Saturday, February 23, 2013

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

Kami Part 3
In the last part of this excerpt, I highlight those kami who are not native to Japan but who came to be accepted as Japanese through various means. In this segment I draw particular attention to the "Seven Gods of Good Fortune" called the shichifukujin. Though also considered "folk deities" because they tend to lie at the conjunction of faith and superstition—with an emphasis on the latter, they are a clear expression of the "earthy" aspect of Japanese religiosity. 

Imported and amalgamated kami:
These deities came either with the immigrants who had worshipped them in their own land, or by way of Buddhism which brought with it Indian, Chinese, and Korean traditions (including Daoist and Confucian elements). Some of the deities are called by the generic term banshin. Such gods as Gozu Tenno of Yasaka Jinja originated outside Japan. Buddhist deities were also called banshin, but in later times the term was most often applied to deities worshipped by Korean immigrants. A sort of subset of imported kami are the marebito (visiting kami) who come and go- (as in the case of Ebisu, Sukunahikona and others), often from over or under the sea. They are associated with the mythology of the stranger who enters the isolated village for a short time, bringing prosperity or destruction. The stranger is often reveled to be a powerful kami whose actions depend on whether he has been treated with good or ill will. 
    In most cases deities were not simply imported, but amalgamated and mixed with native traditions to the extent that they became “original Japanese” deities. One particular grouping of imported and domestic gods came to be known as the shichifukujin (“seven lucky gods”), which are worshipped at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines alike. They are originally individual deities that were brought together as a group in the fifteenth century, probably under the influence of the Daoist tale about the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.” They are often depicted together, riding in a treasure boat (takarabune), and are the most visually represented kami in terms of paintings and sculpture.
    As in other parts of the world, in Japan seven is an auspicious number, and a shichifukujin pilgrimage (shichifukujin meguri) is conducted around the New Year to pray for happiness and prosperity. The pilgrimage, which predates the popular first shrine visit of the year (hatsumode), is usually a short route of seven shrines or temples that can be completed easily in a few hours. The deities are so well known and loved in Japan that a more detailed description of them follows here.

Shichifukujin on an emma
Benzaiten: This is the only female in the group. Benzaiten was originally the Hindu god Sarasvati, daughter of the dragon king, a goddess of water, and by extension, of things that “flow” (such as music and poetry). The god was absorbed into Buddhism as Benzaiten and brought to Japan, where she was further identified with a kami of grains, Uga no mitama, and also with a white snake (water is often associated with a snake or dragon). Though primarily a goddess of water (shrines to Benzaiten are mostly located near the ocean or lakes and ponds), she is also considered a goddess of the arts. The deity is depicted either in her original eight-armed form or, more often, as a two-armed, charming, lute-playing young woman.

Bishamonten: This is another Buddhist-absorbed Hindu god, which was originally called Vaisravana. Bishamonten is one of the “four heavenly kings” (shitenno) that guard the four directions. He is a fierce warrior god who expels demons and protects worshippers of the Lotus Sutra. He is often depicted holding a spear in one hand and a pagoda in the other. The pagoda represents the treasure house that he protects and the treasures that he distributes. Considered a god of fortune, the deity is also known as Tamonten.

Daikokuten: The deity started as the Hindu god Mahakala, depicted as a black, multi-armed deity. In China he was adopted into Buddhism as a deity of the kitchen. The Chinese characters used for his name mean “big black.” In Japan he also became associated with Okuninushi no mikoto, in which case he is called Daikoku (“great land”) sama. A god of wealth and the bountiful harvest, he is usually depicted sitting or standing on bales of rice while holding the mallet of plenty in one hand and a sack of treasure slung over his back with the other. He is also a god of fertility and often depicted as a pair with Ebisu.

Ebisu: The only original Japanese god in the grouping, Ebisu is a deity of fishermen and good fortune. His origin is ambiguous, but he was always found in fishing communities and is strongly related to a bountiful catch. He is depicted holding a fishing pole and a sea bream, which is called tai in Japanese. The fish is associated with good fortune because the expression omedetai means auspicious or joyous. Ebisu is the happiest of gods and reflective of the simple joys of the common people. He is sometimes considered the son of Daikoku.

