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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

That Japan owed the inception of cremation


style="text-align: justify;">When the influence of Buddhism became supreme in Court circles, all taking of life for purposes of food was interdicted. The first prohibitory decree in that sense was issued by Temmu (673-686), and the veto was renewed in more peremptory terms by Shomu (724-748), while the Empress Shotoku (765-770) went so far as to forbid the keeping of dogs, falcons, or cormorants for hunting or fishing at Shinto ceremonials. But such vetoes were never effectually enforced. The great staple of diet was rice, steamed or boiled, and next in importance came millet, barley, fish of various kinds (fresh or salted), seaweed, vegetables, fruit (pears, chestnuts, etc.), and the flesh of fowl, deer, and wild boar. Salt, bean-sauce, and vinegar were used for seasoning. There were many kinds of dishes; among the commonest being soup (atsumono) and a preparation of raw fish in vinegar (namasu). In the reign of Kotoku (645-654), a Korean named Zena presented a milch cow to the Court, and from that time milk was recognized as specially hygienic diet. Thus, when the Daiho laws were published at the beginning of the eighth century, dairies were attached to the medical department, and certain provinces received orders to present butter (gyuraku) for the Court's use.


Very little is known of the marriage ceremony in old Japan. That there was a nuptial hut is attested by very early annals,

and from the time of the Emperor Richu (400-405) wedding presents are recorded. But for the rest, history is silent, and it is impossible to fix the epoch when a set ceremonial began to be observed.

As to funerals, there is fuller but not complete information. That a mortuary chamber was provided for the corpse pending the preparation of the tomb is shown by the earliest annals, and from an account, partly allegorical, contained in the records of the prehistoric age, we learn that dirges were sung for eight days and eight nights, and that in the burial procession were marshalled bearers of viands to be offered at the grave, bearers of brooms to sweep the path, women who prepared the viands, and a body of hired mourners. But the Kojiki, describing the same ceremony, speaks of "making merry" with the object of recalling the dead to life, as the Sun goddess had been enticed from her cave. From the days of the Emperor Bidatsu (572-585), we find the first mention of funeral orations, and although the contents of tombs bear witness to the fact that articles other than food were offered to the deceased, it is not until the burial of the Emperor's consort, Katachi, (612) that explicit mention is made of such a custom. On that occasion Tori, omi of the Abe-uji, offered to the spirit of the dead "sacred utensils and sacred garments, fifteen thousand kinds in all." Fifty years later, white is mentioned as the mourning colour, but when next (683) we hear of funerals, it is evident that their realm had been invaded by Chinese customs, for it is recorded that "officials of the third rank were allowed at their funerals one hearse, forty drums, twenty great horns, forty little horns, two hundred flags, one metal gong, and one hand-bell, with lamentation for one day." At Temmu's obsequies (687) mention is made of an "ornamented chaplet," the first reference to the use of flowers, which constitute such a prominent feature of Buddhist obsequies.

But there is no evidence that Buddhist rites were employed at funerals until the death of the retired Emperor Shomu (756). Thereafter, the practice became common. It was also to a Buddhist priest, Dosho, that Japan owed the inception of cremation. Dying in the year 700, Dosho ordered his disciples to cremate his body at Kurihara, and, two years later, the Dowager Empress Jito willed that her corpse should be similarly disposed of. From the megalithic tombs of old Japan to the little urn that holds the handful of ashes representing a cremated body, the transition is immense. It has been shown that one of the signal reforms of the Daika era was the setting of limits to the size of sepulchres, a measure which afforded to the lower classes much relief from forced labour. But an edict issued in 706 shows that the tendance of the resting place of the dead was still regarded as a sacred duty, for the edict ordered that, alike at the ancestral tombs of the uji and in the residential quarter of the common people, trees should be planted.

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