Hayashi Razan’s “Honchō Jinja Kō” — Shinto Texts Course 7

The summer holiday is over, and yesterday the Shinto Texts course at Kokugakuin University started again, with a lecture on Hayashi Razan’s Honchō Jinja Kō. I am confident that very few of my readers will have heard of either the author or the text, but both were of great significance in the history of Shinto, which is why they were covered in the course.

Hayashi Razan was born in Kyoto in 1583. His academic ability was noticed early on, and at the age of 13 (Japanese style) in 1595 he went to study at a Zen temple, Kenninji. However, he did not take vows as a Buddhist monk. Instead, he encountered some medieval texts on Shinto, and became interested in Japan’s native traditions. He was also, however, a very notable Confucian scholar, and when he was 21 he started giving public lectures on the Analects. This led to him being sued by a representative of a family that had made its living by monopolising Confucian instruction. However, the case was quickly dismissed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the new shogun. The lecturer, Professor Nishioka, suggested that part of the reason for this was that Ieyasu had risen to be shogun from a fairly undistinguished background, so he was not inclined to support family privilege against ability.

In fact, Razan went on to work directly for Ieyasu, primarily as a Confucian scholar. Because these advisory posts had traditionally been held by monks, Ieyasu directed Razan to shave his head and take a new name, Dōshun, as monks did, although Razan still did not become a monk. Razan was strongly criticised for this by other Confucians. They argued that your hair was something you inherited from your parents, so that shaving your hair off was a serious failure of filial piety. As Razan was employed by the shogun and several important daimyos, and his critics were not, I suspect that he was able to take the criticism fairly easily.

Honchō Jinja Kō, or “Investigation of the Shrines of our Country”, was published some time between 1638 and 1645, although the precise year is unknown. It was divided into three parts, each consisting of two volumes. The first part discussed the shrines in the 22 Shrine System, a late Heian period (eleventh to twelfth century) group of shrines that received direct Imperial patronage and worship. The Grand Shrines of Ise were, of course, the most important of these shrines, and most of the others were around the capital, Kyoto. The second part discussed other shrines throughout Japan, while the third part also looked at legends from various areas.

We can get an idea of the importance that Razan placed on various shrines by looking at the number of pages his discussion takes up in a modern edition. The Grand Shrines of Ise unsurprisingly get the most, at 17 pages, but Hiyoshi Taisha, near Kyoto, gets eight and a half, and Kitano Tenmangu, in Kyoto, gets ten and a half. In the second part, the section on Shōtoku Taishi, an early seventh century figure, is six and a half pages long.

Kitano Tenmangu is a shrine to Tenjin, Sugawara no Michizane, a kami of scholarship, so it is, perhaps, not surprising that a scholar like Razan gave quite a bit of space to this shrine. However, in the case of Hiyoshi Taisha, the article is long because Razan uses it as an opportunity to criticise aspects of contemporary Shinto.

Razan was, in fact, highly critical of the current state of Shinto. As is fairly well know, at this period Shinto had a lot of Buddhist elements, and vice versa. Buddhist monks read sutras to the kami, who were often regarded as manifestations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or the Buddhas were regarded as manifestations of the kami, and Buddhist images were sometimes used as the sacred object housing the kami in a shrine. This was regarded as perfectly natural, which is unsurprising because it had at least four or five hundred years of history behind it by Razan’s time. However, Razan pointed out that Shinto kami were originally completely separate from Buddhas, and that some people who venerated the kami had opposed the introduction of Buddhism. Thus, this could not be the original state of things, and therefore, he argued, was not natural. Rather, people had been brainwashed into thinking it was normal because no-one had spoken out against it.

Thus, in the section on Hiyoshi Taisha, Razan was very critical of Ryōbu Shinto, which is either a heavily Buddhist version of Shinto, or a heavily Shinto version of Buddhism, depending on how you look at it. He went beyond that, however, to describe Buddhism as a “religion of foreign barbarians”. That didn’t go down well with Buddhists, and they were apparently still publishing refutations of his claim two centuries later. When, in the section on Yoshida Jinja, he considered Yoshida Shinto, the dominant version at the time, he was no less scathing. While Yoshida Kanetomo, the founder of the tradition, had asserting the primacy of kami over Buddhas, Razan pointed out that he had taken passages from Buddhist texts and claimed them as his own ideas, and that many of the ideas in Yoshida Shinto were Buddhist in origin. He was also highly critical of Shōtoku Taishi, who is famous for, among other things, his vigorous promotion of Buddhism in Japan.

