View Full Version : In the land of the kami

03-15-2010, 01:58 PM
This is a fascinating article on the native religion of Japan, shinto.


In the land of the kami

For thousands of years, the people of these islands have shared them with countless spirits inhabiting everything a sensibility at the core of what it means to be Japanese

Special to The Japan Times


In its pristine form as distinct from what the state and scholars like Norinaga made of it from time to time it has no gods more exalted than kami, no myths that transcend childishness, no charismatic founder, no sacred texts, no art, scarcely any notion of good and evil, no morals, no ethics, no punishment, no concept of personal responsibility, of the soul, of immortality.

There's no human or animal sacrifice either, inseparable though these expressions of cosmic terror generally are from mankind's dawning religious consciousness.

Is it even a religion? Ono, a noted Shintoist scholar, calls it "more than a religious faith," but one could just as easily call it less. "It is an amalgam," Ono continues, "of attitudes, ideas, and ways of doing things that through two millenniums and more have become an integral part of the way of the Japanese people."

It was in the air Japan breathed. It never even had a name until Buddhism Butsudo, the "Way of the Buddha" came along and presented something to contrast it to. Hence Shinto, the "way of the kami," a word combining shin, another reading of the kanji character for kami, and to, which means "way."



Apostle of the past and unconscious herald of the future, Norinaga in 1771 wrote: "(The Sun Goddess) is without peer in the whole universe, casting her light to the very ends of heaven and earth and for all time. There is not a single country in the world which does not receive her beneficent illuminations. . . . This goddess is the splendor of all splendors. However, foreign countries, having lost the ancient tradition of the Divine Age, do not know the meaning of revering this goddess."

They were, of course, to learn, though Norinaga in his own day seemed more wistful than prophetic. Long relegated to an official netherworld, Shinto under the 1868 Meiji Imperial Restoration was abruptly adopted as the state cult. Shinto myths, taught in schools as historical fact, propelled Japan first into the most intensive modernization the world had ever seen, then headlong into the most destructive war the world has ever known.

The curtain came down on state Shinto in December 1945, its abolition decreed under the Occupation by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers "in order," reads a SCAP memorandum to the Japanese government, "to prevent recurrence of the perversion of Shinto theory and beliefs into militaristic and ultranationalistic propaganda designed to delude the Japanese people and lead them into wars of aggression."

There remains to this day shrine Shinto unperverted Shinto, we might call it at the heart of which are Japan's ongoing wealth of timeless festivals timeless in two senses of the word: timelessly ancient, timelessly eternal.


The entire article is at the above link posted again here,


03-15-2010, 10:07 PM
I read a book by one of the first missionaries to reach Japan in perhaps the 1600s, I believe the author was Joao Rodrigues, and the book was titled "This Island of Japon". It was interesting to me.

I looked into Japanese history some years ago, and I believe they have a much different mode of thought than westerners and even from neighboring Asian peoples.

I'm not going to toss out a long winded spiel on what I remember, but my conclusion is that they are a product of their relative isolation as an island people; a harshly rigid master and subject social system which enforced unquestioning loyalty and obedience even to willing self inflicted death, and the means native and imported to make bearable and even beautiful a life in which one couldn't share his true thoughts with closest friends while coping with a pitiless medieval police state, as well as a virtual death cult spanning over many centuries accompanying powerful clans seeking supremacy.

It was a distorted form of Bushido, way of the warrior, which made the Japanese such a formidable foe in the Pacific.

03-16-2010, 01:34 PM
Jesuit missionaries don't have anything wholesome to say about anything at all.