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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

But they are largely devoted to enumeration of Kami

justify;">Of all these rites the principal features were the recitation of rituals and the offering of various objects, edible or otherwise useful. The rituals (norito) being, in several cases, set formulas, lent themselves with special facility to oral transmission from generation to generation. It is certain that they were familiar to the compilers of the Records and the Chronicles, and they contain expressions dating from such a remote era as to have become incomprehensible before history began to be written in Japan. In the year A.D. 927, seventy-five of the norito were transcribed into a book (Yengi-shiki, or Ceremonial Law) which contains, in addition to these rituals, particulars as to the practice of the Shinto religion; as to the organization of the priesthood--which included ten virgin princesses of the Imperial family, one each for the two great temples of Watarai in Ise and Kamo in Yamashiro--and as to the Shinto shrines qualified to receive State support. These shrines totalled 3132, among which number 737 were maintained at the Emperor's charges. Considering that the nation at that time (tenth century) did not comprise more than a very few millions, the familiar criticism that the Japanese are indifferent to religion is certainly not proved by any lack of places of worship. The language of the rituals is occasionally poetic, often figurative and generally solemn,* but they are largely devoted to enumeration of Kami, to formulae of praise for past favours, to petitions for renewed assistance, and to recapitulations of the offerings made in support of these requests. As for the offerings, they comprise woven stuffs, and their raw materials, models of swords, arrows, shields, stags' antlers, hoes, fish (dried and fresh), salt, sake, and, in some cases, a horse, a cock, and a pig. In short, the things offered were essentially objects serviceable to living beings.

*The Norito of the Great Purification Service has been translated by Mr. W. G. Aston in his Japanese Literature.


The Kami may be broadly divided into two groups, namely, those originally regarded as superior beings and those elevated to that rank in consideration of illustrious deeds performed during life. Of the former group the multitudinous and somewhat heterogenous components have been supposed to suggest the amalgamation of two or more religious systems in consequence of a blending of races alien to one another. But such features may be due to survivals incidental to the highest form of nature religion, namely, anthropomorphic polytheism.

There were the numerous Kami, more or less abstract beings without any distinguishing functions, who preceded the progenitors of the Yamato race, and there was the goddess of the Sun, pre-eminent and supreme, together with deities of the Moon, of the stars, of the winds, of the rain, of fire, of water, of mountains, of mines, of fields, of the sea, of the trees, and of the grass--the last a female divinity (Kaya-no-hime). The second group those deified for illustrious services during life--furnished the tutelary divinities (uji-gami or ubusuna-Kami) of the localities where their families lived and where their labours had been performed. Their protection was specially solicited by the inhabitants of the regions where their shrines stood, while the nation at large worshipped the Kami of the first group. Out of this apotheosis of distinguished mortals there grew, in logical sequence, the practice of ancestor worship. It was merely a question of degrees of tutelary power. If the blessings of prosperity and deliverance could be bestowed on the denizens of a region by the deity enshrined there, the same benefits in a smaller and more circumscribed measure might be conferred by the deceased head of a family. As for the sovereign, standing to the whole nation in the relation of priest and intercessor with the deities, he was himself regarded as a sacred being, the direct descendant of the heavenly ancestor (Tenson).

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