Unending lines of pilgrims, visiting noted Shinto temples and climbing sacred mountain peaks, arrest the attention of every thoughtful student of Japan. These pilgrims are numbered by the hundreds of thousands every year. The visitors to the great shrine at Kizuki of Izumo number about 250,000 annually. "The more prosperous the season, the larger the number of pilgrims. It rarely falls below two hundred thousand." In his "Occult Japan," Mr. Lowell has given us an interesting account of the "pilgrim clubs," The largest known to him numbered about twelve thousand men, but he thinks they average from one hundred to about five hundred persons each. The number of yearly visitors to the Shinto shrines at Ise is estimated at half a million, and ten thousand pilgrims climb Mt. Fuji every summer. The number of pilgrims to Kompira, in Shikoku, is incredibly large; according to the count taken during the first half of 1898, the first ever taken, the average for six months was 2500 each day; at this rate the number for the year is nearly 900,000. The highest for a single day was over 12,000. These figures were given me by the chief official of this district. The highest mountain in Shikoku, Ishidzuchi San, some six thousand feet in height, is said to be ascended by ten thousand pilgrims each summer. These pilgrims eat little or nothing at hotels, depending rather on what they carry until they return from their arduous three days' climb; nor do they take any prolonged rest until they are on the homeward way. The reason for this is that the climb is supposed to be a test of the heart; if the pilgrim fail to reach the summit, the inference is that he is at fault, and that the god does not favor him. They who offer their prayers from the summit are supposed to be assured of having them answered.
But beside these greater pilgranages to mountain summits and national shrines, innumerable lesser ones are made. Each district has a more or less extended circuit of its own. In Shikoku there is a round known as the "Hachi-Ju-hakka sho mairi," or "The Pilgrimage to the 88 Places," supposed to be the round once made by Kobo Daishi (A.D. 774-834), the founder of the Shinton sect of Buddhism. The number of pilgrims who make this round is exceedingly large, since it is a favorite circuit for the people not only of Shikoku, but also of central and western Japan. Many of the pilgrims wear on the back, just below the neck, a pair of curious miniature "waraji" or straw sandals, because Kobo Daishi carried a real pair along with him on his journey. I never go to Ishite Temple (just out of Matsuyama), one of the eighty-eight places of the circuit, without seeing some of these pilgrims. But this must suffice. The pilgrim habit of the Japanese is a strong proof of widespread religious enthusiasm, and throws much light on the religious nature of the people. There seems to be reason for thinking that the custom existed in Japan even before the introduction of Buddhism. If this is correct, it bears powerful testimony to the inherently religious nature of the Japanese race.
The charge has been made that these pilgrimages are mere pleasure excursions. Mr. Lowell says, facetiously, that "They are peripatetic picnic parties, faintly flavored with piety; just a sufficient suspicion of it to render them acceptable to the easy-going gods." Beneath this light alliterative style, which delights the literary reader, do we find the truth? To me it seems like a slur on the pilgrims, evidently due to Mr. Lowell's idea that a genuine religious feeling must be gloomy and solemn. Joy may seem to him incompatible with heartfelt religion and aspiration. That these pilgrims lack the religious aspiration characteristic of highly developed Christians of the West, is, of course, true; but that they have a certain type of religious aspiration is equally indisputable. They have definite and strong ideas as to the advantage of prayer at the various shrines; they confidently believe that their welfare, both in this world and the next, will be vitally affected by such pilgrimages and such a faithful worship. It is customary for pilgrims, who make extended journeys, to carry what may be called a passbook, in which seals are placed by the officials of each shrine. This is evidence to friends and to the pilgrim himself, in after years, of the reality of his long and tedious pilgrimage. Beggars before these shrines are apt to display these passbooks as an evidence of their worthiness and need. For many a pilgrim supports himself, during his pilgrimage, entirely by begging.
