Really, what is so important for Westerners?
Tanaka Hidemichi, Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University
As is often noted, the present-day Japanese people celebrate Christian Christmas, listen to “Joya no Kane” (tolling of the bells at year end) at Buddhist temples and feel perfectly natural to pay “Hatsu Mode” (the first visit of the year) to shrines. Many people visit their ancestors’ graves without realizing what “Urabon” actually means.
Based on the unique situation in Japan, the Japanese are said to be atheists without any particular religion. But is this really true? Isn’t it religiousness to have a view of Kami being equal to nature as represented by the Japanese eight million forms of kami?
From a monotheistic perspective, the Japanese seem to be atheists and there seems to be no “religion” in Japan. However, this merely reflects the perspective from monotheism, which sees religion as unified thinking centered on Jesus, Moses or Muhammad, dependent on missionaries to pass the thinking on to the next generation. Certainly, seen from this perspective, Shinto is far from a “religion”, which has no founder, no sacred book, much less no written records.
As far as Buddhism, Buddhism in Japan is often panned as “funeral Buddhism” and people only engage it when someone dies. Confucianism is not recognized as religion either and it is only appreciated as a series of rituals and method to learn. Some couples get married in churches, even though they are not baptized Christians, which certainly adds to the mysterious Japanese image to monotheists.
In Japan, economics and politics are often discussed in public, while I must say that religion is hardly discussed openly in earnest. Japanese mass media, such as television, report economic and political news every day, often accompanied with commentary and explanation.
However, when it comes to religion, the only occasion religion becomes news is when the Prime Minister at the time visits Yasukuni Shrine or not and whether the visit is private or official.
Nevertheless, it is not too much to say that religions actually move the world. Regarding conflicts between Israel and Palestine, those in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, ethnic and economic problems are the main subjects of discussion. At the same time it is easy to visualize that religion lies at the base of all of these problems.
The 2001 9-11 Incident can be said to have been one of the most horrible incidents that was triggered by religious issues.
In this book, I would like to discuss the religious views of the Japanese people, as seen by Western thinking, without becoming too entangled in Western religious concepts. When thinking of religious issues, reexamining the Japanese people’s religious views is almost equal to seeing the essence of religion, which at the same time, I believe, presents a glimmer of a new world in which various peoples can peacefully co-exist. Religious studies often follow Western terminology and concepts and therefore cannot properly convey the religion of the Japanese people. More often than not, the religious views of Western experts fail to encompass understanding of the Japense religion.
The Japanese religion—or really, what is so great about it–I will now proceed to explain.
Table of Contents
Column 0 Festivals of Japan
Chapter I Japanese religion is really great
American occupational policy denies a national religion
Is Japan a unique country?
Shinto is not religion?!
Appearance of monotheism
The logic of atheists
Scientists criticize the existence of “Kami”
Are the Japanese people atheists?
Column 1 Izumo Shrine used to be the tallest building in Japan!?
Chapter II “Falsehoods” of monotheism
Where falsehoods of monotheism lie
What is decisive difference between Kojiki and the Old Testament
Coexistance with nature during the Jomon Period
Mythology recorded the Big Bang
Kojiki and Nihon Shoki were written with scientific eyes!
What are differences between monotheism and polytheism?
Japan aspires for harmony with nature
What Jewish psychiatrist Freud said
There is only one God=Father
Column 2 Kasuga Shrine and Kofuku-ji Temple
Chapter III Clash among monotheism
Are Judaism, Christianity and Islam brothers?
Let us correctly understand Islam
Battles between Islam and Christianity
Column 3 Prince Shotoku and the Great Buddha Hall
Chapter IV “Communal religion” and “individual religion”
The role of Shinto and the role of Buddhism
What Saicho and Kukai wanted to convey
Mountain religion as viewed by Shugen-do
Coexistence of Buddhism and Shinto
“Shinto” as taught by Dogen
Coexistence of Kami and Hotoke
Column 4 Ancient mounded tombs and graves
Chapter V Shinto is a way of nature
Shinto accepts even natural disasters
Shinto can be said to be pure polytheism
Discuss the Emperor without discussing Shinto
Differences in natural environments changed religions
Monsoons, deserts and pastures
Column 5 Why are Japanese poems of tanka and haiku short?
Chapter VI Dialogue between Judaism and Christianity
Dialogue between the Pope and a rabbi
Whenever “God” is mentioned, a “Devil” exists
Monotheism was created with an aggressive side
Why did Hideyoshi prohibit Christianity?
Column 6 Shichi-fukujin (seven lucky kami) represents Japanese religion precisely
Chapter VII Religion prior to monotheism
What is nature to Westerners
A unique country named Greece
Ancient Greek philosophers who explored the concept of nature
Ancient Greece and ancient Japan shared common views of nature
“Nature” as seized by da Vinci
Scientists and Christianity
“Nature” by Spinoza
Limits of Western civilization as represented by Locke
Monotheism holds contradictions
“Nature” of Japan portrayed by Ukiyo-e pictures
Column 7 The reason why the Japanese are said to be poor at arguing
Chapter VIII How is nature described
Shinto as an intrinsic Japanese religion
Formation of “the way of nature” during the Edo Period
“Nature” in Japanese Kokugaku (National learning)
Relationship between Emperor and Shinto
“Nature” as perceived by intellectuals
Ando Shoeki’s view of nature
A view of nature that embraces science
“Nature” handed down to the end of the Edo Period
“Nature” in the Meiji Period and thereafter
“Sokuten Kyoshi” (become one with heaven, liberated from the self) presented by Natsume Soseki and “Shasei” (sketch from life) by Masaoka Shiki
How painters saw nature
Column 8 What are the Three Divine Regalia
Column 0 Festivals of Japan
Japanese festivals are held at shrines throughout the country today. According to the Association of Shinto Shrines, the number of festivals amounts to more than 200, 000. This is roughly a festival for every five hundred people. These festivals serve as tourist attractions, but the abundance of festivals indicates that they are very important means of human expression. It is one of the essential human qualities that, we feel something sacred and we are, thus, enchanted through festivals.
Each culture everywhere, not only in Japan, has the same festive element. For example, in Greece, festivals are an integral part of their culture.
It is only during the rise and growth of the “modern age” that there are attempts to deny traditional festivals, but they are nothing to be denied. For instance, even in a socialistic nation, which was supposedly the high point of the modern age, festivals still prevailed in the form of May Day or the Celebration of the Founding of the Nation. However, festivals led by rulers and statesmen are not festivals as they were originally meant. They are superficial and not based on traditions. Therefore, they are far from creating an atmosphere where the people become totally and genuinely enthusiastic. A military parade scares people.
In the original festivals, people felt enthusiasm and excitement, perceiving something sacred, not as an individual, but as part of the community, together with other people.
Festivals are written in Japanese as 祭り or 祀り, both of which have the common origin 奉る, which means to offer something with respect. It also means to respectfully offer oneself. Festivals express desire to become united with something transcendent, by offering oneself and becoming one with Kami.
The Japanese festival, as its basis, is communication with Kami in nature. Centering on agricultural matters, the aim is to have festivals on various occasions of the four seasons, following natural changes and transitions. This means that with changes in nature, people’s feelings change and people express these changes and transitions in the form of festivals. Their feelings move from nature toward the worship of the soul and the worship of the imperial ancestors. But the fundamental target is Kami in nature.
Postwar views of festivals have always been in terms of materialistic and realistic human relations, such as “praying for a good harvest”, “for the sake of personal interests” or “purification from evil” or “appeasement of a curse”.
However, this is not the original way. The fundamental spirit is for people to forget themselves and to aspire to touch something greater than themselves.
Mikoshi, or sacred palanquin, is one of the centers of festivals. It is used to carry Kami enshrined in shrines, but why is it necessary to move Kami? Is it because during the Jomon Period, people moved from place to place, hunting and gathering food? The first Mikoshi incident supposedly took place at Hieh Shrine in Mt. Hiei. This was done by following a former ritual of moving “Hokora”, or small shrine, by Yamabushi or itinerant priests. It is an act reminiscent of moving the divine soul, their protector.
While nature gives humans tremendous benefits, nature sometimes rages and ravages. There are storms, thunder, floods, tsunami and so on. There is something similar to raging nature within humans living in nature. For example, people sometimes have violent emotions and madness which the rational mind cannot comprehend. That is the main reason why festivals are held.
Take festivals in Tohoku, for instance. There are three major festivals in the Tohoku Region. They are “Nebuta” in Aomori, “Kanto” in Akita and “Tanabata Matsuri” in Miyagi. Each festival has a different form. In a sense, these three festivals seem to describe various Japanese cultures in three different ways.
In the “Nebuta” Festival, it is said that there is no master shrine in particular that presides over the festival. The festival supposedly derives from a traditional local festival in which people walked around carrying huge lanterns. However, regarding its origin, this festival derives from “O-harai”, or purification ceremony, held at a shrine.
“O-harai” is an event in which people make a big “doll” and throw all their sins and evils into the doll and finally throw the doll into a river or the sea. During this process, people make a procession, playing flutes and drums to cheer up. This event is called “Nibu-nagashi” (Kurobe City, Toyama Prefecture) and according to Mr. Yawata Kazuo, it later became “Nebuta”.
Nebuta is a huge lantern with various devices, showing characters from Kabuki Plays or episodes from Chinese history like Sankuochih. People pull the lantern forward and there are also “Haneto” dancers dressed in traditional Japanese costumes, wearing Taski (sash) and Hana-gasa (flower hats), and jumping around the lantern. Haneto means jumpers. The idea of Haneto is thought to be based on the ancient hunting lifestyle, kicking the ground and running. The accompanying call of “Lassera” could be the voices of hunters pursuing animals.
In Aomori, there is the Jomon-period ruins called Sannai Maruyama, and “Nebuta” seems to have inherited the Jomon culture. It has been shown that the Tohoku and Kanto Regions used to have a lot of brave people. Kashima Shrine in Ibaragi retains the Jomon culture of hunting and gathering, likely in the form of Shika-oi or deer hunting, though now it is almost forgotten.
On the other hand, in Akita’s Kanto Festival, as its name indicates, huge bamboo poles full of lanterns are carried on men’s hip, shoulder or forehead across the streets. The lantern poles look like stalks of rice and lanterns are like grains of rice. This is a visual festival reminiscent of the Yayoi Period, expressing the joys of rice-farming.
Japan has developed in a way combining the Jomon and Yayoi Periods. This seems to be demonstrated perfectly by Nebuta and Kanto Festivals.
In the postwar years, the agricultural Yayoi tended to be thought of the most and rice farming was believed to have supported Japanese culture. In fact, far more than that, the Jomon Era life style of hunting, fishing and gathering became the basis of our Japanese life, and this perception remains in the form of festivals. I understand that this will further promote Japan’s creativity. We will see the creative potentials of the Tohoku and Kanto Regions, once we see their grand festivals.
Tanabata is generally believed to be based on Chinese mythology. Ever since the age of Manyo, it has been introduced as a culture apart from Buddhism. Tanabata is an event that celebrates the day when the star of Kengyu (Altair, cow keeper) meets the star of Orihime (weaver princess) once a year across the Milky Way. Originally, it is worship of “Tanahata Tsume” waiting for Japanese Kami and people placed offerings in front of the garden, erect a leafy bamboo tree decorated with five-colored wish cards, praying for improvement in their calligraphic and sewing skills. Tanabata means vertical board weaving machine. It is the same with the event called Kikoden. It is practical for girls to pray for improvement of their handicraft skills. Wonderfully, the event became a star festival, having a special atmosphere of being united with various Kami of the universe.
In the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, Miyagi, bamboos with many Tanabata decorations fill the long streets of Sendai City. Walking through these decorations covering the streets is in itself a special festive arena which lures people into excitement.
Unlike Nebuta and Kanto which directly excite participants’ feelings, the experience of walking through thick bamboo groves makes people feel as if they were in a different sphere. Such a special situation created by unusually fantastic decorations in the midst of bamboo trees changes people’s emotions. Being in an unusual world apart from everyday life is different from a festival that merely puts decorated bamboo out in front of the house. Benefits given by nature and oneness with nature are at the core of these three Festivals.
In other words, in Japanese festivals people become one with nature and Kami. Of course, people enter an unusual world, prompted by a festive orchestra and dancing. Equally important is that there are attractive devices employed both in time and space.
[Photo] Tachi Nebuta in Goshogawara City, Aomori Prefecture
Nebuta often takes after historical and mythological heroes.
Chapter I Japanese religion is really great
American occupational policy denies a national religion
No one can deny the fact that religious issues have greatly influenced all countries and peoples. It is also clear that we cannot discuss our world without discussing religion. As you may well know, in the United States, Americans sing God Bless America on many occasions rather than their national anthem. This “God” is the Christian “God” and different from other gods.
By the way, in Japan, when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the leader of Japan, visited Yasukuni Shrine, his visit was discussed only in a political context. This is because Yasukuni Shrine is the place in which former Japanese military personnel called “Class A War Criminals” are enshrined among other soldiers and many leftists argue that Prime Minister Abe is supportive of the past War. However, what is really important here is the fact that the Prime Minister of the time visited a Shinto shrine, Yasukumi Shrine—Shinto being the indigenous religion of Japan.
The United States, Japan’s ally, criticized his visit by stating that it was “disappointed”. Here we see America being critical of Prime Minister Abe, with his affirmation of Class A War Criminals, just like South Korea and China.
It is true that America was deeply involved in post-war Japan. This is a natural consequence of Japan and the United States waged total war.
General Headquarters for the Allied Powers, led by the United States, severed Japanese Shinto from the State by issuing the “Shinto Order” during the occupational regime after the War. To be exact, Shinto was disavowed as a “national religion.”
Thereafter, America aimed to Christianize Japan. They tried to make Japan a Christian nation, just like theirs. However, they were discreet enough not to force the process. Instead, they attempted to increase the number of Christian universities in Japan and McArthur tried to send a thousand missionaries to Japan from America. They had the then-Crown Prince (the present Emperor) learn English from Ms. E.G. Vining, a Quaker, in an attempt to Christianize the Imperial Family. In fact, Prince Yoshinomiya (Imperial Prince Hitachi Masahito) is said to have deep understanding of Christianity. Empress Michiko graduated from a Christian university and Crown Princess Masako studied at an American university.
Whatever it took, America endeavored to create Japan in their own image.
What were the consequences? It is said that only one percent of the Japanese people are Christian. The Imperial Family is not Christianized.
I would not say that the remaining 99 percent are all Shinto followers, but the Japanese people live mostly within the traditional Japanese religious environment. Monotheists may consider the Japanese people as being nonreligious or atheist. But that’s not true. It is only that the Japanese don’t have a Western style religion, and that we Japanese live in a richly religious environment. I have chosen to use the expression “religious environment”. Later on, I will explain the kind of religion this expression implies.
The issue of the Prime Minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine can be interpreted in the context of Japan acting in the manner of a non-Christian state, namely, that as a representative of all of Japan, the Prime Minister visited Yasukuni Shrine—and America reacted by stating their “disappointment.” Americans probably saw the whitewood building and Shinto priest clad in white behind Prime Minister Abe walking in formal dress.
Is Japan a unique country?
Most countries’ religions are based on one of the monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and worship of a powerful god. It is said that about 3.8 billion people consider themselves followers of one of these three religions. There are hardly any countries without a Christian population.
Among advanced countries, Japan is the only one without a dominant Christian population. Japan has become a heterogeneous country in terms of its religious thinking. In reality, when it comes to religion, the world sees Japan as a peculiar country.
As you know, when the northern part of Japan was hit by a great earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the way people in the disaster zone coped with their terrible fate, in an orderly manner, was greatly admired by people all over the world. Japanese people did not overly lament or become too upset in the face of a seriously disastrous earthquake and tsunami. The world was impressed by this and at the same time felt an “amazing greatness” that they can hardly comprehend. Outsiders attributed the Japanese response to their national character and religion received no consideration.
To this day, various world religions have been discussed mainly from the perspective of religious interpretation. As a country with an extremely small number of Christians, Japanese intellectuals need to explain world religions, particularly, what monotheism is like. And why the Japanese do not choose monotheism.
I think there are a very few books in Japan in which Japanese intellectuals explain what Japanese religion is like in the country where Christianity is not widely accepted. For many years, I have mainly studied Western cultures. I have seen countless Western paintings and read numerous literary works. Most of the works represent religious culture with a Christian motif. At European universities, I have been instructed by many prominent scholars and I have many foreign friends. Most of them are Christian. Quite often, I was urged to become baptized. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have seen Christianity up-close, more closely than any other Japanese.
However, I am not Christian. What, then, do I think of the world’s religions? I want to see express my view as a Japanese person, ideologically and religiously. It may be a bit presumptuous of me, but I will now discuss religions, firmly based on a Japanese cultural position.
In this “Great” series, I have discussed Japanese history and culture, contrasting it with world history and culture. With the world’s cultural assets in mind, I have discussed Japan’s “greatness”.
This time, I would like to discuss Japanese religion, which is the root of Japanese culture.
We have Shinto as a traditional Japanese religion. Shinto has no sacred book. Shinto is formed not based on a sacred book but through a number of customs and habits performed within the daily life of the Japanese. But, this is hard to see, and what is more, it is almost impossible to put it into theory.
Shinto is not a religion!?
It is often said that Shinto is not a religion. It is generally believed that religions need to have some sort of organization, a superb founding figure and missionaries as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism do.
The concept of Shinto was once questioned. It was in an incident called “Kume Kunitake’s serious slip of the pen.” Kume Kunitake presented a paper entitled Shinto as Heaven-worshipping Old Traditional Manners and Customs in Shikai (Sea of History), presided by Taguchi Ukichi in 1892. The paper finally led Kume to resign as professor of Tokyo Imperial University. Kume Kunitake was a prominent scholar who wrote books including Bei-o Kairan Jikki (Record of Travels in America and Europe) and Komonjo-gaku Kogi (Lecture on Study of Old Documents).
In his paper, he maintains that “Shinto is heaven-worshipping old traditional manners and customs” and that therefore there is no contradiction if people believe in both Shinto and Buddhism. And that is the foundation of the Japanese nationality. He writes that through Shinto, the Imperial Family will further prosper and be respected. And the country will also increasingly prosper over time.
Theologically speaking, this is tantamount to thinking that “Kami is human” and synchronizing mythology with historical facts.
Arguing against Kume’s theory, scholars of Shinto and Japanese classical study stated that “It does harm to His Imperial Country” and “it is against Imperial Rescript on Education.” Plainly speaking, they attacked Kume’s theory, saying it is against education and ethics. That is because they felt that Shinto is dealt with not as a religion, but as lowly habits and customs.
Rather, I think it is necessary to see Japanese worship, which may seem to be merely daily habits and customs, in the light of “religion.”
And I would like to discuss how the Japanese religion stands as it does in a manner that does not conflict with the other world religions, but, on the contrary, how it accepts and embraces all other religions.
The world’s religions are equally the source of conflicts and are the live coals underlying global conflicts. Hopefully, I can demonstrate to the world how the Japanese people’s view of religion could enable the world to cope with currently troublesome religious relations.
According to my opinion, Japanese religion, especially Shinto, stands exactly where religions of various countries started.
I would like to discuss the world religions from this viewpoint, which would also apply when speaking about the religion of Japan.
Appearance of monotheism
When speaking of Western religions, we often think of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, but currently there are a very small number of Jews worldwide. There are probably fifteen million or so Jew.
Why did they need monotheism? Simply speaking, the Jews were constantly wandering, not settling in one place. They held firm in their mind, however, their faith in one God.
Judaism began around 13th century B.C. It was not called Judaism at the time, but “religion of ancient Israel” would have been a suitable appellation. First, the Jews experienced a most trying incident called the “Exodus”. Under the rule of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty, they suffered under slavery. The Exodus began with their escape from Egypt in great numbers, under the leadership of Moses. They succeeded in this grand escape and realized that their feat was achieved thanks to God. They called their God “Yahweh”. They were firmly united into one through worshipping Yahweh. The Jews moved into Canaan, present-day Palestine. The Jews lived with the people of Canaan for a time, but most of them would not settle or stay permanently. They began to “wander in the wilderness.” The tribe which settled in Canaan built a kingdom with King David as its leader around the end of the 11th century B. C. The next king, Solomon, built a shrine in Jerusalem. However, the “glory” was only temporary and after King Solomon died, the Kingdom was split into two smaller kingdoms. The northern kingdom fell into ruin in 8th century B.C. and the southern kingdom was destroyed by Babylonia in the first half of 6th century B.C.
Thus, the Jews became a wandering people and only through worshipping Yahweh did they remained united, barely, as a people. They came to recognize that “God” is justice while “people” are naturally sinful.
In short, the monotheistic faith was a peculiar creation of the Jewish people and in a sense, an inevitable one. It is recognized as the common religion among Jews. However, to other peoples, it looked like an “ethnically exclusive god.” That’s because it lacks tolerance.
When Christianity, a religion of individuals, appeared during the Roman Era, emphasizing neighborly love, it came to have a more universal character. All the same, Christianity is a monotheistic faith centered on Jesus, the Son of the God.
[Photo] The Wailing Wall (City of Jerusalem, Israel) The outer walls dating to the ancient Kingdom of Judea—a sacred place where the Jewish people go to pray
The logic of atheists
American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who reportedly anticipated the 9-11 terrorist attacks, clearly wrote in his book, The Clash of Civilizations, that the eight great world civilizations are fundamentally based on religion.
Huntington is Jewish and even among Jewish intellectuals, who are mostly not very religious, it has been recognized as fact that religion cause wars.
The twentieth century was a time of struggle between ideologies. Materialism and atheistic ideologies spread everywhere. Now, however, all of these ideologies are gone and socialism collapsed. This fact clearly shows that “the world will no longer do with atheism.”
In Japan, there was also time when religion was not to be mentioned at all. This trend still continues to today. In particular, in the field of education, religious education has totally disappeared. With the disappearance of religious education, moral education has also been rejected.
Significantly, as the 21st century began with the Tragedy of 9-11, this century can be said to be one of attack and defense among religions. Many conflicts have broken out with religions as the kindling. These conflicts appear to have been caused by ethnic and economic issues or ideologies, but in the undercurrent, here and there, we can catch glimpses of religion.
Huntington refers to Japan as one of the eight great zones of civilization and mentions Japan’s independent or self-supporting character, but he hardly mentions concrete facts. If we are to draw a map of the world based on religions, Japan would have no place in it. In a sense, Japan is set aside as special.
Concerning religion, then, what is Japan based on? What is the religion of Japan like? Fact is, even the Japanese people themselves do not know exactly what it is like.
There is an urgent necessity to clarify this, step by step. In thinking of Japanese culture and Japanese history, this basic matter is unavoidable.
During my long scholarly years, most of my initial studies were targeted on Europe. Consequently, in various ways, I had to face religious issues. I will discuss them, based on my own experiences. The time has come when we need to recognize the importance of religion once again.
Scientists criticize the existence of “Kami”
First, let us look at things from the perspective of science and religion.
Science and religion—what do they have to do with each other?
It can be said that scientists these days deny the existence of God. Richard Dawkins wrote a book entitled The God Delusion. Dawkins is a specialist in the study of animal behaviors and he presented a breakthrough theory of “selfish genes”. Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya and graduated from Oxford University and studied under Nikolaas Tinbergen, a Nobel-prize winner. He is also Jewish.
A first-rate scientist like Dawkins harshly denounces the existence of God, which the Jewish people supposedly created.
Dawkins’ assertion is welcomed by Marxists and non-Christians. To those with a materialistic bias, “God is nothing more than an illusion”. In his book entitled The God Delusion, he crosses out the reasons for which people believe in gods, one by one.
First, he eliminated the belief that science and religion exist in different fields of activities. He thoroughly carried his conviction to action and even tried to convert staunch believers to atheism.
Einstein, who became famous for his “theory of relativity”, once said, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” Against these words pronounced by the most prominent scientist of the 20th century, in particular, Einstein’s “limitless admiration,” Dawkins was equally critical.
However, Einstein’s religious view seems to be the same as that of the Japanese people’s religious view. The Japanese similarly see nature alone, and do not necessarily put God into the picture equipped with human characteristics.
Einstein further comments: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.” His words mean “something great” reached by “modern science.” In Japan, these are known as words from Mr. Murakami Kazuo, a scholar of molecular biology. Still, Einstein had already mentioned the thinking, using an expression of religious character.
Are the Japanese people atheists?
Our Japanese religion somewhat resembles what Einstein described as “religious character”. Of course, Shinto is not monotheism, but polytheism. However, why is it that the Japanese people with such a religion accept Western science in the modern age? It is to confirm the principle of atheism, specifically, of science.
The opening part of Kojiki (the Record of Ancient Matters) states as follows. Allow me to quote it translated in the modern-Japanese language.