Razan, then, argued strongly for the removal of Buddhist elements from Shinto, on the grounds that they were foreign additions that did not belong in the tradition. One of his students put that into practice a little later, getting the Buddhist elements removed from Izumo Taisha, and the idea was to become very influential, culminating in the 1868 law separating kami and Buddhas, which essentially created Shinto in its modern form. Of course, there was an internal conflict in Razan’s thought. He was pushing for the removal of foreign elements from Shinto, but was himself a Confucian. Confucianism is, of course, not a Japanese school of thought, and no-one in Japan has ever thought that it was. It was, therefore, natural that some people would develop Razan’s thought in the direction of removing Confucian influences as well. That was Kokugaku, or National Learning, the tradition within which Kokugakuin University was founded, and which directly influenced the law separating kami and Buddhas.

The roots of a strong separation between Shinto and Buddhism thus go back at least as far as the seventeenth century, and were already influential, if not mainstream, at that time. I’m not sure whether it can be traced back before Razan; obviously, there are records of people holding this position in the sixth century, but there is probably not a continuous tradition from them to Razan, despite the persistence of a separation between Shinto and Buddhism at the Grand Shrines of Ise. If Razan was responsible for starting the modern form of the idea, then he is arguably the individual who has had the largest influence on the form of modern Shinto.

Shirahata Hachiman Daijin Festival

The annual Grand Festival of Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, our local shrine, was held last weekend. The festival itself is on the Sunday, and on the previous day, the Saturday, there is a children’s mikoshi procession. A mikoshi is a portable shrine, based on the palanquins in which the nobility were carried in Heian times (about a thousand years ago), and the processions take the kami around the area under the protection of the shrine (the parish, if you like) to see what is going on, and to be livened up by the fun of the event.

As I normally work on Saturdays, I hadn’t been to the procession before, but this year I happened to have an open slot that coincided with the procession setting out from the shrine, so I went along to see what happened. The procession is organised by the Children’s Group of the Taira Residents’ Association, rather than by the shrine, but there’s a significant overlap between the officers of the Residents’ Association and the shrine’s Ujiko, and the areas are very similar. One exception is that, although we live in the shrine’s area, we have a different Residents’ Association. This is presumably why the event is not advertised in the immediate vicinity of our flat.

The female priest purifies the mikoshi with the haraigushi

Purifying the Mikoshi

Although the organisers are not the shrine, the shrine is deeply involved. First, the event starts at the shrine, and starts with a Shinto ceremony. The adults involved in the event gathered in the shrine for a ceremony, during which the mikoshi was purified, and the kami invited to enter it. The mikoshi seemed to be purified twice, once with the harai-gushi (as shown in the picture), and once with water splashed with a twig of sakaki. In each case it was purified four times, once from each side, and the Japanese drum that would be taken around with it was also purified.

As you can see from the photograph, this ceremony was performed by the younger woman in the shrine family. I think she qualified as a priest a couple of years ago (at least, that’s when she started wearing hakama in priest’s colours for the Grand Festival), but this was the first time I’d seen her perform a ceremony. I gather that it’s not at all uncommon in local shrines for all members of the family to be ordained priests, because that means that they can all help with what is, after all, the family business. Female chief priests are still a bit unusual, though, as are female priests at larger shrines.

The mikoshi is tipped on its side to get it through the torii

Up a bit, left a bit...

After the purification, the tamagushi that had been offered in the shrine were put into the mikoshi, to be offered to the kami there, I assume. Then, the mikoshi had to be taken out of the shrine and down the steps for the procession. There was an immediate problem: the mikoshi frame was wider than the torii. The solution, of course, was to tip it on one side to make it narrower, so that it would fit through. The torii at the bottom of the steps was made even narrower because there was a takoyaki (deep fried octopus) stall next to it, so the mikoshi had to be turned vertically to get it through there. This didn’t seem to disturb anyone, and, indeed, it is traditional to shake the mikoshi in a lot of festivals, to liven the kami up. Mayuki likes that sort of thing, so I guess the kami do, too.

