Libraries, Scholarships, and the Open Meeting

This entry has been very delayed, because my parents were over for Mayuki’s 7-5-3, and I didn’t have much time for writing the blog. I’ve not written about the 7-5-3 yet, because I’m waiting for Sonoe’s photographs, but I do plan to. I also plan to write something about our visit to Nara. Today, however, I want to write about the most recent meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents, which was on the 7th.

The first, and most important thing, is the Open Meeting. If you are actually reading this from Kawasaki (or, indeed, somewhere close by), please come to the Open Meeting, on December 5th, at the Takatsu Shiminkan, which is at the top of the Marui building in Mizonokuchi. It starts at 2pm, and there is more information in Japanese here. The whole meeting will be in Japanese, so some competence in the language would be useful. Mind you, the same is true if you are living in Japan.

The Open Meeting was also an important part of our discussions at the meeting on the 7th. After commiserating over the lack of a Citizen’s Festival, which was cancelled due to a typhoon, we split into our subgroups. The first thing we, in the Life and Society group, had to discuss was how we would limit the number of topics suggested at the Open Meeting, to make things easier for people. I could have handled this discussion better; it went on for far longer than I would have liked for such a purely administrative matter. One problem was making it clear that the suggested topics would not limit what the attendees said; rather, they were to give some idea of what people might like to comment on. Then there were a number of procedural problems, including the subcommittee agreeing on a resolution, then drifting towards changing its mind, before the secretariat reminded us that we would have to have another vote to do that. We decided to stick with the original resolution, and picked three topics to suggest to the Open Meeting.

Then we were able to get back to our proper job. We revisited family visas briefly, agreeing that our recommendation should be focused on one thing, and phrased gently, rather than attacking the government (because, as I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese immigration system is not at all bad from a global perspective). However, since that is one of the topics we will suggest to the Open Meeting, we then left it, since we have lots of time to finalise our recommendation. It makes sense to listen to what other people have to say before deciding.

The next topic was foreign language books in Kawasaki libraries. As with the weekend opening hours of the ward offices, the situation was rather better than most of us expected. There are a lot of foreign language books, and the council has a deliberate policy of buying them. The main concerns were that the foreign books tend to be a bit old, and that there may be a bit too much bias towards English. However, it is possible to recommend books, and the library committees have a basic policy of buying books that are recommended (which I suspect explains the seven Sanskrit books), so we asked for the details on how to do that. We also asked for the details of how we can donate books to the libraries. These are, of course, ways that we, and foreign residents of Kawasaki more generally, can improve the library book situation, rather than just asking the council to act, and this is an important part of how the committee is supposed to work.

We also looked at the information the secretariat had provided on scholarships and support for foreign students, but there wasn’t time to do more than go through the information and get some clarifications. As a result, I suspect that we will discuss the same three topics at the next standard meeting, in January. I think we’ll be able to finish discussions on immigration, and we may be able to finish discussions about the libraries as well, but I don’t think we’ll finish with student support, nor with housing issues. Still, it is possible that we will get through the short topics within our first year, which would be a good achievement.

Shinto Traditions Course — Hachiman

This year’s Shinto course at Kokugakuin University came to an end this week, with a discussion of the Hachiman shrines. By one measure, this tradition boasts the highest number of shrines, and unlike most other traditions those shrines are spread evenly across the whole country (apart from Okinawa, which is a special case). The count, which is based on the names of shrines, misses one Hachiman shrine just down the road from me, because it takes its name from the area, but it does include Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, which is our local shrine. While you can debate the details of the count, the Hachiman tradition is, without doubt, extremely large and prevalent.

The first question, then, is why. This is generally traced back to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the newest, and furthest east, of the three great Hachiman shrines. It is in the city of Kamakura, southwest of Tokyo, and was moved to its present location, and prominence, by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the shogun who founded the Kamakura government in 1192. He was devoted to the Hachiman kami, and made a habit of visiting the shrine, with all his retainers, on the first day of the new year. This appears to be the beginning of the custom of a new year shrine visit, which is now, by a large margin, the most widely observed Shinto custom in Japan. As a result, Yoritomo’s retainers also developed a devotion to Hachiman, whether genuine or politically motivated, and when they were given land elsewhere in Japan, they often founded a Hachiman shrine as part of developing the area. This practice was continued into later centuries, with the result that Hachiman became closely associated with the samurai class, and now is often described, in western accounts, as a kami of war. Ironically, Hachiman’s sacred animal is the dove.

So, why did Yoritomo place so much importance on Hachiman? This goes back to Iwashimizu Hachimangu, the second oldest and second furthest east of the three great Hachiman shrines. In 858, Emperor Seiwa took the throne at the age of nine, and Hachiman announced that he wanted to protect the new emperor. He was brought to the capital, Kyoto, and enshrined on a hill south of the city, forming Iwashimizu Hachimangu. This shrine was specifically dedicated to protecting the emperor, as the capital was protected by the Kamo shrines. This connection with the imperial family rapidly became stronger, with Iwashimizu Hachimangu becoming the second shrine of the imperial line, together with the Jingu at Ise. It was also connected with the Minamoto, because the Minamoto were the descendants of Emperor Seiwa, their ancestors having been made into commoners. Thus, Yoritomo was continuing a family tradition when he founded Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

