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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Deep Roots of Japanese Emperor Worship

"The Japanese like to see in the Emperor as a living individual a condensed representation of the Japanese nation. Although this is not a phenomenon which is unknown to other nationalities, it has a special significance in Japan. In this matter Yaichi Haga has remarked: "There is a golden image of the goddess Germania at the top of a triumphal tower many feet high at the end of the Siegesallee in Berlin. The goddess was intentionally created as an imaginary person and designated 'Germania' to represent the German state. And in England in like manner an imaginary person called ‘Britannia’ has been fashioned, and in France one called ‘Gallia.’ In foreign countries where the form of government has often changed, or where one royal house frequently succeeds another, such artificial symbols are naturally devised from the need to cause people to think of their past history and to cultivate the concept of the nation. Only in our country‘ have the soil of the nation and the Imperial House been inseparable since the age of the gods. The expressions ‘for country’ and ‘for ruler’ are to be understood as having the same meaning." Whether the Emperor is to be thought of as simply equivalent to the state, or is to be interpreted as a symbol of national unity, the Emperor-institution is a thing unique to Japan, for it must be noted that it is not to be found among other peoples. Not concerning myself here with the problem of the political and economic basis of the Emperor institution, I should like to examine the question how Emperor worship has directly molded the way of thinking of the entire Japanese people.

Such a tendency of thought did not appear suddenly after the Meiji restoration (1868); on the contrary, an incipient tendency of this kind had existed since ancient times. According to the tales of the gods in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), after the heavens and the earth were separated, the two divinities Izanami (Female) and Izanagi (Male) descended to the island of Onokoro, and then gave birth to the various islands of Oyashima (i.e. the territory of Japan). After that they gave birth to various other divinities; the gods of the wind, of trees and mountains were born, and at the end the goddess (Izanami) died from burns, because she gave birth to the god of fire. Thereupon, the god (Izanagi) wanted to meet his spouse, and went to the land of night and saw her. Then, after retuming to this world, when he washed the filth (of the land of death from himself), from his eyes and nose were born the three divinities Amaterasu Omikami (Sun Goddess), Tsukiyomi no Mikoto, and Susano no Mikoto. It is said that this Amaterasu Omikami was the ancestor of the Imperial Imperial House. ln this way the legend of the ancestors of the royal house is connected with the legend of the creation of the universe. This account is without parallel among other nations. At least among other civilized people of the East these two types of legends—-political and cosmogonic—generally are separated. Thus, the divine authority of the Imperial House is enhanced by the fact that its lineage is connected with the legend of the creation of heaven and earth.

Further, in the older language, the word oyake (“public”) originally had the sense of “the principal family,”‘" which meant the Imperial House. In contradistinction, all the people were called koyake (minor families). Thus the Imperial House came to be regarded as the principal ancestral family of all the Japanese. Consequently, in Japan there was originally no conception corresponding to "public." Among the Japanese, public affairs consisted in nothing but relations with the Imperial Family.

It would seem that the tendency to regard the Emperor as divine has existed in Japan since very ancient times. When one looks at the many legends related in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki (History of Japan), one finds that stories of the gods are not told for the purpose of demonstrating the greatness of the divinities believed in by the ancients; on the contrary, it is only for the purpose of showing the divine character of the Emperor that accounts are given of the gods and of the historical blood relations of these gods. To be sure, in the Occident it is a historical fact that Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors were deified, but this was a matter of the deification of these men as individuals; this is quite a different thing from a national legend rooted in the primitive faith of a people. The theory of the divine right of kings in modem Europe has as its premise the Christian conception of God, and aimed at giving a basis to the power of princes in the will of God. And the theory of divine right in medieval India is to be understood in the same way. Thus, in archaic Japanese religion, the living totality of the nation is embodied symbolically in the Imperial ancestral sun—goddess and in the divine authority deriving traditionally from her. Here we find the unifying idea in the traditional stories of the historical age of the gods. Consequently, the people, united into one nation from various familial or political groups, give concrete expression to their corporate will through the Emperor or the divine Imperial ancestor who directs the government. Thus, in the society of that time, bound together by ritual, the distinction between submitting to or opposing the authority of the totality of society is a distinction between submitting to or refusing to submit to the ruler who is the concrete manifestation of that authority—and this in the last analysis is reducible to submission or non- submission to the authority of the Imperial ancestor goddess. Therefore, it has been felt that the moral distinction between goodness and wickedness is nothing but the distinction between submission or non-submission to the divine authority of the corporate whole, and this means the distinction between submission and non-submission to the Emperor. Therefore the Japanese people have generally felt that the rule of Japan by the Imperial House, generation after generation, has been maintained on the basis of the general will of their ancestors since antiquity.