Everyone gathered in the car park at the base of the steps. The children were pulling the drum, which was on wheels, rather than carrying the mikoshi, as the mikoshi was probably too heavy, and one thing I noticed was that, although the adults all had the traditional festival happi coats, there were none for the children. I thought that was a bit of a shame, but checking online afterwards revealed that it would be quite pricey to get enough happi to go around, so I imagine that’s the reason.

The procession was led by two children carrying metal staves with rings in the top: Buddhist staves. Behind the mikoshi were two more with giant fans, and bringing up the rear was a truck with traditional musicians on. The procession was quite lively, and went around the area for most of the day, even after I was back at work.

The chief priest, in mask and costume, dances in the shrine

Sacred Dance

I’ve talked about the Grand Festival before, and it was, of course, more or less the same as ever. I’ll just mention the points that were different. First, the young female priest was fully involved for the first time, sitting with the other priests on the dais and participating in the ritual, rather than just reading out the order of service and instructions (although she was doing that as well). Second, I offered my tamagushi at a different place in the ritual, so I’m not at all sure how they decide the order now. The head of the Ujiko goes first, and last is someone who can represent all of the Ujiko so that they can pay their respects with him, but I’m no longer at all sure how they work things out in the middle.

Mayuki came during the ceremony, to watch the children’s sumo contest and eat shaved ice (and feed some to her toys), and she stayed for the sacred dance. She said she was frightened at first, but it wasn’t very convincing, and she was soon showing no signs at all. During the final two dances, she was dancing along with the drum beat, so I hope the kami appreciated the extra entertainment.

Once again, the festival went off successfully, but maybe with small changes to adapt to modern conditions.

Thinking About the Report

This session of the Kawasaki Foreigners’ Assembly is coming to an end. We still have about six months to go, but that’s only four normal meetings, so we have to get started on deciding our final report and suggestions to the city government.

In Sunday’s session, the Life and Society Subcommittee did manage to get started on that, but first we discussed the participation of foreign residents in society. It’s obviously very easy for foreigners to get isolated; it’s common to arrive knowing no-one, and there’s often a language barrier as well. There are a lot of ways for foreign residents to get involved in life in Kawasaki, such as committees run by the city, and the local organisations called Jichikai and Chonaikai. As far as the secretariat could discover, there are no city committees that exclude foreigners from membership, and the local organisations certainly don’t. However, the problem is how foreigners who have newly arrived in the city can find out about these organisations, and, once they’ve found out, how they can make the first approach. One representative suggested that the children’s groups that most of the local organisations run are a good way to start, and that’s certainly true for people who have children. Not everyone does, of course. The city probably can’t give information about newly resident foreigners to the organisations, because that would be a privacy violation, but it might be possible to tell new residents about the organisation; since the city knows your address, it can tell you exactly who to contact in your area.

Once people are involved in society, a lot of other problems get solved, not least the problem of a sense of isolation, and it can help with a lot of the problems of information flow. Once a foreigner has Japanese friends, then even if they don’t read Japanese, they have people they can ask to find out about things. Equally important, a foreigner who is involved in local society can make positive contributions to it. Of course, easier integration would also help Japanese people moving into the area, and there are quite a lot of them in Kawasaki, so if we do take this to the final report, I would definitely want to think about approaches that would be useful to both Japanese and foreign residents.

After that discussion, we went on to talk about what we would like to see in the report. We can make two, or just possibly three, recommendations. (The Education Subcommittee also gets to make the same number of recommendations.) On Sunday, we only got as far as everyone saying which subjects they would like to make recommendations about, and saying why. Everyone contributed, and I didn’t even have to encourage them too hard. Quite a lot of people wanted to address participation in society, some sort of survey of foreign residents, and the general flow of information to foreign residents. The residence conditions for parents, support for finding good accommodation, and the pensions issue were also raised.

So, the last thing we agreed on was how we would start the next session. First, we will vote on whether to have two or three recommendations. (I think we should go for two, because deciding on three in four sessions strikes me as very ambitious.) Then, we’ll vote for the issues. Everyone will vote for the same number of issues as there will be in the report, the lowest-scoring issue will be eliminated, we’ll all vote again, and so on until the right number is left. Since we are only going to vote, not discuss the issues, I think we should be able to get through that in about fifteen minutes, which will leave most of the session for discussing concrete content for the recommendations.

I thought the last session went very smoothly, a sentiment that was echoed by one of the other representatives. It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve got good at working together at the end of our term, but it’s also not really surprising. I am, at least, optimistic that we’ll be able to produce recommendations that we all support.

