1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Japan/07 Religion



The primitive religion of Japan is known by the name of Shintō, which signifies “the divine way,” but the Japanese maintain that this term is of comparatively modern application. The term Shintō being Shintō. obviously of Chinese origin, cannot have been used in Japan before she became acquainted with the Chinese language. Now Buddhism did not reach Japan until the 6th century, and a knowledge of the Chinese language had preceded it by only a hundred years. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the primitive religion of Japan had no name, and that it did not begin to be called Shintō until Buddhism had entered the field. The two creeds remained distinct, though not implacably antagonistic, until the beginning of the 9th century, when they were welded together into a system of doctrine to which the name Ryōbu-Shintō (dual Shintō) was given. In this new creed the Shintō deities were regarded as avatars of Buddhist divinities, and thus it may be said that Shintō was absorbed into Buddhism. Probably that would have been the fate of the indigenous creed in any circumstances, for a religion without a theory as to a future state and without any code of moral duties could scarcely hope to survive contact with a faith so well equipped as Buddhism in these respects. But Shintō, though absorbed, was not obliterated. Its beliefs survived; its shrines survived; its festivals survived, and something of its rites survived also.

Shintō, indeed, may be said to be entwined about the roots of Japan’s national existence. Its scripture—as the Kojiki must be considered—resembles the Bible in that both begin with the cosmogony. But it represents the gods as peopling the newly created earth with their own offspring instead of with human beings expressly made for the purpose. The actual work of creation was done by a male deity, Izanagi, and a female deity, Izanami. From the right eye of the former was born Amaterasu, who became goddess of the sun; from his left eye, the god of the moon; and from his nose, a species of Lucifer. The grandson of the sun goddess was the first sovereign of Japan, and his descendants have ruled the land in unbroken succession ever since, the 121st being on the throne in 1909. Thus it is to Amaterasu (the heaven-illuminating goddess) that the Japanese pay reverence above all other deities, and it is to her shrine at Ise that pilgrims chiefly flock.

The story of creation, as related in the Kojiki, is obviously based on a belief that force is indestructible, and that every exercise of it is productive of some permanent result. Thus by the motions of the creative spirit there spring into existence all the elements that go to make up the universe, and these, being of divine origin, are worshipped and propitiated. Their number becomes immense when we add the deified ghosts of ancestors who were descended from the gods and whose names are associated with great deeds. These ancestors are often regarded as the tutelary deities of districts, where they receive special homage and where shrines are erected to them. The method of worship consists in making offerings and in the recital of rituals (norito). Twenty-seven of these rituals were reduced to writing and embodied in a work called Engishiki (927). Couched in antique language, these liturgies are designed for the dedication of shrines, for propitiating evil, for entreating blessings on the harvest, for purification, for obtaining household security, for bespeaking protection during a journey, and so forth. Nowhere is any reference found to a future state of reward or punishment, to deliverance from evil, to assistance in the path of virtue. One ceremonial only is designed to avert the consequences of sin or crime; namely, the rite of purification, which, by washing with water and by the sacrifice of valuables, removes the pollution resulting from all wrong-doing. Originally performed on behalf of individuals, this ō-barai ultimately came to be a semi-annual ceremony for sweeping away the sins of all the people.

Shintō is thus a mixture of ancestor-worship and of nature-worship without any explicit code of morals. It regards human beings as virtuous by nature; assumes that each man’s conscience is his best guide; and while believing in a continued existence beyond the grave, entertains no theory as to its pleasures or pains. Those that pass away become disembodied spirits, inhabiting the world of darkness (yomi-no-yo) and possessing power to bring sorrow or joy into the lives of their survivors, on which account they are worshipped and propitiated. Purity and simplicity being essential characteristics of the cult, its shrines are built of white wood, absolutely without decorative features of any kind, and fashioned as were the original huts of the first Japanese settlers. There are no graven images—a fact attributed by some critics to ignorance of the glyptic art on the part of the original worshippers—but there is an emblem of the deity, which generally takes the form of a sword, a mirror or a so-called jewel, these being the insignia handed by the sun goddess to her grandson, the first ruler of Japan. This emblem is not exposed to public view: it is enveloped in silk and brocade and enclosed in a box at the back of the shrine. The mirror sometimes prominent is a Buddhist innovation and has nothing to do with the true emblem of the creed.

From the 9th century, when Buddhism absorbed Shintō, the two grew together so intimately that their differentiation seemed hopeless. But in the middle of the 17th century a strong revival of the indigenous faith was effected by the efforts of a group of illustrious scholars and politicians, at whose head stood Mabuchi, Motoori and Hirata. These men applied themselves with great diligence and acumen to reproduce the pure Shintō of the Kojiki and to restore it to its old place in the nation’s reverence, their political purpose being to educate a spirit of revolt against the feudal system which deprived the emperor of administrative power. The principles thus revived became the basis of the restoration of 1867; Shintō rites and Shintō rituals were readopted, and Buddhism fell for a season into comparative disfavour, Shintō being regarded as the national religion. But Buddhism had twined its roots too deeply around the heart of the people to be thus easily torn up. It gradually recovered its old place, though not its old magnificence, for its disestablishment at the hands of the Meiji government robbed it of a large part of its revenues.