In the beginning, although the beginning of all chaotic creation, of heaven and earth, existed at the stage where neither sign nor shape appeared, there were no names, no actions and no one knew of any shape. However, first, heaven and earth were separated and the three pillars of Ameno-minakanushino-Kami, Takami-musuhino-Kami and Kamu-musuhino-Kami formed to begin creation.
Indeed an unnamed “substance” was born prior to Kami. Nihon Shoki (the Chronicles of Japan) also notes: Into a melting substance yet to become a solid mass, like the inside of a chicken egg, something dim and vague was beginning to grow.
And it continues to say that “Kami” was born out of this. That is, it states that first there was nature.
Thus, the Japanese people have traditionally accepted the idea that Kami was born out of nature. I would like to call it Shizen-do or nature’s way.
Why, Shizen-do? That’s because there is something decisively different in the Japanese people’s view of nature from those of peoples of other countries. Monotheism believes that God creates nature. In Japan nature gave birth to Kami.
The Japanese people often use the expression Otentou-sama (dear Heaven’s way). Instantly, we understand it means the sun. However, look very closely at this word. It is exactly heaven’s way. It does not exclusively refer to the sun. Ten also means both universe and nature. And isn’t the “way” exactly the “religious character” that Einstein claims science has reach?
The Japanese people refer to nature as “Otentou-sama” and speak of it, imbuing it with a lot of emotions. With spirituality imbued, worship begins to grow. And we can say that this is the “religious character” of Shinto.
Japanese poems of Haiku and Tanka express the feeling that we humans are part of nature, instead of cold detached analyses of nature. This is our nature. In contrast to scientists who coolly analyze nature, we Japanese imbue it with our sympathetic feelings. And this is the root of Japanese religion.
Monotheistic faiths dominate the world. They put nature below Gods. This is completely different from what the Japanese believe in.
In contrast to monotheism, Japanese religion puts nature and the all created in heaven and earth before Kami. Human-like Gods do not come forth; this explains the basic universality of the religion of Japan. That is to say, the root of Japanese Kami-gami (plural form of Kami) is nature. In Japanese, nature is written 自然, which literally means “self-evident”. And precisely in this sense, nature is so.
Unlike monotheists, the Japanese do not become devout believers in Kami. Even though they believe in various Kami-gami, there is always nature at the root.
Why, then, does the Japanese religion alone call nature Kami? I will try to approach the answer in this book.
Column 1 Izumo Shrine used to be the tallest building in Japan!?
Izumo Shrine celebrated Sengu, or renewal of the shrine every 60 years, in 2013. As you may well know, Izumo Shrine is, alongside Ise Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Japan.
In the book entitled Kuchizusami, written during the middle of the Heian Period, or the 10th century, in reply to the question “What is the tallest building in Japan,” there is an expression: “Unta, Wani, Kyosan”. Unta refers to Izumo Taro, namely, Izumo Shrine and specifically, the shrine building.
Incidentally, “Wani” means Yamato Jiro, referring to the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, and “Kyosan” refers to Grand Hall of State in Kyoto Imperial Palace. The book Kuchizusami (meaning “to sing to oneself”), as instruction, intended to have children singing to themselves and contained multiplication tables and other educational items.
It is typically Japanese to mention the shrine, temple and then the Imperial Palace (which has nothing to do with religion) in a serial manner. The phrase simply compares the height of buildings. But the fact that the shrine is taller than the Great Buddha Hall probably suggests that people in those days felt that Shinto as being greater. Here, it is clear that Shinto and Buddhism were equally venerated, as the expression “co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism” indicates.
Let’s go back to height. The Great Buddha Hall is 12 jo, 6 shaku or nearly 38 meters tall and Izumo Shrine is taller than that.
According to remaining records, the main shrine of Izumo Shrine collapsed seven times during a two hundred year period in the middle of the Heian Period.
The present shrine was built in the first year of Enkyo (1744). Every time the shrine was rebuilt, it became shorter and shorter. It is now only 24 meters tall. During the Heian Period it was said to be taller than the Great Buddha Hall. It is estimated to have been 32 jo or 96 meters tall.
To prove this, in an excavation survey in the precincts of Izumo Shrine conducted in 2000, the gigantic central pillar, which was composed of three huge bounded Japanese cedars was unearthed. The center pillar called Uzu-bashira is particularly important, very nicely demonstrating the people’s faith in the sacred pillars. The pillar in the center of the vertical unit at the longer end of the building directly supports the edge of the roof. Kami-gami are called sacred pillars. The large pillar corresponds to this line of thinking.
To look at the model reproducing the original building at that time, in the center there is a stairs-like slope and over the top stands a shrine.
According to mythology, the shrine is where Okuninushi-no-mikoto lives (or his soul is enshrined) and it is equally grand as the palace where Amaterasu-omikami lives.
This rising structure of the shrine resembles that of the front-squared, rear-rounded tomb, where the coffin was placed on the high-rising rounded rear of the tomb; the holy soul is put on the top of the hill.
In the case of Emperor Nintoku’s tomb, it stood roughly 35 meters tall. No wonder Izumo Shrine was called Izumo Taro, standing 96 meters tall. The gigantic building must have looked as if it were pushing into the clouds. To build something that high could be interpreted being based in mountain worship. The Pyramids in Egypt, Angkor Wat, Borobudur, and the pyramid-like structures of the Azteca, Maya and Teotihuacan civilizations in Mexico are of a similar concept.
Of course, the historical contexts differ, but we can say that the act of piling up stones and soil into a tall hill itself becomes a form of worship, based on nature worship. Fearsome looking gigantic rocks and high mountains become objects of worship.
Since remaining records indicating the existence of high buildings, we can consider Izumo Shrine as a symbol of Japanese nature worship.
The present priest (Senke Family) of Izumo Shrine married Prince Takamado’s daughter. This shows that Izumo Shrine, as a foundation of Japanese worship, and the Imperial Family are united. Symbolically, Izumo Shrine or people of the Okuninushi-no-mikoto or Izumo (Yayoi) line who originated from overseas and acclimated to Japan and people of the Amaterasu-omikami line, who were of the original Jomon people found in the eastern part of Japan, are united.
Even today, the ancient relationship between the Amaterasu line and Izumo line still remains. This is a very interesting historical continuity.
Photo: Model of ancient Izumo Shrine, reproduced based on unearthed center pillars (Stored at Shimane Prefecture Ancient Izumo Historical Museum Photographed by the Asahi Newspaper Company)
Chapter III Clash among Monotheism
Are Judaism, Christianity and Islam brothers?
Let me further explain the process in which monotheistic Judaism emerged.
It is said that when the southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and many Jews were led to captivity in Babylonia (“Babylonian captivity”), a prophet warned the distressed Jews of the will of Yahweh, the monotheistic god. This was the beginning of Judaism. It was established in 586 B.C.
It may be difficult for the Japanese to understand, but at that time losing a war meant not only the devastation of the land but also erasing the nation from the face of the earth. As you may well know, even today, people who are forced to leave their homeland are called “refugees” and they live miserable lives in refugee camps or emigrate to other countries.
The ancient Jewish people were robbed of their country and lived in captivity in Babylon.
In the midst of such hardship and ethnic turmoil, however, the Jews renewed their commitment to the idea that they are in fact a chosen nation, yearning for the day of the arrival of their “messiah” (savior). Nearly fifty years later, Babylon was liberated and the Jews returned to Jerusalem, restoring their temple to Yahweh. This story is described in the Old Testament.
I have mentioned, on various occasions, that religion needs to be explained in terms of both individuality and community. The Jewish people as, an ethnic nation, have had to deal with confrontation throughout their history and developed a very strong sense of community, determined to keep their ethnic identity at any cost. That’s the reason why it is called ethnical religion.
If the Jewish nation is tantamount to Judaism, then there is no room for other ethnics to follow Judaism.
It was Christianity that changed Judaism’s very ethnic character. Christianity changed Jewish teachings from an ethnic-based religion into a religion of individuality, going beyond ethnicity, aiming to save individuals.
Christianity teaches: “If you suffer hardships as an individual, ethnic identity has nothing to do with them. We will help you as an individual to overcome your hardships.”
And this is the very reason why Christianity has been widely accepted. Had it not been for the oracle dictating that only Jews are to be saved, Judaism would have spread world-wide. It is no wonder that Christianity is called a “global religion”.
However, not only did the Christians create the New Testament but they also retained the Old Testament within their Bible. Specifically, the New Testament, expounding the religion of individuals, was added to the Old Testament, the religion of the Jews, and together became Christianity.
Christianity cannot help but bear internal contradictions owing to the fact that it has included the Old Testament.
If believers are not Jews, the Old Testament (Judaism), as a communal religion, will surely present obstacles. Jesus Christ himself was Jew. This means that the ancient Romans who accepted Christianity as a national religion saw universality, and not race or ethnicity, in Christianity. They deleted Jewish ethnic identity and references to ethnic cohesion and, with inclusion of Christ and his disciples, accepted Christianity as their religion. That is because Christianity is a blended religion based on both community and individuals.
At the same time, based on the point that Christ was crucified by Jews, non-Jews point out the fatal judgment pronounced by Jews on Christ, thereby justifying their position. This contradiction increases Christianity as world religion, that a living Christ is the basis of Christianity. This is one of the reasons why Christianity has become such a powerful religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion Christians, equivalent to about 31.5% of the present world population. Jesus Christ, oppressed by Jews, became the Son of the God through the Resurrection. Then, with the Holy Spirit combined to Christ, He was transformed into the Trinity, which has decidedly non-Jewish overtones.
Knowing all this, we can conclude that Judaism and Christianity, as well as Islam, have come prepared to fight since they retain the communal aspects of Judaism. To sum up, these are religions used by ethnics groups to overcome hardships brought about by wars. Also, religions came to function, not only within a purely religious context, as a driving force in creating new cultures.
Let us correctly understand Islam
Islam was once more dominantly widespread than Christianity. It is said that there are now 1.6 billion Muslims.
Islam is said to have been created by a merchant named Muhammad in Mecca around 610 A.D. It was in the same period as the time when Prince Shotoku, faithful to Shinto, promulgated the twelve degrees of titles, the Seventeen-Article Constitution and also adopted Buddhism.
Islam set up in Yathrib as its base in the north (later called “Medina”) in 622 and occupied Mecca in 630. They built the Kaaba (a cubic-shaped holy structure) in Mecca and began unifying the Arabian Peninsula, with Mecca as the religious center.
To this day, a “Pilgrimage to Mecca” is required duty of Muslims to be fulfilled at least once in their lifetime.
After Muhammad’s death, the Koran was created following the instruction of Caliph Uthman. Caliph originally means “successor,” referring to the leader, the highest authority after Muhammad.
Thus, with the famous phrase either “the Koran or a sword,” a great campaign of conquest was launched.
The Koran is the sacred book of Islam. It is the counterpart of the Christian Bible. According to Islam, it is a collection of revelations from Allah to Muhammad, who was appointed as the final prophet. While Muhammad was alive, a clerk recorded his words and the Koran was compiled after Muhammad died. The present Koran consists of 114 Chapters in all.
The most important chapter in the Koran is Chapter I: “The Opening.”
This is said to be the words of Allah.
[if !supportLists]1. [endif]In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
[if !supportLists]2. [endif]All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of all creation,
[if !supportLists]3. [endif]The Most beneficent, the Most Merciful.
[if !supportLists]4. [endif]The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense,
[if !supportLists]5. [endif]You (alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything).
[if !supportLists]6. [endif]Guide us to the Straight Way
[if !supportLists]7. [endif]The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.
The Koran says, “Leave everything to Allah.” Allah is the center of all. The same kind of story is in the Old Testament, in that Moses, following God’s oracle, became leader of the Jewish nation. In short, Islam orders people to follow their god, thus forming a communal religion. It has none of the factors that pertain to a religion of individuals, such as the Christian New Testament and teachings of Shaka in Buddhism.
This is clearly shown by the fact that Islam prohibits the worship of idols. Islam has wonderfully developed architecture and artistic decorations, but it does not allow the creation of human-shaped statues. Christian art has produced a great number of statues of Christ and saints. Buddhism has also created numerous Buddhist statues. By producing statues of individual humans, the question naturally arises, “What is an individual,” and people will think hard to find the answer. However, Islam has no such individualism.
This is also true of Judaism. Judaism, too, prohibits idol worship and thus, the role as a religion of individuals falls away. They never stop to think “what is man”?
Consequently, Islam lacks the major role that religion should play, namely, to relieve man from human foolishness such as evil passions and emotional blindness. For a religion to become universal, without ethnic boundaries, it is fundamentally important to give people hope for salvation.
As I have already explained, Christianity was able to incorporate a religion of individuals within a communal religion, albeit imperfectly, through addition of the New Testament with the Old Testament. Therefore, such rich human statues with epochal art styles of the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods continue to encourage and give hope to people.
In Japan, on the other hand, by incorporating Shinto as a communal religion and newly introduced Buddhism as a religion of individuals, the Japanese religion was able to achieve religious integration in the form of “co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism.” I will further discuss this a little later.
Battles between Islam and Christianity
Europe at the time of the founding of Islam was in the midst of total chaos, having been disrupted by the great migrations of Germanic tribes after the declined of the Roman Empire. Islamic rose within this context.
For example, in the north, the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor was invaded by the Saracens, Muslims from the Umayyad Caliphate. The latter put Constantinople, Byzantine capital, under siege for fourteen months beginning in 717.
In the west, the Saracens invaded North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, and defeated the Visigothic Kingdom in 711, further advancing over the Pyrenees into Western Europe.
Against Islamic aggression, Charles Martel of the Franks won for the first time in Europe in 732. Having defeated the Muslims, the Franks united with the Pope and Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Charles Martel’s grandson, was crowned emperor in Rome in 800. That is, he was acknowledged by the Pope as emperor.
Later, in the middle of the ninth century and sometime thereafter, the Franks were divided into three, becoming present-day France, Germany and Italy. Quite ironically, Islam’s advance into Europe provided the opportunity for the formation of a prototype of present-day Europe.
Consequently, the era of “Pax Islamica,” that is, the rise of the Muslim Empire, was to continue for quite some time. During Muhammad’s lifetime, only the Arabian Peninsula was ruled by the Muslims. However, during the era of the orthodox Caliph, Muslim territory expanded as far as Syria, Egypt and Persia. During the era of the Umayyad Caliph, Muslim influence further extended to Transoxiana in the east and Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula in the west.
Late in the ninth century, the Islamic world became disunited, with the Abbasids falling into a state of confusion as conflicts among religious sects worsened. As a result, many local governments were created. In the middle of the tenth century, in Central Asia, the first Turkish Islamic state, the Kara-Khanid Khanate, was born. In 946, Buyid amirate, a moderate Shiite sect, occupied Baghdad and gained further strength and influence.
The Buyid amirate fell to the Turkish Seljuk dynasty in 1055. The Seljuk dynasty began and ruled over vast territory.
Up until that time, Europe was more or less under the threat of Muslim invasion. In order to restore the holy land of Jerusalem, which had been in Muslim hands, a Crusade was sent in 1096. It was the first Crusade, composed mainly of Flemish cavalry and infantry, about 5,000 and 30,000 strong, respectively.
Here, the conflict between Islam (Muslim states) and Christianity (Europe) became most apparent. After the first, seven Crusades followed.
Meanwhile, Christian culture came to blossom in Europe, the 11th century being called a “Romanesque” Era.
Battles repeatedly took place between Muslim and Christian forces until the “Reconquista” (Christian expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century).
No conflict up to then has been more severe than that between Islam and Christianity. They are both monotheistic, born from a common Judaic origin, and yet conflicts between states were transformed into religious ones. The most powerful weapon in this conflict was the sense of community contained within each of the two religions. The spirit of “an eye for an eye” as stated in the Old Testament propelled them to hate each other.
Interestingly enough, the Jews, whose religion was the mother of the other two monotheistic religions and who had been alienated and oppressed by Christians, were to gain from the conflict between Christians and Muslims, like fishing in troubled waters. Jews successfully mediated trade and other forms of exchange between Christians and Muslims.
Anyway, nothing invites more wars and more bloodshed than conflicts among monotheistic religions. This deplorable situation continues to this day. In the recent past, in addition to the fighting in the Middle East, with the rise of Nazi Germany, a new kind of battle emerged, between Christianity, Islam and paganism. The troubles in the world today clearly expose the fact that monotheism itself is a defective religion, lacking tolerance as a fundamental precept.
Column 3: Prince Shotoku and the Great Buddha Hall
Prince Shotoku built Shitenno-ji Temple in Osaka in 587 amid a battle fought between the Mononobe and the Soga clans. The temple subscribes to worship of Shitenno (Four Guardians of Buddhism), based on the sacred book Konko Saisho-o Kyo Sutra.
Shitenno are guardian Kami protecting Buddhism and hold positions of north, south, east and west. Each of them guards Hotoke at the center. In a sense, it is a teaching, implying to protect Buddhism geographically and three-dimensionally. Shitenno-ji Temple was supposedly constructed with the view for “guarding the State of Japan.”
The Soga clan won over the Mononobe clan, that is, the Buddhist side won. By Buddhism winning in the religious dispute, Prince Shotoku, who introduced and secured Buddhism in Japan, had his influence increased as a result.
At that time, Japan was called Wakoku (倭国) by China. “倭” means “dwarf” and in a sense, this may seem insulting. However, Japan had accepted this appellation.
When we say, “Wa o Motte Totoshi to Suru” (We regard Wa as precious), the Wa (和) in this case meaning “harmony”, is pronounced the same as 倭. Therefore, one way of thinking interprets that the country of 倭 is also precious.
Prince Shotoku’s idea is retained in Horyu-ji Temple.
The masterpiece representing Horyu-ji Temple is the statue of Kudara Kannon. This statue is made of camphor tree, thus confirming that the statue was genuinely made in Japan. It is a very tall statue. Being of this height means that it also represents a tall tree. Therefore, this statue simultaneously expresses the worship of trees. The wooden architecture of Horyu-ji Temple itself includes the Five-storied Pagoda, which stores Bussha-ri or Buddha’s bones and is equivalent to the coffin part of the ancient mounded tomb or the circular part seen from the side. This shows a change, in that the worship of ancestors became incorporated into Buddhism. In other words, temples came to be entrusted with graves.
The Statue of Shaka Sanzon (Buddha Triad) made by Buddhist sculptor Tori is placed in the Kondo (Golden Hall). The epitaph inscribed on the back of the Triad proves that Horyu-ji Temple was built during the Asuka Period.
Clearly, Emperor Shomu, who inherited Prince Shotoku’s idea, greatly restored the worship of Prince Shotoku, entering the Nara Period.
And it is very important that the Great Buddha Hall was built by Emperor Shomu during this period. Emperor Shomu later became a monk.
He worshiped the Kegon-kyo or Konkomyo-kyo (Golden Bright) Sutra. According to his faith, he decided to build Todai-ji Temple and the Great Buddha Hall.
In choosing the site of the Buddhist capital, he established temporary capitals in various places including Kuni-kyo (in present-day Kyoto Prefecture), Shigaraki-kyo (in Shiga Prefecture) and Naniwa-kyo (in Osaka Prefecture) and finally returned to Heijo-kyo or Nara Capital. And in Nara Capital, he built the world’s largest statue of Rushana Buddha (True Form of Hotoke).
The architectural skill employed in this great work was the best in the world. The statue is 16 meters tall and it would have been extraordinarily difficult to make a bronze statue of this size. Quite in contrast, during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci flatly failed in making a 10-meter tall bronze statue in a similar manner. The Japanese feat certainly deserves far greater praise in that such a gigantic bronze statue was made, amazingly, as early as in the 8th century. How did they make it?
First, they made a prototype of clay. Then an outer mold 40-50 centimeters thick was made. Next, the prototype was removed from the outer mold and the prototype was heated to 800-900 degrees centigrade. Then the surface of the earthen image of the prototype was cut, 5-6 centimeters deep. The outer mold over the inner mold was thus made. An embankment on the perimeter was prepared and bronze was poured into the 5-6-centimeter slit.
The above process is not at all easy. On top of that, they successfully completed the statue only in a few years. Moreover, in order to plate the surface with gold, they searched for gold across the country and, luckily, gold was discovered in Mutsu Province of the Tohoku Region.
What is most remarkable is that this great Buddha is Dainich Nyorai (supreme Buddha or the highest form of Hotoke, embodying the real phase of the universe and from which every Hotoke is to be derived). At the same time, it is related to Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Deity) in Japanese Shinto. Being the Sun Deity, in Secret Tantric Buddhism, Dainich Nyorai sits in the center on the altar. This fact is written in Daijingu Negi Ennen Nikki (Long-lived Diary of Shinto Priest). Being Dainichi Nyorai is equivalent to representing Amaterasu Omikami.
To prove this, Shoku Nihongi (The New Chronicles of Japan) describes as follows:
Beginning from the reign of the first Emperor who nobly descended from the Plain of High Heaven, through the reigns of continuous generations of great Emperors to this day, as an heir to the Sun Deity, sitting on the holy throne, governing the country and loving the people, Hachiman Shrine in Hirohata, Usa County, Buzen Province [present-day Oita Prefecture] says, “Being Kami, I lead and invite heavenly Kami-gami and earthly deities, in the firm determination to fulfill the construction of the Great Buddha. It is not particularly special. I will change hot water of copper into water and mingle my body with grass, trees and soil, without causing any hindrance and will surely complete the construction.
In short, it is stated that Kami-gami all across Japan will lead this great work, using copper, together with grass, trees and soil (nature), and safely accomplish construction. No written sentences are more precise in describing the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism than these. With the mutual will of Shinto (or Shizen-do (nature’s way)), they decided to construct the Great Buddha to guard the State.
Kami says that the construction is a national enterprise to rule the world under heaven and tells all to reverentially follow the great order… thinking anxiously about heaven and earth and taking the order most seriously, the Emperor remained awed and respectful toward Kami, when it was reported to the Throne that gold was discovered in Mutsu Province in the eastern part of the country he governs and gold was dedicated to Emperor. …Considering the miraculous development of things, among various laws, the dear words of Hotoke are most superior in guarding the State. Hearing this, the Emperor had Konko Saisho-o kyo Sutra kept in the provinces under heaven and vowed to make Rushana Buddha, thus, he began praying to Kami in Heaven and earthly deities…[if !supportFootnotes][endif]
In these words of congratulation on the discovery of gold to be used in the construction of the Great Buddha, the demonstration of the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism is excellently explained in light of theory. Namely, to this country governed by the Imperial Pedigree derived from the Plain of High Heaven, the existence of Hotoke is of great significance and is consistent with the will of Kami-gami ubiquitous in Heaven and Earth. In this sense, this Great Buddha was precisely what Kami-gami wanted. Therefore, Emperor had those at Ise Shrine and Usa Shrine pray for the fulfillment of the construction of this Great Buddha.
Through this process, we surely perceive how marvelously advanced metallurgy, of shaping gold and copper, was at that time in Japan. This is very much proof that the ancient Japanese people used nature cleverly, fully comprehending its characteristics. In Japan then, natural science was established in a practical way. The Great Buddha, too, was located in the east of Heijyo-kyo Capital. The east is where the sun rises.
Let me repeat once again. In explaining Japanese culture, what is fundamentally important is that Shinto or Shinto’s way of thinking unfailingly lies at the base of Buddhism. Unless we stand on this viewpoint, even the meaning of the Great Buddha easily escapes comprehension.
Chapter IV “Communal religion”
and “individual religion”
The role of Shinto and the role of Buddhism
In sharp contrast with the history of conflicts among monotheistic religions, Japanese “Shinto-Buddhism,” scrupulously deliberated on how to avoid such inter-religious battles.
Prince Shotoku stipulated in the First Article of his Seventeen-article Constitution that: “Wa” (peace and harmony) should be respected as a fundamental value and must be observed by all. All individuals belong to his own clique, but few understand the truth. Thus, people do not obey the pronouncements of their Lord or their ancestors. There are conflicts among neighbors and villages. However, when there is a peaceful government, the subjects are considerate of each other and debates are resolved in an equitable manner; the natural order will be apparent and anything can be achieved.
The 17 Article Constitution promoted peace and harmony among the Japanese people, from the very start. Also, it urges open discussion regardless of and beyond sectional interests. And the Second Article stated, “Faithfully respect the three Treasures,” which are Hotoke, Buddhist teachings and the priesthood. Here, Prince Shotoku emphasizes the importance of Buddhism. Unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Buddhism is not monotheistic. It is not even an issue that one should fight for Buddhism. It has been stated in Buddhism that “There are very few that are extremely evil,” which shows understanding and benevolence toward opponents. The adoption of Buddhism resulted in greater individuality of the Japanese people, whose religion was a communal religion, as Shinto was at its core.