Pilgrims also buy from each shrine of note some charm, "o mamori," "honorable preserver," and "o fuda," "honorable ticket," which to them are exceedingly precious. There is hardly a house in Japan but has some, often many, of these charms, either nailed on the front door or placed on the god-shelf. I have seen a score nailed one above another. In some cases the year-names are still legible, and show considerable age. The sale of charms is a source of no little revenue to the temples, in some cases amounting to thousands of yen annually. We may smile at the ignorance and superstition which these facts reveal, but, as I already remarked, these are external features, the material expression or clothing, so to speak, of the inner life. Their particular form is due to deficient intellectual development. I do not defend them; I merely maintain that their existence shows conclusively the possession by the people at large of a real religious emotion and purpose. If so, they, are not to be sneered at, although the mood of the average pilgrim may be cheerful, and the ordinary pilgrimage may have the aspect of a "peripatetic picnic, faintly flavored with piety." The outside observer, such as the foreigner of necessity is, is quick to detect the picnic quality, but he cannot so easily discern the religious significance or the inner thoughts and emotions of the pilgrims. The former is discernible at a glance, without knowledge of the Japanese language or sympathy with the religious heart; the latter can be discovered only by him who intimately understands the people, their language and their religion.
If religion were necessarily gloomy, festivals and merry-making would be valid proof of Japanese religious deficiency. But such is not the case. Primitive religions, like primitive people, are artless and simple in religious joy as in all the aspects of their life. Developed races increasingly discover the seriousness of living, and become correspondingly reflective, if not positively gloomy. Religion shares this transformation. But those religions in which salvation is a prominent idea, and whose nature is such as to satisfy at once the head and the heart, restore joyousness as a necessary consequence. While certain aspects of Christianity certainly have a gloomy look,—which its critics are much disposed to exaggerate, and then to condemn,—yet Christianity at heart is a religion of profound joy, and this feature shows itself in such universal festivals as Christmas and Easter. Even though the Japanese popular religious life showed itself exclusively in festivals and on occasions of joy, therefore, that would not prove them to be inherently lacking in religious nature.
But there is another set of phenomena, even more impressive to the candid and sympathetic student. It is the presence in every home of the "Butsu-dan," or Buddha shelf, and the "Kami-dana," or God shelf. The former is Buddhist, and the latter Shinto. Exclusive Shintoists, who are rare, have the latter alone. Where both are found, the "I-hai," ancestral memorial tablets, are placed on the "Butsu-dan"; otherwise they are placed on the "Kami-dana." The Kami-dana are always quite simple, as are all Shinto charms and utensils. The Butsu-dan are usually elaborate and beautiful, and sometimes large and costly. The universality of these tokens of family religion, and the constant and loving care bestowed upon them, are striking testimony to the universality of the religion in Japan. The pathos of life is often revealed by the faithful devotion of the mother to these silent representatives of divine beings and departed ancestors or children. I have no hesitation in saying that, so far as external appearances go, the average home in Japan is far more religious than the average home in enlightened England or America, especially when compared with such as have no family worship. There may be a genuine religious life in these Western homes, but it does not appear to the casual visitor. Yet no casual visitor can enter a Japanese home, without seeing at once the evidences of some sort, at least, of religious life.
It is impossible for me to believe, as many assert, that all is mere custom and hollow form, without any kernel of meaning or sincerity. Customs may outlast beliefs for a time, and this is particularly the case with religious customs; for the form is so often taken to involve the very essence of the reality. But customs which have lost all significance, and all belief, inevitably dwindle and fade away, even if not suddenly rejected; they remain them; they leave their trace indeed, but so faintly that only the student of primitive customs can detect them and recognize their original nature and purpose. The Butsu-dan and Kami-dana do not belong to this order of beliefs. The average home of Japan would feel itself desecrated were these to be forcibly removed. The piety of the home centers, in large measure, about these expressions of the religious heart. Their practical universality is a significant witness to the possession by the people at large of a religious nature.