Buddhism entered China at the beginning of the Christian era, but not until the 4th century did it obtain any strong footing. Thence, two centuries later (522), it reached Japan through Korea. The reception extended to it was Buddhism. not encouraging at first. Its images and its brilliant appurtenances might well deter a nation which had never seen an idol nor ever worshipped in a decorated temple. But the ethical teachings and the positive doctrines of the foreign faith presented an attractive contrast to the colourless Shintō. After a struggle, not without bloodshed, Buddhism won its way. It owed much to the active patronage of Shōtoku taishi, prince-regent during the reign of the empress Suiko (593-621). At his command many new temples were built; the country was divided into dioceses under Buddhist prelates; priests were encouraged to teach the arts of road-making and bridge-building, and students were sent to China to investigate the mysteries of the faith at its supposed fountain-head. Between the middle of the 7th century and that of the 8th, six sects were introduced from China, all imperfect and all based on the teachings of the Hinayana system. Up to this time the propagandists of the creed had been chiefly Chinese and Korean teachers. But from the 8th century onwards, when Kiōto became the permanent capital of the empire, Japanese priests of lofty intelligence and profound piety began to repair to China and bring thence modified forms of the doctrines current there. It was thus that Dengyō daishi (c. 800) became the founder of the Tendai (heavenly tranquillity) sect and Kōbō daishi (774-834) the apostle of the Shingon (true word). Other sects followed, until the country possessed six principal sects in all with thirty-seven sub-sects. It must be remembered that Buddhism offers an almost limitless field for eclecticism. There is not in the world any literary production of such magnitude as the Chinese scriptures of the Mahayana. “The canon is seven hundred times the amount of the New Testament. Hsüan Tsang’s translation of the Prajna paramita is twenty-five times as large as the whole Christian Bible.”

It is natural that out of such a mass of doctrine different systems should be elaborated. The Buddhism that came to Japan prior to the days of Dengyō daishi was that of the Vaipulya school, which seems to have been accepted in its entirety. But the Tendai doctrines, introduced by Dengyō, Iikaku and other fellow-thinkers, though founded mainly on the Saddharma pundarika, were subjected to the process of eclecticism which all foreign institutions undergo at Japanese hands. Dengyō studied it in the monastery of Tientai which “had been founded towards the close of the 6th century of our era on a lofty range of mountains in the province of Chehkiang by the celebrated preacher Chikai” (Lloyd, “Developments of Japanese Buddhism,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. xxii.), and carrying it to Japan he fitted its disciplinary and meditative methods to the foundations of the sects already existing there.

This eclecticism was even more marked in the case of the Shingon (true word) doctrines, taught by Dengyō’s illustrious contemporary, Kōbō daishi, who was regarded as the incarnation of Vairocana. He led his countrymen, by a path almost wholly his own, from the comparatively low platform of Hinayana Buddhism, whose sole aim is individual salvation, to the Mahayana doctrine, which teaches its devotee to strive after perfect enlightenment, not for his own sake alone, but also that he may help his fellows and intercede for them. Then followed the Jōdo (Pure Land) sect, introduced in 1153 by a priest, Senku, who is remembered by later generations as Hōnen shōnin. He taught salvation by faith ritualistically expressed. The virtue that saves comes, not from imitation of and conformity to the person and character of the saviour Amida, but from blind trust in his efforts and ceaseless repetition of pious formulae. It is really a religion of despair rather than of hope, and in that respect it reflects the profound sympathy awakened in the bosom of its teacher by the sorrows and sufferings of the troublous times in which he lived.

A favourite pupil of Hōnen shōnin was Shinran (1173-1262). He founded the Jōdo Shinshū (true sect of jōdo), commonly called simply Shinshū and sometimes Monto, which subsequently became the most influential of Japanese sects, with its splendid monasteries, the two Hongwana-ji in Kiōto. The differences between the doctrines of this sect and those of its predecessors were that the former “divested itself of all metaphysics”; knew nothing of a philosophy of religion, dispensed with a multiplicity of acts of devotion and the keeping of many commandments; did not impose any vows of celibacy or any renunciation of the world, and simply made faith in Amida the all in all. In modern days the Shinshū sect has been the most progressive of all Buddhist sects and has freely sent forth its promising priests to study in Europe and America. Its devotees make no use of charms or spells, which are common among the followers of other sects.

Anterior by a few years to that introduction of the Shinshū was the Zen sect, which has three main divisions, the Rinzai (1168), the Sōtō (1223) and the Obaku (1650). This is essentially a contemplative sect. Truth is reached by pure contemplation, and knowledge can be transmitted from heart to heart without the use of words. In that simple form the doctrine was accepted by the Rinzai believers. But the founders of the Sōtō branch—Shōyo taishi and Butsuji zenshi—added scholarship and research to contemplation, and taught that the “highest wisdom and the most perfect enlightenment are attained when all the elements of phenomenal existence are recognized as empty, vain and unreal.” This creed played an important part in the development of Bushidō, and its priests have always been distinguished for erudition and indifference to worldly possessions.