Visit Tohoku! Aizu

I’ve been to Tohoku again, this time on a family trip in the middle of July. We spent two nights and three days in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture. Yes, that is the Fukushima Prefecture that has the broken nuclear power station. However, it’s one of the largest prefectures in Japan, and the Aizu region is at the other side, a hundred kilometres or so from the nuclear power plant. In terms of radiation, it’s safe, as evidenced by the fact that this is where a lot of the people who used to live near the power station have been evacuated to.

The Aizu region is in the mountains of southern Tohoku, and apparently gets a lot of snow in the winter. While we were there, the temperature was generally pleasant, although there were occasional showers that held our sightseeing back a bit. On the up side, the train ride from Koriyama (where we got off the shinkansen) to Aizu Wakamatsu (where we were staying) was very pleasant, winding its way along mountain valleys, and through occasional tunnels. Mayuki certainly enjoyed herself, but I don’t think that was primarily the scenery; she was having much more fun climbing all over us.

Yuriko and Mayuki in front of the Aizu mascot, a stylised red cow

At Aizu Wakamatsu station, in front of the Aizu mascot

The original plan was to get the bus from the station to the ryokan where we were staying, but that left us about 45 minutes to kill at the station. Fortunately, there was a festival/market being held just outside the station, and Mayuki decided that she wanted to go there, and eat shaved ice and fried noodles. This is hardly a local speciality, being standard festival food in Tokyo, but that is presumably why Mayuki wanted to eat it. Since she was enjoying it, and we were on holiday, I decided that we would get a taxi to the ryokan, so that we didn’t have to worry about the times. We left the festival as they were starting to clear up, and got in the taxi just as it started raining, so the timing was perfect there.

The ryokan where we were staying, Kutsurogijuku Shintaki, is in Higasiyama Onsen, on the edge of the town, and the area is very pretty, in a steep-sided forested valley, with most of the ryokan along the river. Quite a bit of the ryokan was accommodating evacuees, so the number of tourists was fairly small. That meant that we could book the open-air bath by the river on both nights of our stay, and go in as a family. Mayuki really enjoyed that, and since no-one else was there, she could play without Yuriko getting worried, or having to avoid bothering other people.

Me, Yuriko and Mayuki, with a samurai.

People in samurai costume walk round the town and pose with tourists for photographs, free.

We spent our full day looking around the town of Aizu Wakamatsu. This was the centre of one of the important domains of feudal (Edo-period) Japan, and is famous as the site of one of the important battles around the Meiji Restoration, in the late 1860s. There is a very well-known tragic story associated with it, as well. The domain had a number of groups of samurai, divided by age, and the White Tiger Group was made up of boys aged 16 to 17. When the domain was attacked, they were sent to relieve one part of the army, and attacked unexpectedly. Many of them managed to escape through a tunnel to a hill overlooking the town, but when they got there they saw the castle wreathed in smoke, and thought that it had already fallen. All but one of them committed suicide. The castle had not fallen, however. As a result of this, Aizu Wakamatsu is strongly associated with samurai.

It’s also associated with a number of traditional crafts, and we spent quite a lot of our time looking at those. One is lacquer ware, and we visited a shop with centuries of history, full of beautiful items. Another tradition is a particular style of cotton, while a final one is the manufacture of candles with lovely pictures of flowers on. We did quite a lot of shopping, partly to support the local economy, and partly to get presents for the people we would be visiting in the UK.

Apart from the samurai, the region’s other claim to fame is that it was where Hideyo Noguchi was born and raised. He was a famous Japanese scientist (a bacteriologist), and is the face on the current 1000 yen note, so he’s become very well known. He trained as a doctor in Aizu Wakamatsu, and we had a break at a cafe in the building that used to house the hospital where he pursued his initial studies.

Around that time, Mayuki fell asleep on me, and I was also getting a bit tired, so we debated going straight back to the ryokan. Yuriko, however, wanted to go to see the collection of Edo period houses, which were on the way back, so we did, getting there just before closing time. They were very interesting, in part because these were houses for more ordinary samurai. One was, admittedly, the former house of a chief retainer, but the chief retainer to a domain lord is a long way down from the shogun. One interesting point was that the toilet reserved for the head of the household had no ceiling, so that assassins could not hide between the ceiling and the roof.