If it is fair to argue that the Christian religion has a vital hold on the Western peoples because of the cathedrals and churches to be found throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, a similar argument applies to Japan and the hold of the religions of this land upon its people. For over a thousand years the external manifestations of religion in architecture have been elaborate. Temples of enormous size, comparing not unfavorably with the cathedrals of Europe as regards the cost of erection, are to be found in all parts of the land. Immense temple bells of bronze, colossal statues of Buddha, and lesser ones of saints and worthies innumerable, bear witness to the lavish use of wealth in the expression of religious devotion. It is sometimes said that Buddhism is moribund in Japan. It is seriously asserted that its temples are falling into decay. This is no more true of the temples of Buddhism in Japan, than of the cathedrals Of Christendom. Local causes greatly affect the prosperity of the various temples. Some are falling into decay, but others are being repaired, and new ones are being built. No one can have visited any shrine of note without observing the large number of signboards along either side of the main approach, on which are written the sums contributed for the building or repairing of the temple. These gifts are often munificent, single gifts sometimes reaching the sum of a thousand yen; I have noticed a few exceeding this amount. The total number of these temples and shrines throughout the country is amazing. According to government statistics, in 1894 the Buddhist temples numbered 71,831; and the Shinto temples and shrines which have received official registration reached the vast number of 190,803. The largest temple in Japan, costing several million dollars, the Nishihongwanji in Kyoto, has been built during the past decade. Considering the general poverty of the nation, the proportion of gifts made for the erection and maintenance of these temples and shrines is a striking testimony to the reality of some sort of religious zeal. That it rests entirely on form and meaningless rites, is incredible.
SOME RELIGIOUS PHENOMENA
Without doubt, many traits are attributed to the Japanese by the casual observer or captious critic, through lack of ability to read between the lines. We have already seen how the stoical element of Japanese character serves to conceal from the sociologist the emotional nature of the people. If a Japanese conceals his ordinary emotions, much more does he refrain from public exhibition of his deeper religious aspirations. Although he may feel profoundly, his face and manner seldom reveal it. When torn with grief over the loss of a parent or son, he will tell you of his loss with smiles, if not with actual laughter. "The Japanese smile" has betrayed the solemn foreigner into many an error of individual and racial character interpretation. Particularly frequent have been such errors in matters of religion.
Although the light and joyous, "smiling" aspect of Japanese religious life is prominent, the careful observer will come incidentally and unexpectedly on many signs of an opposite nature, if he mingle intimately with the people. Japan has its sorrows and its tragedies, no less than other lands. These have their part in determining religious phenomena.
The student who takes his stand at a popular shrine and watches the worshipers come and go will be rewarded by the growing conviction that, although many are manifestly ceremonialists, others are clearly subjects of profound feeling. See that mother leading her toddling child to the image of Binzuru, the god of healing, and teaching it to rub the eyes and face of the god and then its own eyes and face. See that pilgrim before a bare shrine repeating in rapt devotion the prayer he has known from his childhood, and in virtue of which he has already received numberless blessings. Behold that leper pleading with merciful Kwannon of the thousand hands to heal his disease. Hear that pitiful wail of a score of fox-possessed victims for deliverance from their oppressor. Watch that tearful maiden performing the hundred circuits of the temple while she prays for a specific blessing for herself or some loved one. Observe that merchant solemnly worshiping the god of the sea, with offering of rice and wine. Count those hundreds of votive pictures, thanksgiving remembrances of the sick who have been healed, in answer, as they firmly believe, to their prayers to the god of this particular shrine. These are not imaginary cases. The writer has seen these and scores more like them. Here is a serious side to Japanese religious life easily overlooked by a casual or unsympathetic observer.
In addition to these simpler religious phenomena, we find in Japan, as in other lands, the practice of ecstatic union with the deity. In Shinto it is called "Kami-oroshi," the bringing down of the gods. It is doubtless some form of hypnotic trance, yet the popular interpretation of the phenomenon is that of divine possession.
Among Buddhists, the practice of ecstasy takes a different form. The aim is to attain absolute vacuity of mind and thus complete union with the Absolute. When attained, the soul becomes conscious of blissful superiority to all the concerns of this mundane life, a foretaste of the Nirvana awaiting those who shall attain to Buddhahood. The actual attainment of this experience is practically limited to the priesthood, who alone have the time and freedom from the cares of the world needful for its practice. For it is induced only by long and profound "meditation." Especially is this experience the desire of the Zen sect, which makes it a leading aim, taking its name "zen" (to sit) from this practice. To sit in religious abstraction is the height of religious bliss.