The next question is, why did Hachiman decide he wanted to protect the emperor? This goes back to the oldest and furthest west of the three great Hachiman shrines, Usa Jingu, on the north coast of Kyushu. The direct connection between Usa Jingu and the imperial court starts in 749, when Hachiman announced that he wanted to help with the construction of the great Buddha in Nara, and the kami was enshrined anew in Nara. The connection became very close in 769. Dokyo, a Buddhist monk with a great deal of influence at court, aimed to become emperor when the emperor at the time abdicated. There was some opposition to this, so he sent Wakë Kiyomaro to Usa to ask Hachiman’s opinion. The oracle that Kiyomaro brought back said that only a descendant of the imperial line could become emperor, and this marked the end of Dokyo’s power. As a result of this oracle, Hachiman was honoured as a protector of the imperial line, and envoys were sent to announce the accession of each emperor, thus providing the opportunity for Hachiman to say that he wanted to protect Emperor Seiwa. It is an interesting feature of Japanese history that the oracle has been respected ever since; the emperor has always been a member of the imperial family, and there has never been a change of dynasty. None of the shoguns ever declared themselves emperor, even as they stripped the reigning emperor of all real power.

I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Hachiman sent an oracle that he wanted to help construct the Great Buddha at Nara. This indicates an important feature of the Hachiman tradition: it has always been very closely connected with Buddhism. The Ise tradition always maintained some distance from Buddhism, but the Hachiman tradition did not. Indeed, until the Meiji Restoration Hachiman was referred to as “Hachiman Dai Bosatsu”, which means “Hachiman Great Bodhisattva”, a Buddhist title. (After the restoration, norito began to refer to Hachiman as “Yahata no Ohkami”, using the Japanese reading of the characters, and replacing “bosatsu” with “kami”.)  This connection manifested in many ways, including the fact that Hachiman shrines were staffed primarily by Buddhist monks. While I do not agree with the theory that says that all pre-Meiji Shinto was just a kind of Buddhism, you could make a good argument for that in the case of the Hachiman tradition.

This connection appears to go all the way back to the eighth century, or even earlier. Hachiman may well have been a kami who came over from the Korean peninsular with refugees from the wars there, but, in any case, he was a patron kami of that group, and at least one of the priestly families at Usa was from the continent. The accounts of the foundation of Usa say that Hachiman was enshrined there in 571, which is around the time Buddhism was brought to Japan, and a period when there was a lot of contact with the continent. In addition, it seems that two local kami, Usa tsu Hiko and Usa tsu Hime (a male and female pair) were worshipped there before Hachiman, which tends to support the idea that Hachiman was an immigrant.

In any case, in the seventh and early eighth centuries there were serious problems on the Korean peninsular, and a substantial number of refugees. In the early eighth century, 5,000 of them were apparently settled in southern Kyushu, resulting in a rebellion by the Hayato, the original inhabitants, who didn’t like having all of these asylum-seekers turn up on their doorstep. Hachiman is said to have joined in suppressing the rebellion, in which many Hayato were killed.

What happened next is interesting. Hachiman is said to have expressed regret over his actions, and effectively converted to Buddhism to overcome the guilt of murder. Until Meiji, a distinctive feature of the Hachiman tradition was the “hojoë”, festivals at which living creatures, such as birds and fish, were released. Further, fish was never offered to Hachiman, much less meat, and when he was portrayed he was almost invariably portrayed as a Buddhist monk.

Professor Okada suggested that this also explains another unusual feature of Hachiman shrines. Ancient shrines are very often found near the base of a mountain, or a little way up the slope, but they are never found at the top; humans were forbidden to climb into the realms of the kami. The exception is Hachiman shrines. The main sanctuary at Usa is on top of a mountain, as is that at Iwashimizu. Climbing to the top of a mountain was something that Buddhist ascetics and Taoist sages did, when they wanted to meditate and overcome their sins, so Professor Okada suggested that the reason Hachiman’s shrines were placed near the top of mountains was that Hachiman was an ascetic, pursuing Buddhism and trying to purify his karma.

At this point, I need to change subject slightly. While “Hachiman” is the name of a kami, it does not necessarily indicate a single kami. It is worth remembering that Japanese does not distinguish singular and plural, so that “Great Kami Hachiman” could be a group, as well as an individual. At Usa, it indicates Emperor Ojin, the Princess Kami (Himegami), and Empress Jingu, Ojin’s mother. At other shrines, the Princess Kami might be identified as Tamayori Hime, or as the three female kami of the Munakata shrine. Empress Jingu might not be enshrined at all, or might be enshrined by herself. Instead of Emperor Ojin, you might find his father, Chuai, or his son, Nintoku. These are all “Great Kami Hachiman”, at least when enshrined in a Hachiman shrine. Professor Okada said that the differences arise because Shinto does not have a central authority in the way that Buddhism does. Thus, while all the temples in a particular Buddhist tradition have the same central Buddha, Shinto shrines get to choose their own interpretation of the kami. This, obviously, makes explaining a Shinto tradition rather more difficult than it might otherwise be, and Professor Okada gave the distinct impression that he didn’t go into any more detail because he couldn’t.

It’s been a very interesting series of lectures, but Professor Okada is taking a year off from doing everything himself next time. Instead, we’ll get a team-taught course on “Reading the Shinto Classics”. It should be interesting, particularly if the Sendai Kuji Hongi, Gobusho, and Yoshida texts are included.

Email Address Change

Thanks to ridiculous amounts of spam coming to my address, I will be retiring it in the very near future. If you are using it to contact me and I haven’t already told you the new one, you can use the contact link in the left column to find out.

Oddly, I’m having the big spam problem with an email address I have never made available online. The ones I have put online are not having any problems at all…