I really like the traditional Japanese architecture, from an aesthetic viewpoint. From a practical standpoint, I’m not good enough at sitting on the floor to really be comfortable living in a house that was all Japanese style, and I’d need to find somewhere to put my books, but if I can ever afford an actual house somewhere in Japan, I’d like to have a Japanese-style section, not just a Japanese room.

Yuriko and Mayuki taking up a lot of space in the upper deck lounge of the tourist boat

Away From The Crowds

On our final day we went to Inawashiro, a small town on one of the larger lakes in Japan, Lake Inawashiro. The first thing we did was go out on the lake on the tourist cruise. We were the only passengers on the boat, so we went to the upstairs lounge and took it easy, enjoying the scenery and the commentary. The fact that we were there on a weekday outside high season probably partly accounts for how quiet it was, but I fear that the nuclear accident may also have been scaring people away.

From the boat, we went to a late nineteenth/early twentieth century house that was built for a member of the Imperial family. Yuriko finds these really interesting; I find them very similar to a lot of houses in the UK. Indeed, the main difference between this house and my friend’s house that we stayed at in the summer is that my friend’s house is bigger… After we’d looked around, Mayuki enjoyed watching the ants hunting for food in the lawns outside the house, before we got a taxi to our lunch stop.

Yuriko and Mayuki inside a reconstructed farmer's house

The cones are not historic

This was also on the shore of the lake, and as well as the restaurant it had several museums and similar. One was the Aizu Folk Museum, where several houses from the region had been reconstructed. These were farmers’ houses, so they were smaller than the samurai houses, and much more practical. Most only had one tatami room, with earth floors elsewhere, but they had upper floors, both for living and storage. Mayuki really liked one of the houses, and went round it three times. There was a route marked out, so that at busy times people would keep flowing, but Mayuki was able to go in whichever direction she wanted.

The other museum was the Hideyo Noguchi museum, because this is where he was born. If I understood the explanations correctly, it is literally where he was born; one feature of the museum is that house, and there was no indication that it has been moved and reconstructed. A famous part of Nogushi’s story is that, when he was eighteen months old, he fell into the hearth at home and burned himself very badly, so badly that the fingers of one hand fused together. Because the house is in the museum, you can see that hearth, and the story made a really big impression on Mayuki. She kept wanting to see the hearth again, and asking about the accident. When we got home, we bought her a picture book biography of Noguchi, and she still asks for it to be read. When Noguchi was in his early teens, his friends got together to pay for an operation on his hand, which was a success, and that is what set him on the path to studying medicine.

After we’d seen the museums, we still had a bit of time before our train, so we went to the big glass shop across the road and had a drink in their coffee shop. While Yuriko looked around, Mayuki and I “painted” the milk and syrup pots using the paper on the end of the straws. When we’d finished, we put everything back the way it had been, and Mayuki didn’t even need much prompting.

Mayuki fell asleep on the train back, but woke up when we got on the shinkansen, and immediately started crying that she didn’t have a packed meal like Yuriko and me. So I took her to find the lady with the trolley, where I bought her a drink and a box of chocolate almonds. That cheered her up, and she happily took bits from our meals to eat, in between dozing a bit.

It was a very nice part of Japan, and apparently it’s glorious in autumn, when the leaves on the mountains all change colour and get reflected in the lake. I’d like to go back, but I don’t know whether we’ll get round to it; there are so many new places to go. In any case, I can recommend it to people visiting Japan.

Japanese Prime Ministers

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I updated this blog; we went to the UK in the summer, and that ate up a lot of time. I have a bunch of things to post, and I’ve started working on them, so I’ll keep this entry short, just to bring some life back to the blog, and get on with writing more substantial articles.

As you probably know, Yoshihiko Noda has just become the new Prime Minister of Japan. He is the sixth person to hold that post in Mayuki’s lifetime. Mayuki is still three years old.

By way of comparison, there have been eight Prime Ministers of the UK in my lifetime. I am thirteen times Mayuki’s age.

It’s not entirely fair to describe Japan’s political system as “unstable”, but it certainly doesn’t encourage long-lived Prime Ministers. According to a news article I read a few days ago, the longest-serving post-war Japanese Prime Minister did not serve for as long as the average tenure of post-war German Chancellors. I’m just waiting for the Japanese people to take inspiration from the Arab spring and pour onto the streets of Tokyo waving banners saying “We don’t want regime change!” and “We demand that the Prime Minister doesn’t resign!”.