The practical business man of the West may perhaps find some difficulty in seeing anything particularly religious in ecstasy or mental vacuity. But if I mistake not, this religious phenomenon of the Orient does not differ in essence from the mystical religious experience so common in the middle and subsequent ages in Europe, and represented to-day by mystical Christians. Indeed, some of the finest religious souls of Western lands have been mystics. Mystic Christianity finds ready acceptance with certain of the Japanese.
The critical reader may perhaps admit, in view of the facts thus far presented, that the ignorant millions have some degree of religious feeling and yet, in view of the apparently irreligious life of the educated, he may still feel that the religious nature of the race is essentially shallow. He may feel that as soon as a Japanese is lifted out of the superstitious beliefs of the past, he is freed from all religious ideas and aspirations. I admit at once that there seems to be some ground for such an assertion. Yet as I study the character of the samurai of the Tokugawa period, who alone may be called the irreligious of the olden times, I see good reasons for holding that, though rejecting Buddhism, they were religious at heart. They developed little or no religious ceremonial to replace that of Buddhism, yet there were indications that the religious life still remained. Intellectual and moral growth rendered it impossible for earnest and honest men to accept the old religious expressions. They revolted from religious forms, rather than from religion, and the revolt resulted not in deeper superstitions and a poorer life, but in a life richer in thought and noble endeavor. Muro Kyu-so, the "Japanese Philosopher" to whom we have referred more than once, rejected Buddhism, as we have already seen. The high quality of his moral teachings we have also noticed. Yet he had no idea that he was "religious." Those who reject Buddhism often use the term "Shukyo-kusai," "stinking religion." For them religion is synonymous with corrupt and superstitious Buddhism. To have told Muro that he was religious would doubtless have offended him, but a few quotations should satisfy anyone that at heart he was religious in the best sense of the term.
"Consider all of you. Whence is fortune? From Heaven. Even the world says, Fortune is in Heaven. So then there is no resource save prayer to Heaven. Let us then ask: what does Heaven hate, and what does Heaven love? It loves benevolence and hates malevolence. It loves truth and hates untruth.... That which in Heaven begets all things, in man is called love. So doubt not that Heaven loves benevolence and hates its opposite. So too is it with truth. For countless ages sun and moon and stars constantly revolve and we make calendars without mistake. Nothing is more certain. It is the very truth of the universe.... I have noticed prayers for good luck, brought year by year from famous temples and hills, decorating the entrances to the homes of famous samurai. But none the less they have been killed or punished, or their line has been destroyed and house extinguished. Or at least to many, shame and disgrace have come. They have not learned fortune, but foolishly depend on prayers and charms. Confucius said: 'When punished by Heaven there is no place for prayer.' Women of course follow the temples and trust in charms, but not so should men. Alas! Now all are astray, those who should be teachers, the samurai and those higher still" (pp. 63-5). "Sin is the source of pain and righteousness of happiness. This is the settled law. The teaching of the sages and the conduct of superior men is determined by principles and the result is left to Heaven. Still, we do not obey in the hope of happiness, nor do we forbear to sin from fear. Not with this meaning did Confucius and Mencius teach that happiness is in virtue and pain in sin. But the 'way' is the law of man. It is said, 'The way of Heaven blesses virtue and curses sin.' That is intended for the ignorant multitude. Yet it is not like the Buddhist 'hoben' (pious device), for it is the determined truth" (p. 66). "Heaven is forever and is not to be understood at once, like the promises of men. Shortsighted men consider its ways and decide that there is no reward for virtue or vice. So they doubt when the good are virtuous and fear not when the wicked sin. They do not know that there is no victory against Heaven when it decrees" (p. 67). "Reason comes from Heaven, and is in men.... The philosopher knows the truth as the drinker knows the taste of sake and the abstainer the taste of sweets. How shall he forget it? How shall he fall into error? Lying down, getting up, moving, resting, all is well. In peace, in trouble, in death, in joy, in sorrow, all is well. Never for a moment will he leave this 'way.' This is to know it in ourselves" (p. 71).
