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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

On which he built the temple of Kume dera


was originated a theory which enabled Buddhism and Shinto to walk hand in hand for a thousand years, the theory that the Shinto Kami are avatars of the Buddha. Some historians contend that this idea must have been evolved and accepted before the maturity of the project for casting the colossal image at Nara, and that the credit probably belongs to Gembo; others attribute it to the immortal priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi), who is said to have elaborated the doctrine in the early years of the ninth century. Both seem wrong.


Side by side with the vigorous Buddhism of the Nara epoch, strange superstitions obtained currency and credence. Two may be mentioned as illustrating the mood of the age. One related to an ascetic, En no Ubasoku, who was worshipped by the people of Kinai under the name of En no Gyoja (En the anchorite). He lived in a cave on Katsuragi Mount for forty years, wore garments made of wistaria bark, and ate only pine leaves steeped in spring water. During the night he compelled demons to draw water and gather firewood, and during the day he rode upon clouds of five colours. The Kami Hitokotonushi, having been threatened by him for neglecting his orders, inspired a man to accuse him of treasonable designs, and the Emperor Mommu sent soldiers to arrest him. But as he was able to evade them by recourse to his art of flying, they apprehended his mother in his stead, whereupon he at once gave

himself up. In consideration of his filial piety his punishment was commuted to exile on an island off the Izu coast, and in deference to the Imperial orders he remained there quietly throughout the day, but devoted the night to flying to the summit of Mount Fuji or gliding over the sea. This En no Gyoja was the founder of a sect of priests calling themselves Yamabushi.

The second superstition relates to one of the genii named Kume. By the practice of asceticism he obtained supernatural power, and while riding one day upon a cloud, he passed above a beautiful girl washing clothes in a river, and became so enamoured of her that he lost his superhuman capacities and fell at her feet. She became his wife. Years afterwards it chanced that he was called out for forced labour, and, being taunted by the officials as a pseudo-genius, he fasted and prayed for seven days and seven nights. On the eighth morning a thunder-storm visited the scene, and after it, a quantity of heavy timber was found to have been moved, without any human effort, from the forest to the site of the projected building. The Emperor, hearing of this, granted him forty-five acres, on which he built the temple of Kume-dera.

Such tales found credence in the Nara epoch, and indeed all through the annals of early Japan there runs a well-marked thread of superstition which owed something of its obtrusiveness to intercourse with Korea and China, whence came professors of the arts of invisibility and magic. A thunder deity making his occasional abode in lofty trees is gravely spoken of in the context of a campaign, and if at one moment a river is inhabited by a semi-human monster, at another a fish formed like a child is caught in the sea. There is, of course, an herb of longevity--"a plant resembling coral in shape, with clustering leaves and branches; some red, others purple, others black, others golden coloured, and some changing their colours in the four seasons." In the reign of the Empress Kogyoku, witches and wizards betray the people into all sorts of extravagances; and a Korean acolyte has for friend a tiger which teaches him all manner of wonderful arts, among others that of healing any disease with a magic needle. Later on, these and cognate creations of credulity take their appropriate places in the realm of folk-lore, but they rank with sober history in the ancient annals. In this respect Japan did not differ from other early peoples.

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