Last but not least important among Japanese sects of Buddhism is the Nichiren or Hokke, called after its founder, Nichiren (1222-1282). It was based on the Saddharma pundarika, and it taught that there was only one true Buddha—the moon in the heavens—the other Buddhas being like the moon reflected in the waters, transient, shadowy reflections of the Buddha of truth. It is this being who is the source of all phenomenal existence, and in whom all phenomenal existence has its being. The imperfect Buddhism teaches a chain of cause and effect; true Buddhism teaches that the first link in this chain of cause and effect is the Buddha of original enlightenment. When this point has been reached true wisdom has at length been attained. Thus the monotheistic faith of Christianity was virtually reached in one God in whom all creatures “live, move and have their being.” It will readily be conceived that these varied doctrines caused dissension and strife among the sects professing them. Sectarian controversies and squabbles were nearly as prominent among Japanese Buddhists as they were among European Christians, but to the credit of Buddhism it has to be recorded that the stake and the rack never found a place among its instruments of self-assertion. On the other hand, during the wars that devastated Japan from the 12th to the end of the 16th century, many of the monasteries became military camps, and the monks, wearing armour and wielding glaives, fought in secular as well as religious causes.

The story of the first Christian missionaries to Japan is told elsewhere

(see § VIII. Foreign Intercourse). Their work suffered an interruption for more than 200 years until, in 1858, almost simultaneously with the conclusion of the Christianity in Modern Japan. treaties, a small band of Catholic fathers entered Japan from the Riūkiū islands, where they had carried on their ministrations since 1846. They found that, in the neighbourhood of Nagasaki, there were some small communities where Christian worship was still carried on. It would seem that these communities had not been subjected to any severe official scrutiny. But the arrival of the fathers revived the old question, and the native Christians, or such of them as refused to apostatize, were removed from their homes and sent into banishment. This was the last example of religious intolerance in Japan. At the instance of the foreign representatives in Tōkyō the exiles were set at liberty in 1873, and from that time complete freedom of conscience existed in fact, though it was not declared by law until the promulgation of the constitution in 1889. In 1905 there were 60,000 Roman Catholic converts in Japan forming 360 congregations, with 130 missionaries and 215 teachers, including 145 nuns. These were all European. They were assisted by 32 Japanese priests, 52 Japanese nuns, 280 male catechists and 265 female catechists and nurses. Three seminaries for native priests existed, together with 58 schools and orphanages and two lepers’ homes. The whole was presided over by an

archbishop and three bishops.
The Anglican Church was established in Japan in 1859 by two

American clergymen who settled in Nagasaki, and now, in conjunction with the Episcopal Churches of America and Canada, it has missions collectively designated Nihon Sei-Kōkai. There are 6 bishops—2 American and 4 English—with about 60 foreign and 50 Japanese priests and deacons, besides many foreign lay workers of both sexes and Japanese catechists and school teachers. The converts number 11,000. The Protestant missions include Presbyterian (Nihon Kirisuto Kyokai), Congregational (Kumi-ai), Methodist, Baptist and the Salvation Army (Kyusei-gun). The pioneer Protestant mission was founded in 1859 by representatives of the American Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches. To this mission belongs the credit of having published, in 1880, the first complete Japanese version of the New Testament, followed by the Old Testament in 1887. The Presbyterians, representing 7 religious societies, have over a hundred missionaries; 12,400 converts; a number of boarding schools for boys and girls and day schools. The Congregational churches are associated exclusively with the mission of the American board of commissioners for foreign missions. They have about 11,400 converts, and the largest Christian educational institution in Japan, namely, the Dōshisha in Kiōto. The Methodists represent 6 American societies and 1 Canadian. They have 130 missionaries and 10,000 converts; boarding schools, day schools, and the most important Christian college in Tōkyō, namely, the Awoyama Gaku-in. The Baptists represent 4 American societies; have 60 missionaries, a theological seminary, an academy for boys, boarding schools for girls, day schools and 3500 converts. The Salvation Army, which did not enter Japan until 1895, has organized 15 corps, and publishes ten thousand copies of a fortnightly magazine, the War Cry (Toki no Koe). Finally, the Society of Friends, the American and London Religious Tract Societies and the Young Men’s Christian Association have a number of missions. It will be seen from the above that the missionaries in Japan, in the space of half a century (1858 to 1908), had won 110,000 converts, in round numbers. To these must be added the Orthodox Russian Church, which has a fine cathedral in Tōkyō, a staff of about 40 Japanese priests and deacons and 27,000 converts, the whole

presided over by a bishop. Thus the total number of converts

becomes 137,000. In spite of the numerous sects represented in

Japan there has been virtually no sectarian strife, and it may be said of the Japanese converts that they concern themselves scarcely at all about the subtleties of dogma which divide European Christianity. Their tendency is to consider only the practical aspects of the faith as a moral and ethical guide. They are disposed, also, to adapt the creed to their own requirements just as they adapted

Buddhism, and this is a disposition which promises to grow.