, while
under this was a smaller beam inserted between the two uprights. On the
torii, the birds, generally barn-yard fowls which were sacred to the
gods, roosted. These creatures were not offered up as sacrifices, but
were chanticleers to give notice of day-break and the rising of the sun.
The cock holds a prominent place in Japanese myth, legend, art and
symbolism. How this feature of pure Japanese architecture, the torii,
afterward lost its meaning, we shall show in our lecture on Riy[=o]bu or
mixed Buddhism.

Shint[=o]'s Emphasis on Cleanliness.

One of the most remarkable features of Shint[=o] was the emphasis laid
on cleanliness. Pollution was calamity, defilement was sin, and physical
purity at least, was holiness. Everything that could in any way soil the
body or the clothing was looked upon with abhorrence and detestation.
Disease, wounds and death were defiling, and the feeling of disgust
prevailed over that of either sympathy or pity. Birth and death were
especially polluting. Anciently there were huts built both for the
mother about to give birth to a child, or for the man who was dying or
sure to die of disease or wounds. After the birth of the infant or the
death of the patient these houses were burned. Cruel as this system was
to the woman at a time when she needed most care and comfort, and brutal
as it seems in regard to the sick and dying, yet this ancient custom was
continued in a few remote places in Japan as late as the year 1878.[27]
In modern days with equal knowledge of danger and defilement, tenderness
and compassion temper the feeling of disgust, and prevail over it.
Horror of uncleanliness was so great that the priests bathed and put on
clean garments before making the sacred offerings or chanting the
liturgies, and were accustomed to bind a slip of paper over their mouths
lest their breath should pollute the offering. Numerous were the special
festivals, observed simply for purification. Salt also was commonly used
to sprinkle over the ground, and those who attended a funeral must free
themselves from contamination by the use of salt.[28] Purification by
water was habitual and in varied forms. The ancient emperors and priests
actually performed the ablution of the people or made public lustration
in their behalf.

Afterwards, and probably because population increased and towns sprang
up, we find it was customary at the festivals of purification to perform
public ablution, vicariously, as it were, by means of paper mannikins
instead of making applications of water to the human cuticle. Twice a
year paper figures representing the people were thrown into the river,
the typical meaning of which was that the nation was thereby cleansed
from the sins, that is, the defilements, of the previous half-year.
Still later, the Mikado made the chief minister of religion at Ki[=o]to
his deputy to perform the symbolical act for the people of the whole

Prayers to Myriads of Gods.

In prayer, the worshipper, approaching the temple but not entering it,
pulls a rope usually made of white material and attached to a
peculiar-shaped bell hung over the shrine, calling the attention of the
deity to his devotions. Having washed his hands and rinsed out his
mouth, he places his hands reverently together and offers his petition.

Concerning the method and words of prayer, Hirata, a famous exponent of
Shint[=o], thus writes:

As the number of the gods who possess different functions is so
great, it will be convenient to worship by name only the most
important and to include the rest in a general petition. Those
whose daily affairs are so multitudinous that they have not time
to go through the whole of the following morning prayers, may
content themselves with adoring the residence of the emperor,
the domestic kami-dana, the spirits of their ancestors, their
local patron god and the deity of their particular calling in

In praying to the gods the blessings which each has it in his
power to bestow are to be mentioned in a few words, and they are
not to be annoyed with greedy petitions, for the Mikado in his
palace offers up petitions daily on behalf of his people, which
are far more effectual than those of his subjects.

Rising early in the morning, wash your face and hands, rinse out
the mouth and cleanse the body. Then turn toward the province of
Yamato, strike the palms of the hands together twice, and
worship, bowing the head to the ground. The proper posture is
that of kneeling on the heels, which is ordinarily assumed in
saluting a superior.


From a distance I reverently worship with awe before Amé no
Mi-hashira (Heaven-pillar) and Kuni no Mi-hashira
(Country-pillar), also called Shinatsu-hiko no kami and
Shinatsu-himé no kami, to whom is consecrated the Palace built
with stout pillars at Tatsuta no Tachinu in the department of
Héguri in the province of Yamato.