Prince Shotoku said “Seken Koke Yuibutsu Zeshin” (“The world is false, only Hotoke is the truth”). This expression means that “since this world is transitory, only that which Hotoke says is lasting.” One will be free from the sufferings in this world, if one believes in Hotoke.
What Prince Shotoku meant to do by stating these words was to clarify the role of Buddhism in that individuals are relieved from their sufferings through their belief in Hotoke.
Shinto is based on community, as represented by the family and the State. Plainly speaking, people join in the faith and believe together. Love for the community is to be nurtured. Therefore, it is sometimes called “national Shinto”. The basic idea is for people to live together in unison.
In Buddhism, the principle of guarding the State was often emphasized mainly by the Hokke-kyo (Lotus) or Konkomyo-kyo (Golden Bright) Sutra. But that was not all. There are the words “Sho Ro Byo Shi” (birth, senility, illness, death—the four kinds of suffering that humans cannot avoid in their lifetime) which indicate that people wish to be free of individual suffering.
Each individual finds one’s own path to enlightenment on one’s own. That is Buddhism. This was how Prince Shotoku conceived Buddhism as the words quoted previously clearly show.
Shinto as a “common religion” and Buddhism as an “individual religion”—the fact that these two religions were simultaneously accepted in Japan is the point which is indispensable in thinking about religion in Japan. And it is precisely this that has made the Japanese people spirituality all the richer.
For example, when Buddhist temples came to be built, the huge ancient mounded tombs disappeared. This was because temples came to undertake burial of the dead, rather than the mounded tombs. People became Kami after death and at same time “became Hotoke” as well.
Having accepted Shinto and Buddhism simultaneously also cleared the Japanese people’s thinking. That is, the Japanese people preferred to avoid conflicts. This is precisely the wisdom of the Japanese.
Jingu-ji temples (shrine-temples) were places where Kami-gami’s wish came true to become Buddhist and ultimately to become Hotoke. The first Jingu-ji temple ever recorded in old documents is said to be Kehi Jingu-ji Temple built during the Nara Period.
In Jingu-ji temples, sutra was chanted in front of Kami, which told of Kami Buddhist teachings. This Jingu-ji temple needs to be specially marked within the history of world religion. In India, as the general situation was, Buddhism trod the path to extinction, to be entirely swallowed up by Hinduism. In China, Buddhism was sometimes integrated with the ideas of Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi, but no Taoist temples were ever built within the grounds of a Buddhist temple. In Europe, it is equally unthinkable that adjacent to a Christian church lies holy Celtic land.
Japan is different in this regard. The appearance of Jingu-ji temples was a result of an open and peaceful unification of Buddhism as a religion aiming to assuage individuals and Shinto as a religion of the community, each keeping its respective faith and system of teachings unchanged.
And this fact is closely connected to building Buddhist temples during the Nara Period. For instance, Emperor Shomu, who reigned during the Tenpyo Period, decreed the construction of the Great Buddha and in order to pray for the safe completion of the Buddha, the Emperor went to Ise in the 14th year of Tenpyo (742) and had Tachibana no Moroe visit Ise Shrine on his behalf. He actually prayed for Ise Shrine’s divine protection in the construction of the Great Buddha which symbolized Buddhism. Later, he also asked Usa Shrine for divine protection. That was because the Emperor thought that the Great Buddha (Rushana Buddha) was both Dainichi Nyorai (supreme Buddha) and the Sun Deity Amaterasu Omikami. Here clearly lies the concept of co-existence and co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism.
Afterwards, Honji Suijaku-setsu[if !supportFootnotes][endif] theory was completed. Various issues pertaining to the unification and co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism evolved on the basis of the relationship between Shinto and Budddhism seen in Jingu-ji temples.
For example, the true entity of Amaterasu Omikami is “Dainichi Nyorai” (Supreme Buddha) and that of Iwashimizu Shrine is “Amida Sanzon” (Three Reverend Amida or Savior in Pure Land).
How was it possible for the Japanese to accept this way of thinking? As I have previously explained, the roles of Shinto and of Buddhism were different. If they had had the same character, they would have certainly clashed with each other. Kami-gami of Shinto are Deities for the Japanese people’s community and at the same time they embody deities within the natural environment.
Various forms of Hotoke in Buddhism are religious deities who descended to this world to save individuals.
What Saicho and Kukai wanted to convey
There were two Japanese who are indispensable when speaking of Buddhism. They were Saicho (Great Master Dengyo) and Kukai (Great Master Kobo).
These two great monks changed the role of Buddhism which hitherto had been firmly connected with the nation and its politics, exerting strong moral effects, as Prince
Shotoku stated. In other words, it can be said that they put a greater emphasis on the individualistic side of the religion.
Let me describe these two great monks in greater detail. Saicho was born in Omi (Shiga Prefecture) in 767. As a child, he was called Mitsuno Obito Hirono. In 778, he became a monk at Kokubun-ji Temple in Omi and came to call himself Saicho, given one of the words from his master Saijaku.
In 785, in order to become an accredited monk, he learned Buddhist teachings at Todai-ji Temple and then secluded himself at Mt. Hiei, being engaged in ascetic training and practice. In 804, he went to Tang Dynasty China as a member of the Envoy to Tang. The following year, he returned home to Japan with many copies of the Lotus Sutra and opened the original Japanese Tendai (Heavenly Platform) Sect on the basis of the Hokke (Lotus) Sutra at Enryaku-ji Temple at Mt. Hiei. The fact that Saicho built his temple not in the Capital but far away at Mt. Hiei, which later came to be called “divine mountains”, implies that Buddhism was influenced by Shinto, in which the objects of worship include mountains.
The words “So Moku Kokudo Shikkai Jyobutsu” (“Grass, trees, national land—all become Hotoke.”) [Tendai Honkaku Daiichi, (Heavenly Platform True Perception #1), Shizen Shinjin (Nature’s deity belief)] state that grass, trees and the homeland all become Hotoke, meaning that nature, too, becomes Kami. Hotoke and Kami refer to the same entity.
How did Saicho change Buddhism? To be precise, he turned Prince Shotoku’s idea into reality. Prince Shotoku emphasized his belief in secular Buddhism, but Buddhism in general during the Nara Period centered on those who entered priesthood and its main goal was to save individual monks.
Saicho wrote a book titled Kenkai-ron (Discourse on Apparent Buddhist Teachings) and explained that the Greater Vehicle Buddhist teachings meant that Buddhism was open to all people for salvation and not just Buddhist monks.
Saicho’s thinking was handed down to Ennin (Great Master Jikaku), who also returned from Tang China and became head priest of Enryaku-ji Temple at Mt. Hiei. Ennin founded many temples in the Tohoku (Northeastern) Region and the Kanto (Metropolitan) Region. All of the temples are closely connected with the mountain religion.
Now, let’s look at Kukai. Kukai was born in 774 in Sanuki (Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku Island). When Saicho went to Tang China as a member of the Envoy to Tang, Kukai also joined the Envoy. In Tang China, he learned in depth of the Shingon (True Word) Sect, one of the sects of Secret Tantric Buddhism.
Shingon means “the true word of Dainichi Nyorai (supreme Buddha)”. The true word of Nyorai is profound and secret, and thus it was called “Secret Tantric Buddhism” or “Esoteric Buddhism.” Esoteric Buddhism was established in India in the latter half of the seventh century and was conveyed to China in the eighth century.
Kukai said that “The Five Great Elements all have resonance. The Ten Spheres are equipped with language. The Six Appetites are all letters. Among them, Buddha’s world is the only true entity.” (Sei Ji Jisso Gi, True Meaning of Voice and Letters.) The five material elements that compose the entire universe, namely, earth, water, fire, wind and sky, each have lively “resonance.” That is the language of vast nature.
The Ten spheres, which included a human sphere, a heavenly sphere and a hellish sphere, are worlds of language and are definitely delusive worlds. The Six Appetites (love, voice, flavor, taste, tactility and law) are the senses and perception, and they are equally “delusional”. The only true entity is Buddha’s world (the entire universe = vastnature). What is mentioned here is precisely the idea of “Shizen-do (nature’s way)” and the key of “Shinto.”
Kukai learned the profound teachings of Esoteric Buddhism in Tang China and returned home to Japan. Immediately after that, he built Kongobu-ji (Firm Peak) Temple in Mt. Koya in Kii Province (Wakayama Prefecture) and opened the Shingon (True Word) Sect. Mt. Koya is much further away from the Capital than Mt. Hiei and we can discern that this Sect was much more influenced by Shinto tradition. The idea of regarding mountains as nature’s religious training field is a perfect example. Being devoted to nature, which is conceived of as being the entire universe, means being devoted to the universe (or Buddha’s world). When Kukai says, “Sokushin Jobutsu” (humans become Hotoke), he probably meant that the human body is a part of vast nature and this vast nature itself is Hotoke.
Both Tendai (Heavenly Platform) and Shingon (True Word) Sects built their temples in the mountains and made the mountains a place for ascetic practice, unlike various other sects in the Southern Capital during the Nara Period. They were distinctly different from urban Buddhism which had been popular then. It can be said that the foundation was laid for Shugen-do (ascetic Buddhist training), which was closely connected with the mountain religion. Saicho and Kukai became successors to Prince Shotoku’s thinking and brought Buddhism even closer to Shinto.
Esoteric Buddhism, having been introduced to Japan by Kukai, came to have a great influence over Japanese culture in the ninth century. The influence was particularly remarkable in the fine arts. Typical examples are the Statue of Yakushi Nyorai (Curing-all Buddha) of Jingo-ji Temple in Takao (Kyoto Prefecture) and the Statue of Fudo Myo O (Firm Guardian Deity of Buddhism) in To-ji Temple (Kyoto City). The austere-looking face with a twisted mouth reflects the profound influence of the Mountain Religion of Shinto.
The reason why Esoteric Buddhism exerted such remarkable influence over Japanese fine arts is clearly discerned in Kukai’s remark: “Only art can convey the true teaching of Esoteric Buddhism or Secret Tantric Buddhism.”
Kukai chose fine arts as a means to convey difficult-to-understand Esoteric Buddhism to ordinary people. Many sculptures, paintings, including mandala pictures (depicting the Buddhist paradise), sculptures describing mandala three-dimensionally and many others works of are that are in Kyo O Gokoku-ji (To-ji) Temple were inspired and produced through Kukai’s instruction.
Mountain religion as viewed by Shugen-do
Shugen-do (ascetic Buddhist training) was established as a practical religious system around the end of the Heian Period, on the basis of the indigenous Japanese mountain religion from ancient times with Buddhist influence, Esoteric Buddhism in particular. Its main features were the acquisition of super-natural spirituality through ascetic mountain practice and the worship of Yamabushi (itinerant priests), who engaged in occult religious activities. The idea of regarding mountains as Kami is indeed Shinto and there were native mountain trainees in various divine mountains. Entering the Nara Period, Buddhist trainees joined them. They were mainly people called Shido-so (privately performing priest) and Hijiri (sage), but they were not accredited Buddhist priests. However, through rigorous mountain training, they came to be empowered with “occult power” and performed occult practices and prayed in private, chanting sanscrit dharini and other scriptures.
In due time, Shugen-do was organized into “Honzan-ha” school of Tendai (Heavenly Platform) Sect and “Tozan-ha” school of Shingon (True Word) Sect. The Honzan-ha school set up its headquarters at Shogo-in Temple in Kyoto, making the Kumano area (Wakayama Prefecture) its sacred, ascetic training field. The Tozan-ha school set up its headquarters at Daigo-ji Sanpo-in Temple in Kyoto, with Mt. Kinpo-zan and Mt. Omine-yama in Yoshino (Nara Prefecture) as its sacred training field. Besides these, across the country, unique, local mountains were designated as sacred places, including the three mountains of Dewa, namely, Mt. Gassan, Mt. Haguro-san and Mt. Yudono-san (Yamagata Prefecture), Mt. Hiko-san in Kyushu and Mt. Ishizuchi-san in Shikoku, and Shugen groups were thus formed.
Among them, Kumano Sanzan, or “the three mountains of Kumano”, is the most reverend.
Kumano Sanzan refers to Kumano Hongu Shrine, Kumano Hayatama Shrine and Kumano Nachi Shrine. These are the general headquarters of about 3,000 Kumano Shrines found throughout Japan. In July, 2004, Kumano Sanzan was designated as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site and has now become all the more famous.
With the introduction of Buddhism, the mountains became the symbol of the co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism. The idea of “Honji Suijaku” means that “Honji” (true entity) or Hotoke appeared in this world to save humanity, which unified with the world of Shinto. That is, Kami-gami of Shinto manifested the appearance of Hotoke. Buddhism, being a religion which makes much use of words, may look as if it absorbed Shinto, which has no teachings of its own explained in words. The fundamental truth is the opposite.
Coexistence of Buddhism and Shinto
In my view, Buddhism, with the expected role of a religion of individuals, managed to take root in Japanese soil only after Buddhism found a way to coexist with Shinto.
In a sense, it is in Japan that Buddhism is retained in its pure essence, of all the countries in the world. That’s because Shinto is at the base.
India, the birthplace of Buddhism, became a Hindu country. In China, which imported Buddhism from India, Buddhism was rejected first by Confucianism and Taoism. And at the present time, the Chinese Communist Party holds the government and runs a socialist state, completely disavowing religions. Of course, Buddhism is no exception. Temples are barely kept in shape, merely for the sake of tourism. In South Korea as well, though it used to be a Confucian country, now 40% of the population are Christians and the trend towards religious diversity continues.
In Japan, there are many Buddhist sects that coexist, but fundamentally, the religion in which Shinto and Buddhism coexist is very much intact.
Let us further look at the transition of Buddhism, which is a very important factor in Japanese history.
With the dawn of the tenth century, the Jodo (Pure Land) Sect became very popular. The Jodo Sect came into being as a result of a reformative incident caused by priests who were engaged in Buddhism.
Buddhism, up until that time, was difficult for ordinary people to understand and follow. The Jodo faith made it more accessible to people. The faith taught people to worship Amida Buddha, chant the six words of Na, Mu, A, Mi, Da, Butsu as Sutra, wishing to live in the Heavenly Pure Land in the afterlife. This teaching itself was not new, but Kuuya Shonin (Master Kuuya), a priest belonging to the Tendai (Heavenly Platform) Sect, spread the six-word Sutra of Na, Mu, A, Mi, Da, Butsu, which was widely supported by the common people.
Master Kuuya built Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple in Kyoto and walked all over Kyoto, chanting the Sutra. He was called Ichi no Hijiri (Sage of the town) or Amida Hijiri. His figure is retained as a masterpiece sculpture by Kosho[if !supportFootnotes][endif] in his Temple. Probably, it is the most beautiful statue in the world, excellently depicting an ascetic.
Besides Master Kuuya, Genshin (abbot Eshin) wrote Ojoyoshu (The Essence of Pure Land Rebirth) at Mt. Hiei. Describing the two worlds of Heaven and Hell, this book propelled people to yearn for the Pure Land and, especially among aristocrats, the Jodo Sect became very popular. This was around 985.
In the background of the Jodo Sect during the Heian Period was the idea of the Latter Days of the law. According to this idea, there are three stages of development in Buddhism: first, “Orthodox Buddhism,” which lasts for 500 years (or 1,000 years) after the death of Buddha, then comes “Practical Buddhism,” which continues for the next 500 years (or 1,000 years), and finally, the Latter Days of Buddhism comes 1,000 years or 2,000 years after the death of Buddha. The Latter Days of Buddhism means “the end of the world” in which people and the world descend into depravity and Orthodox Buddhism does not functional at all.
And it was mentioned that the Latter Days was to begin in 1052. People feared the coming of the Latter Days. Among fearful aristocrats, belief in fortune-telling like Onmyo-do (Ways of the positive and the negative) became very popular, while ordinary people increasingly attended religious ceremonies of Goryo-e (Pacification of evils and diseases) held at Shinto shrines such as Kitano Shrine and Gion Shrine. Anticipating the Latter Days of Buddhism, people’s anxieties about the world, fear and yearning for something sure and reliable filled the air.
Indeed, it was the time of social uneasiness. During the Heian Period, while the population increased, the food supply did not increase as well. In order to cope with this situation, the Imperial Court changed local governance, giving local provinces autonomy. Consequently, it led to the rising power of warriors.
It was monk Honen who further consolidated the teachings of the Jodo Sect, which had been spread by Master Kuuya and Genshin. Honen proposed the idea of “Senshu Nenbutsu” (solely concentrate on chanting the Sutra)—if only one chants the “Namu Amidadabutus” Sutra, a Heavenly Afterlife is promised to all people. This is the Jodo (Pure Land) Sect.
Honen’s apostle was Shinran. Shinran’s teaching “Akunin Shoki” (villains the right opportunity) asserts that the sinful are the best saved by Buddha, and his teaching spread as widely as Jodo Shin-shu (Pure Land True) Sect did.
The basis of Honen and Shinran is in the belief that human nature is good.
Honen emphasized the importance of chanting the Sutra, but not in order to be reborn in the supreme Pure Land. Shinran also emphatically taught people to be saved, not by their own efforts, but with the help of Amida Nyorai through chanting the name of Amida Nyorai (Supreme Buddha). Both believe that fundamentally, human nature is good. In other words, the core of human nature is nature itself. Nature never intended to create humans as sinful beings from the beginning.
Photo: Great Waterfall of Nachi (Town of Nachi Katsuura, Wakayama Prefecture)
The waterfall is Kami of Hirou (Flying Waterfall) Shrine, a branch shrine of Kumano Nachi Shrine.
“Shinto” as taught by Dogen
It is a well-known fact that during the Kamakura Period, the Zen Sect was also imported and took hold in the people’s mind. Especially, from the late Kamakura Period to the Muromachi Period, the Zen Sect played a major role in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
One of the leading figures of the Zen Sect was Dogen (1200-1253). Let me explain Dogen in the context of the relationship with Shinto=Shizen-do (nature’s way).
Dogen stated “Issai Shujo,” which means “all alive in this world.” Further, it implies that all existing in nature has “the spirituality of Buddha”. It also leads to the expression “Sanga Daichi Nichi Getsu Seishin kore Kokoro nari,” which means that “mountains, rivers, the earth, the sun, the moon and stars are life.” [Shinshin Gakudo (Study and Way of Mind and Body)] The energy that moves vast nature is life itself.
In the Sansui Kyo (Mountains and Rivers Sutra) Chapter of his major book titled Shobo Genzo (On Buddhism), it states that mountains and rivers are the manifestation of what Old Buddha once said. It also mentions that mountains become mind and body and that if one loves mountains, one becomes a sage and man of high virtue. The famous expression of “Shinshin Datsuraku” (falling off of mind and body) through Za Zen (Zen meditation) implies that the human mind and body become one with nature and harmonize with the mountains.
After he returned home to Japan from China, Dogen opened a Buddhist hall in Kyoto and named the Hall “Undo” (Hall of Clouds) and entered life as a Unsui (wandering monk). Unsui is an abbreviation of Koun Ryusui, meaning “passing clouds and flowing waters.” He deserted his own home and lived a life of a practicing ascetic, relying only on clouds and water. He set up living regulations and spent each day in a manner of “Shikan Taza,” (concentrating on Zen meditation, sitting cross-legged and eyes closed).
Dogen eventually built Eihei-ji Temple in Echizen (Fukui Prefecture), which is a perfect setting for ascetic training in a natural environment among the mountains. The Temple itself demonstrates the way of “Shinto = Shizen-do (nature’s way),” becoming one with nature.
Zen during the Muromachi Period fundamentally followed the same spirit. Zen priest Sesshu drew almost entirely nature scenes. Gardens which were developed during this period symbolized nature and typical featured mountain scenes. The most excellent depiction of natural scenery is Picture of Pine Trees, drawn by Hasegawa Tohaku. All there is to it are pine trees embraced in thick fog and mountains. This scenery is nothing but the image of humans becoming one with nature.
Coexistence of Kami and Hotoke
As I have so far explained, the Japanese people were engaged in religious activities, in which Shinto and Buddhism mingle with each other and Kami and Hotoke coexist, whether it is in the form of co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism based on the idea of “Honji Suijaku” (Revelation of Buddha on Earth to save people) or Shugen-do (Ascetic Buddhist Practice). This characteristic religious unification was realized solely because Japanese religion made much of “nature.”
In Japan, Kami is nature itself and the manifestation of power and energy present in nature. On the other hand, Hotoke is an achiever who becomes Hotoke after reaching enlightenment and becomes equipped with wisdom.
Kami-gami manifest themselves at festivals and therefore Kami can be counted by the pillars, while Hotoke meditates silently, sitting cross-legged with eyes closed and therefore the sitting meditation is called Renge-za (Lotus Seat), for instance.
In contrast with the powerful energy that is emitted from Kami-gami as demonstrated by Onbashira Sai (Sacred Pillar Festival) in Suwa (Nagano Prefecture), the Center Pillar in Ise Shrine (Mie Prefecture) and the Purified Center Pillar in Izumo Shrine (Shimane Prefecture), the two statues of sitting Great Buddha in Nara and Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture) superbly demonstrate the immovable spirit of Hotoke calmly sitting in the silence brought by Buddha’s demise.
Column 4: Ancient mounded tombs and graves
Originally, graves were built to mourn the dead in pot-like coffins. After worship services of the chief began, construction of the mounded tombs also began.
Worship in the form of enshrining the deceased derived from the worship of souls which had long been practiced. However, as the time came when it became customary to enshrine the deceased head of the community, the view of the common community grew all the more widespread among the Japanese people. Mammoth front-squared and rear-rounded mounded tombs were made and the worship of Ohkimi (Emperor) became increasingly popular. As the Ki Ki, the two books of the Kojiki (the Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (the Chronicle of Japan), describe, the tombs of Emperors of the line of Emperor Jinmu[if !supportFootnotes][endif] were consecutively made. And around the seventh century, after Buddhism was introduced to Japan, the shape of Imperial mausoleums began to change. They became much smaller in size. They remain as ancient tombs to this day.
When Buddhism arrived, the existence of Busshari (Buddha’s bone) equally impressed the Japanese people. When Busshari came to Japan, it was placed in the Five-Storied Pagoda. Horyu-ji Temple is a typical example and Busshari in Horyu-ji Temple became the foundation. From here, cremation began. With the arrival of Busshari, graves came to be placed in the temple cemetery. At the same time, it can be said that graves took the place of people’s souls. Thus, people’s graves came to be set up.
In Horyu-ji Temple, Buddha’s Pagoda, or the Five-Storied Pagoda, corresponding to the rounded rear part of the ancient mounded tombs, holds Busshari corresponding to the coffin. And it has a shrine, which corresponds to the square part. Namely, the place where people pray and the place where the soul is enshrined in the Temple correspond to the front-squared and rear-rounded mounded tomb, respectively. This may be a coincidence in terms of shapes.
The reason why ancient mounded tombs disappeared or at least declined since that time is that temples took over their role. Temples came to accommodate graves. But this change was not a sweeping one. While people continued to bury coffins in the mountains, it became customary to cremate the body and keep the ashes in temples.
This custom to cremate the dead and to set up graves in temples began during the reign of Emperor Jito at the end of the seventh century.
There is another Buddhist custom called Kaimyo (posthumous names). This is proof that one becomes an apostle of Hotoke. It is not at all easy to become an apostle of Hotoke. One must accomplish ascetic training in order to get rid of various evil passions. However, in Japan, this is easily done by giving the teachings to the deceased before the funeral and thus one becomes an apostle of Hotoke after death. Titles such as Shinzi and Koji for males and Shinnyo and Taishi for females are added to posthumous names, indicating that they are secular Buddhists. That is, humans who became apostles of Hotoke after death are completely free from evil passions. The same is true of Shinto. Posthumous names called Shigo are given to the departed in praise of their virtue during their lifetime. Typical of Shigo is that the departed are called “Mikoto”, indicating that they become Kami.
This practice is generally attributed to the formalization of Japanese religion. However, I don’t think that is true. Clearly, this is because Shinto is fundamentally based on the idea of “nature,” that it is sufficient for humans to just live and engaging in ascetic practice is not really necessary. The natural process itself, that humans are born, grow up, become bedridden and then die, is god-like. That is precisely “Shinto=Shizen-do (nature’s way).”
As the extension of what is called the worship of souls or the idea that man becomes Kami after death, man becomes Hotoke after death. The Japanese expression “Hotoke ni naru” (to become Hotoke) means “to die.” “Odabutsu” also means “to die” or refers to the dead body. I think this way is quite natural.
However, it was much later that graves were actually made in great numbers. The practice developed in the form that Shinto accepted Buddhism and that Prince Shotoku accepted Buddhism for the Imperial Family.
Here, let us think again how the unification and co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism developed in Japan. The main reason is that the consciousness of “Shizen-do” (nature’s way) became the foundation for accepting Hotoke as a kind of Kami-gami or souls. Whether this view of nature and of souls may be called “animism” or “Shizen-do”, at the base is the idea of “Yaoyorozu” (eight million Kami-gami), meaning that souls reside in all things. This can be the ultimate idea of affirmation.
