Friday, May 3, 2013

Ise Jingu and Amaterasu omikami
Shunsai Toshimasa "Iwato kagura"
courtesy of Wikipedia
As readers of this blog are well aware 2013 is the year of the shikinen sengu—the periodic rebuilding of Ise Jingu. In honor of that event I am reviewing some literature that pertains to Ise, Amaterasu and related aspects of the shrine and its worship, which have contributed to my knowledge of the subject.

In Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, I have included an eight-page entry on the shrine and its deity and I will not repeat that information here. Instead, I will try to summarize for you some interesting source materials, some of which are available online. As it is a rather big topic I will be adding to it over time, within the original posting, so please check back.

Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu
by Matsumae Takeshi
This compact but comprehensive study begins with an overview of the prevalence of sun-deities—both male and female—in Japan and Korea. The paper presents a strong case that of all the sun deities, the one which became Amaterasu of the Imperial line, was originally worshipped as the male deity Amateru by the Ama (or Amabe) clans of Ise, who were connected with fishing and the sea. He also makes a case that Sarutahiko no kami was also a solar deity of the Ise area. A strong case is made for the possibility that Amaterasu was therefore originally a male deity—which is one reason that an unmarried priestess was chosen to serve the deity of Ise shrine (as a wife serves a husband). He also contends that Ise shrine was most likely established during the reign of Emperor Keitai in the fifth century when the Outer Shrine (geku) was founded to worship the deity of grain, Toyouke. Apparently many Ise related incidents are recorded from this time. I have also been told—in relation to Usa Jingu in Oita—that facilities to prepare food for offering to the deity were likely created before the main shrine. If that was the case, it may be that the geku was actually established just before the naiku. At present, the order is considered to be the reverse and several hundred years apart. He also contends that the original object of worship was not the sacred mirror (yata) but the sacred pillar (shin no mihashira) and that two distinct lines of ritual developed, one based on the original rituals and one on those "imported" from Yamato. If so, this would be typical of the pattern at many of the older shrines, whereby the original deity was supplanted (but preserved in a subordanate position) by the conquering Yamato clans. Finally, he conjectures that before that adaptation of the sun deity of the Ama, the deity of the Imperial line was Takamimusubi. Though he does not go into detail about the reasons, my own research reveals that this is the prevalent view of scholars today. If you read one paper about the origins of Amaterasu, this should be it.

Online at http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/1069


Alone among Women: A Comparative Mythic Analysis of the Development of Amaterasu Theology by Matsumura Kazuo.
This is a study of the mythology of Amaterasu and the concept of the virgin goddess, which can be applied to her as well as to goddesses found throughout the world. (The study concludes with a comparison of Amaterasu and Athena). The author explains how Amaterasu was free of the perceived pollution of birth by being born of her father alone, and of herself bearing kami without sexual contact and without the birthing process. Acknowledging the role of her brother Susano-o as essential to the result, he nevertheless contrasts her with Izanami who did experience the pollution of birth and subsequently of death. He also relates how Amatarasu is given the position of expeditor between the food goddess who is slain by male gods (a Hainuwele-type myth found in many corners of the world), and the human race who receive the fruits of the food goddess through their utilization by Amaterasu (who plants received seeds to make the crops grow). He shows how the myth of food (especially rice) being received from Amaterasu is then extended to her ancestors—both the first generations to descend from heaven and to the later Emperors—through word association and ritual. I would add here that the emphasis on rice found throughout the Amaterasu myths, clearly dates the derivation from late-Jomon to early-Yayoi when rice farming became prevalent in Japan. Such dating is unintentionally but clearly contrary to the intended dating of the myths. The importance of silk is also highlighted in the mythical sequence wherein Susano-o skins a pony and tosses it into the weaving-hall of Amaterasu—the act that finally forces her to flee to the "heavenly-rock cave." The author shows how this myth is related to the origins of silk production in Japan, and how the myth is originally from fourth-century B.C. China. This is another illustration of one of the author's main premises, that the Kojiki and Nihon shoki need to be seen in the light of the cultural milieu in which they were written, in order to gain a better understanding of their meaning.

