Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/223

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SHINTŌ, THE OLD RELIGION OF JAPAN.

there is a very strong tendency to identify most of the objects of Shintō worship with the ancestors of the imperial and other great families; but at the same time I firmly assert that among the Japanese of all ages there seems to have been no tendency to represent their objects of worship in the visible form of man or beast. Even the idea that an object of worship must be embodied or represented visibly is unknown to the Japanese mind. If any such idea or tendency is found at present, it is doubtless due to foreign influences, especially that of Buddhism. To the pure Japanese mind, an idol a simulacrum of god—was unnecessary. Whether the absence of this tendency speaks favorably or unfavorably as to the place of Shintō in the development of religious consciousness in general, is not the point I am aiming at. My point is this: This absence of the tendency toward idolatry in Shintō indicates the absence therein of a more general tendency to assimilate the different kinds of the objects of worship into one type or one kind of objects. To the Japanese mind it was not incongruous or inconsistent to worship all sorts of objects. If certain animals were called kami, certain trees were also called kami, and both were worshiped. If certain ancestors were called kami, the sun and the moon were also called kami, and both were worshiped. Just as the meaning of the word kami is vague and comprehensive, so the objects of Shintō worship were diverse and heterogeneous.

As to the worship of "Heaven" in the sense of one active and benevolent principle of Nature, which has been said to be the essence of Shintō, there is no proof of its existence in our old historical records, the earliest of which was compiled in the beginning of the eighth century of the Christian era. Such an abstract and refined conception of Nature and its God no one can expect from any of the primitive peoples of the world. However, even in the "ancient period" of Shintō there was not wanting a certain tendency to make one deity—specially Amaterasu, the sun-goddess—supreme over all other deities. Later, when Chinese philosophy made its way to Japan and began to assert its influence, our forefathers probably for the first time came to have some conception of Heaven as the all-present and all-seeing, and as the punisher of the wicked and the rewarder of the good.

The physical purity or cleanliness of the Japanese people is unique and almost proverbial. The reason for this fact is found in the very nature of Shintō, which is a religion of purity, and which demands the utmost physical purity and cleanliness of its believers. Its rites and ceremonies for avoiding all sorts of uncleanness are numerous. For example, blood was considered to be unclean, and so anything stained with blood was also unclean. Thus the woman in her monthly courses or for some time before