Even though Kami and Hotoke are different in principle, they have always peacefully co-existed in the Japanese mind. Kami are deities of land and nature, while Hotoke is the deity for humans (who are a part of nature).
Kami and Hotoke are not to be separated. Instead, they are inside and outside, inseparably close to each other. Sometimes, it was in the form of Honji Suijaku (the Revelation of Buddha on Earth to save people), and all the while they are on close terms, exchanging with each other and transforming into each other.
It was truly unfortunate that the “Order of Separation of Shinto and Buddhism” was issued in 1868 (the first year of the Meiji Era). Japanese Shinto and Buddhism, which had maintained a honeymoon-like relationship up to then, were decisively separated from each other, by an order of the political system.
Following this, a harsh movement of abolishing Buddhism and destroying temples and Buddhist statues took place locally in some parts of Japan and grave incidents followed in which temples were set on fire and Buddhist statues were destroyed.
Shugen-do was also abolished according to the order to ban Shugen-do issued by the Meiji Government. Shugen priests of the Honzan and Tozan schools were forced to belong to the Tendai and Shingon Sects, respectively. Of course, there were those former itinerant priests who returned to Shinto or some leaving the religious life entirely, going back to farming.
However, the spirit continued to live. Shinto and Buddhism, whether in separate buildings, and while Shinto priests and Buddhist priests were alienated from each other, the way people worshipped the two religions did not change drastically. The Japanese people listen to “Joya no Kane” (tolling of the bells at year end) at Buddhist temples and paying “Hatsu Mode” (the first visit of the year) to shrines, all the same.
Chapter V Shinto is a way of nature
Shinto even accepts natural disasters
Now, let me further explain the relationship between the Japanese people and nature.
We Japanese have a reverential sentiment toward nature, which could be called “nature worship”. The Japanese people accept even cruel circumstances brought about by natural disasters such as earthquakes, lightning and typhoons. Shinto=Shizen-do (nature’s way) regulates the Japanese people’s way of life and morals. It can be said that the Shinto way of thinking is to be grateful for nature’s richness and tenderness but at the same time the Japanese people accept natural disasters in the same manner.
In this point, the Japanese are distinctly different from Westerners. In the Western world, nature is regarded as cruel. Especially in Northern Europe, it is extremely cold and people are obliged to stay indoors, and spend most of their time indoors. I once experienced living in the northern and southern parts of Europe and I could fell nature and humans as being separate entities, quite contrary to the way that I feel regarding the interaction between humans and nature, as I did while living in Japan.
Japan is completely different. People living in urban areas are not particularly aware of this, but originally humans were perceptive of their natural environment. Humans felt this through typhoons, seeing thunderbolts and even rainfall. The Japanese do not perceive man existing above nature, but “man,” “woods” and “mountains” are one entity.
The first polity model set up in Japan was the Seventeen-Article Constitution established by Prince Shotoku in 604. The Imperial government is described in the same manner as that of natural evolution. It says, “The sovereign is like heaven and the people are earth. Heaven covers and earth holds. As each of them faithfully carries out its own role, the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter revolve favorably and all creatures develop respectively.” The existence of the sovereign is natural and follows the way of nature. “Man”, being a part of nature, only needed natural rule.
This idea is similar to that of the human mind “in natural condition” described by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) in the 18th century in Europe. Rousseau wrote in his book titled Origin of Human Inequality that inequality among people arises once a community is formed, but that the primitive natural condition is “the condition of mutual care”, and therefore people are equal.
The Japanese people have never been in the habit of accepting worship expressed in the form of words. Unlike other religions, Shinto has none of what is called sacred books. Even at the present time, Shinto has no written teachings. This is because Shinto is based solely on natural conditions.
Why do people perform Hatsumode (the first visit of the year) to shrines on New Year’s Day? This practice is not a written precept, unlike what is written in the Koran. When a new year comes, the Japanese people solemnly feel the freshness of the passing time and quite naturally perform the Shinto ceremony of the first visit of the year to shrines. This voluntary feeling is deeply rooted in the Japanese mind and therefore it is a natural act. The coming of a new year is a natural transition of time and the Japanese people welcome it with an open heart.
The Japanese word 自然 (pronounced shizen) translates from nature. In fact, the word came to be used only since the Meiji Era. To the Japanese people, having lived in a natural environment, a word describing the concept of nature was not necessary.
What does “Shizen” (literally “self-evident”) mean? As I have previously explained, the Japanese people chose this expression as an approximation of the English word “nature”, because they thought that “first there was nature.” Before humans came into being and before Kami-gami came to exist, heaven and earth existed, and this heaven and earth is nature. I have mentioned that this is the first and foremost principle of Shinto. After heaven and earth, Kami-gami were born out of nature.
According to Western thinking, first there was God. However, Westerners wonder why there are unpleasant natural disasters and cruel wars if there is an omnipresent God. Really, however, Westerners also know that there is no “God” but they cannot bear to decisively state that there is no “God”. In other words, they cannot stand the true state of nature and therefore they created a “God” out of words. The Old Testament was born out of the despair of struggling Jews. Greek poet Hesiod wrote the grand epic Chronicle of God, which is considered to be the origin of the view of the universe presented in Greek Mythology.
Unlike the Japanese Archipelagoes, which is surrounded by the sea, Europe is a vast expanse of land accommodating many countries and various peoples living under very unstable conditions most of the time, who fear that conflict among different tribes may occur at any moment. Consequently, they needed a “God” to protect them.
In the West, God came first. Japanese Shinto is completely different from Western religions.
Shinto can be said to be pure polytheism
Religions profoundly reflect their respective civilization and culture. Japanese culture is based on the nature worship of Shinto and is roughly divided into two types: the worship of souls and spirits, which reveres the deceased’s souls as Kami, and the worship of Imperial ancestors’ souls, keeping in reverence the ruler of the people.
As cultural anthropologist Levi Strauss (1908 – 2009) pointed out, “Japanese mythology and history have continuity,” the writings in the Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (The Chronicle of Japan) constitute a part of Japanese history.
However, these two ancient books write about nature and Kami-gami, but they never refer to precepts. It looks as if there was no need for precepts.
It is certainly true that in reality the concept of Shinto has not become universal because Shinto is without words. Nevertheless, in place of words, Shinto has rituals. It has unique festivals. Even today, more than five hundred rituals are held every year in Ise Shrine. And precisely, as Kojiki describes, every morning a meal is served to Amaterasu Omikami. This divine routine is carried out without even a day’s omission.
I think that it will be very interesting to see what happens if we Japanese verbally disseminated to the world the idea and the way of thinking of Shinto as demonstrated in various rituals.
Here is a poem by Sugawara no Michizane:
“Kokoro dani Makotono Michi ni Kanahinaba Inorazu totemo Kami Mamoramu.”
(If our mind is suitable for the way of the truth, Kami will surely protect us without our prayer.)
Even though this poem was adopted from Chinese classics, when these words were spoken by Sugawara no Michizane, a typical Japanese wise man, I suppose the way of the truth refers to nature.
In Japan, morals are interpreted not through words, but in a context that if humans follow nature, humans are able to live a righteous life. Japanese scholar Kume Takekuni said, “Shinto wa Saiten no Kozoku (Shinto is old customs of heavenly rituals), which can be interpreted as what people customarily perform in rituals and ceremonies is in itself fit for nature’s reason.
What people do naturally makes sense. In other words, with Shinto rooted within the people’s mind, there is no need for worship toward a specific saint who established religious teachings or worship toward entities such as Buddha and Jesus Christ. Nature is the founding father and missionary at the same time.
Prince Shotoku said that all humans are common people. I am sure that he thought he himself was one. In reality, the Japanese people do not seek perfection in a person. It is hardly conceivable that perfect people like Buddha and Jesus Christ actually exist. In the first place, there is no personified deity and therefore there is no need to worship people who represent Kami.
I believe it quite natural that Kami-gami born out of nature eventually entrusted “Amatsu kuni” (the High Celestial Plain) to Amaterasu Omikami. Amaterasu Omikami is the Sun Deity. It is a natural consequence that offspring of Amaterasu Omikami descended from heaven to earth and the Emperor came to reign in the country of Japan. This is described in the Article Three of the Seventeen-Article Constitution, which I have mentioned in the previous chapter. In the very sense that the Emperor is recognized as the ruler, it is precisely a natural way of living in Shizen-do. And the existence of the Emperor symbolizes the wisdom of Shinto=Shizen-do, that it is important both for the community and for creating “Wa” (peace and harmony) to establish the authority derived from one lineage.
That is the reason why Kojiki and Nihonshoki only discuss mythology and they are neither special books of religious teachings nor history books.
It may sound as if I was saying that “Shinto is not a religion,” but the fact is that Shinto is a religion without words.
And I believe that this is the important key to revive Japanese religion today. Though it is not mentioned out loud, the popular Japanese expression “Otentou-sama” (dear Heaven’s way) refers to the Shizen-do or the nature’s way, and Amaterasu Omikami was born according to the “way” and this is duly inherited by the Emperor, generation after generation.
Concretely, the Imperial Family is derived from mythology, succeeded by actual Emperors, continuing to this day. No other country in the world has this kind of continuity, from mythology to actual history.
Discuss the Emperor without discussing Shinto
From its unique developmental process, without fully explaining Shinto in terms of a way of nature, and instead through emphasizing the establishment of the Emperor using Kojiki and Nihonshoki, Shinto came to be understood as a form of religious centered on the Emperor.
However, Shinto and the way of the Emperor are one in the same in terms of the natural way.
Motoori Norinaga (1730 – 1801), a prominent philosopher during the Edo Period, felt the same way. Only he called it simply “the way.” He said, “In ancient times, there was no mention of the way at all (Naobi no Mitama, digest of Motoori’s views of Shinto and of the Japanese national entity). Instead of interpreting the way in terms of a way of nature, he contemplated “the way” derived from Kami-gami as described in Kojiki.
Motoori felt that the Emperor appeared in a natural way.
When he said, “The reason of heaven and earth rests on Kami’s doing,” he meant that the Emperor appeared from nature.
I think that now is the time for us to firmly recognize this point once again. Otherwise, with only an emphasis on the existence of the Emperor, Shinto becomes subject to criticism as “national Shinto” being derived from a monotheistic god.
However, the “way” existed prior to the appearance of the Emperor. Kami-gami born from nature chose Amaterasu Omikami as the ruler of the Plain of High Heaven and gave her descendants authority. It should be a natural conclusion that a ruler was needed in order to create a nation. This, of course, means “authority” and not “power.” While Amaterasu Omikami sent Ninigi no Mikoto from heaven to earth, she had five pillars of Kami, including Ameno Koyane no Mikoto and Ameno Uzume no Mikoto accompany him for assistance. Ameno Koyane no Mikoto in particular was to be in charge of the government. Ameno Koyane no Mikoto is the founding Kami of the Nakatomi clan, which later became the Fujiwara clan. The Fujiwara clan became the executor of the government, changing “authority” into “power”.
This can be understood from the viewpoint of Western political systems. First, the Pope represents God, and Emperor governs with the permission of the Pope. The system remains the same. Later, power changed hands from the Emperor to the king and prime minister. At present, Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, but he is the symbol of authority over all of Christendom.
The community needs such authority.
The Japanese people have contemplated such authority in terms of lineage. They respected the Imperial Family as a lineage. Otherwise, conflict would never cease. The Japanese established a religion, believing that all was created by “Otentou-sama” (Heaven). The Japanese have taken this idea for granted.
It is most likely that the thinking of various peoples around the world was the same. Authority based on worship of heaven and earth must have been placed at the top.
Shrines still remain all over Japan. This is solely because the Japanese people need shrines. Shrines do not necessarily enshrine Emperors, but they were built in continuation with the existence of Emperors. Shrines demonstrate that Emperors also exist in the natural environment.
Differences in natural environments changed religions
In reading Japanese mythology, we find that all of Kami-gami including Amaterasu Omikami and Susanoo no Mikoto behave as if they were humans. They even labor with their bare hands. Kami-gami cultivate rice fields and keep silkworms to produce silk. They engage in human activities because they are a continuous with humans and Kami’s actions are nothing special. Nature demands human labor.
Our ancestral Kami-gami also perform various acts. Mythology describes their miraculous acts. Miraculous stories in mythology are very convincing because they often overlap with existing primitive issues.
As I have already mentioned, cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss said, “One of Japan’s charms is that there is a close tie mutually between mythology and history.” (The Other Face of the Moon) He does not necessarily refer to the Emperor. It is clear that he is conscious of the existence of the continuity of the Emperor, from mythology to history. He cannot have been unmoved by the fact that this continuity is still kept today. And nothing is more interesting than to know that Jewish scholar Levi Strauss is not the least impressed by this unique Japanese continuity.
Let me repeat. Kojiki depicts the earth coming naturally out of chaos and life coming into being as reeds sprouting in the mud. On the other hand, Genesis in the Old Testament writes: “God” brought forth all living things from His own will. This idea is based on the tenuous circumstance that both a “God” and humans cannot exist without living with firm will, sometimes being forced to do things against their will and other times fighting. Judaism was born in such a wilderness.
As is often noted, the Jews embody a vagabonding life, holding nature as aversive, thus creating the prototype of a religion of the desert.
Monsoons, deserts and pastures
Japan is said to be located in the monsoon zone, where specific seasonal winds blow. The Middle East is in an arid desert zone. Europe is in a pastoral zone.
Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsuro (1889 – 1960) discussed these three environmental zones and the respective cultures that existed within these zones, including religions.
Although Japan is included in the monsoon zone together with India, I don’t think it is proper to discuss Japan and India as being in the same zone.
India has monsoons, but being in a torrid climatic zone, it has a very severe weather. In the summer, it is extremely hot and that is usual. It is very unlikely that Indians and Japanese share the same way of thinking.
Japan is an archipelago to the east of the Asian Continent, stretching for nearly two hundred kilometers from north to south, with the central line at latitude 35o N. The Indian Subcontinent is at latitude 30°to 10°N. Temperature, sunshine and winds drastically vary locally within the country. Consequently, cultures vary locally.
The same applies to Europe. For instance, Germany in the north and Greece and Italy in the south have quite different types of pasturelands. This is where Watsuji’s theory fails to be applicable.
However, it is true that natural environments affect the way people think.
In Japan, trees abound in forests and woods. In addition to plenty of green, there is plenty of water with much rainfall and the Japanese natural environment is very rich and suitable for habitation for plants and animals. It is equally important that we have four seasons in Japan. It is sometimes cold and sometimes hot, which requires people to be adaptable.
In a sense, Japan is surrounded by ideal environmental conditions, which has led to the development of the Japanese people’s nature worship and has become a major factor in giving birth to the religion of nature.
Even if there is a country with a similar natural environment, there is probably no other country in the world where nature and humans are in as perfect harmony as in Japan, and where this harmonious relationship between nature and humans has continued from antiquity to the present. Today, there is agitation for people to be aware of an environmental crisis, of exaggerated climate change due to global warming. Nature moves of its own accord.
We live in the natural conditions inherent from ancient times and yet we do not think the religion born out of nature to be universal.
At present, peoples all over the world use various things which were born out of nature. Natural resources such as timber and oil are, originally, products of nature.
Though natural conditions differ, when it comes to enjoying natural products, the world is one and universalized. Even if there is a country complaining that it cannot abide with nature or that its country is mostly desert, all country receive natural benefits in one way or another. Of course, some countries may be too poor to accept nature as it is. Economic conditions count if we are to properly accept nature. Even in the most dismal natural environment, there are ways in which humans overcome adversity. Nature can be revived and through benefits of water and soil, nature can be restored. In either case, we need the power of nature.
In a sense, Japan is equipped with the most favorable of natural conditions. But in principle, the use of nature should be shared in common with the world. This principle will not change as long as we live on the earth.
If this is the case, people can believe in nature, without needing to create a human-like god out of nature or assuming the existence of such gods. Have a look at the universe and we will instantly understand this. The universe works of its own accord. We know this with a glance of the sun or from our daily lives. We can comprehend that nature gives us benefits and at the same time controls us. Thus, we will think highly of nature, as an thing of respect, and not as an thing that is under our control. This is what Einstein referred to as “religiousness.”
It hardly makes sense that Westerners, Christians, Jews and Muslims think “God created nature.” We must clearly declare that this is “fiction.” Maybe, only the Japanese can say so—that there was no “God” from the beginning, without needing to quote Nietzsche’s words “God is dead” or Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.”
Column 5: Why are Japanese poems of Tanka and Haiku short
In Kojiki appears a poem by Susanoo no Mikoto:
Yagumo tatsu Izumo Yaegaki Tsumagomi ni Yaegaki tsukuru sono Yaegaki o
(Izumo under beautiful clouds, the house I built for my wife, wonderful house.)
This is said to be the oldest Japanese poem. Curiously enough, very few people wonder why Japanese linguistic expressions are so short.
Japanese scholars who study Japan are preoccupied with the premise that culture should be like this, without questioning its characteristics. The “brevity” of Japanese poems being taken for granted, what counts is that this poem is the very manifestation of the Japanese spirit. Brevity is nothing to be pondered over.
In a global perspective, no literature of poetry exists, which is as short as Japanese poems that seems appears to be short of expressing its contents. On the other hand, the Japanese people think that short Japanese poems are eloquent enough to express all that needs to be expressed. Japanese poems can sing fully about nature and love. In comparison with Haiku, the shortest form of poetry, which are only scenic in nature, more subjects are covered in longer Tanka.
Generally throughout the world, however, long, narrative poems are popular. Homer and Dante composed long poems. It is generally believed that length guarantees perfect narration and impressive emotional expression.
In the preface written in Kana letters of Kokinwakashu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems), Kino Tsurayuki writes;
Many things happen to people of this world, and all that they think and feel is given expression in description of things they see and hear. When we hear the warbling of the mountain thrush in blossoms or the voice of every living thing has its song. It is poetry which, without effort, moves heaven and earth, stir the feelings of the invisible gods and spirits, smooth the relations of men and women, and calms the hearts of fierce warriors.
However, the world will wonder how it is possible to achieve so much by such short Japanese poems and how the Japanese people are satisfied with such brevity.
Brevity is not only in the number of words but is also reflected in how the Japanese people should be and the Japanese way of thinking. Brevity means to be as simple as possible, to scrape out prolix explanation as much as possible and to say what is most important. And say it not in a materialistic manner, but with heart-felt sentiments. Further, it must be rhythmical, in singing 5-7-5-7-7 syllables.
Reading Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), we will know that this high-grade poetic technique is not monopolized by professional poets with a refined cultural background, but shared by the common people. Farmers and frontier guards sing in the same manner. In fact, this poetic sense is enjoyed by the entire nation. The Japanese are all poets.
The brevity of Japanese Tanka and Haiku poems is proof that lengthy stories and importunate explanations are not at all necessary, because logic was not entirely trusted and Japanese narration was not used to making logical arguments using lengthy words.
After all, it is not that the Japanese people were not good at expression, but that the Japanese people rather liked to share what was left unsaid. Here, we can discern the strong reliance on the community.
Take visual expressions, for instance. The Japanese have a strong fondness for what is described not in letters or words but by forms and gestures.
The Jomon Period was without writing. Instead, expression by way of shapes and forms developed. Earthenware is a good example. Expressions on Japanese pottery are rich and full of variations. At the same time, many of their expressions are very refined. Clay figures are also full of a variety of expressions. Ancient mounded tombs varied not only in size but also they had unique structures such as a huge “front-squared and rear-rounded” mausoleum. Clay images are also very much diversified.
We can perceive the reliance on their way of expressing all things in forms rather than expressing them in writing. Of course, there was an oral language, but instead of using it to describe and communicate, people preferred other ways of making themselves understood using as few words as possible.
With the arrival of a writing system, a higher culture of linguistic expression was born. In Japan, prior to the introduction of a writing system, there was an oral tradition and therefore, the unique expression of Waka (Japanese poetry) continued to be popular.
With Chinese characters, Chinese poems were introduced. Later, when story-telling began, it was strongly affected by verbal language, more so than in the case of English. Many Chinese historical literary works, including fiction, were introduced to Japan, but they were rarely read or appreciated. Japanese people at that time knew that they did not reflect actual history. At least, they knew that historical stories written for the convenience of Chinese Emperors are not great history books.
The fact that many Chinese people came to Japan to be eventually naturalized and assimilated, using the Japanese language instead of their mother tongue, proves that they knew of the falsehoods. Immigrants from the Continent came to Japan prior to the seventh century, but they did not spread the Chinese and Korean languages, refraining from using their own language. This fact also indicates the same.
Japan developed a verbal language, based on the principle that a spoken language is superior to a written language. The reason why Japanese Tanka and Haiku are major artistic expressions in the written language is that they are close to spoken language.
There is a history of resistance against lengthy words. Therefore, the anthology of poems in Manyoshu (Collection of the Ten Thousand Leaves) is the best and oldest classics. Manyoshu, being the first anthology in Japan, means that poems in an oral language had long been in use prior to that time. We can imagine that the Manyo people spoke as if they were citing poems. People were equipped with the rhythm of the Japanese poems in their daily life.
Haiku became shorter than Tanka. The fact that this shortest of forms of expression (5-7-5 syllables) was placed in the center of Japanese literary expression proves that in Japanese linguistic expression the brevity of words count. It was recognized that lengthy statements do not or cannot precisely grasp the truth. Therefore, it became very valuable to express in words and by merely speaking words, the spirit of words exercise power. Namely, the belief that words have soul and spirit.
Once words are spoken, they become fixed and thus they become reality. This is what people feared. Words become independent and in a sense become a soul and curse humans. If ill words are spoken, bad things may happen accordingly.
It is not that they do not respect words, but that they thought that once they speak, they are held responsible for the contents. That is why they make their words short so that what is said does not materialize into reality. They are always careful not to depart from reality. I think this is an idea obtained from experience.
There is no need to fear that the Japanese may be regarded as a thoughtless people because of the scarcity of linguistic expressions. The Japanese people are thoughtful and act accordingly in their community.
This Japanese way of thinking may be from the conception that nature essentially says little. This is clearly different from the conception of words held by Jewish and Christian cultures. They created a story that God is the word and word made the world.
Chapter VI Dialogue between Judaism and Christianity
Dialogue between the Pope and a rabbi
Recently, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the Pope Francisco. He is from Argentina, and he attracted much global attention as a Pope who was not born in Europe. There is a book entitled Sobre el cielo y la tiera (On Heaven and Earth), which contains a dialogue between Pope Francisco and a Jewish rabbi, Abraham Skorka.
The discussion was based on how mutually understanding can occur between the two religions—Jews have been basically rejected by Christians.
In the background lies a long history. Like the Marrano in the 16th century (Spanish Jews who were converted to Christianity, called Converso, used to be called Marrano as an insult), Jews pretended to be Christians assimilated in their respective countries and eventually became citizens of the countries. Even under such circumstances, rejection continued. An extreme example of rejection is Nazi Germany.
However, the image of Jews as victims, created from the Nazis massacring six million Jews, is now widely regarded as a fact. Some refute this popular view, but such a minority view is criticized as being no more than “historical revisionism”. However, after the end of the Second World War, postings on the Internet have point out that the Jewish population increased by three million.
Nonetheless, the times are favorable for Jews, that is, no criticism is allowed against Jews. This can be seen in particular in both speech and writing. One explanation is that since the mass media is controlled by Jewish capital, speaking against Jewish interests is forbidden. The New York Times is mockingly panned as The Jew York Times, for its opinions and writings are dominated by Jews.
However, since the majority of the world population is non-Jewish, it is impossible to suppress criticism against the Jews.
The leading figure of this anti-Jewish position is the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church. It is very interesting to know what kind of dialogue was held between the Pope and a rabbi.
In the book titled On Heaven and Earth, the two religious leaders discuss the existence of the God as their common point of origin.
As representatives of Judaism and Christianity, they talk about the same “God”. In speaking of the Old Testament, they naturally refer to the same God.
Rabbi Skorka says, “I have never once discussed “God,” speaking about the Talmud, the book of Jewish teachings. This is because he takes the existence of God for granted and he does not need to mention “God”.
Readers of this book will come to see that, certainly, Jews and Christians believe in the same religion and the same God.
Why, then, do the two religions fight against each other? Little has been said about this, but you will surely understand why, if you read the dialogue between the two religious leaders.
The rabbi, totally self-conscious of his Jewish identity, quotes from the Old Testament: God said to Abraham, “Thou walk before me and be a perfect man.” (Genesis, Chapter 17, verse 1) or as the Prophet Micah stated to the people of Israel God’s wish, “Do justice, love sincerely and humbly walk with thy God.” (Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8) The rabbi always speaks of the people of Israel.
On the other hand, the Pope answered, quoting Job, “I have heard about you by my ears, but now I see you with my eyes.” (The Book of Job, Chapter 42, Passage 5) God stands before you.