Online at http://www2.kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc/wp/cpjr/kami/matsumura.html


The Origins of the Grand Shrine of Ise and the Cult of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami
by Akima Toshio.
Utagawa Yoyokuni
courtesy of Wikipedia
In this breathtaking study of a number of primary Shinto myths, the author brings us convincingly to the conclusion that Amaterasu is the result of a combination of the deities of Yamato (especially Mount Miwa) and those of the peoples of the Ise region (where the Jingu came to be located and identified with the Emperor). In this respect, his conclusions resemble those of Matsumae Takeshi (see the summary of Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu).
   There are several important aspects of his thesis. For one thing, he relates the myths of the goddess of the undersea world which are older than those of the sun goddess (a likely scenario for people who relied on the sea for sustenance long before they became farmers). In these myths, a mortal often marries the goddess of the undersea world, after which a miracle child is born or some special powers imparted. The author relates these myths to the rituals involving "escorting" the soul of the dead Emperor to the ne no kuni under the sea (an ancient Japanese conception of the land of the dead), and relates these rituals to the Asobi-be group of female shaman/ritualists. In other words, travel to the ne no kuni was associated not only with death, but also with new life. The idea of reviving the dead is later embodied in the tale of Amaterasu and the Cave of Heaven (heavenly-rock cave), and the Chinkonsai—held at the winter solstice.
   Of all the female shaman, some of the most important were 1. the aunt of Emperor Sujin, Yamato-totobi Momoso-hime, who was said to be the wife of the kami of Mt. Miwa, Omono-nushi, as well as the person who the Chinese identified as Himiko and who is believed to be buried in the Hashihaka kofun. 2. Ame no Uzume, who danced before the Cave of Heaven and lured Amataterasu out. She later married the sun god Sarutahiko and became the progenitor of the Sarume clan who the author believes were a branch of the Asobi-be. Both Ame no Uzume and Sarutahiko were local kami of Ise. 3. Yamato-hime, who was entrusted with finding a home for Amaterasu when Emperor Sujin removed the mirror from the emperor's residence. She also became the first female shaman of Ise (saigu) and is believed to be the model for the image of Amaterasu as a female deity. The author relates how most of the sun deities that were worshiped in various parts of the country, were male deities. The typical ancient pattern was that of a female shaman, married to or serving a male deity (often of the sun).
Probably around the time of Sujin, the male emperor or a male surrogate became "married to" a female deity. The female shaman lost political power and instead took on the position of revitalizing the spirit of the emperor. Thus the goddess of the undersea world is joined by a goddess of the sun, both wedded to the Emperor, and demonstrating his dominion over land and sea. 
   The new center of the sun goddess became (at that time the most eastern port) Ise, home of the Asobi-be, Ame no Uzme, and Sarutahiko (whose position as a sun god becomes diminished). It is also interesting in this context, that Sarutahiko was considered a god of the underworld. One can easily imagine how, in the ancient mind, the sun rising "from" and descending "into" the sea (underworld), was related to the roles of the deities. 
   At the same time, the older center of Yamato worship, Mt. Miwa continued as the primary seat of the Emperor-cult and the rising economic and military power of the Yamato state, until the true emergence of Ise during the reigns of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito.
   I'm sure that, after you have read it, you will find his thesis far more convincing than my summary of it. Indeed, it is a complex web of mythologies and several readings of this important paper are required to make clear the transitions that culminated in the one settled on as it was written in Tenmu and Jito's time. This study is related to two others by the author—one on death rituals and one on the goddess of the undersea world—which I hope to review for you next.
Added: May, 18, 2013