One day, five or six students remained after the lecture to ask Kyu-so about his view as to the gods, stating their own dissatisfaction with the fantastic interpretations given to the term "Shinto" by the native scholars. Making some quotations from the Chinese classics, he went on to say for himself:
"I cannot accept that which is popularly called Shinto.... I do not profess to understand the profound reason of the deities, but in outline this is my idea: The Doctrine of the Mean speaks of the 'virtue of the Gods' and Shu-shi explains this word 'virtue' to mean the 'heart and its revelation.' Its meaning is thus stated in the Saden: 'God is pure intelligence and justice.' Now all know that God is just, but do not know that he is intelligent. But there is no such intelligence elsewhere as God's. Man hears by the ear and where the ear is not he hears not ...; man sees with his eyes, and where they are not he sees not ...; with his heart man thinks and the swiftest thought takes time. But God uses neither ear nor eye, nor does he pass over in thought. Directly he feels, and directly does he respond.... Is not this the divinity of Heaven and Earth? So the Doctrine of the Mean says: 'Looked for it cannot be seen, listened to it cannot be heard. It enters into all things. There is nothing without it.' ... 'Everywhere, everywhere, on the right and on the left.' This is the revealing of God, the truth not to be concealed. Think not that God is distant, but seek him in the heart, for the heart is the House of God. Where there is no obstacle of lust, there is communion of one spirit with the God of Heaven and Earth.... And now for the application. Examine yourselves, make the truth of the heart the foundation, increase in learning and at last you will attain. Then will you know the truth of what I speak" (pp. 50-52).
In the above passage Dr. Knox has translated the term "Shin," the Chinese ideograph for the Japanese word "Kami," by the English singular, God. This lends to the passage a fullness of monotheistic expression which the original hardly, if at all, justifies. The originals are indefinite as to number and might with equal truth be translated "gods," as Dr. Knox suggests himself in a footnote.
These and similar passages are of great interest to the student of Japanese religious development. They should be made much of by Christian preachers and missionaries. Such writers and thinkers as Muro evidently was might not improperly be called the pre-Christian Christians of Japan. They prepared the way for the coming of more light on these subjects. Japanese Christian apologists should collect such utterances from her wise men of old, and by them lead the nation to an appreciation of the truths which they suggest and for which they so fitly prepare the way. Scattered as they now are, and seldom read by the people, they lie as precious gems imbedded in the hills, or as seed safely stored. They can bear no harvest till they are sown in the soil and allowed to spring up and grow.
The more I have pondered the implications of these and similar passages, the more clear has it become that their authors were essentially religious men. Their revolt from "religion" did not spring from an irreligious motive, but from a deeper religious insight than was prevalent among Buddhist believers. The irrational and often immoral nature of many of the current religious expressions and ceremonials and beliefs became obnoxious to the thinking classes, and were accordingly rejected. The essence of religion, however, was not rejected. They tore off the accumulated husks of externalism, but kept intact the real kernel of religion.
The case for the religious nature of modern, educated Japan is not so simple. Irreligious it certainly appears. Yet it, too, is not so irreligious as perhaps the Occidental thinks. Though immoral, a Japanese may still be a filial son and a loyal subject, characteristics which have religious value in Japan, Old and New. It would not be difficult to prove that many a modern Japanese writer who proclaims his rejection of religion—calling all religion but superstition and ceremony—is nevertheless a religious man at heart. The religions he knows are too superstitious and senseless to satisfy the demands of his intellectually developed religious nature. He does not recognize that his rejection of what he calls "religion" is a real manifestation of his religious nature rather than the reverse.