The Pope simply refers to himself, “I,” whereas the Rabbi refers to himself as a member of the people of Israel who realize the existence of a “God,” and their God is the “the God ‘Yahweh’.”
Based on the premise that they believe in the same God, Jews hardly talk about a God. However, they are not aware that their God is different from the universal “God,” and the Jewish “God” refers to the “God of the people of Israel.”
Without having these two religious leaders directly confront each other, the book On Heaven and Earth manages to stand without controversy. Since both men are versed in the Old Testament, their different views of the God, seen from the perspective of one as an Israeli, and one as an individual, one will miss this meaning their dialogue.
What is very interesting is that in Judaism, there is the concept that one makes a contract with God, whereby believing in God fulfills the obligation that God imposed, while the Pope thinks that reverential sentiment toward God on the part of humans is born out of individual ties.
This clearly shows that one “God” is a god of a “communal religion,” while the other God is a god of a “religion of individuals.” The dialogue between the Pope and rabbi is very interesting to read, in that the speakers are careful not to have Judaism and Christianity conflict with each other, but they nonetheless speak out for their own beliefs.
Whenever there is a “God”, there is a “Devil”
When “God” is mentioned, a “Devil” is also mentioned as its counterpart. The Pope and the rabbi also discuss this subject. They say that there were angels who did not agree that the masterpiece of “God’s” creation is humans, rejecting this very idea. In the Book of Job, a “Devil” appears as a tempter who tries to destroy God’s handiwork, inviting humans to become conceited and arrogant.
A “devil” as a counter-entity to Yahweh is thus contrived.
The Pope states the following regarding the “devil”:
“Fruits the devil brings about are always destruction, conflict, hatred and slander. As an individual, when I feel like doing what God would not like me to do, I feel the devil’s temptation.”
In Genesis, a “devil” appears in disguise as a serpent. It instigates humans to oppose “God.” This is symbolically described in the story of Adam and Eve, who eat the forbidden fruit. And this incident leads to the realization that humans have the original sin.
“God” creates light and darkness. There is always a conflicting relationship within society and within the world. Even nature conflicts with itself. These are recognized by both the Jews and the Christians. This is discussed in the book On Heaven and Earth.
In Catholic theology, there is a view that “evil” rises from within. It is explained that the evil “factor” arises because human nature is corrupted. The expression “true nature” is used. All humans carry a part that is evil and once the evil part comes forth, humans move away from “God”. Since both Christianity and Judaism worship a “God,” which is different from the “God” of other religions, it is possibly inevitable that they had to include the concept of a “Devil” as well.
Quite the contrary, the Japanese religion does not recognize a conflict between two entities, such as a “God” versus a “Devil.”
We are in objective position to see the essence of Christianity and Judaism. That is the reason why I mention “God” and “Devil” in quotations.
Monotheism was created with an aggressive side
In the dialogue, the following caused a problem. When the Pope attended a Protestant assembly, he was blamed for an act of “treason”. For our part, we tend to think that Protestant are Christians like Catholics, but this is not true to Protestants.
The Pope as a Catholic priest had an opportunity to speak at a meeting of Protestant ministers, and was asked to pray in the same manner with the rest when the Protestants were to offer a prayer. When seven thousand Protestants began to pray, Pope thought it natural to join in prayer and knelt down, which he states as if he did something special. The Japanese would do so naturally.
Then, the following week, a reporter from a Catholic newspaper criticized the Pope, stating that it was traitorous just to pray with Protestants.
The mere act of kneeling down to pray evoked a rally of criticism against the Pope’s treason between Protestants and Catholics. This incident alone makes us acutely aware of the fact that their God is different from ours.
Now, look at the kibuutz movement in Israel. This movement is rooted in the land. By developing the land and making the land a place of work for Jews, the Jews intend to help found the nation of Israel.
However, a Rabbi Cook condemned this movement as being one of farming and recovering the land, which Jews in Europe have long refused to do. He further stated that the building of kibuutz itself was done by those who left the Jewish tradition.
These examples are typical, of criticizing each other within their own Jewish and Christian community, implying a lack of generosity and tolerance. This looks really strange to us Japanese.
To the Japanese people, whose roots are not in monotheism, “nature” makes all kinds of “Kami” equal. Therefore, to our Japanese eyes, people who are rooted in monotheism lack modesty and appear so absorbed in living their own lives that they look overly self-asserting.
To stick to self-affirmation, always criticizing others and easily declaring someone of treason. Such a religion itself looks problematic, at least to the Japanese. Here, we perceive the issue, which instantly starts battles or struggles.
I cannot help but question how it is possible for such a religion exists for the benefit of humans. I ask this question, in spite of the fact that there are 3.8 billion monotheists in the world. According to our Japanese reasoning, nature came before God. Japan accepted Buddhism and Christianity; all religions are permitted in Japan. This is all because religions do not criticize each other in Japan. The Japanese people’s characteristic of being good-natured is not the only reason.
In Japanese history, people never criticized others of being of a different religion or resorted to demonstrations or terrorism, much less started a war.
The book On Heaven and Earth makes us Japanese wonder why these religions need to discuss mutually, rather than the “reconciliatory spirit” that this book is intended to convey.
Why did Hideyoshi prohibit Christianity
Many Christian missionaries came to Japan in the 16th century, including Francis Xavier. Last to arrive was Jesuit priest Valignano, who was in charge of the Society of Jesus in the East.
The missionaries even sent an envoy composed of five Japanese boys to Rome to symbolize the Christianization of Japan. They desperately tried to spread Christianity throughout Japan, but their success was limited to a small part of the Kyushu Region, until Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler at the time, banned Christianity in 1587.
What did the Christians think of the fact that there was Shinto in Japan, as well as Buddhism, and yet the Emperor still reigns, when they attempted to spread Christianity in Japan? They tried to spread Christianity in the same way as they did in other colonial countries in Asia, but Japan resisted their religious activities, expelling and eliminating Christian missionaries.
In Europe, Japanese Christian martyrs came to be enshrined as suffering Christian.
It was not that the Japanese people rejected Christianity, in fact, they tried to deal with Christianity in the same way as they did with Buddhism. This can be understood in the light of the fact that “Mary Kannon” has been preserved to this day. In fact, Christian missionaries did not accept the Japanese way and instead, they made Japanese people worship Christianity to the exclusion of other religions.
In Kyushu, the southernmost part of Japan, where Christian missions were successful, Japanese temples and shrines were burned or destroyed.
Hearing of this destruction, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued the order to prohibit Christian missions and ordered the expatriation of Christian missionaries.
This is a good example of failure of a mission that was lacking in complete knowledge of the religion of the land. Finding differences directly led to exclusions. This can be said to be characteristic of monotheism.
Though being mutually aware of this proclivity, as long as they think it right, hatred born out of differences easily triggers the impulse to kill others.
Throughout history, what has been regarded as a mere struggle over land or wealth turned out to be, on further consideration, a struggle caused fundamentally by religion. Even Protestants and Catholics, both believers of Christ, fought against each other, the wars between Islam and Christianity are eternal and potential battles between Judaism, Christianity and Islam continue to loom. The war between Israel and Palestine is never ending. They are all monotheists. Only the Japanese, who have never experienced a war caused by religious differences, can make this point clear.
In this sense, Japanese people’s criticism of monotheism is neither insolent nor lawless. If Japanese religion holds the spirit of mutual modesty and humility, instead of rejecting others, it is of a far higher humanity than other religions.
The view that comprehends religious precepts as secondary inevitably means that view has a morality of its own before religious precepts. It is not religion alone that regulates humans, but in reality, before religion, there is a natural morality.
The Japanese word “自然” was made as the translation of “nature” during the Meiji Period. Before then, nature was “天地” (heaven and earth) in Japanese. The Japanese response to nature, believing that “nature is not at all licentious,” is the way of thinking which should be equally adopted by all people living on earth.
Column 6: Shichi-fukujin (Seven lucky kami) precisely represents Japanese religion
What is particularly noteworthy of the Seven Lucky Kami is that six of the lucky kami, the exception being Ebisu (Kami of Wealth, guardian of business houses), are foreign deities. Daikokuten, Hotei, Fukurokuju and Jurojin are Chinese gods and Bishamonten and Benzaiten are Indian gods. These are deities that were adopted by either Buddhism or Chinese Taoism or Zen priest. The seven of them together aboard a treasure ship captures the Chinese proverb, “Go Etsu Doshu” (Two hostile countries of Wu and Yue sail aboard the same ship).
Ebisu, holding a sea bream and a fishing rod, is said to be the first child Hiruko no Mikoto, born from the union of Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto. He was born physically handicapped. At the age of three, he could not stand up on his legs and his parents put him aboard a ship made of reed and sent it to the sea. Since the Middle Ages onward, this unfortunate Kami changed into a lucky kami, with a broad, charming smile, and came to be reverentially called “Ebisu-sama” .
Daikokuten, carrying a big bag on his back and holding a lucky hammer in his right hand, was originally a god from India and in Buddhism he is believed to be the incarnation of Dainichi Nyorai (supreme Buddha) and became the Guardian Deity of Buddhism. He is a Martial kami with striking look. He went to China and became a god of kitchens. Saicho, the Japanese Buddhist priest who studied abroad in China, made Daikokuten the guardian of Enryaku-ji Temple in Mt. Hiei after he returned home to Japan. Later, Daikokuten was combined with Ookuninushi no Mikoto in Izumo mythology.
Benzaiten, goddess of wisdom, is a River Deity in India. In Japan, she became one with Ichikishimahime no Mikoto, who is the festive kami of Munakata Shrine and also the Sea Deity.
Hotei was an actual learned Chinese Zen priest during the ninth and tenth centuries and became the incarnation of Miroku Bosatsu. Fukurokuju, who is an old man with a long head and a short physique, and Jurojin, who is a hermit, were both born in China and are Chinese Taoist deities. Bishamonten is known as one of the Four Guardians of Buddhism, a god who protects the country and Buddhism, and a martial god, a.k.a. Tamonten.
All seven are known as the Deities of Good Fortune and dubbed the “Seven Lucky Kami.”
“Laughing deities” are rare entities.
Up until the Muromachi Period, to the Japanese people, the world was composed of Tenjiku (India), China and Japan. And when gods from these countries came to Japan, they were harmonized with Japanese Kami-gami.
Daikokuten represents worship of Ookuninushi no Mikoto, Benzaiten represents Amenouzume no Mikoto, the princess of Susanoo no Mikoto and Ichikinohime no Mikoto. Though Fukurokuju and Jurojin were not familiar in Japan, they became the incarnation of Sarutahiko no Mikoto and others. Hotei-sama was reborn as Miroku Bosatsu. He became a Kami who brings broad mindedness, with his symbolic big bag he is carrying. He is the kami of rich human character.
The Japanese had simultaneously believed in Kami and Hotoke without a shred of hesitation until the Meiji Period. The Order to separate Shinto and Buddhism imposed distinct worship. Even at present, at the bottom of the hearts of the Japanese people, who love Shichi-fukujin, lies the unconscious yearning for Kami and Hotoke at the same time.
How on earth did these diverse Kami-gami become “laughing deities”? And why are they all “lucky deities”? The answer is simple. The Japanese thought that human nature is originally good and jovial. Already in Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) poet Otomo no Tabito sings as follows:
Kono Yo nishi Rakushite araba Kon Jo niwa Mushi ni mo Tori nimo Ware wa narikemu (As this world is pleasant, in the afterlife I would gladly become a worm or a bird.) Buddhism introduced a thought that after death people would be assigned to the boundary of beast. But people didn’t mind that and would gladly enjoy the pleasure of this world.
This demonstrates that the Japanese did not take Buddhist teachings seriously. Rather than simply interpret saying in terms of the principle of affirmation of this world, it can mean that as humans are originally a part of nature, even if nature may change sometimes, the basic meaning of life is to live happily.
This idea is in sync with the sentiment expressed in the aforementioned poem by Sugawara no Michizane: if our mind is suitable for the way of the truth, Kami will surely protect us without our prayer. In this case, the way of the truth refers to the way of humanity and at the same time the way of nature. This optimistic character of the Japanese people created Kami-gami of their own, among Japanese free from Buddhist precepts, especially with merchants at the center, ever since the Muromachi Period. It is probably that being oblivious of their origin, Japanese created lucky kami-gami equipped with exuberant good will, which transformed into Shichi-fukujin (seven lucky kami.).
In my opinion, Shichi-fukujin harmonized with the importation of Christianity in the form of Mary Kannon, and further on in modern times as Santa Claus, a Christian saint, who brings children presents on Christmas Eve, becoming a Kami and giving us the holiday of “Christmas”. “Christmas” in Japan is the festival of Santa Claus, who is one of the Hachi-fukujin (eight lucky kami). Furthermore, I would even include the now feverish Valentine’s Day, February 14, when Japanese people become crazy about sending chocolates to others.
Photo: Statue of Ebisu, one of the Shichi-fukujin (seven lucky kami) (Kyoto Ebisu Shrine, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture)
Among the Shichi-fukujin, Ebisu is the only kami of Japanese origin.
Chapter VII Religion prior to monotheism
What is nature to Westerners
Well, we have not seriously discussed whether god exists to Westerners. We Japanese thought that a god in the Western sense is unavoidable and necessary to a desert people and have seen “God’s” existence in this sense. But this does not mean that we have successfully disproved the existence of a “God”. Monotheists have proven to a reasonably extent that a “God” exists. Well known are the four proofs supporting the existence of “God” by Western philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804).
First, Kant states that the world is both regular and elaborate because “God” created it that way. Why, then, is it not understood that nature itself has both regular and elaborate sides to it from the beginning? Without the need to acknowledge the existence of a “God,” we can see that nature has order. Sometimes nature does unreasonable things to humans, but that is beyond human understanding.
Second, evidence for the existence of “God” is based on existential theory. It asserts that God is an entity that has the characteristic of being the greatest. However, without God, nature essentially exists, which is perfectly clear if we think of nature as the universe. Therefore, this proof will not do.
Third, everything can be traced, following the law of cause and effect, to the cause, and then to the next cause of the cause, to the next cause of the cause of the cause… until we reach the fundamental cause. And the fundamental cause is God. Nevertheless, this fundamental cause, in turn, very likely has a “cause”, which is nature. Here again, we end up with nature.
Fourth and last, as moral proof, they say, “Following morality, we become happy because God is present.” I would say that without God, nature itself makes people happy. The sun rises every day, bringing its benefits everywhere on earth. This form of equality and consistency of nature is surely the root of morality.
As thus explained, in the four ways of proving that God exists, one can easily substitute the concept of nature for God, therefore we cannot say that these are “proofs of God’s existence.”
However, the four-way proof of existence of a “God” is accepted thinking not only of Christian theologians but also great Western thinkers, including Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) of Ancient Greece, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) during the Middle Ages, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Blaise Pascal (1632-1662), Kant, and so on. I am totally flabbergasted by this fact, seeing that Westerners believe that their thinking cannot be valid without invoking a god.
In the West, has there been any conception of nature without a god? There must have been!
Next, let us follow the history of the Western concept of nature.
A unique country called Greece
The Greek Peninsula does not necessarily belong to Europe. At least, it is not within the Jewish-Christian cultural sphere. We often think of Greece as the birthplace of Western civilization, but Greece can be recognized as a part of the East.
Ancient Greek ideas and thinking were preceded not by Western ideas and thinking, but rather factors that are Eastern.
For example, nature is “physis” in Greek, which is derived from the verb “phyfo,” meaning to “produce” or “form.” In other words, “birth” and “origin”. It also means “natural character.”
This indicates that nature and “self-evident” or “to move of itself” are the same concept and what the Greeks say what they feel, “physis,” when they see nature.
Nature, existing independently from a man-made god, moves by its own accord, and is naturally born and formed. The Greek people wondered at this natural cycle and called it “physis”.
The word “physis” corresponds to the word “nomos”, which means “to be born naturally.” In short, before recognizing through words, existence “exists” from the beginning.
The concept of being created naturally and nature connect with each other. The two are not different from each other. The word “physis” can also be understood as the translation of “natural order.”
Here is another word, “cosmos”. This means the “universe,” meaning that it is a part of nature, as seen in, “the orderly universe” and “natural law.”
In any event, the word “physis” corresponds to “heaven and earth” in Japanese and to “forming” and to other various nature-related terms.
Take Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) for instance. He said, “The first philosophers thought that all beings were born out of it, or all things were made out of it and at the end all disappear into it. It is the composing factor of all beings and the original principle.” And it can be said that the Japanese have learned this truth. Aristotle began thinking about this as a philosopher. His thinking was inherited from Plato (427-347 B.C.)
Plato had designated “it” as “idea.” He also used the word “god.” In a sense, here lies the basis for the Western thinking of God, the monotheistic god. Plato searched for “physis”. Judaism called “physis” God. The Greeks call it “the truth.”
The Japanese people recognized it as “chaos in heaven and earth.” Nevertheless, however advanced science may become, the “truth” will not be known.
As I have repeatedly mentioned, how ever many science books that explain the universe we may read, we cannot explain the mechanism of how something came from the original “nothingness,” and what happened next. Some propose the Big Bang theory. But, so far, we have not found the answer yet.
Anticipating that humans will never know, the Japanese expression “chaos in heaven and earth” was probably used.
Ancient Greek philosophers who explored the concept of nature
In Greece, philosophers alone did not discuss nature. Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 B.C.), who supported natural medicine, was among those that thought about nature. Natural philosophy was born. Chaos is not confusion. There is dynamic energy and force that can produce even a god. With nature as an object, there are many theories to explain its origin.
For instance, one says that water is the origin of nature, another says fire is the origin of nature and, thus, people think that a part of nature is the origin of nature. Thus, Greek philosophy explores “physis” or truth. It should be repeatedly emphasized that there is no deity with human characteristics created from human ideas. Probably that is why Greek philosophy is similar to our way of thinking.
Medicine by Hippocrates, algebra by Pythagoras (ca. 582-496 B.C.), geometry by Euclid (the years of birth and death unknown, ca. 300 B.C.) and the study of animals by Aristotle, respectively, developed from the study of nature.
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, discussed natural medicine, explaining in detail the relationship between environmental conditions and the human body and diseases. Heat and cold, dryness and humidity; the soil, the sea, rivers, springs, and wells and constellations and the direction of seasonal winds are all discussed in terms of the relationship to human body. All thinking is about exploring the “physis” or “true nature” and the “truth”.
Aristotle explained “physis” as follows: 1) the formation of growing matter, 2) being present within growing matter, from which matter grows, like the seeds of a plant, 3) each movement of matter first begin from and at the same time is contained within matter itself, that is, as an indwelling action principle, 4) based on its mere existence, it is primary material, 5) “physis” is also understood in terms of the actual condition of various natural entities and 6) in a wide and general sense, “physis” refers to all kinds of actual conditions.
In 5), the word “natural” is used. Therefore, in spite of the statement that all things are based on “physis”, all things return to nature in the end. This is precisely the same with the Japanese way of thinking. And this way of thinking continues to this day.
He also said, “In the most fundamental sense, what is called nature is the essence of each matter, in which it has its “starting factor,” the beginning of movement, dwells within matter, and it is the actual substance or essence of that very matter.” This sounds much like a repetition of what has been previously mentioned.
After all, the meaning is that there is the question which even modern science cannot solve and Aristotle most likely foresaw. The fact is that in ancient times they knew this and after all the experiments, diverse observations and numerous studies, to this day no one cannot find the true meaning of nature. It is beyond human ability to know.
Realizing human “ignorance” is in sync with the thinking of atheists. Thinking that one can realize the meaning of nature through a god’s words is itself religion. However, this is nothing more than a hypothesis and fiction. To Dawkins, it is an “illusion”. All the same, most of the religions today believe this.
God never helps humans and even tries to degrade humans by creating “evil.” People see that God Almighty is not always present.
Fearing that they may become atheists if they think about the absence of God or refute the existence of God, monotheists restrain themselves from thinking about these things.
Ancient Greece and Japan shared common views of nature
Anyway, humans have been thinking of “nature” ever since the time of ancient Greece. This is the same with “Shinto” in Japan. And I believe that this way of religious thinking should be the basis of religions elsewhere, and through moving toward this direction, world peace will be realized.
The Japanese know, from experience, that humans are at peace by believing in nature, precisely because they are aware that the human mind is basically a part of nature.
When the Greeks called nature “physis,” this seems more deeply connected to the Japanese kami (nature’s way) than worship to Western gods. And this kind of thinking was adopted by ancient Rome, which was greatly influenced by Greece.
Before the arrival of Christianity, the Japanese way of thinking was similar to that of the rest of the world. In other words, Greek thinking in this manner was representative of philosophy at the time. That was exactly what Gaius Plinius (23-79 A.D.) noted in his encyclopedia entitled Natural History. This book has 37 volumes, which attempted to explain everything in the natural world.
He wrote, “It is not to be easily decided whether nature is a caring mother or a cruel one to humans,” “The life nature benevolently gives us is momentary.” And, referring to magnets, “Nature has given stone sense and hand.”
Judging from this usage, Greek philosophy includes everything, from the universe to the earth, humans, terrestrial animals, fish in the sea, birds and insects, plants, minerals and stones. This is almost like “natural” studies and resembles Shinto in Japan. Of course, no book equivalent to Natural History was written in Japan, but the Japanese people sing about everything in nature in the form of Japanese poems. Some say it strange that Plinius deals also with man-made objects such as shrines, labyrinths, underground tombs and pyramids in Natural History, but I don’t think this is so strange. Artificial, human creations sprung from humans which, in turn, are a part of nature and, therefore, are duly written about in Natural History.
In spite of the fact that this way of thinking of nature existed in ancient Greece and Rome, when Christianity entered ancient Rome, the Jewish idea dominated, the assertion that there is only one god, a “God Almighty,” who created heaven and earth and that humans take after Him. It can well be said that here began the age of a grave error or an era of “fiction.” I even think that this marks the time when conflicts among humans became significant.
The reason is simple. Monotheism believes in only one god and disavows all others. Though Islam, Judaism and Christianity originally worshiped the same god, Yahweh, as the respective religions became distinct from others, the one god became distinct gods. It is inevitable that with the birth of monotheism and its control over people, the chances that wars erupt increase.
This would be one of the reasons that we feel that the Japanese way of thinking should become mainstream thinking.
Contrary to belligerent monotheism, “nature religion” tries to solve things in as peaceful a way as possible. Certainly, there is competition for survival among animals and the struggle for survival also takes place in the world of humans. However, if nature is to improve, the respective worlds of animals and humans become peaceful themselves. Monotheism, however, cannot work this way. Harmony is hard to achieve between different religions.
“Nature” as seized by da Vinci
Now, I would like to pay special attention to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). I studied this genius of a painter in Italy. During my study, I found out that da Vinci rarely used the word “God”. In his last will, “God” is finally mentioned, but reading through his notes, over six thousand pages, the word “God” did not appear once.
Leonardo da Vinci was educated as a Christian in Florence and he painted many pictures with Christian themes. I was totally surprised to find that he never used the word “God” in his notes. The sketches he drew and the sceneries he painted equally described nature with overwhelming power. Westerners may see God through da Vinci’s paintings, but I am totally moved by his powerful depiction of nature.
In Japan, we use the word “myo” in explaining the subtleness and depth of nature, and da Vinci tried to describe “myo” in his paintings.
He said, “Everything humans can see was born from nature. Paintings are born from humans. Therefore, paintings are nature’s grandchildren.”
A passage in his notes reads: Poetry and paintings imitate nature to the limit of my ability and nature never breaks her own principle.
Here, though it is difficult to explain what nature’s principle is, it is implied that the self-sustaining principle of nature herself is truly dependable.
During da Vinci’s time, there were no pictures which solely depicted nature. Humans may be the theme of the painting, and nature is nothing more than the background. Leonardo often drew nature in designs and also in oil paintings. He painted elaborate natural scenery in the background of Mona Lisa. (He was probably influenced by Chinese landscape painting techniques. At that time, robust trade between the West and the East took place and things Chinese poured into Europe.) This is also connected to Japanese landscape painting. This great man must have known that nature is highly appreciated in the East, fully aware of the idealization of nature in the East. Of course, he did not directly refer to the East. But he wrote Travels in the East, mentioning the high mountains there. He must have realized that nature is self-supporting. It is natural to conclude that da Vinci sees nature as a total entity, representing all things in heaven and earth.
He also wrote, “Nature is the painters’ teacher.” This is interpreted as “copy nature’s realism” by historians of fine arts, but it has much deeper meaning. Nature creates herself and changes of herself. The expression “Nature is a teacher to humans” is not appropriate to Christians.
What da Vinci meant to say was that nature will move in subtle ways, feel elaborate and act on humans subtly and that we should paint such a world, looking up to it as a teacher.