Since the Imperial House was originally conceived as having the position of ruling the entire Japanese people, the Imperial House has no surname. Consequently there has almost never appeared anyone aiming at becoming the highest ruler in place of the Imperial House. Of course, in Japan’s long history, it is not the case that there were no persons at all who had undertaken to rebel against the Imperial House. Taira-no-Masakado (d. 940), Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo (1123-1 160), and Minamoto-no-Yoshi-naka (1154-1 134) are generally regarded as rebels. However, even these men did not attempt to supplant the Imperial House. They desired to have some position at court, and raised rebellions through dissatisfaction at being unable to obtain it. Thus it is said that even rebels have the Imperial authority. Perhaps the only exception is the case of Yuge no Dokyo (d. 772), the Buddhist priest Prime Minister (765). Even Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358) was able to establish his shogunate only by installing the Emperor of the northern court, at the beginning of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573).

Subsequently, also, the concept oi the divinity of the Emperor became a religious tradition. In an edict issued immediately after the Taika Reforms (c. 650), the Emperor was called the “bright god" (akitsumikami). When the Emperor's power became stronger, there even appeared in an Imperial edict the following sentence: "We are the possessor of the wealth of the world; we are the possessor of the power of the world." The divine- nation-concept and the principle of ultra-nationalism have thus a close connection with Emperor worship. In the fact that Japan has been ruled by Emperors belonging to a line unbroken for countless generations, we recognize a unique historical characteristic of the Japanese state...

If we reason along the line of thinking which has been described above, we come to the conclusion that Imperial authority is not derived from abstract principles like the divine-right theory, but that his authority is regarded as inhering in his very person. For example, Banzan Kumazawa (1665—1691) emphasizes the divinity of the Japanese Emperor. “It is not to be doubted that the Japanese Emperor is the august descendant of the heavenly god.” “Only in Japan has the imperial house continued without change. Even in the age of the samurai, a man who conquered the country could not become ruler. This is because divine authority is naturally inherent in the three sacred treasures"...

In spite of the widespread acceptance of Confucianism, the Chinese and Japanese forms of it have differed in their emphasis. The basis of Chinese Confucianism was the virtue of filial piety. Thus, since a basic element in their thought was the idea of the change of dynasties, the idea of loyalty to the state could not occupy the central place in their ethical scheme. However, in Japan, due to the hierarchical structure of society, the particular virtue of loyalty to the Emperor occupied the highest place among all virtues.

This difference in ways of thinking between China and Japan on the matter of the authority of the Emperor was manifested in a difference in ways of compiling histories. In China, the practical motivation for the compilation of most histories, especially "standard histories," was to serve as a mild check on the power of the ruler in advance, and not to let it out of control. Therefore, the official Chinese historian recorded both the good and the bad actions of the Emperor, in order to encourage the reader, whether he was the Emperor or an official, to become reflective and critical. In Japan, however, this kind of intention is lacking. If we examine the motives for the work of compiling histories in Japan, the reason for the Kojiki and Nihonshoki was to make clear "the rule of the Imperial family and the broad basis of its royal influence.”‘ In other words, the intention was to record selectively, on the basis of Japan’s consciousness of itself as a state distinct from the rest of the world, the facts of Japanese history, emphasizing as central the genealogy of the Imperial House. Consequently, a critical spirit was not apparent in these books.

The absence of a critical spirit based on universal human reason was too often in the past a conspicuous characteristic of the Japanese way of thinking, and this uncritical attitude appears in the way of thinking which reveres the living Emperor as divine."

--- Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan / Hajime Nakamura
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