The widespread irreligious phenomena of New Japan are, therefore, not difficult of explanation, when viewed in the light of two thousand years of Japanese religious history. They cannot be attributed to a deficient racial endowment of religious nature. They are a part of nineteenth-century life by no means limited to Japan. If the Anglo-Saxon race is not to be pronounced inherently irreligious, despite the fact that irreligious phenomena and individuals are in constant evidence the world over, neither can New Japan be pronounced irreligious for the same reason. The irreligion now so rampant is a recent phenomenon in Japan. It may not immediately pass away, but it must eventually. Religion freed from superstition and ceremonialism, resting in reality, identifying moral and scientific with religious truth, is already finding hearty support from many of Japan's educated men. If appeal is made under the right conditions, the Japanese manifest no lack of a genuine religious nature. That they seem to be deficient in the sense of reverence is held by some to be proof presumptive of a deficient religious nature. A few illustrations will make clear what the critic means and will guide us to an interpretation of the phenomena. Occidentals are accustomed to consider a religious service as a time of solemn quiet, for we feel ourselves in a special sense in the presence of God; His majesty and glory are realities to the believing worshiper. But much occurs during a Christian service in Japanese churches which would seem to indicate a lack of this feeling. It is by no means uncommon for little children to run about without restraint during the service, for mothers to nurse their infants, and for adults to converse with each other in an undertone, though not so low but that the sound of the conversation may be heard by all. I know a deacon occupying a front mat in church who spends a large part of service time during the first two sabbaths of each month in making out the receipts of the monthly contributions and distributing them among the members. His apparent supposition is that he disturbs no one (and it is amazing how undisturbed the rest of the congregation is), but also that he is in no way interfering with the solemnity or value of the service. The freedom, too, with which individuals come and go during the service is in marked contrast to our custom. From our standpoint, there is lack of reverence.
I recently attended a young men's meeting at which the places for each were assigned by written quotations, from the Bible, one-half of which was given to the individual and the other half placed at the seat. One quotation so used was the text, "The birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." It would hardly seem as if earnest Christians could have made such use of this text. Some months ago at a social gathering held in connection with the annual meeting of the churches of Shikoku, one of the comic performances consisted in the effort on the part of three old men to sing through to the end without a break-down the song which to us is so sacred, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me." Only one man succeeded, the others going through a course of quavers and breaks which was exceedingly laughable, but absolutely irreverent. The lack of reverence which has sometimes characterized the social side of the Christmas services in Japan has been the source of frequent regret to the missionaries. In a social gathering of earnest young Christians recently, a game demanding forfeits was played; these consisted of the recitation of familiar texts from the Bible. There certainly seems to be a lack of the sense of the fitness of things.
But the question is, are these practices due to an inherent deficiency of reverence, arising from the character of the Japanese nature, or are they due rather to the religious history of the past and the conditions of the present? That the latter seems to me the correct view I need hardly state. The fact that the Japanese are an emotional people renders it probable, a priori, that under suitable conditions they would be especially subject to the emotion of reverence. And when we look at their history, and observe the actual reverence paid by the multitudes to the rulers, and by the superstitious worshipers to the "Kami" and "Hotoke," it becomes evident that the apparent irreverence in the Christian churches must be due to peculiar conditions. Reverence is a subtle feeling; it depends on the nature of the ideas that possess the mind and heart. From the very nature of the case, Japanese Christians cannot have the same set of associations clustering around the church, the service, the Bible, or any of the Christian institutions, as the Occidental who has been reared from childhood among them, and who has derived his spiritual nourishment from them. All the wealth of nineteen centuries of experience has tended to give our services and our churches special religious value in our eyes. The average Christian in Japan and in any heathen land cannot have this fringe of ideas and subtle feelings so essential to a profound feeling of reverence. But as the significance of the Christian conception of God, endowed with glory and honor, majesty and might, is increasingly realized, and as it is found that the spirit of reverence is one that needs cultivation in worship, and especially as it is found that the spirit of reverence is important to high spiritual life and vitalizing spiritual power, more and more will that spirit be manifested by Japanese Christians. But its possession or its lack is due not to the inherent character of the people, but rather to the character of the ideas which possess them. In taking now a brief glance at the nature and history of the three religions of Japan it seems desirable to quote freely from the writings of recognized authorities on the subject.