Fukurokuju: A Chinese sage of good fortune, probably originating in Daoist tales. Associated with wealth and longevity, he is always depicted with an elongated, phallic-looking forehead, long beard, a staff and a scroll of the Lotus Sutra. He is not amalgamated with Buddhist or Shinto deities. As a god of wisdom, good fortune, virility, and longevity, he expresses typical concerns of the Daoists.

Jurojin: Another Daoist sage, Jurojin is most likely the same god originally as Fukurokuju. Though he is not usually depicted with an elongated forehead, all of the other physical aspects and associated myths are identical. He is a god of longevity and usually depicted with animals that represent long life such as a white stag. He carries a staff and a scroll of knowledge.

Hotei: Based on a popular tenth-century Chinese sage named Pu-tai (or Budai), he is identified with the Buddha of the future, Maitreya. As a god of happiness, he is portrayed as a “jolly fat man” with a big belly sticking out of his open robe. He has a bald head and huge earlobes—signs of good luck and happiness. He carries a huge bag endlessly full of gifts together with a “wish-fulfilling fan.”

Saturday, February 9, 2013

FromShinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion
Detail of a Hakata Gion Festival
float from Kushida Jinja
(photo by Joseph Cali)

Kami Part 2
In Part 1 of this excerpt, I prefaced the quote with some information on how others have attempted to define, more or less, what kami are. Another approach to the whole question of deity in Japan is presented by the Historian Kuroda Toshio (1926-93), who is known for his kenmon-kenmitsu theories. His approach to the history of the Japanese system of ruling elites (kenmon), focuses on the emergence of a tripartite ruling block consisting of Emperor, warrior class and powerful religious centers. His theory of esoteric-exoteric (kenmitsu) Japanese religion sees no real distinction between Buddhism and Shinto, but rather a number of influential local cults built around huge religious centers, whose distinctions were unrelated to the current concepts of distinct religions as they were constructed since the Meiji period. Thus a kami such as Hachiman, which is a combination of imperial ancestor (Ojin Tenno), warrior power blocks from the Korean immigrants of Northern Kyushu who aligned themselves with the central government to the later samurai clans lead by the Taira and Minamoto, and the Buddhist establishment that exponentially increased its power-base from the eighth to the early sixteenth centuries, can be seen as the quintessential Japanese kami of the era. The influences of this shared power structure, as well as its shifting balance, is often reflected in the character and the prevalence of Japanese kami from the Nara period on. Although I have never seen a study on the topic, I would suggest that the further back the kami, the more nature and Imperial related; the newer the more socio-political and Buddhist related, with Confucianism, Taoism, and Ying/Yang holding a more or less constant—if low-key—influence since the Yayoi period.

Types of kami
Because kami worship was originally site specific in nature, there is a great variety and number. Even where the same kami has been enshrined in a different location, it will take on the local traditions of its new home. In addition, the multiple nature of kami is a factor in their elusive image. For example, a single kami has a rough nature (aramitama), gentle nature (nigimitama), wondrous nature, (kushimitama), and nurturing nature (sakimitama). These shikon (four spirits) are often enshrined separately. The complex nature of the Japanese language, whereby inconsistency even in naming is common, adds to the problem. It may be helpful to understand something of the “eight million” kami (yaoyorozu) of Shinto by looking at the various ways they are made manifest.

Kami of nature:
There are kami that reside in a certain place, or manifest in that place spontaneously or when called upon. Often the place is notable in some way: a waterfall, a mountain of distinct shape, a volcano, a large rock, a large or unusually shaped tree. Though there are many tales of kami making an appearance in humanoid or animal form (especially white animals), the manifestation is generally considered to be in the heart of the worshipper, or in the result that occurs from calling the kami (such as healing or an answered prayer). Kami of nature can also be manifest in the active forces such as rain, wind, thunder, fire, and sunshine.

