Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/222

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ages. The first characteristic I have in my mind is about the objects of Shintō worship. The second is the fact that Shintō is a religion of purity. The third and last characteristic I have to mention is about merrymaking, which plays so prominent a part in Shintō worship of all ages.

The objects which our forefathers worshiped or held in reverence were of different kinds. Among these objects ancestors were most important and are to be mentioned first. Then certain natural phenomena and objects are to be noticed, for certain natural powers, objects, and even animals were called deities and were held in reverence.

The fact that our forefathers worshiped these different kinds of objects is consistent with the meaning of the Japanese word for god—namely, kami. This word primarily means high or above, and is generally used in this primary sense. The upper half of the human body is called kami, in contrast to its lower half, which is called shimo. In our feudal times the governor of a province or district was called kami, being the head of the province or district. Even at the present time the local or central government is often called o-kami in the mouth of a country farmer. No doubt, when the term was applied to a god or gods, it was used in the same sense, meaning something standing high above human beings and possessing powers more than human. Thus a kami is simply an object of worship, and almost anything was regarded by our forefathers as an object of worship, in so far as it was mysterious and suggestive of good or evil influence. To them all their ancestors, who were wise in council or brave in war or even quick in temper, were suggestive of help or harm, and became the centers of myths and legends. To them the sun, which is the source of light and life; the moon, which does "wax and wane as if it were alive"; the fire, which is prone to anger and can consume everything in an instant; the thunder, which peals and roars, often striking men and beast to death; the mysterious principle of life, which propagates itself through and is represented by the organs of reproduction, and the like, are all wonderful and fear-inspiring. The cunning fox, which is peculiarly famous in Japan, was no doubt an object of fear and respect, while the mysterious serpent that "walks without feet" must have been a god also. Thus our forefathers could not help seeing an impressive object almost every where, and each one of these objects was called kami and was worshiped.

This fact is still more plainly seen in the absence in Shintō of any tendency toward idolatry—the tendency, I mean, to assimilate and embody the objects of worship in the visible form of man or beast. This tendency is absolutely lacking in Shintō. I freely admit that in the Koziki, the oldest book of Shintō,