We can easily understand da Vinci, if we remember that this is what Japanese poems and expressions are all about.
However, in reality, Christianity, having dominant social power at the time, he was unable to outwardly express this. Leonardo confided his convictions to his private memos, which he had no intention of publishing. Nevertheless, we know that his way of thinking was not forlorn or off-base. After regarding Leonard in this light, I studied European philosophers of the time and learned that all of them did not necessarily adhere entirely to Christianity. Take Francois Rabelais (1495-1553) and Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) for instance. The time being called “Renaissance” by their contemporaries, their views of nature are like those of ancient Greece.
Later, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) asserted that it is the earth that moves around the sun, supporting the thinking of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) but against Christian dogma. As you may well know, Galileo had his theory renounced in court as heresy and was obliged to live under house arrest.
Those who knew that “God” does not exist followed, one after another. However, in reality, at that time they were doomed to be suppressed if they outwardly expressed their convictions. I would like to point out that beauty created by Leonardo da Vinci was born out of a genuine pursuit of nature and was never the product from a search for “God”.
For example, there was a thinker named Paracelsus (1494-1541). Although he may be somehow misunderstood as a prophet, he stated the following in his book The Light of Nature:
Who is a better teacher in this than nature itself? Nature has knowledge of such things and nature provides for a palpable understanding of all things. From the palpable understanding, the physician is instructed. Insofar as nature alone knows these things, it must be nature that composes the prescription. Furthermore, (nature’s) art of its composition resides palpably before the very eyes of the physician. From nature proceeds the art and not from the physician.
He presents here the essential issue of nature.
Thereafter came Descartes (1596-1650) and Pascal (1623-1662). These thinkers bore out human reason, but they fell short of rejecting “God”. They were less frank or straightforward than da Vinci and Paracelsus.
Scientists and Christianity
Philosophers up to Kant (1724-1804) accepted God as Christians while, on the other hand, they developed reason and science. Including Isaac Newton (1642-1727), science went hand in hand with religion.
It is likely that scientists today share commonality with scientists of the past in some respects. American experimental physicist Arthur Compton (1892-1962), who was a Nobel Prize laureate and famous for the “Compton Effect,” says, “The universe which orderly spreads proves the truth of the most sublime words: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1). He quoted from The Bible. Without doubt, at present, Christianity and Christian churches exist in the West and most people have a Christian viewpoint.
This fact, on the other hand, creates conflicts with followers of other religions and cause wars. Certainly, we do not approve of this.
In the process of changing the situation, we may raise other problems, but it is necessary to change the concept that nature is controlled by a god. Instead, nature worship presents itself as fresh, making every human kneel down before the wonders of this earth and nature, which anyone can touch and feel.
It is important to have the modesty to affirmatively accept the fact that humans do not know. We must see this in the context that nature teaches humans to be modest.
“Nature” by Spinoza
Newton discovered the “Law of Gravitation,” but on the other hand, he said that, to him, nature was created solely by the deliberation and control of a supreme god. This was a model way of thinking among Western scientists. By the way, in the history of natural philosophy, it is Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) from the Netherlands who is as indispensable as da Vinci. He was a contemporary with Descartes and Pascal in the seventeenth century. As against the two thinkers who spoke in vindication of God’s existence, Spinoza said, “The entire nature is one entity,” indicating that man is a part of nature. The God is tantamount to nature. He greatly appraised nature. He was Jewish and had a different way of thinking from Christian philosophers. However, his was different from Jewish monotheism.
He maintained that all causes are concluded by the ultimate cause. And this ultimate cause is an entity without any cause or it forms the concept of self-causation or free causation. This self-causation is “substance-peer.” The substance is tantamount to Deus (God) and God is tantamount to nature. This precisely resembles the Japanese concept of nature.
Spinoza was rejected by the Jewish people who believe that a “God” controls nature. He was “cursed” by Jews in the Netherlands. However, in a sense, his idea is very much similar to the way of Japanese thinking and is universal. Nevertheless, in his case, his concept of God was so strong that he thought that God is the ultimate cause rather than nature.
His contemporary theologians and thinkers rejected him for being atheist. The rejection itself is an issue today.
It is a consistent view in Western thinking that things are interpreted in the context that nature is the creation of God. People at that time could not endure being called an “atheist” for mentioning nature.
However, they were never “atheists,” and everyone knew that proof of God’s existence is only mental necessity and far from substantial. Their conviction was nothing more than an illusion, thinking as if the necessity were proved by degrading “atheists.” In terms of how humans should be essentially, nature is overwhelmingly wonderful in existence and is the “ultimate cause” at the same time.
Limits of Western civilization as represented by Locke
John Locke (1632-1704) is also a prominent figure in modern philosophy. His view of nature, being strongly influenced by Descartes, tried to establish a “new natural study.”
The basic conception of dynamics, the universe, the solar system, the earth, atmosphere, climate in general, rivers, minerals, plants, animals and the human five senses were made into reason and follow the composition of Descartes’ philosophical principle. However, Locke thought of nature as all of physical nature, life-like nature and human-like nature. With this idea, Locke’s analects became the book entitled Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
Locke theorized nature as a modern concept and did not present it in a manner that criticized Christianity or doubted monotheism. His idea is a view of nature as a different entity from the beginning.
In his theory, he used the explanation “It is possible for lifeless materials to have the ability to think.” It is understandable that he made much of nature. At the same time, he also wrote on government in The Treatises of Government. There he used terms such as “natural law” and “natural condition.” From the beginning he rejected the thinking that kings were endowed with power from a god. Instead, he developed the theory that humans are equal and the people have the right to bring about revolution. His sociological assertion was made in terms of “natural rights.”
In the case of the Western world, while they have monotheism, the position of the Pope was created with religiously concentrated authority. The Pope is a representative of “God”. The king is also endowed with power by “God”. This is thinking states that the sovereign is blessed by a god. Once this theory is adopted, the king is seen in only terms of holding all power or as a dictator.
This is the concept of power given by a god. Where the power and the people are on conflicting terms, there is no room for love to be born. There is no room for the development of a natural relationship. According to the Japanese idea, there is a family-like community created by nature between power and the people. It is a community of love. Otherwise, the state will not have the great parental love which unites the ruler and the people and its citizens, a family-like feeling and bond that nature possesses. This is exactly what the Japanese spirit of “Hakko Ichiu” (literally meaning “eight directions, one world or one family”) represents.
Here arises the difference between monarchs in the Western monotheistic sphere and the Emperor in Japan.
As I have already mentioned, the presence of the Pope gives religious benevolence to people, as a kind of balance in the Western world.
The revolutionary movement in France in modern times disregarded the Pope. But people refrained from entirely abolishing the Pope during the revolution. I think that here lies Western contradiction. They tried to disavow religious authority, spiritual authority and a loving relationship with the people, all of which the Pope represents. This became the basis for the ensuing American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) and the disregard of the Pope continued.
Monotheism holds contradictions
Denis Diderot (1713-1784) is famous for his work during the Enlightenment. He completed the Encyclopedia, on which he spent his entire lifetime. Through the Encyclopedia, he tried to make a rational dictionary containing knowledge on learning, art and technique, by collecting knowledge scattering over various parts of the world and establishing a universal system covering natural and artificial matters.
Prior to Dideroit, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) wrote Valerius Terminus: of the Interpretation of Nature. In the book, with a special note on nature, he explained:
Let them be called elements which are heterogeneous materials necessary to produce all of the natural phenomena; Let that be called nature which is the present result of all that were born out of combinations of various elements or the result of all ensuing them; There is nature on heaven and earth. There are angels, humans and animals. There are birds, fishes and insects.
Hence, the appearance of the “natural” concept that covers heaven and earth and all things in nature. This is based on the view that nature sees all things as materials.
It is generally thought that this lead to the conception of modern science. Through objective analysis of nature, particles, atoms, cells and various minute elements are observed. Science is based on physics and chemistry. These are premises for the elements which develop science.
This analytic science becomes materialism, which states that the essence of the universe is materials and materials are the only true existence, forming the root of “modern science.” This science is obliged to be silent when it comes to explaining the universe as a material sphere, living things in a minute world, time and space, which humans can hardly grasp by means of analysis. It is a very narrow and limited range that science can comprehend. In front of this fact, all that religion can do is to say that, “Only “God” knows” as an excuse. Many modern scientists use this expression as well.
In monotheism, the question of “why did God create nature,” vanishes. Spiritual and emotional elements disappear. With dispassionate observation, scientific materials may make all things clear in a backward manner, but the range of understanding of the material world is narrow and limited. Thus, the process begins to systematize various hypotheses.
In Dideroit’s writings, when speaking of nature, he does not refer to physical nature or biological nature but “total nature” and “nature totally free from God.” Here, the rejection of Western worship sprouts. Westerns do not always go beyond this in their pursuit. They probably think that “God” and nature coexist somehow.
Even though modern scientists say, “God is an illusion,” a certain kind of intentional disregard and hypocritical attitudes are taken, viewing religion and science as separate matters.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) did not literally say “Return to nature.” But this was new thinking in a sense and in his books, On the Arts and Sciences and On the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, he contrasted civilized society with primitive society and praised primitive peoples, wild peoples and “natural people”.
However, if we are told to return to primitive society, we cannot. Of course, “Return to nature” does not mean to “become savages.” He expressed his fear that from the primitive stage, civilizations were born and in due time, the power of the state and despotism developed. He also said that although humans are not to return to a natural condition, humans should have “nature” within themselves. He refers to nature’s development in the human mind.
In his book Emile, or On Education, Rousseau writes:
…I do not want to make him a savage and to send him back to the woods, but that living in the whirl of social life it is enough that he should not let himself be carried away by the passions and prejudices of men; let him see with his eyes and feel with his heart, let him own no sway but that of reason. The natural progress of the mind is quickened but not reversed.
This leads to the idea that “nature” rejects power and authority.
In other words, “inner freedom” is precisely nature. Henceforth sprouts resistance to keep social power from oppressing or restraining people.
Looking at Western troubles with this in mind, we find that while respecting nature, they reject traditional public education (school system) and support family education and natural education. At the same time, it is meant that Christianity, monarchy and the ancien gime do not accord with nature. When Rousseau discussed nature, he certainly held nature as good, but his trust in nature was not complete as to regard nature as substitute for a god.
This is clear from the following description:
“I know that he (God) has formed the universe and all that is, that he has made and ordered all things.” (The Creed of a Savoyard Priest)
His concept of nature does not make efforts to comprehend the whole of nature, but is simply based on unilateral romanticism. He didn’t think that nature and Christianity with a monotheistic god cannot co-exist.
In the case of the West, they still cannot reject the claim that “God” created nature and therefore, their advocacy of nature turns up to be the same as that of the “Devil.”
Karl Marx (1818-1883) said, “Religion is the opium of the people,” and with this idea in mind, if a state was to be founded, it would be doomed to collapse just like the case of the Soviet Union. All they would be able to establish is a frigid society. Only a society of a one-party dictatorship will emerge, because it will criticize religion as opium and they will have nothing to take the place of monotheism.
Even if there are social regulations, it is not always made clear in terms of for what purpose and by whose image the regulation is to be made.
“Nature” of Japan portrayed by Ukiyo-e pictures
I am interested in history of aesthetics and fine arts. Let me explain Japanism that overwhelmed Western fine arts circles in the 19th century. Japanese Ukiyo-e pictures and folding screen pictures describe nature’s beauty, nature’s independence and humans as a part of nature.
This message was received by Impressionist painters who were groping for reform in painting. In my opinion, they felt for the first time the existence of a definite world other than Christianity and welcomed the new world.
Surely, it may have been something within the range of sense and sensibility and nothing irrational. To them, however, the Japanese Ukiyo-e pictures and painted folding screens presented an image different from Christian thought which looks down on nature. Mostly because the Japanese message was not based on a Christian-like logical criticism, Western painters felt free to accept it and express it in their own ways. Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted nature, describing, almost maddeningly, grass and trees, expressing water and natural environment off limits to humans. As for Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), imitating Ukiyo-e, he was totally fascinated by the nature world. He wrote in his diary that the Japanese people who created Ukiyo-e are precisely their ideal. These words of his eloquently tell us how enchanted he was.
He clearly states, “This sprout of grass makes him [Japanese sage, philosopher and intellectual] draw all kinds of plants, then seasons, rural landscape stretching far and wide, animals and human faces… they [Japanese] live in nature like flowers and what these simple Japanese people teach us can be true religion.” It is far beyond exoticism or xenophile yearning.
Here, van Gogh asserts that against Western monotheism, there is a different religion and that nature takes the place of Christianity. This is precisely because Japanese religion is nature worship and nature’s way.
Some argue that van Gogh was impressed with this idea because he was not so intelligent. But that is wrong. What van Gogh’s sharp sensitivity received from Japanese Ukiyo-e is the very message that nature is the leading character of all things. Van Gogh felt that nature is the lead and humans created from nature are there in nature. Gogh went to southern France, looking for Japan.
Monet made a garden in Giverny and led a Japanese-style life. He made a pond, planted water lilies and made a wooden bridge, thus embodying Japanese nature’s way.
From thenceforth, following the new idea, paintings free from Christian influences were produced one after another. On this premise, and in an attempt to deny and destroy past tradition, appeared modern paintings. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954) are good examples.
Art in modern times is based on the premise that nature as past tradition and culture or Christian-like past tradition should be denied and destroyed.
Humans living today, surrounded by scientific technology and with highly developed transportation systems, also live in nature. This awareness brought about a movement to prevent the destruction of natural environment.
Nature always lives within the human body and mind. However highly mechanized and computerized modern environment may become, the human mentality remains the same as always.
Humans are eternally embraced in the bosom of nature, enjoying natural scenery. This is precisely the core of the Japanese “Shinto = nature’s way.” It relates to the view that nature is tantamount to Kami.
In the modern world, “Shinto = nature’s way” with such wonderful characteristic should be recognized anew and serve as a future religion, a common religion which makes people feel happy.
Column 7: The reason why the Japanese are said to be poor at arguing
The Japanese are often said to be poor at arguing. It is one of the fields in which the Japanese feel inferior to Westerners and the Chinese. In fact, when it comes to learning English or logical arguing, this trait almost leads to an inferiority complex.
Having studied abroad, I can speak four foreign languages. When I use Western languages, I try to speak as if I were Western. I try to speak in a manner remembering how I lived while I studied in that country. Indeed, if I don’t think in a particular manner, I cannot sufficiently argue or communicate with foreigners.
At the same time, debating skills definitely requires such experiences in foreign lands. It is not enough to master the language alone. It is only after you study abroad, master the language there and learn to think in the way and according to the logic of the country that you can efficiently argue with others.
The best way to overcome the Japanese weakness of being poor debaters is to send Japanese persons abroad to study for a long period of time. Without providing intelligent young people such an opportunity, it is impossible to produce the elite who can lead Japan in the debating arena. I would like to urge the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to earnestly consider this option.
On the other hand, I oppose the option to start teaching English at an early childhood stage. It is unnatural for Japanese children to learn a foreign language before they are fully equipped with the linguistic sense of the Japanese language. In this case, both Japanese and English dwell halfway in such children. Let me explain what I mean. The Japanese think that what matters is not the cause but the result. In other words, what matters is decided at the end. As is clear in the composition of the Japanese language, the verb comes last. In Western languages, verb immediately follows the subject, which comes first. The undercurrent thinking is that in Japan, the ego is to manifest itself in the community.
Unless we are equipped with such a logical structure, leaning English leaves us halfway, with nothing decisive to rely on.
Study abroad after one is fully equipped with the Japanese linguistic sense. This is absolutely necessary in order to understand Western languages which are essentially contrastive with Japanese. Only after one has experienced culture shock in foreign land, one can accept different ways of thinking of other countries. If you try to argue with foreigners with the feeling of a 100% Japanese, the argument will not go well. After you learn to argue logically in Japanese, you can argue with your foreign counterpart using their languages. It will be equally unsuccessful if you try to argue in a manner of Japanese poems of Haiku or Tanka, using very few words.
In reality, Kobayashi Hideo, who was a great critic in Japan, is rarely read in the West. This is because his logic is typically Japanese. On the other hand, works of Mishima Yukio are said to be easy to translate overseas. So are those of Murakami Haruki. Their works are praised as literature that is suitable for globalization. Their expressions are almost like artificial words.
Why is it that Kobayashi Hideo, presumably logical, is hard to translate into other languages? Why is this, that Kobayashi discussed Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and Paul Valery (1871-1945) based on logic?
On the other hand, popularly read are Zen-like literature and Japanese philosophers who describe traditional Japanese. In the West, literary men whose way of thinking is between that of the West and Japan, or indecisive and lukewarm, are not highly regarded.
Anyway, Japanese philosophy, like Zen thinking, which is totally the opposite of Western thinking, attracts Western readers. We must admit as true that it is generally said that there are not so many prominent Japanese thinkers.
Japan originally rejected logic. It can be put in this way, that Japan is a nation who knows logic is not a mysterious thing. It is not that the Japanese have neither the ability to think nor logic. As I have previously mentioned, excellent artistic expressions such as Japanese poems of Tanka and Haiku did not come with logic. It is quite natural to conclude that the Japanese, who do not like orderly system, tend to be poor debaters.
However, it does not mean that the Japanese lack logic. It is only that Japanese thinking does not follow a pattern within the context of a monotheistic god- humans – – advocacy. There is no dogma in context of nature – humans – advocacy. Logos has not at all deteriorated. Since nature and humans are the subject, it can include pursuit of natural science. The remarkable achievements by Japanese scientists prove this. They make much of instinct, experience and actual practice, but not logos.
The Japanese do not submit to autonomous thinking involved in “reasoning” and “philosophy.” This only leads to errors. “Marxism” failed in the 20th century because of this. Really, it is not too much to say that only the Japanese can clearly point out errors in monotheistic Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is because the Japanese people trust nature’s diversity in the form of a religion and forgive humans as a part of nature. This is precisely the way Japanese people are with Shinto and nature’s way.
Chapter VIII How is nature described
Shinto as an intrinsic Japanese religion
The history of Japanese “Shinto” goes way back to ancient times, but it was in the book Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan) early in the eighth century that the word “Shinto” was actually used for the first time. It is written in a phrase regarding Emperor Yomei: “Emperor believes in Buddhism and respects Shinto.” Significantly, in relation to Buddhism, Shinto was mentioned, which clearly indicates that Shinto is an intrinsic Japanese religion.
From the Hakuho Period late in the seventh century to the Nara Period of the eighth century, following the Ritsu-ryo system (centralized autocracy based on comprehensive legal codes), with the Office of Jingi-kan (office of Shinto worship), which was established to take charge of rituals and ceremonies of Kami-gami, Shinto was officially practiced by the State, together with Buddhism. Entering the Heian Period, Shinto was newly organized to correspond with the shrines at which the Imperial Court and local provincial governors throughout the country worshipped. The organizational list was put in Engishiki (fifty volumes citing detailed rules of Ritsu-ryo, Ritsu stipulating what should not be done, or what is present-day criminal law, and Ryo stipulating what should be done, or administrative law). At the end of the Heian Period, the movement to co-practice and unify Shinto and Buddhism became wide-spread in the form of the idea of “Honji suijaku”.[if !supportFootnotes][endif] This idea was realized by the unification of mountain worship and Buddhist pure land at the three mountains of Kumano (Wakayama Prefecture). Around the same time, sects of Shinto such as Ryobu Shinto and Sanno-ichijitu Shinto were also formed.
During the Kamakura Period, Hachiman-shin, a tutelary deity of the Genji (Minamoto) clan, was widely worshipped as a guardian deity of warriors. In the fundamental laws of the Shogunate (military government) titled Goseibai-shikimoku (The Formulary of Adjudications), it was stipulated that shrines should be mended and religious rites be conducted intensely. Thus, the relationship between warriors and Shinto became closer.
The movement in Shinto promoted by the sect called Ise Shinto with Ise Shrine at the center tended to move away from Buddhism, consolidating the idea that Shinto is the master and Buddhism the subject. Regarding Toyouke no Ookami in the Outer Shrine as Amenominakanushi no Kami or Kuni no tokotachi no Mikoto, together with Amaterasu Omikami in the Inner Shrine, members of the sect tried to strengthen Ise Shrine worship and put it at the center of Shinto (Watarai Shinto after Watarai Ieyuki, who was priest at the Outer Shrine of Ise Shrine).
Ise Shinto greatly influenced Kitabatake Chikafusa of Yoshino (in Nara prefecture) Court (Southern Court), a loyal subject of Emperor Go-Daigo, and it became the basis of his idea to clarify the Imperial lineage, propelling him to write Jinno Shotoki (Chronicle of the Direct Descent of Divine Sovereigns).
At the end of the Muromachi Period, in place of Ise Shinto, Kyoto Yoshida Shinto was established, which opposed the idea that purpose of the Revelation of Buddha on Earth was to save people, and advocated that “Shinto” leads and Buddhism follows. Interestingly, they proclaimed that “Japan produces seed, China represents branch and leaf and India grows flower and fruit,” meaning that Japanese Shinto is the seed, the root of all religions, while Buddhism are flowers and fruits and Chinese Confucianism are leaves and branches.
“Our only Shinto makes heaven and earth books and the sun and the moon proofs.” (Yuiitsu Shinto Meihoyoshu, Collection of Good Religious Words of the Only Shinto).
The way of thinking represented by these words which were presumably spoken by Fujiwara no Kamatari became the foundation of a religious attitude which tried to form the idea of a Shinto without adhering to the co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism. However, the idea asserting that “heaven and earth” and “the sun and the moon” are not in continuation with Kami-gami but “books” did not lead to “Shizen-do” (the way of nature), which identifies Kami-gami with “heaven and earth” and “the sun and the moon”. It was probably during the Edo Period that people realized that “heaven and earth” and “the sun and the moon”, namely nature, were already present, as a solid religion, prior to the birth of Kami-gami.
As the Edo Period dawned, the Shogunate government had ascetics throughout the country belong to either the Honzan school or the Tozan school and prevented itinerant priests from roaming around. Therefore, they came to settle down in towns and villages, and engaged exclusively in occult activities such as incantation and prayer.
Next, let us look at Shinto from the Edo Period onwards more closely.
Formation of the “way of nature” during the Edo Period
In Japan, there were two religious ways, namely, a realistic way called “co-practice of Shinto and Buddhism” on one hand and a natural way, in which worship and daily life harmonize into one, on the other hand. For instance, people learned agricultural skills, such as rice cultivation, and related with nature in daily life through nature worship. And praying to nature came to realization in the form of festivals of gratitude in Shinto and various Buddhist ceremonies.
This trend continued into the Edo Period. During the Edo Period, while the fundamental philosophy was Confucianism, the natural order and morals were independently established.
To look at the ideas of Shushi-gaku[if !supportFootnotes][endif] and Yomei-gaku[if !supportFootnotes][endif], nature plays a very important role, making us aware of the idea that morals do not independently stand on their own but follow nature.
For instance, Hayashi Razan (1583~1657), a Japanese Confucian of the Shushi-gaku school, used such terms as “Tenchi shizen no sei” (characteristic of heaven and earth and nature), “Shizen no dori” (reason of nature) and Butsuri Shizen (physical nature).
The expression “Shizen no ri no Jo” (order of the reason of nature) has the feeling that nature is discussed in common with the view of nature which Shinto intrinsically explains.
Other Confucians held the same idea. To mention a few, both Fujiwara Seika (1561~1619) and Yamazaki Ansai (1618~1682) frequently used the word “Shizen,” not in the sense of “naturally” but in the sense of the traditional concept of mountains, soil and heaven and earth. Sato Naokata (1650~1719) mentioned “Tenchi Shizen” (heaven and earth and nature). It may be implied that they had a Shinto-like concept of nature.
To sum up, during the Edo Period, Japanese Buddhism and Confucianism took into consideration the current of Shinto, or the way of nature, and accepted it in earnest.
Yamaga Soko (1622~1685), for instance, used the word “nature” on many occasions. In his book Seikyo Yoroku (Important Record of Teachings of Confucius) he writes “The true way exists between heaven and earth. Humans have nature’s law and regulations. Old poems are wonderfully rhymed with nature.”
Thus, he repeatedly used the word “nature”, explaining that humans are also a part of nature.
Of course, the Japanese word “Shizen” here was not yet a translation of “nature”. The word means “self-evident” or “all things in heaven and earth,” the idea of which is often discussed in Japanese tradition, including in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan) as well as in mythology.
A discussion of the philosophers in the Edo Period can fill an entire book. So, in this book, I will just include a brief discussion.
For instance, Ito Jinsai (1627~1705) used the word “nature.” He used it not very frequently but he used words such as “Shizen nishite ari” (be nature-like), Shizen no ri (nature’s reason) and Shizen no fu (nature’s gift).
Here again, you will find that nature does not simply mean “being of itself”, if you read his books. The word “nature” implies heaven and earth.