Online at http://shinku.nichibun.ac.jp/jpub/pdf/jr/IJ0407.pdf


The Myth of the Goddess of the Undersea World and the Tale of Empress Jingu's Subjugation of Silla
by Akima Toshio.
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi "Jingu"
courtesy of Wikipedia
This study of what the author considers an older (possibly retaining elements of Jomon beliefs) and originally more important mythology than that of the sun goddess, goes somewhat beyond the main topic of this blog entry; Amaterasu omikami and Ise Jingu. But it forms part of the basis of the piece above which explains the transition from the primacy of  this mythology to that of the sun goddess. It is the third of a series of three studies by this author that I am summarizing in this blog.
   One of the primary reasons for the study was to debunk the "Horse-rider theory" of Egami Namio in which it is claimed that an invading group from Korea set up the Imperial line from about the late fourth century. But he does this, in part, by showing how myth and history are mixed in the tale of Empress Jingu. He explains his belief that the Jingu-Ojin mythology is based on the myth of the goddess of the undersea world and the world beyond the sea. Jingu is the quintessential shaman/water-woman who commands the fish in the sea, the tides, and who receives the gifts of the god of the undersea world.  The author shows how the tale of Jingu's son, Emperor Ojin, is also based on the myth of the undersea goddess (identified with the mythical Jingu) who gives birth to a child who is, in a sense, the resurrected spirit of the dead Emperor Chuai brought back from the ne no kuni beyond the sea (in this case, Korea) by the female shaman. While it is true that Japan became involved in territorial battles on the Korean peninsula and held suzerainty over certain territories, the idea that Japan conquered Silla is as ahistorical as that of Korea conquering Japan. However it is known that as commerce and political contacts increased, so too was the culture of Korea imported. This caused a revolution in Japanese technology as well as political advances that began around the time of Ojin (who may also be a mythical figure). Intermarriage with Korean royal families was also prevalent. The height of this tendency was probably during the sixth through seventh centuries when the Korean immigrant family, the Soga, dominated the Imperial Court and married their daughters to the Imperial line. Thus, in the mythology of Empress Jingu (usually called Jingu Kogo), fundamental Japanese myths are represented as history in order to deliver complicated truths in simple story form. This is as true for the tale of Empress Jingu as it is for the entire Nihon shoki.
Added: June, 1, 2013

Online at http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2513

The Songs of the Dead: Poetry, Drama, and Ancient Death Rituals of Japan
by Akima Toshio.
This study is the earliest of the three papers by this author, which I have reviewed on this page. As with The Goddess of the Undersea World it's main topic is not Amaterasu but gives additional background for the formation of the author's views on the roots of worship of Amaterasu at Ise. It is also an important study of death rituals which are at the very heart of native Japanese religious practices.
The study is centered on poetry (more properly referred to as uta or "songs") which are found in the KojikiNihon shokiManyoshu and other ancient writings. The particular focus is those songs which the author considers sung to the dead as they depart for the other world, or songs sung by the dead themselves. He uses evidence of references in the poems—such as to the unasaka; the imagined slope at the end of the horizon that carried ships to the underworld—to reinforce his theories of the relation between the land of the dead, the sea, foreign countries, and the concept of bringing the dead back to life, which are an integral part of early Japanese mythology. He also uses the rituals for the dead to connect the dots between the ancient female shaman of the Asobi-be who conducted such singing and dancing rituals, to the Sarume, to the nenbuttsu odori, to the Hijiwake family who were the male successors of the Asobi-be, to the Kanae and Hosho families of No performers and the evolution of mugen no as a combination of ancient death rituals with stories about how those ritual developed.
Another breathtaking work of detection to rival the fiction of Dan Brown.
Added: June, 15, 2013

Online at http://www.jstor.org, which requires a free registration.