I say with awe, deign to bless me by correcting the unwitting
faults which, seen and heard by you, I have committed, by
blowing off and clearing away the calamities which evil gods
might inflict, by causing me to live long like the hard and
lasting rock, and by repeating to the gods of heavenly origin
and to the gods of earthly origin the petitions which I present
every day, along with your breath, that they may hear with the
sharp-earedness of the forth-galloping colt.

To the common people the sun is actually a god, as none can doubt who
sees them worshipping it morning and evening. The writer can never
forget one of many similar scenes in T[=o]ki[=o], when late one
afternoon after O Tent[=o] Sama (the sun-Lord of Heaven), which had been
hidden behind clouds for a fortnight, shone out on the muddy streets. In
a moment, as with the promptness of a military drill, scores of people
rushed out of their houses and with faces westward, kneeling, squatting,
began prayer and worship before the great luminary. Besides all the
gods, supreme, subordinate and local, there is in nearly every house the
Kami-dana or god-shelf. This is usually over the door inside. It
contains images with little paper-covered wooden tablets having the
god's name on them. Offerings are made by day and a little lamp is
lighted at night. The following is one of several prayers which are
addressed to this kami-dana.

Reverently adoring the great god of the two palaces of Isé, in
the first place, the eight hundred myriads of celestial gods,
the eight hundred myriads of terrestrial gods, all the fifteen
hundred myriads of gods to whom are consecrated the great and
small temples in all provinces, all islands and all places of
the Great Land of Eight Islands, the fifteen hundreds of myriads
of gods whom they cause to serve them, and the gods of branch
palaces and branch temples, and Sohodo no kami, whom I have
invited to the shrine set up on this divine shelf, and to whom I
offer praises day by day, I pray with awe that they will deign
to correct the unwitting faults, which, heard and seen by them,
I have committed, and blessing and favoring me according to the
powers which they severally wield, cause me to follow the divine
example, and to perform good works in the Way.

Shint[=o] Left in a State of Arrested Development.

Thus from the emperor to the humblest believer, the god-way is founded
on ancestor worship, and has had grafted upon its ritual system nature
worship, even to phallicism.[29] In one sense it is a self-made religion
of the Japanese. Its leading characteristics are seen in the traits of
the normal Japanese character of to-day. Its power for good and evil may
be traced in the education of the Japanese through many centuries.
Knowing Shint[=o], we to a large degree know the Japanese, their virtues
and their failings.

What Shint[=o] might have become in its full evolution had it been left
alone, we cannot tell. Whether in the growth of the nation and without
the pressure of Buddhism, Confucianism or other powerful influences from
outside, the scattered and fragmentary mythology might have become
organized into a harmonious system, or codes of ethics have been
formulated, or the doctrines of a future life and the idea of a Supreme
Being with personal attributes have been conceived and perfected, are
questions the discussion of which may seem to be vain. History, however,
gives no uncertain answer as to what actually did take place. We do but
state what is unchallenged fact, when we say, that after commitment to
writing of the myths, poems and liturgies which may be called the basis
of Shint[=o], there came a great flood of Chinese and Buddhistic
literature and a tremendous expansion of Buddhist missionary activity,
which checked further literary growth of the kami system. These prepared
the way for the absorption of the indigenous into the foreign cultus
under the form called by an enthusiastic emperor, Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o],
or the "two-fold divine doctrine." Of this, we shall speak in another

Suffice it here to say that by the scheme of syncretism propounded by
K[=o]b[=o] in the ninth century, Shint[=o] was practically overlaid by
the new faith from India, and largely forgotten as a distinct religion
by the Japanese people. As late as A.D. 927, there were three thousand
one hundred and thirty-two enumerated metropolitan and provincial
temples, besides many more unenumerated village and hamlet shrines of

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 7 of 31)