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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The dwelling place of these invisible Kami


the whole, whatever may be said as to the events of early Japanese history, its dates can not be considered trustworthy before the beginning of the fifth century. There is evidently one other point to be considered in this context; namely, the introduction of writing. Should it appear that the time when the Japanese first began to possess written records coincides with the time when, according to independent research, the dates given in their annals begin to synchronize with those of Chinese and Korean history, another very important landmark will be furnished. There, is such synchronism, but it is obtained at the cost of considerations which cannot be lightly dismissed. For, although it is pretty clearly established that an event which occured at the beginning of the fifth century preluded the general study of the Chinese language in Japan and may not unreasonably be supposed to have led to the use of the Chinese script in compiling historical records, still it is even more clearly established that from a much remoter era Japan had been on terms of some intimacy with her neighbours, China and Korea, and had exchanged written communications with them, so that the art of writing was assuredly known to her long before the fifth century of the Christian era, to whatever services she applied it. This subject will present itself again for examination in more convenient circumstances.

ENGRAVING: YUKIMIDORO (Style of Stone Lantern used in Japanese Gardens)





THE mythological page of a country's history has an interest of its own apart from legendary relations; it affords indications of the people's creeds and furnishes traces of the nation's genesis. In Japan's mythology there is a special difficulty for the interpreter--a difficulty of nomenclature. It has been the constant habit of foreign writers of Japan's story to speak of an "Age of Gods" (Kami no yo). But the Japanese word Kami* does not necessarily convey any such meaning. It has no divine import. We shall presently find that of the hundreds of families into which Japanese society came to be divided, each had its Kami, and that he was nothing more than the head of the household. Fifty years ago, the Government was commonly spoken of as O Kami (the Honourable Head), and a feudatory frequently had the title of Kami of such and such a locality. Thus to translate Kami by "deity" or "god" is misleading, and as the English language furnishes no exact equivalent, the best plan is to adhere to the original expression. That plan is adopted in the following brief summary of Japanese mythology.

*Much stress is laid upon the point by that most accurate scholar, Mr. B. H. Chamberlain.


Japanese mythology opens at the beginning of "the heaven and the earth." But it makes no attempt to account for the origin of things. It introduces us at once to a "plain of high heaven," the dwelling place of these invisible* Kami, one of whom is the great central being, and the other two derive their titles from their productive attributes. But as to what they produced or how they produced it, no special indication is given. Thereafter two more Kami are born from an elementary reedlike substance that sprouts on an inchoate earth. This is the first reference to organic matter. The two newly born Kami are invisible like their predecessors, and like them are not represented as taking any part in the creation. They are solitary, unseeable, and functionless, but the evident idea is that they have a more intimate connexion with cosmos than the Kami who came previously into existence, for one of them is named after the reed-shoot from which he emanated, and to the other is attributed the property of standing eternally in the heavens.

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