"Shinto, which means literally 'the way of the Gods,' is the name given to the mythology and vague ancestor-and nature-worship which preceded the introduction of Buddhism into Japan—Shinto, so often spoken of as a religion, is hardly entitled to that name. It has no set of dogmas, no sacred book, no moral code. The absence of a moral code is accounted for in the writings of modern native commentators by the innate perfection of Japanese humanity, which obviates the necessity for such outward props.... It is necessary, however, to distinguish three periods in the existence of Shinto. During the first of these—roughly speaking, down to A.D. 550—the Japanese had no notion of religion as a separate institution. To pay homage to the gods, that is, to the departed ancestors of the Imperial family, and to the names of other great men, was a usage springing from the same soil as that which produced passive obedience to, and worship of, the living Mikado. Besides this, there were prayers to the wind-gods, to the god of fire, to the god of pestilence, to the goddess of food, and to deities presiding over the sauce-pan, the caldron, the gate, and the kitchen. There were also purifications for wrongdoing.... But there was not even a shadowy idea of any code of morals, or any systematization of the simple notions of the people concerning things unseen. There was neither heaven nor hell—only a kind of neutral-tinted Hades. Some of the gods were good and some were bad; nor was the line between men and gods at all clearly drawn."
The second period of Shinto began with the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, in which period Shinto became absorbed into Buddhism through the doctrine that the Shinto deities were ancient incarnations of Buddhas. In this period Shinto retained no distinctive feature. "Only at court and at a few great shrines, such as those of Ise and Idzumo, was a knowledge of Shinto in its native simplicity kept up; and it is doubtful whether changes did not creep in with the lapse of ages. Most Shinto temples throughout the country were served by Buddhist priests, who introduced the architectural ornaments and the ceremonial of their own religion. Thus was formed the Ryobu Shinto—a mixed religion founded on a compromise between the old creed and the new, and hence the tolerant ideas on theological subjects of most of the middle-lower classes, who worship indifferently at the shrines of either faith."
The third period began about 1700. It was introduced by the scholarly study of history. "Soon the movement became religious and political—above all, patriotic.... The Shogunate was frowned on, because it had supplanted the autocracy of the heaven-descended Mikados. Buddhism and Confucianism were sneered at because of their foreign origin. The great scholars Mabuchi (1697-1769), Motoori (1730-1801), and Hirata (1776-1843) devoted themselves to a religious propaganda—if that can be called a religion which sets out from the principle that the only two things needful are to follow one's natural impulses and to obey the Mikado. This order triumphed for a moment in the revolution of 1868." It became for a few months the state religion, but soon lost its status.[CB]
Buddhism came to Japan from Korea via China in 552 A.D. It was already a thousand years old and had, before it reached Japan, broken up into numerous sects and subsects differing widely from each other and from the original teaching of Sakya Muni. After two centuries of propagandism it conquered the land and absorbed the religious life of the people, though Shinto was never entirely suppressed. "All education was for centuries in Buddhist hands; Buddhism introduced art, and medicine, molded the folklore of the country, created its dramatic poetry, deeply influenced politics and every sphere of social and intellectual activity. In a word, Buddhism was the teacher under whose instruction the Japanese nation grew up. As a nation they are now grossly forgetful of this fact. Ask an educated Japanese a question about Buddhism, and ten to one he will smile in your face. A hundred to one that he knows nothing about the subject and glories in his nescience." "The complicated metaphysics of Buddhism have awakened no interest in the Japanese nation. Another fact, curious but true, is that these people have never been at the trouble to translate the Buddhist canon into their own language. The priests use a Chinese version, and the laity no version at all, though ... they would seem to have been given to searching the Scriptures a few hundred years ago. The Buddhist religion was disestablished and disendowed during the years 1871-74, a step taken in consequence of the temporary ascendency of Shinto." Although Confucianism took a strong hold on the people in the early part of the seventeenth century, yet its influence was limited to the educated and ruling classes. The vast multitude still remained Shinto-Buddhists.
As for doctrine, philosophic Buddhism with its dogmas of salvation through intellectual enlightenment, by means of self-perfecting, with its goal of absorption into Nirvana, has doubtless been the belief and aim of the few. But such Buddhism was too deep for the multitudes. "By the aid of hoben, or pious devices, the priesthood has played into the hands of popular superstition. Here, as elsewhere, there have been evolved charms, amulets, pilgrimages, and gorgeous temple services, in which the people worship not only the Buddha, who was himself an agnostic, but his disciple, and even such abstractions as Amida, which are mistaken for actual divine personages."[CC] The deities of Shinto have been more or less confused with those of popular Buddhism; in some cases, inextricably so.
