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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

By the harai all offences were expiated



That the religion of ancient Japan--known as Shinto, or "the way of the gods"--had not fully emerged from therianthropic polytheism is proved by the fact that, though the deities were generally represented in human shape, they were frequently conceived as spiritual beings, embodying themselves in all kinds of things, especially in animals, reptiles, or insects. Thus, tradition relates that the Kami of Mimoro Mountain appeared to the Emperor Yuryaku (A.D. 457-459) in the form of a snake; that during the reign of the Emperor Keitai (A.D. 507-531), a local deity in the guise of a serpent interfered with agricultural operations and could not be placated until a shrine was built in its honour; that in the time of the Emperor Kogyoku, the people of the eastern provinces devoted themselves to the worship of an insect resembling a silkworm, which they regarded as a manifestation of the Kami of the Moon; that the Emperor Keiko (A.D. 71-130) declared a huge tree to be sacred; that in the days of the Empress Suiko (A.D. 593-628), religious rites were performed before cutting down a tree supposed to be an incarnation of the thunder Kami; that on the mountain Kannabi, in Izumo, there stood a rock embodying the spirit of the Kami whose expulsion from Yamato constituted the objective of Ninigi's expedition, and that prayer to it was efficacious in terminating drought, that the deity Koto-shiro-nushi became transformed into a crocodile, and that "the

hero Yamato-dake emerged from his tomb in the shape of a white swan."

Many other cognate instances might be quoted. A belief in amulets and charms, in revelations by dreams and in the efficacy of ordeal, belongs to this category of superstitions. The usual form of ordeal was by thrusting the hand into boiling water. It has been alleged that the Shinto religion took no account of a soul or made any scrutiny into a life beyond the grave. Certainly no ideas as to places of future reward or punishment seem to have engrossed attention, but there is evidence that not only was the spirit (tama) recognized as surviving the body, but also that the spirit itself was believed to consist of a rough element (am) and a gentle element (nigi), either of which predominated according to the nature of the functions to be performed; as when a nigi-tama was believed to have attached itself to the person of the Empress Jingo at the time of her expedition to Korea, while an ara-tama formed the vanguard of her forces.

Some Japanese philosophers, however--notably the renowned Motoori--have maintained that this alleged duality had reference solely to the nature of the influence exercised by a spirit on particular occasions. Shinto has no sacred canon like the Bible, the Koran, or the Sutras. Neither has it any code of morals or body of dogma. Cleanliness may be called its most prominent feature. Izanagi's lustrations to remove the pollution contracted during his visit to the nether world became the prototype of a rite of purification (misogi) which always prefaced acts of worship. A cognate ceremony was the harai (atonement). By the misogi the body was cleansed; by the harai all offences were expiated; the origin of the latter rite having been the exaction of certain penalties from Susanoo for his violent conduct towards the Sun goddess.* The two ceremonies, physical cleansing and moral cleansing, prepared a worshipper to approach the shrine of the Kami. In later times both rites were compounded into one, the misogi-harai, or simply the harai. When a calamity threatened the country or befell it, a grand harai (o-harai) was performed in atonement for the sins supposed to have invited the catastrophe. This principle of cleanliness found expression in the architecture of Shinto shrines; plain white wood was everywhere employed and ornamentation of every kind eschewed. In view of the paramount importance thus attached to purity, a celebrated couplet of ancient times is often quoted as the unique and complete canon of Shinto morality,

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