Yamaga Soko, whom I just mentioned, wrote in his book Collection of Yamaga’s Words: “Where there is heaven and earth, surely there are humans…this is nature of heaven and earth. What our companions ask for is nature of heaven and earth.” The expression “Tenchi no Shizen” (nature of heaven and earth) is frequently used. The original “heaven and earth” became one with “nature.” And here is it is clearly implied that this union includes all things within it.
Ogyu Sorai (1666~1728), believed to have belonged to the school of Ko-gaku (ancient learning, aiming to return to the original works established by Confucius and Mencius) and typical Confucians believed to have belonged to the school of Kan-gaku (Chinese scholarship), alike, basically used words “nature” and “heaven and earth.” As the expression “Tenchi Zoka” (heaven and earth and nature) indicates, they had the idea of a nature in connection with heaven and earth.
Looking through the Edo Period in this light, we will find that the Japanese view of nature, that human society itself is run as in nature, as it is constantly inherited.
“Nature” in Japanese Kokugaku (National Learning)
Meanwhile, those belonging to the school of Shinto, National Learning naturally used the word “nature.” Yoshikawa Koretari writes in Dokin no Hiketsu (Secret of Nature);
The ways of the three countries stand respectively according to the natural environment of their land…the way is made according to nature of the respective homeland. In our country of Yamato, the way of Kami’s teaching is natural teaching.
The three countries refer to Japan, India and China. Foreign countries mentioned during the Edo Period referred specifically to India and China.
In Japan, Ki Ki, namely, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan), the latter in particular, were fundamental texts. Kami appears, and the teaching of Kami-gami is said to be originally the “teaching of nature.”
This is a completely different concept from that of the West, which holds that a Western god rules nature. According to the Japanese concept, Kami and the teaching of Kami are, after all, the teaching of nature.
I would like to repeatedly emphasize that Japanese “nature” is not equal to Christian “nature” or the word that was newly invented in the Meiji Era.
Watarai Nobuyoshi (1615~1690), an Ise Outer Shrine priest, asserted that the way of heaven and earth and nature is not different from one country to another and that this is truly Shinto or the way of Kami. He explains further that, therefore, Shinto and Confucianism are in essence one. Shinto defines “nature” in terms of heaven and earth and nature while Confucianism defines nature in terms of heaven and earth.
Although Kamono Mabuchi (1697~1769) did not mention “nature,” he referred to “mother-like heaven and earth to numberless things.” In his book entitled Kokui-ko (A Study of the National Temper), Kamono Mabuchi illustrated the existence of the old way, and his disciple Motoori Norinaga (1730~1801) completed the book Kojiki-den (Commentary on the Record of Ancient Matters). The first volume included Naobinomitama (Purifying Soul-Deity), in which he showed the “way of Kami” as written in Kojiki and Nihonshoki and asserted the natural meaning of Shinto.
Relation between Emperor and Shinto
Motoori’s famous definition of “Kami” goes as follows: “Birds, beasts, trees, grass and the sea, mountains and whatever else that are extraordinarily virtuous and clever are called Kami.” (Kojiki-den, Comments on the Record of Ancient Matters). Not only nature but also humans, who are truly virtuous, become Kami. Moreover, Kami thus defined relates to mythological Kami.
When Motoori used the word Kami, he spoke of the intrinsic Japanese Kami-gami and said that the principle was “the naturally-born way of heaven and earth.”
Motoori further comments in his Naobinomitama, “In the first place, if one asks what this way is actually like, it is neither a way naturally born of heaven and earth, nor it is a man-made way.” There is the way of nature and all matters and things in the world are all born out of the dear soul of this great Kami…Therefore, mind you, it is called the way of Kami.” This Kami refers to the way of the Emperors since Amaterasu Omikami. We can perceive here the root of the way of nature.
However, the “way of Kami” that produces Imperial governance is essentially described in the concept of the way of nature.
“All that happens in this world, changes from spring to autumn, falling rain, blowing winds and all the lucky and unlucky events falling on the country and on the people, all of them are deeds of Kami.”
Clearly, Kami overlaps “nature”. There is no need at all to discuss Kami in a monotheistic sense of a “God”.
Motoori often criticized China, saying “Adashi Michi (alien way)” or “Kara Gokoro (Chinese mind).”
“In China, they often say heaven’s way, heaven’s order or heaven’s reason and regard them as the most reverential and awesome things…firstly heaven is…not a thing with the mind, there cannot be such a thing as heaven’s order…”
He concludes that there is no “way of nature” in China.
He also mentions in his essay Tamakatsuma (Beautiful Bamboo Basket):
“We think that heaven and earth grow all things, but this is not true. It is the deed of Kami that all things grow. Heaven and earth is only the place where Kami grows all things. It is not heaven and earth that grow them.”
Kami in this case seems to be different from heaven and earth, but this Kami is one with “nature” and he does not mean that Kami is above “nature.”
Imagining some sort of energy or a powerful origin, this is what he describes as “Kami’s will.” Deity as it is, it is not a monotheistic “God”.
“Whether it covers the earth and the sky or falls on things, it is an extremely mysterious thing.” (Kuzubana, Flower of Arrowroot)
Motoori feels mysteriously wonderful power in the word Kami. No other thinker spoke of Japanese “Shinto or the way of nature” as much as Motoori Norinaga.
Nature as perceived by intellectuals
Besides those already mentioned, Nishikawa Joken (1648~1724), an astronomer from Nagasaki, said, “After all, it is not reasonable to assume that humans are high or low at the root… Moreover, in the depth of human mind, how can there be a difference between high and low?”
Some historians interpret this as advocating human equality and try to extract social significance from it. Nevertheless, he simply means that it is perfectly natural that humans, all being borne from nature, there will be no difference between those who are high and low.
Nishikawa Joken also says in his book Chonin-bukuro (Merchant’s Satchel), “The four classes, of warriors, farmers, craftsmen and merchants, are of humanity according to natural law.” He also states, “If humans are born from nature, all are equal.” However, he did not mean “human social equality” as meant in the West, but explains that humans are originally born equal as a part of nature.
This is a universal idea. In fact, far more universal is his idea that humans are essentially born equal because humans themselves are equal to nature itself than the idea of equality given by a “God,” as espoused by what is called Western enlightenment philosophy. Rousseau is an exception. His thinking was similar to that of the Japanese. He explained that humans are equal in the natural state and that they care for one another. Rousseau referred to Japan only once but he probably knew something of the concept of nature in Japan.
Nishikawa Joken wrote such books as Nihon Suido-ko (Examination of Japanese Waters and Land) and Suido Kaiben (Explanation of Waters and Land). Here, he used the words “waters and land,” but clearly he meant nature. This Japanese scientist created “the concept of nature,” and it is clearly shown that this concept overlaps the Western concept of “nature”. At the same time, implying that the concept of nature relates to religion in his book Examination of Japanese Waters and Land, he explains, “The meaning of regarding this country as Kami’s land is because of the waters, land and nature.”
The word “Kami’s land” may sound nationalistic, but his real intention was to convey the idea that “Kami’s land” means nature’s land. Japanese Kami is a deity that thrives on nature.
“Nature” bestows people with “reason.” Humans recognize this and if people are equipped with reason, reasoning becomes a “virtue.”
The strong faith in the idea that the existence of “nature” itself is order and that at the same time it has providence surely imparts a religious quality.
In the field of agriculture, Miyazaki Yasusada (1623~1697) wrote Hyakusho Denki, Biography of Farmers (published ca.1680) and Nogyo Zensho, Complete Collection of Agriculture (published in 1697). He thought about agriculture in a number of ways. Words like “Tenchi Inyo” (heaven and earth, positive and negative), “Tenchi no Seiri” (physiology of heaven and earth) or “Tenchi no Zoka” (Existence of heaven and earth) demonstrate his deep, religious devotion toward nature and his simultaneously strong intention of scientifically analyzing nature. From concrete experience with cultivation, careful consideration of agricultural skills can be derived. We can assume that such a book on agriculture shows us the “way of nature.”
Shizuki Tadao (1760~1806) was an astronomer. He wrote a book entitled Rekisho Shinsho, New Book of Astronomy (1802), based on Newtonian science. It is utterly amazing that Newton was already introduced to Japan then. New Book of Astronomy is said to be interpretation of the book titled Introduction to Natural Philosophy and Introduction to the True Astronomy written by John Keill (1671~1721). In this book Keill used the word “nature”, in the Western sense, which Shizuki did not translate into “nature” but into “heaven and earth”.
Japanese “heaven and earth” means “to become one with ‘nature’. That is, the former and the latter have the same meaning, implying that all things are included in nature. The common concept is that all things were born from nature or from heaven and earth. It is clearly stated here that the “nature concept” was invented by a Japanese scientist and that at the same time this concept overlaps “nature” as a concept.
It seems that nature is regarded as the origin of Japanese thinking, with all things based on the root of nature, as shown by Yamaga Soko’s “heaven and earth and nature,” Nishikawa Joken’s “waters, land and nature” and Shizuki Tadao’s “heaven and earth” including “all things.”
Tachibana Jitsuzan (1655~1708), a tea ceremony specialist, also states as follows: “The garden and hermitage in tea ceremony… are an excellent place of nature and heaven and earth,” in his book Kochurodan (On Tea Bottle and Hearth) explaining Nanporoku (Record of Southern Region) by Sen no Rikyu (1522~1591). He though that even things like a tea garden and hermitage are all condensations or abstractions of heaven and earth.
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), a famous Haikai (a form of Japanese poetry) teacher, used the expressions “nature is heaven and earth and all things,” “In literature and art, one should follow nature and make a brief moment one’s companion,” “Follow nature and return to nature” and “In beautiful scenery of mountains, fields, the sea and beaches, we see nature’s accomplishments.” (Small Book in the Backpack) His words clearly refer to the Japanese people’s fundamental thinking of “heaven and earth.”
In his famous book Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), he states, “Someone will fully use the pen and words to describe nature’s heavenly work.”
In short, the root of all literary works and the root of artistic creation is “nature, the creator.”
The same is true of literature. Ihara Saikaku (1642~1693) was well versed in the secrets of the time, secrets of nature and secrets of the Creator, when describing secrets of humanity. Saikaku did not always mention nature or “Sansui” (landscape), but even in popular novels about townspeople we can clearly perceive the idea that human life itself is the creation of “nature.”
Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653~1724), called Japan’s Shakespeare, carried the same idea that “nature is equal to the way of humans.”
Ando Shoeki’s view of nature
It was probably Ando Shoeki (ca.1707~1762) who connected this view of “nature” with the way. He is appreciated as the first to mention “natural science” in Japan. Mr. Terao Goro, who is famous for his scholarly work on Ando Shoeki, presumes that Ando Shoeki was the first to establish the concept of nature in his book Shizen Gainen no Keiseishi (History of Formation of Concept of Nature). However, I don’t think so.
It is clearly understood that the view of nature hitherto expressed as Creator, heaven and earth includes the concept of “nature.”
Certainly, Ando Shoeki used the word “way,” asserting nature’s way of true operation for the first time. Precisely, “true operation” was added to “nature’s way” as I have explained thus far. The “nature’s way of true operation” in a sense conceptualizes the way in which nature truly operates. Nature’s having a true operative rule is termed “true operative way.” Instead of the term “Shinto” (Kami’s way), “nature’s true operative way” is used.
“The entirety of nature is heaven and earth, without beginning or end.” Or it can be said that the whole of heaven and earth is nature without beginning or end.
He also said, “Nature and heaven and earth are simultaneous.” Here, the Japanese phrase meaning “change and fixation” is pronounced the same as “heaven and earth.” It can be said that this expression concludes what has been explained by many Japanese thinkers in terms of “nature’s true way.” Reading the word “change and fixation” in the same way as the word “heaven and earth” is Shoeki’s invention. He probably intended to imply the activeness and stability of “nature.” Practically speaking, he meant “nature, heaven and earth,” combining heaven, the sea and the middle of the earth. This is precisely the concept of “nature,” very similar to the concept of nature held by the Greeks and the Romans. Ando writes;
Nature is a reverential appellation of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water). These five elements, of themselves, greatly advance and retreat, change and become fixed…become the sun, the moon and stars, and this spirit, gazing over the middle of the earth, producing male and female humans.
He emphasized that all humans, male and female alike, are destined to be born from nature and that nature is in an eternal process of self-movement. This idea can be said to be in sync with the thinking of modern natural science.
Heaven, earth and nature exist and move on their own. Westerners think that a god moves them all, but the Japanese think that nature originally does it on its own accord. The Japanese follow the religious process of having fear of nature and feeling surpassing power from it. Thus, Shinto becomes realistic and produces religious devotion.
Ando Shoeki’s way of thinking becomes grand, in a way, including the worlds of science, modern philosophy and religion. His thinking itself could become a world religion as the way of nature. The term religion no longer refers to monotheism. Individual human characters are formed by mysteriously wonderful “nature.”
Ando Shoeki’s idea may have been buried in history of ideas. Nevertheless, what he explained has already been felt by people and presumably everyone accepted it without having any dissonant feelings.
Since Ando Shoeki was a farmer, his thinking is appreciated as the musings of a farmer. Far more than that, though, is that his thinking summarized the traditional Japanese way of thinking and can be interpreted in terms of love toward “nature” and of religion based on admiration.
Ando Shoeki’s thinking was not that of an isolated philosopher in Japan but he can be said to have been the synthesizer of the hitherto Japanese views of “heaven and earth” and “nature” in terms of “the way of nature’s true operation.”
Afterwards, Miura Baien (1723~1789) wrote Genki-ron (Discourse on Original Matter), in which he explains as follows:
There is matter yet to be named. For a time being it was called unseen original existence. The matter fills the universe leaving nothing uncovered. Dividing well and uniting well, things live and change beyond human perception.
This passage tells us that through gazing at the chaotic movement of all things and phenomena in nature, a way can be divined from the chaos.
He also says, “Speaking of heaven and earth, men and women, life and death, weal and woe, no element can escape this pairing pattern.” Here, he emphasizes the energy using the word “the original matter” of “nature.”
At present, Tomoeda Ryutaro (1916~ ) is also conscious of “nature study.” He is starting to explain that exploring “nature” through science is a religion in a sense.
Scientists of the time not only study materialistic science but also research science as a religion including the faith termed “true operative way” by Ando Shoeki. Here I perceive Japanese thinking.
Genki-ron (Discourse on Original Matter) shows the thinking that “square is created one…circle is nature,” and “nature and let it be.” Nature worship is combined with the thinking of the negative and the positive originally from China and becomes Japanese “nature study.”
For example, in his major book Gengo (Profound Words), Baien says: “If we make nature the true way, then what makes it as it is? If we make “let it be” the true way, where will nature be contained? “Letting it be” is Kami’s appearance and “naturally” is heaven’s appearance. Heaven is nature…earth is let it be. Here, nature is said to have the concepts of Kami and heaven.
Nature can be replaced by Kami. What we must take heed of here is that Kami is different from the Christian and Jewish gods. It is not that a god created nature but that nature is called by the name of Kami. In Japan, Kami is equal to nature.
At a glance, this could be called atheism or materialism. In actuality, the belief that nature itself is the object of worship should be self-evident. This is precisely nature worship as is often expressed by the word “Otento-sama” (dear heaven’s way). The concept majestically presents itself, differently from the one asserting that it is religious to worship a personified deity.
According to the conception of these “modern times,” this cannot be called “religious faith.” Nevertheless, a religion is born when humans encounter something inexplicable. It is not the deity we cannot prove but it is Kami or nature we can prove. Our religious history tells that monotheism itself is wrong.
A view of nature that embraces science
Shiba Kokan (1747~1818), who was more than twenty years Baien’s junior, writes in his book Dokusho Mogen (Lone Laugh and Random Speech): “The earth is shaped round…revolves once, making day and night.” This indicates that he well understood the heliocentric theory that the earth revolves, making day and night. Shiba Kokan studied Dutch painting from the Netherlands and was the first to paint Western-style pictures.
He already knew about Copernicus and accepted the heliocentric theory. He had a clear concept of the earth and tried to paint it not by analyzing it in a materialistic manner but as something that caused a fear of nature. He also emphasized that the fear of nature does not destroy thinking about nature’s way or heaven and earth.
Speaking of “heaven and earth,” this may be interpreted as a limited view of nature. However, from this, a theory of the universe can develop, which further promotes natural science. At the same time, if we feel a certain kind of threat from nature, we will study “science” with sensibility.
While looking at nature from the perspective of cool and analytical science, we can get a sense of the nature of the earth through the threat we feel from it. This is the foundation of Japanese nature’s way and Shinto.
In his book Shunharo Hikki (Writing at Spring Wave Tower), he also writes:
Now, thinking on the basis of Western astronomy and investigation into all creation, we learn that nothing in heaven and earth stays still. The sun, five stars, the earth and the moon all move and turn, not remaining still a moment. Essentially, living things and humans run and move…worldly desires, lust, appetite for food and drink keep all people restless, regardless of being high or low. This is the nature of those alive.
He states that all reasons and phenomena are contained in “nature” and human desires are the very nature of the living. He does not use the word “Shinto” here, but what he says is equivalent to saying that Shinto is the origin of the Japanese people’s idea and the foundation of the Japanese way of thinking.
Yamagata Banto (1748~1821) wrote the book entitled Yume no Yo (Age of Dream). He was versed in Confucianism, Buddhism and Shinto. Furthermore, he had knowledge of Dutch learning and studied the heliocentric theory. He knew that the earth is round and understood the concept of force and gravitation. He asserted that he was an atheist.
His view of nature sounds extremely “modern”, but it does not necessarily mean that he abandoned the perspective of sensible “nature,” that is, nature worship.
Atheism is often regarded as tantamount to abandonment of religion. However, that is not right. While atheism admits something mysterious or nature called chaos, atheists do not think it necessary to turn it into a human-like deity. The expression “All things belong to heaven and earth and nature” means that all things, including humans, belong to the earth and nature. All things themselves are of nature or the natural environment. This can be said to be the fundamental way of thinking of Shinto.
Henceforth, reading books written by various thinkers, we learn that all of them have the same way of thinking as this. It is the foundation of Japanese religion.
Besides thinkers, Santo Kyoden (1761~1816), a writer of Share-bon (short novels), for example, writes in his book Musuko-beya (Son’s Room) which describes his knowledge of gay quarters: “Gain a prostitute’s true heart by offering your own true heart. Being naturally virtuous is termed smart.” The word “naturally” casually used here indicates the basic thinking of Shinto.
In my opinion, Ninomiya Sontoku (1787~1856) had the same idea. He was a thinker who actually engaged in agriculture and he said as follows:
If we leave the land to natural law, it will all turn into wilderness, returning to the original condition in ancient times when heaven and earth first emerged. This is because it is exactly nature’s way. Humanity…things convenient to people are good, while things inconvenient to them are bad. This thinking is different from natural law. That is because humanity appears where humans stand. Then…only when people noisily bother and meddle with others, humanity starts. It is a great mistake to think that this human meddling is nature’s way. Natural law and humanity are different things. The former is eternally unchanged and the latter immediately ceases to exist, should there be negligence for just one day. Thus, it is respectable to attend to humanity, but it is not respectable to leave humanity to nature.”
Ninomiya Sontoku states that what humans do is always different from what nature does in various senses and that natural law and humanity are different.
However, being based on natural law, his thinking itself is nature-like. Humanity involves human intention and therefore he urges us to always attend to it. He meant that humans tend to meddle too much in many cases, thus making humanity different from nature’s way.
“Nature” handed down to the end of the Edo Period
Thinkers at the end of the Edo Period also discussed “Providence and natural law.” Yokoi Shonan (1809~1869) and Sakuma Shozan (1811~1864) were among them.
Sakuma Shozan stated, “The degree of high and low are in the hands of heaven and earth and nature. This is written in the Book of Rites.” Here, he tried to explain, using the word “nature,” meaning “becoming self-evident”, the reason why the earth and the landscape are the way they are.
Saigo Takamori (1827~1877) states in his book Nanshu-o Ikun (Old Man Nanshu’s Last Injunctions): “The way of loyalty, filial piety, humanity, love and culture are the great foundation of government and the main road which should not be changed over eternal generations and over the entire universe. Since the road belongs to heaven and earth and nature, it is never different even in the West.”
Here is his high opinion that heaven and earth and nature itself cannot be different in the West and should be common both in Japan and in the West.
Saigo maintains that all forms of morality aim toward loyalty, filial piety, humanity, love and culture and that morality is also based on “nature.” The ultimate goal of this somewhat vague and dim idea is “Shizen-do (nature’s way).” This kind of elaborate expression makes us feel the greatness of Saigo.
Saigo never told people to follow someone or a certain religion. All he meant to discuss was the original Japanese way of thinking. He probably knew that once we begin to strictly define “nature,” the definition will very likely become ambiguous and dim, leading to nowhere.
There is a world in vast nature which no words can accurately grasp. We move as a part of this inexplicable world. This is faith or, in other words, a religion.
“Nature” in the Meiji Period and thereafter
It is simply amazing that the Japanese way of thinking I have so far explained did not change in “modern” Japan of the Meiji Period. The Japanese people did not think that “nature” exists below “Kami,” unlike Westerners.
Since thinkers prior to the Meiji Period shared the traditional view of nature which had been hitherto held by the Japanese and this fundamental thinking did not change even with the introduction of various Western ideas to Japan.
The unchangeable thing was firm worship.
The Japanese do not have the habit of making nature personified, abstract or conceptual. It is only that Japanese nature worship did not look like a religion. In fact, however, we can surely feel a firm religious conviction. I am sure that this can be called “religion”.
Aristotle’s idea of “physic”, which had already been introduced to Japan during the Edo Period, was translated into Dutch as “Naturkunde.” Japanese scholars of Dutch teachings understood this term, calling it “Kyuri-gaku” (investigation science).
Kawamoto Komin (1810~1871) explains in his book Kikai Kanran Kogi, View of Air and Sea in Wide Sense (1851) as follows:
“Hishika” is called Naturkunde in Dutch and our sage predecessor translated it into “physics”. It is the investigation of heaven and earth and all things, from the sun, the moon and stars to animals, plants, metals and stones and to explain characteristic of each…
It is not too much to say that the essence of “nature” was already understood then.
Ogata Koan (1810~1863) translated a major book written by German physician named Wilhelm Hufeland, who came to Japan. Ogata’s translation was called Fushi Keiken Ikun (Last Injunctions of Hufeland’s Experience) (1857).
At the end of the book, there is a passage called Ikai (literally meaning “admonition of medicine”) and words equivalent to “natural recovery power and natural healing power” appear there. He meant to say “naturally” by these words. Sick people recover largely because there is nature.
Sugita Genpaku (1733~1817) wrote New Book of Anatomy and he called natural healing powers “Ryono” (literally meaning “good effect”). He explains that nature resides within the human body, through which humans recover and heal. This in fact should be the basis of medical advice and physicians’ thinking. Here lies worship of belief in natural power.
“Nature” is often interpreted as a thing in objective science, but it is necessary for us to be aware of the fact that nature is itself the basis of worship.
We need to realize that what we hitherto take for common sense is based on “worship” in a sense.
Speaking of religion, we often tend to think in terms of an independent religious world, but in reality, religion involves all things, from the human body to trusting the movement of nature itself. In other words, we can live basically because we worship nature. Nature worship itself is called nature, and nature worship is the very origin of science. From this, various forms of Western medicine and science were to be introduced in the Meiji Period and thereafter.
We should not think that we came to recognize nature because we adopted Western science. Rather, the foundation of nature worship in Japan was already there and because of this foundation the Japanese were able to adopt Western thinking.
“Sokuten Kyoshi” (become one with heaven, liberated from the self) presented by Natsume Soseki and “Shasei” (sketch from life) by Masaoka Shiki
For example, Mori Ogai (1862~1922) described the universe, creation, heaven and earth, mountains and rivers as “nature” and explained that he overlapped this with Western “nature”.
As for Natsume Soseki (1867~1916), reading English literature, he described nature as depicted by British poets as heaven and earth, mountains and rivers. Soseki used the expression “Sokuten Kyoshi” (become one with heaven and liberated from the self), exactly implying “return to nature.”
Allow me to repeat. We must realize that it was not with the entry of Western concepts to Japan that science began in Japan, but that there was the way of thinking of “heaven and earth, mountains and rivers” in Japan in the first place, which came to be dubbed “nature.” This is a great indication of the Japanese people’s superb understanding and wonderful sense of choice as to what is important.
Masaoka Shiki (1867~1902) explains “Shasei-bun” (sentences of sketch from life) as follows: Sketch from life means “to reflect nature”. (Byosho Rokushaku, Sickbed of 1.8 Meters)
He emphasizes here that there is profound meaning in reflecting real nature, rather than human deeds.
When Kunikida Doppo (1871~1908) says, “Here is nature,” in his book Musashino, he means to include human life. It may well be said that he described Musashino (rural field in the Kanto or Metropolitan Region) in terms of the place where human life and nature are very close together.
