Sunday, March 3, 2013

From Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion

In the interests of keeping this blog's classifications to a minimum, I am including the following under the title "Excerpts" even though it is not in the book. In was in fact edited out before the book went to press in favor of using the space for other entries. So one could say it is an "excerpt wannabe."

It is a rather long entry which I am splitting into three parts. Hopefully, the intro adequately explains the  reason for the entry and the contents.

Here is Shinto in Ancient Texts  Part 1

Shinto in Ancient Texts (prior to the year A.D.1000)
The Nihon shoki
(image from the website of Nara National Museum)
The late introduction of writing skills to Japan (circa 400) is the reason we must rely on archeological evidence and Chinese documents up until the first surviving texts of Japanese myth, religion, poetry and history from the early eighth century. Writing and reading Chinese began about mid-sixth century with the importation of texts and scholars who could teach them. The writing system was slowly absorbed and its characters adapted to Japanese speech and meaning. While texts from the early seventh century are referred to in later works, the earliest authenticated existing native texts are from the early eighth century (although these exist not in the original, but in the form of thirteenth to fourteenth century copies). Thus, whenever the topic of Shinto is razed in a religious, historical, or lexical context, the texts in this list are inevitably quoted.
   While it is likely that the so-called Yamato clans' consolidation of power was already beginning in the third century, the extension of centralized power over most of Kyushu and western and eastern Honshu continued apace with the adoption of the Chinese writing system, the incorporation of Buddhism as personal protector of the Emperor and of the nation, trade with the continent, Chinese style government, and the building of increasingly grand capitals from Asuka, to Fujiwarakyo, to Heijokyo (Nara), to Heiankyo (Kyoto). As recorded in the Kojiki, the third century king, Sujin, was called the “founder of the country” (although his reign is artificially assigned to 97-30B.C. and, despite the above reference, he is recorded as the tenth emperor). If, as is currently believed, his reign was in the early third century, it may have coincided with the visit by Chinese officials (as recorded in the Wei Chronicles), and with what they apparently believed was the reign of a queen they called Himiko. By the later half of the fifth century, Emperor Yuryaku was (posthumously) called “Great King Who Governs All Under Heaven,” probably reflecting another milestone in the consolidation of centralized power. 
   Attempts by the “center” to take control over the “periphery” continued to gain traction as time went on. But powerful clans were constantly struggling for position, and the supremacy of one over all was in constant flux. As part of the effort to retain power, the stability of royal succession became increasingly important. In the early sixth century, a succession crisis seems to have emerged when Yuryaku died and an overabundance of princes from his many marriages of convenience, vied for the thrown. 
   It took several short reigns and about thirty years before a new emperor, Keitai (r.507 to 531 or possibly to 518), a distant relative of Ojin, was brought in from one of the related northern clans. It may be about this time that the legend of Emperor Jinmu took shape amongst the ruling clans. When the story is eventually committed to paper in the eighth century, the reign of this mythological first emperor is artificially pushed back in time to 660B.C., in order to enhance the prestige of the Imperial lineage. It is probably about this time that the emperor is linked to direct descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu. 
   It seems that eventually myths emerged about the origins of the Japanese ruler that were woven into a continuous story. It begins with the beginning of heaven and earth and the names of the various kami who created and ruled. It emerges that one kami, the sun goddess Amaterasu omikami, is superior to the others. This kami was likely an adoption by the ruling class of a widespread worship of a sun gods and goddesses (or of the sun itself) that existed among a number of clans. The story further developed that this sun goddess was the ancestor of the royal family, when the grandchild of the sun goddess descends from heaven to earth on to a mountaintop in Southern Kyushu. This aspect of the story is thought to be an imported one, since similar myths are found throughout Asia. 
   In this new allegory, allied clan's ujigami (tutelary kami) were identified as those who were trusted by Amaterasu to protect the heavenly descendants. The great impetus for this historical and mythical consolidation came from Emperor Tenmu (r.672-86) and Empress Jito (r.686-697). Tenmu came to the throne by force and needed divine assistance to legitimize his reign. His older brother, Emperor Tenji (r.661-72) had likewise come to power by overthrowing the Soga clan. The Soga and Shotoku Taishi had ushered in Buddhism and Chinese-style government.  Tenji too passed Chinese-style laws to consolidate and strengthen his government, and Tenmu did likewise. But, power and legislation aside, real dynastic legitimacy came to rest on firmly establishing the emperor's divinity and his link to heaven. It is around Tenmu's time that the term “Tenno” (“Heavenly Sovereign”) is first applied to the emperor.
   Another impetus for establishing divine legitimacy was the fall of Paekche, the ancient Korean Kingdom with the closest ties to Japan, in 672, and the loss of territories on the Korean Peninsula. Tenmu had reason to fear the combined strength of the victors, the Kingdom of Silla, and the Tang Chinese who supported them. He was anxious to show Japan as a strong, unified country, with an ancient pedigree. He revived previous attempts to create national histories, which culminated in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki under the reign of granddaughter Empress Gensho (r. 715-24). Through these two writings and others listed below, the local worship of farmers and fisherman, weavers and warriors, gradually takes on the structure of a national mythology of the origins of the kami, the ruling class, and of Japan itself. The list below is by no means complete but provides much of the literary basis of discussion related to ancient Japanese history and religion. Later theories and permutations, such as those of the Watarai of the Outer shrine of Ise, Yoshida Shinto, and the work of the Kokugaku and Nativist Scholars, are all based on these works. The first writings relative to Japan are all of foreign origin and primarily historical accounts:

   The Wei Chronicles  (Wei-zhi; A.D.280-297) - a first hand report by an emissary from the Wei Dynasty to Japan (the exact location visited is a matter of speculation) in the years 239-248. It exists as a part of the Chronicles of the Three Dynasties (Sanguozhi) and covers the years 221 to 265. It is an important source of information on the “Kingdom of Wa” (an ancient Japanese kingdom) and its report of the so-called Shaman Queen Himiko and her successors. 
   Kwanggaet'o stele (A.D.414) - a stone monument to Kwanggaet'o, the ruler of one of the ancient Kingdoms of Korea, Koguryeo, from A.D.391-413. Certain inscriptions on this stone referring to the Wa and their contentious relations with Silla and Koguryeo (parts of present day South and North Korea and China) are the source of some controversy between Japanese and Korean historians. Not directly connected to Shinto but only an important verification that the ancient Japanese had crossed into Korea at least as early as the late fourth century.
   Hou Han-shu (Book of the Later Han; A.D.445) - another Chinese history compiled mostly from other works (including the Wei Chronicles), covers the years A.D.25 to 220 and adds some additional information about the country of Yamadai (Yamaichi) and the King of Wa. 
   Song shu (A.D.488) - a Chinese history that contains accounts of the “Five Kings of Wa,” and the titles granted them by China between the years 438 and 502. Provides valuable clues to Japanese history that help to verify some later historical accounts and disprove others.
   Buddhist sutras and Chinese philosophy (from A.D.538 on or possibly earlier) - the usual date given for Buddhism's introduction to Japan begins with a gift of a statue of the Buddha and a sutra written in Chinese. By the reign of Emperor Shomu (r.724-49), some 200 years later, a sutra-copying department was created in the government. The introduction of Buddhism and writing transformed Japan forever. Other ancient Chinese texts transformed the ruling philosophy of the fledgling Japanese government and provided a model for everything from governance, to city building, to court life and the role of the King. Such texts as the Analects of Confucius, the Book of Rites, The History of the Former Han, The Rites of Chou and many others were all available to the Japanese court, along with interpreters and teachers, from the mid-sixth century on. They provide much of the structure and many of the concepts that inform later Japanese ideas about the role of governing and the governed. Confucianism becomes the moral underpinning of Japanese society and defines the relation of the ruler to the ruled.
   Kudara Hongi (Paekche Pon'gi; prior to A.D.700) - another Korean historical text, no longer extant, that was apparently used as reference material by the compilers of the Nihon shoki. Two other lost documents, Kudara-ki and Kudara-shinsen were also probably used at some point.

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