Kami of folk worship: What is sometimes called “Folk Shinto” pertains to the local beliefs and practices that grow spontaneously among the people of a given location. It is usually a result of an ad hoc blending of myths, legends, superstitions, literary works, or clan origins. It also reflects the degree of isolation or wider distribution of a particular clan or occupational group. Some folk kami, such as the dosojin (deities of roads and boundaries), tend to be phallic in nature, and are most often seen in male/female pairs. Such kami are generally related to the concerns of daily life such as agriculture, fishing, the hearth, fertility, disease prevention, and good or bad fortune. It could be argued that so-called “folk worship” is the origin of Shinto, its true source and the power that sustains it. Folk Shinto is closely related to shamanism and divination as well.

Kami of deification: These are humans who were raised to the status of kami after death. There are numerous examples and various reasons for such enshrinement. For example, Emperor Ojin (r. a.d. 270–310) is enshrined as the kami Hachiman, who is revered as a protector of the country and a god of war. Thanks largely to his popularity among the samurai of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), there are said to be about 25,000 Hachiman shrines in Japan today. A different case involves Sugawara no Michizane, enshrined as the kami Tenman Tenjin. Though he came to be considered a kami of education, he was originally enshrined to appease his vengeful ghost (goryo), which was thought to be causing plagues in the capital of Kyoto. Today there are about 10,000 Tenjin shrines throughout the country. Another example is Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Edo shogun, who unified the country and who decided that after his death he should be enshrined as a kami, for the purpose of watching over the country. His descendants duly carried out his wish, and today the magnificent Nikko Toshogu is one of the most popular destinations in Japan for worshippers and tourists alike. It was mentioned above that deification of kami was somewhat akin to that of a saint, but it differs in that the attributes that make a kami are not decided by any central authority and the person concerned is generally a secular figure such as a scholar, a general, an ancestor or benefactor of a community or clan (uji), or a member of the imperial family.

Kami of shared belief: Kami that are common to a wide spectrum of geographical areas are generally those that have been spread from one original location. Such are the kami of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki—for example, Amaterasu, Susano-o, and Okuninushi—who were local kami proselytized into national figures, along with the beliefs surrounding them. The process of enshrining the kami of one place in another location is called “dividing the spirit” (bunrei). Essentially, the kami is “invited” to enter into a new place and installed there in a ceremony called kanjo; there is no limitation on the number of places that a kami can be enshrined, nor is the power of the divided deity any less than the original. In addition to the Hachiman and Tenjin shrines mentioned above, Inari shrines are said to be the most frequent at about 32,000, followed by about 18,000 for Ise shrines. (However, though they enshrine Amaterasu and are called Ise shrines, the spirit is not divided from Ise Jingu). This process was expedited during certain periods of history, when the right to enshrine a particular kami was sold, as was the case with the expansion of Inari (a rice kami) shrines—a sort of religious franchising. Enshrinement of these kami expanded to the extent that today, two-thirds of existing shrines are said to be of the Hachiman, Inari, Ise, or Tenjin lineages. A word of caution: there are no precise figures on the number or type of enshrinements of a particular divinity. The numbers quoted in this book are from an old survey and probably represent guesswork more than actual accounting. (For example, the total number of just these shrines exceeds the overall number registered as religious bodies.) Indeed, the number of registered Hachiman shrines is said to be no more than two thousand. Since no comprehensive shrine count has ever been done, numbers are anecdotal and vary widely.

Kami no tsukai: Also called a tsukawashime, this is not a kami but its messenger. Generally, it takes the form of an animal such as the fox that is a messenger of the grain kami Inari, the deer of the kami of Kashima, the monkey of the Sanno (“mountain king”) of Mount Hiei, and the dove of Hachiman. A human can also become a temporary vessel for the kami, such as the “sacred child” (chigo) of the Gion Festival of Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto. Some kami do also manifest themselves as animals such as the three-legged crow of Kumano and the white snake of Omiwa.

Kami of latter-day religious sects: From the late Edo period, new religious sects began to appear. Most are a combination of Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism and folk beliefs. Many were based on the revelations of individuals who became the charismatic leaders of these sects. The revelations often included messages from a hitherto unknown kami that became the main object of veneration for that sect. Such deities include Ushitora no konjin, who was revealed to Deguchi Nao of the Omoto sect; Tenchikane no kami of the Konkokyo sect; Su no okami of the Mahikari sect; Uchu daiseimei of the Seicho-No-Ie sect; and Tenrio no mikoto of the Tenrikyo sect.