Doppo also writes in Azamukazaru no Ki (Record of Nondeception), “I will compose sentences in nature.” He means to compose sentences, following nature and discovering nature. His style is to be called “naturalistic” literature.
Contemporaneously, Shiga Shigetaka (1863~1927) wrote Nihon Fukei Ron (Discourse on Japanese Landscape). This book was equally famous, written in the style using elaborate expressions and words such as “the true beauty of Japanese deep-red mountains…vast heaven and earth and all things ever repeating birth and death, and changing, concentrated the climax of the great work on Japan…the neatness and beauty of Japanese landscape is refined and indulgent,” and describing Japanese climate, ocean currents, geology, biology and landscape. While explaining the natural world geologically, he also tries to appreciate it aesthetically.
From the viewpoint of Japanese “aesthetics,” Shiga Shegetaka’s Discourse on Japanese Landscape is very suggestive, indeed. “Aesthetics” perceives “beauty” in objectively describing beauty in the form of climax of nature and subtle movement of nature.
Through observation of nature, when one notices what is usually unnoticed, it becomes “beauty.” This way of thinking is presented in the world of Japanese poetry of Tanka and Haiku. And there lies the foundation of the Japanese people’s imagination and art.
Shiga Shigetaka interprets “the natural world” in terms of “great vitality of nature” and “great excellence of nature.”
Shimazaki Toson (1872~1943) was greatly stimulated by Rousseau’s Confessions and said that he learned “to directly observe nature.” He mentioned that “jumping into the bosom of nature” or opening his eyes toward nature is the root of his novels.
Shizen to Jinsei (Nature and Human Life) written by Tokutomi Roka (1868~1927) and Sansui-bi Ron (On Beauty of Landscape) written by Kubo Tenzui (1875~1934) both mention that “beauty” is unfailingly based on observing nature. This is the Japanese people’s idea that has been kept unchanged since Manyoshu (Collection of the Ten Thousand Leaves).
This thoroughly consistent Japanese idea is a gift given by closeness with nature and also by the richness of nature in Japan. Idealization of nature constantly runs as undercurrent, which is a typical Japanese way of thinking. But this is so naturally rooted in the Japanese mind that the Japanese think it nothing of it in particular.
How painters saw nature
When Antonio Fontanesi (1818~1882) came to Japan as a hired foreign teacher and taught at an art school in Tokyo, he said to Japanese painters, “Learn solely from nature now on.” He emphasized that they should try to sketch live nature and “natural landscape other than human body and still objects.” This includes the meaning of “realism,” but more importantly he expressed his hope that Japanese artists continue to paint in the Japanese style which makes much of nature.
Among painters who died young was Aoki Shigeru (1882~1911) of the so-called “Outer Light School”. In a letter he wrote to his friend from the same prefecture, Sakamoto Shigejiro (1882~1969), he discussed “my own attitude of worship toward nature,” uttering that he believes in nature.
Kosugi Tengai (1865~1952) also said in his book Hayari Uta (Popular Song): “Nature is nature. It is not good. It is not bad. It is not beautiful. It is not ugly. Only, a certain person in certain time in a certain country catches only a tiny part of nature and arbitrarily names it good, bad, beautiful or ugly.” His words are extremely interesting.
Nature essentially exists, whether humans are aware of it or not. When people of various times describe it, it is interpreted differently, depending on who describes it. People with diverse views interpret nature, exactly in the way as the proverb “Blind people feel an elephant” goes.
In either way, there lies the greatness of nature. At the present time, the word “nature” is popularly used and the word “heaven and earth” became obsolete. But the meaning is the same.
In the postwar years, escalation of the “destruction of nature” was widely used as a slogan and a movement started with the aim of protecting the natural environment. In actuality, however, has nature been so badly destroyed? Japanese lands have not changed, with two-thirds of it remaining mountainous and forested.
After the War, we were forced to forget nature. This was due to an intentionally exaggerated ideology. Tradition and culture overlap with “nature” and “Shinto.” Even if Shinto is disavowed or ceases to be a national religion, it has not completely disappeared.
French cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908~2009) visited Japan five times and stated: “Shinto’s view of the world unites nature and super-nature, human world and animal and plant worlds and furthermore material and life (The Other Side of the Moon). This is precisely our thinking. He mentions the universality of “Shinto=nature’s way.” And this is the very base of the universality of “Shinto” in the world.
Column 8: What are the Three Divine Regalia
Speaking of the “Three Divine Regalia,” in the post-war years, the television, washing machine and refrigerator came to be called “Three Divine Regalia,” obscuring the meaning of the phrase. The word “regalia” is used as if it meant something far behind the times. But this was all because the Japanese mass media truckled to the occupational policies of General Headquarters for the Allied Powers, led by the United States, which aimed to alienate the Japanese people from Shinto by means of the newly-introduced “Constitution” and the “Shinto Order.” Schools do not say what the Three Divine Regalia are. In a general sense, this was the aim of the American occupational policies, to have the Japanese people forget their religious tradition.
The fact is, the “Three Divine Regalia” are well-succeeded symbols of the worship of the Imperial ancestors’ souls. We must not forget the fact that it has been succeeded by the Imperial Family, sovereign of Japan, assiduously over one hundred twenty-five generations. I have explained that Shinto includes nature worship, souls and spirits worship and the worship of the Imperial ancestors’ souls. And precisely, the symbol of the Imperial ancestors’ souls was the “Three Divine Regalia.”
All Japanese know that after the demise of Emperor Showa on January 7, 1989 (the 64th year of Showa), the then Crown Prince Akihito immediately became the new Emperor, following the “Constitution of Japan” and the “Imperial Household Law.” However, this was legal procedure. I wonder how many of you know that on the same day, another ceremony was performed in the Imperial Palace, according to the traditions of the Imperial Household.
After Emperor Showa died at thirty-three minutes past six in the morning, the ceremony of “Kenji tou Shokei no Gi” (the ceremony to succeed the Treasure Sword, the Divine Seal and others) was held in the same morning in the Pine Room in the Main Hall of the Imperial Palace. At the same time, the two ceremonies of “Kashiko Dokoro no Gi” (the ceremony of the place where the Divine Mirror is enshrined) and “Koreiden Shinden ni Hokoku no Gi” (the ceremony to reverentially report to the Shrine of Imperial souls) were performed, led by the head of protocol of the Imperial Household Agency.
Thus, the Divine Seal and the Treasure Sword were handed down to the new Emperor and the enthronement of the new Emperor was announced at the three shrines of Kashiko Dokoro, Korei-den and Shin-den in the Imperial Palace. These ceremonies were far more important. The “Three Divine Regalia” were actually handed down through the ceremonies.
In the Pine Room, before the Emperor with his back against the Throne, there were two Imperial Agency officials, respectfully holding boxes containing the Divine Seal and the Treasure Sword. A photo depicting this scene appeared in newspapers and some may remember the occasion. Present at the ceremony were the heads of the three main branches of the government, namely, the Prime Minister, the Director of the Supreme Court, and the Chairmen of both Houses of the Diet, and all heads of the ministries. Before them stood the incumbent Emperor and six male members of the Imperial Family. To the left of the new Emperor stood new Imperial Crown Prince Naruhito, Imperial Prince Hitachi no Miya Masahito, Imperial Prince Mikasa no Miya Tomohito and to his right stood Imperial Prince Aya no Miya (later Prince Akishino no Miya) Fumihito, Imperial Prince Mikasa no Miya Takahito and Imperial Prince Takamado no Miya Norihito.
Let me explain how the ceremony proceeded. At the start of the ceremony entered two Imperial Household Agency officials, each holding the box of the Treasure Sword and the Divine Seal in front of their heads, and one official holding the Imperial Seal and the Seal of the State in front of his bosom. These were placed on three tables set before the Emperor, facing on the left, the Divine Seal, on the right the Treasure Sword and in the center the Imperial Seal and the State Seal. The officials saluted and then carried the items away. And the Emperor and the Imperial Family members left the room. The ceremony took only four minutes.
However, this four-minute ceremony is truly important in that it completed the process of Imperial succession.
The most remarkable here is that the Divine Seal and the Sword were placed on tables higher than the one on which the Imperial Seal and the State Seal were placed, although it is clear that the latter are indispensable in the Imperial succession ceremony. In fact, when the ceremony was over and the Emperor was about to leave the room, first the Sword was carried out and then the Emperor walked out and lastly the Divine Seal was carried out of the room. In other words, the Emperor left the Pine Room, protected by the Divine Seal and the Treasure Sword. After the Emperor left, the Crown Prince and other members of the Imperial Family left in order of Imperial succession. Lastly, the Imperial Seal and the State Seal were carried out of the room by the Imperial household Agency officials.
This ceremony has been traditionally performed in order to guarantee the legitimacy of the succession of Emperors.
The Divine Seal is the curved jewel and the Treasure Sword is, of course, Kusanagi no Tsurugi (the legendary sword used by Yamato Takeru no Mikoto during his eastern campaign). Being called the “Three Divine Regalia,” there ought to be the third item, the Mirror called “Yata no Kagami.” In fact, this is the most important of the three and used to be kept in the Kashiko Dokoro (the central shrine of the three shrines in the Imperial Palace). This mirror is believed to represent the soul of Amaterasu Omikami. As the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) indicates, the mirror was given to Niginigi no Mikoto by Amaterasu Omikami to be enshrined in Ise Shrine and the mirror in the Imperial Palace is regarded as the other self. The latter was not presented during the ceremony this time because the mirror is thought to be Amaterasu Omikami herself and therefore it is enshrined deep inside the Palace, never to be moved. Moveable are the Treasure Sword and the Jewel among the Regalia which are always kept beside the Emperor. Thus, the two were presented at the ceremony this time. The Kusanagi Sword kept in the Imperial Palace is regarded as the other self of the one enshrined in Atsuta Shrine (Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture). However, more important is the fact that these Three Divine Regalia, as a whole, a symbol that represents the succession of Imperial souls, realizing the worship of the Imperial ancestors’ souls in tangible objects.
Since when did the Three Divine Regalia come to be used during the Imperial succession ceremony as a symbol of the worship of the Imperial ancestors’ souls?
As a mirror reflects the mind, Amaterasu Omikami’s soul resides in the Mirror. The Curved Jewel looks like a heart. And the Treasure Sword protects the heart.
The origin dates back to the time when Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan) were written.
“With this, eight million Kami-gami gather at the riverside of the Ameno Yasu no Kawa (Heavenly Peaceful River), have Omoikane no Kami, son of Takamimusuhi no Kami, reflect, assemble long-singing birds of the eternal world and have them sing, take up heavenly hard stone at the upstream of the Amano Yasu River, pick up iron at the Heavenly mine, look for Amatsumara, an iron caster, have Ishikoridome no Mikoto make a mirror, have Tamanooya no Mikoto make a ring of many long curved jewels, have Amenokoyane no Mikoko and Futotama Mikoto shoot male deer in the shoulder at Amanokagu-yama Mountain, take a cherry tree, divine, fasten with a large rope, dig up many sacred trees with the roots on of Amanokagu-yama mountain, put a ring of many, long curved jewels on the upper branch and the long mirror in the middle branch…”
Thus, in the divine service to have Amaterasu Omikami, who stayed inside the heavenly cave, return, Ishikoridome no Mikoto was imposed upon the task of making the long mirror and Tamanooya no Mikoto was imposed upon the task of making the ring of many long curved jewels and they were put on a divine tree. Though slightly different, almost the same description appears in Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan) as well.
In this manner, it is recorded how the mirror and the curved jewel were originally produced. Particularly interesting is that “Kagami” (mirror) is described as if it were the origin of the word “Kami.” The image reflected in the mirror may have looked like an independent soul or Kami. When Ninigi no Mikoto descended from the Heaven, the mirror was given as a token representing the soul of Amaterasu Omikami, and the curved jewel and the sword were given when he came down, accompanied by Amenokoyane no Mikoto and others.
These mythological “Three Divine Regalia,” though the real mirror, curved jewel and sword were changed and the other selves were made, have been kept for one hundred twenty-five generations up until the enthronement ceremony of the present Emperor. This is a sheer wonder. Precisely, the worship of the Imperial ancestors’ souls has been kept through handing down the symbolic “Three Divine Regalia” on the occasion of the Imperial accession, generation after generation. Apart from the respective roles of the Regalia, the mirror and the sword were made of brass and iron while the curved jewels were of jasper and agate. All were made from minerals, which are products of nature, and are succeeded in three different “forms.” In Japan, minerals and stones are thought to be eternally unchangeable and immortal.
In contrast with this, in Judaism, the origin of monotheism, as Moses says in the Old Testament, what their god gave them were words called the “Torah” written on stone tablets. When Moses said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” (Five Books of Moses or Pentateuch), what the people observe was “the words” of “the covenant” and not a concrete “lineage of the Ruler.” Therefore, the leader to succeed the “Lord” was not secured, as a result of continuous struggles for power. The idea did not occur to them at all from the beginning that a leader is to succeed symbols in terms of tangible “forms”. Judaism is a religion that prohibits “idol worship.” Depending on whether a leader or power, indispensable to the community, is guaranteed by artificial “words” or by a natural “form,” the history that follows differs. This is clearly indicated by the wide difference between Jewish history and Japanese history.
As I have mentioned in this book, nothing is more interesting than the words written in the first part of Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters):
When heaven and earth emerged for the first time and began moving, the names of Kami that came into being in Takamanohara (the Plain of High Heaven) were first, Amenominakanushi no Kami, then Takaminusuhi no Kami and next, Kamumusuhi no Kami. These three pillars of Kami were entirely independent and invisible deities. Next, the earthly world was yet young and was softly drifting like oil floating over the water surface or like jellyfish. Like reeds about to sprout, the names of Kami that were thus born were Umashiashikabihikoji no Kami and then Amenotokotachi no Kami. These two pillars of Kami were also independent deities and invisible. These five pillars of Kami were called Kotoamatsu Kami.
The interpretation of these words is the starting point in exploring Japanese religion. That is because mythology in every country is the basis of the people’s religion in that country. As I have frequently expounded in this book, “heaven and earth,” at the outset is very important. First, there was nature. Then “Takamagahara” (the Plain of High Heaven) was born and Kami-gami lived there, but none of the Kami were visible. Then they “musu” (produced) themselves. Namely, they were deities who were of nature itself. This process is akin to “asexual reproduction.” The process in which this asexual reproduction gradually shifted to reproduction requiring two persons is described in Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters). Nothing else describes the process of generation, of biological reproduction, more accurately and closer to the truth, as explained by the modern natural sciences, than Kojiki.
The worship of “Otentou-sama” (dear Heaven’s way), which believes that nature itself is Kami, is an exclusively Japanese concept. In ancient times, the Egyptians believed in Ra, the Sun Deity. However, prior to Ra, the chaotic sea of Nun, the origin of all beings, produced Atum, the God of Creation, but the “chaos” itself was not regarded as a god. Personified gods Atum and Ra became objects of worship. The present-day Egyptians are Muslims and they believe that they were created by a monotheistic god, Allah. Religions with Jewish origins, including Islam and Christianity, stress that God created nature and, moreover, nature is below humans.
Greek mythology says that there was “chaos” before the gods were born, but they did not name the original chaos after a god. The ancient Greeks did not look at the chaos positively at all but really regarded it as a weird world. Therefore, the chaos had nothing to do with the formation of the gods Gaea, the Earth god, Tartaros (the deepest part of Hades) or Eros (Love). Gaea gave birth to Uranus (Heavenly Sky) and Pontos (the Sea). Mythologies in other cultures mention the Egg of the Universe (Finnish mythology) and a Giant and the Giant’s corpse (Germanic mythology and Chinese Pangu mythology). In either case, something similar to a “God of all Creation” was conceived and god controls nature as a god does in Judaism.
The reason why I think “nature deity” is so important is that not only are we in an “ecological” era, but also I make much of the fact that in Japan nature deities have been regarded as the basis of establishing a community ever since mythological times. At first glance, it may seem that there is no linkage between nature and a social system. However, as Japanese mythology goes, first, nature emerged and during the process of evolution, Kami-gami were born and harmonized with nature. Then, Amaterasu Omikami came into being and following heaven’s instruction to make the country of Japan, Ninigi no Mikoto descended to earth, eventually leading to the earthly existence of Emperor Jinmu.
In a human community, there is naturally a ruler. However, among humans, conflicts never cease to occur. With perpetual conflict, a human community is never stable. Therefore, heaven designates a ruler who regards everyone as a member of a family. Thus, the descendants of heavenly lineage are endowed with “authority.” In turn, the lineage of those following the first ruler, who descended from heaven, was also endowed with “power” to rule the country. Being of the lineage entrusted by heaven, they are experts in ruling. Thus, the history of Japanese politics was formed. This can be said to be an example of an ideal form of national government.
In the Western world, similarity to this ideal can be found in the relationship between a “pope” and an “emperor” in the past and the relation today between the “Pope” and the king and the prime minister of each country. Indeed, the Western political system takes after that of Japan. However, the West differs in that they established an “authority” called The Church, which is not based on a lineage, and the authority of the Church always recognizes the “power” that governs the people. At present, the West denies the authority of The Church for the sake of democracy. In reality, however, “power” is given without “authority” and “The Church” retains its spiritual authority as always.
The purest form of “democracy” was supposedly “socialism,” but as we all know, in reality, all attempts at socialism ended in failure.
In Russia today, the Russian Orthodox Church has spiritual authority over the entire Russian people. On the other hand, in China, the Chinese Communist Party, being without spiritual authority, attempted to create spiritual “authority” by encouraging the worship of Mao Tse-tung–in vain. Now, the communists merely politically oppress their own people.
In post-war Japan, the dominant power at the time contrived to reject Imperial “authority” in order to cooperate with foreign countries such as the United States, but Japan nonetheless wisely retained Imperial authority. Beginning from a “natural” state, the Imperial authority created Japanese society, which continues to this day. In the meantime, Japan developed its scientific expertise and has not only become a “modernized” nation but a scientific one as well. The spirit to revere “nature” keeps the emperor system intact and at the same time encourages scientific development. This is fits nicely with “Shinto = Shizen-do (nature’s way).” It is the truly profound view that nature has “religiousness,” as Einstein characterized it, and that the universe is “something great,” as described by a Japanese scientist, that made Japan as it is today. And this view could be the way of all nations worldwide.
As far as my recollection, I was strongly impressed by the fact that, as a university student, I was forced to think in terms of Marxist materialism, whether I liked it or not. I have totally disavowed that kind of thinking, as I have explained in this book. After I chose the path of scholar, I studied cultural aspects of Western monotheism for the first half of my career and then Japanese history and culture for the latter half of my career. I have published many books that focused on Japanese history, Japanese culture and Japan within the context of global history through the publisher Ikuho-sha. I would like to say with pride that this book in particular crystallizes what I stated in my previous books.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to Mr. Okoshi Masahiro of Ikuho-sha for his tremendous assistance in the writing of this book, as expended his valuable time just for me as he was consumed as Editor-in-Chief in editing a history textbook.
October 15, 2014
Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Sendai Kyuji Honki (True Record of Old Matters of the Previous Era) and other books.
Motoori Norinaga Zenshu (Complete Collection of Motoori Norinaga). Iwanami Shoten. 1944.
Okada Soji. Nihon Shinto Shi (History of Japanese Shinto). Yoshikawa Kobunkan. 2010.
Motegi Sadasumi. Shinto to Matsuri no Dento (Shinto and Tradition of Festivals). Jinja Shimpo-sha. 2001.
Oono Susumu. Nihonjin no Kami (The Japanese People’s Kami). Shincho Bunko. 2001.
Hosaka Yukihiro. Nihon no Shizen Suhai Seiyo no Animisumu (Japanese Nature Worship Western Animism). Shin Hyoron. 2003.
Yanabu Akira. Honyaku no Shiso “Shizen” to “Nature” (Idea in Translation “Shizen” and “Nature” ). Heibon-sha. 1977.
Terao Goro. “Shizen” Gainen no Keiseishi (History of the Formation of “Nature” Concept). Nobunkyo. 2002.
Imanishi Kinji. Shizengaku no Tenkai (Development of Nature Study). Kodansha Gakujutsu Bunko. 1990.
Yawata Kazuo, and Yoshimura Masahiro. “Nihon no Matsuri” wa Koko o Miru (See Japanese Festivals at this point). Shoden-sha Shinsho. 2006.
Takase Hitoshi, and Yoshida Kazufumi, and Kumagaya Ko. Jinja wa Keikoku suru Kodai kara tsutawaru Tsunami no Messeji (Shrines Warn: Messages of Tsunami as Conveyed from the Ancient Times). Kodan-sha. 2012.
The Old Testament, The Koran, various books of the Genesis described in mythologies of various countries.
Collection of Freud’s Books (in Japanese) Vol. III. Jinbun Shoin. 1969.
Durkheim, Emile. Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (translation into Japanese), Books I and II. Iwanami Bunko. 1941.
Pope Francisco, and rabbi Abraham Skorka. On Heaven and Earth: Dialogue between the Pope and a Rabbi. (in Japanese) Miltos. 2014.
Dennett, Daniel Clement. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. (translated into Japanese) Seido-sha. 2010.
Ikeushi Satoru. Uchu-ron to Kami (Discourse on the Universe and God). Shuei-sha Shinsho. 2014
Yamaga Tetsuo. Isshinkyo no Kigen (The Origin of Monotheism). Chikuma Sensho. 2013.
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature (translated into Japanese). Kosaku-sha. 1985.
Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics (translated into Japanese). Kosaku-sha. 1980.
Dawkins, Richard, translated by Tarumi Uji. The God Delusion. Hayakawa Shobo. 2007.
Inada Tomohiro. Sanshu no Jinki (The Three Divine Regalia). Gakken Shinsho. 2007.
Tanaka Hidemichi. Nihon no Rekishi Honto wa Nani ga Sugoinoka (The History of Japan: Really, what is so great about it?) Ikuho-sha. 2012.
Tanaka Hidemichi. Nihon no Bunka Honto wa Nani ga Sugoinoka (Japanese Culture: Really, what is so great about it?) Ikuho-sha. 2013.
Tanaka Hidemichi. Sekaishi no naka no Nihon Honto wa Nani ga Sugoinoka (Japan as Viewed in the Context of World History: Really, what is so great about it?) Ikuho-sha. 2013.
Tanaka Hidemishi. Sekai Bunka Isan kara Yomitoku Sekaishi (World History as Interpreted in Terms of World Cultural Heritage). Ikuho-sha. 2013.
About the author: Mr. Tanaka Hidemichi
Mr. Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1942. He graduated from the department of French Literature as well as the department of aesthetics and art history at Tokyo University. He studied abroad at the University of Strasbourg in France and obtained his doctorate there. He is a Doctor of Literature and Professor Emeritus of Tohoku University. While working enthusiastically as an expert on the study of French and Italian art histories, he also energetically promotes the study of Japanese art, emphasizing its world-class quality and value. He contributed to the foundation of the Japan National History Society (established in 2010), and now serves as its chairman. His many books include: Nihon Bijutsu Zenshi (The Entire History of Japanese Art) (Kodan-sha), The Establishment of a New Historical View of Japan (Bungei-kan), What is “Yamato Gokoro”? (Minerva Shobo), The OSS’s “Japan Plan” that Made Japan Take the Wrong Path after the War (Tenden-sha), Japan of Beautiful “Forms” (Bushiness-sha), The History of Japan: Really, what is so great about it (Ikuho-sha), Japanese Culture: Really, what is so great about it? (Ikuho-sha), Japan as Viewed in the Context of World History: Really, what is so great about it? (Ikuho-sha) and World History as Analyzed through World Cultural Heritage (Ikuho-sha). He also co-authored Nihontsu (Japan Experts) (Ikuho-sha).
[endif] [if !supportFootnotes][endif] Shoku Nihon-gi (the New Chronicles of Japan), Entry of April, the first year of Tempyo Shoho (Heavenly Peace Winning Treasure) era (749)
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] The theory that the native Shinto deities (Kami-gami) are Japanese incarnations or manifestations (suijaku) of Indian Buddhist divinities, the original and eternal prototypes (honji).
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] A sculptor of Buddhist images who lived in the Kamakura Period. He is the fourth son of renowned Unkei and younger brother of Tankei.
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] Emperor Jinmu was the first emperor of Japan enthroned on January 1, 600 BC.
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] The theory that the native Shinto deities (Kami-gami) are Japanese incarnations or manifestations (suijaku) of Indian Buddhist divinities, the original and eternal prototypes (honji).
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] Zhu Xi school. General name in Japan for the Neo-Confucianism that developed in Sung dynasty by Zhu Xi.
[if !supportFootnotes][endif] Wang Yangming school. A system of thought expounded by the Chinese Ming Dynasty philosopher Wang Yangming.