The Myth of the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson
by Matsumae Takeshi
This work examines the myth of the descent of the heavenly grandchild to a mountaintop in Kyshu and the mythological beginnings of the Imperial line. In so doing the author makes a point, which has been made in a number of other works and is widely acknowledged by now; myth often develops in order to explain the "divine" origins of already established rituals and practices. In this case he sets out to establish that the heavenly descent of Prince Hononinigi (usually shortened to Ninigi no mikoto), whose name means "abundant rice ears" and who seems to originally be a rice spirit, is a mythical explanation of the roots and rituals of two ceremonies: the Daijosai ceremony for the investiture of a new emperor, and the Ninameisai harvest festival from which it developed. He shows how this ceremony relates to the concept of the "rice baby" and how the original descent myth depicted Hononinigi as a child, wrapped in a coverlet (which is still used in the Daijosai festival). He describes how Hononinigi, whose father was Oshihomimi ("big rice-ears"), was sent to earth at the behest of Takami-musubi who he also considers to be a fertility deity and the main deity worshipped by the emperor before the advent of Amaterasu. He also believes that the worship of Hononinigi originally belonged to the Hayahito people of southern Kyushu who were subjugated and their beliefs incorporated into the Imperial myths. He goes on to describe how Ameterasu—who he considers a local deity of Ise—was incorporated into the myth of the descent of the rice deity (which then became identified as the heavenly grandchild) to a mountain top in southern Kyushu (the name of which, Takachiho, also meant "abundant rice ears") which he believes did not originally describe an actual place. He sees this as a consequence of the influence of China and Korea where deities of heaven are supreme and where rulers often descended to mountaintops to begin rule of their respective kingdoms. Therefore he views the Imperial mythology as a combination of continental influences (Korean descent myths, five-division system, etc.) and local mythologies of Ise (the Heavenly Cave myth, the Sarume, Sarutahiko, etc.). He also makes it clear that the deity known as Amaterasu was never worshipped in the Imperial court and that the story of how the yata mirror was sent out of Yamato by Emperor Sujin, to ultimately find a new home at Ise, was created to explain the origins of Ise as an imperial cult center. That supposed origin was pushed chronologically into the distant past when the Kojiki and Nihon shoki were compiled in the seventh and eighth centuries.
Added: June, 15, 2013

Online at http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/1211


The Heavenly Rock-Grotto Myth and the Chinkon Ceremony
by Matsumae Takeshi
Another work by this scholar that examines how myth was used to explain the origin and function of certain ceremonies related to the emperor. In this case, the Chinkon-sai, which is a ritual to calm and revive the soul of the emperor, which he relates to the myth of Amaterasu hiding her light in a cave and being resurrected. He believes that this myth and its symbolism was originally related to the winter solstice when it was believed that the sun died and was resurrected. He also believes that the twenty-year ritual rebuilding of the Ise shrine called the sengu-sai, was originally part of the Kanname-sai harvest festival. The Kanname-sai was Ise's equivalent of the Niinamei-sai and held every year, but a special festival was held every twenty years. Both imperial and Ise festivals were held at roughly the same time, at the fall harvest, and the Chinkon-sai (also called the Mitamafuri no matsuri) was held the day before. The purpose of this ritual is to revive the soul of the emperor for the sake of his health, as it was believed that the soul wandered away during the long winter that was to come. During this ceremony an inverted tub (ukefune) was danced upon and struck with a vine-draped spear by a member of the Sarume clan. The author believes it was this same clan that conveyed these myths and rituals to the court at Yamato in the sixth or seventh century He also speculates that elements of the rituals and beliefs of the Mononobe clan were incorporated into the Chnkon-sai. He believes that the custom of tamamusubi (tying the soul so as to keep it from wandering) was originally a Yamato ritual that was overlaid with the Mononobe ritual of tamafuri (shaking the soul) for the purpose of reviving it. He believes (like Akima Toshio) that the Heavenly Cave myth and the worship of Amaterasu (or amateru) was imported from the Ise area.
Added: June 16, 2013

Online at http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/1111


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