Origins of the Japanese People
Religion, Heaven, Yamato, Mikado, System, Shint
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 follows:
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 Tartar.
To the north and east of this fair country lay the Emishi savages, or Ainos.
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 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.
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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