Confucianism, as known in Japan, was the elaborated doctrine of Confucius. "He confined himself to practical details of morals and government, and took submission to parents and political rulers as the corner stone of his system. The result is a set of moral truths—some would say truisms—of a very narrow scope, and of dry ceremonial observances, political rather than personal." "Originally introduced into Japan early in the Christian era, along with other products of Chinese civilization, the Confucian philosophy lay dormant during the middle ages, the period of the supremacy of Buddhism. It awoke with a start in the early part of the seventeenth century when Iccasu, the great warrior, ruler, and patron of learning, caused the Confucian classics to be printed in Japan for the first time. During the two hundred and fifty years that followed, the intellect of the country was molded by Confucian ideas. Confucius himself had, it is true, labored for the establishment of a centralized monarchy. But his main doctrine of unquestioning submission to rulers and parents fitted in perfectly with the feudal ideas of Old Japan; and the conviction of the paramount importance of such subordination lingers on, an element of stability, in spite of the recent social cataclysm which has involved Japanese Confucianism, properly so-called, in the ruin of all other Japanese institutions."[CD]
Christianity was first brought to Japan by Francis Xavier, who landed in Kagoshima in 1549. His zeal knew no bounds and his results were amazing. "The converts were drawn from all classes alike. Noblemen, Buddhist priests, men of learning, embraced the faith with the same alacrity as did the poor and ignorant.... One hundred and thirty-eight European missionaries" were then on the field. "Until the breaking out of the persecution of 1596 the work of evangelization proceeded apace. The converts numbered ten thousand yearly, though all were fully aware of the risk to which they exposed themselves by embracing the Catholic faith." "At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Japanese Christians numbered about one million, the fruit of half a century of apostolic labor accomplished in the midst of comparative peace. Another half-century of persecution was about to ruin this flourishing church, to cut off its pastors, more than two hundred of whom suffered martyrdom, and to leave its laity without the offices of religion.... The edicts ordering these measures remained in force for over two centuries." Tens of thousands of Christians preferred death to perjury. It was supposed that Christianity was entirely exterminated by the fearful and prolonged persecutions. Yet in the vicinity of Nagasaki over four thousand Christians were discovered in 1867, who were again subject to persecution until the pressure of foreign lands secured religious toleration in Japan.
Protestant Christianity came to Japan with the beginning of the new era, and has been preached with much zeal and moderate success. For a time it seemed destined to sweep the land even more astonishingly than did Romanism in the sixteenth century. But in 1888 an anti-foreign reaction began in every department of Japanese life and thought which has put a decided check on the progress of Christian missions.
This must suffice for our historical review of the religious life of the Japanese. Were we to forget Japan's long and repeated isolations, and also to ignore fluctuations of belief and of other religious phenomena in other lands, we might say, as many do, that the Japanese have inherently shallow and changeable religious convictions. But remembering these facts, and recalling the persecutions of Buddhists by each other, of Christianity by the state, and knowing to-day many earnest, self-sacrificing and persistent Christians, I am convinced that such a judgment is mistaken. There are other and sufficient reasons to account for this appearance of changeableness in religion.
I close this chapter with a single observation on the religious history just outlined. Bearing in mind the great changes that have come over Japanese religious thinking and forms of religion I ask if religious phenomena are the expressions of the race nature, as some maintain, and if this nature is inherent and unchangeable, how are such profound changes to be accounted for? If the religious character of the Japanese people is inherent, how is it conceivable that they should so easily adopt foreign religions, even to the exclusion of their own native religion, as did those who became Buddhist or Confucian or Christian? I conclude from these facts, and they are paralleled in the history of many other peoples, that even religious characteristics are not dependent on biological, but are wholly dependent on social evolution. It seems to me capable of the clearest proof that the religious phenomena of any age are dependent on the general development of the intellect, on the ruling ideas, and on the entire conditions of the civilization of the age rather than on brain structure or essential race nature.
SOME RELIGIOUS CONCEPTIONS
The conceptions of the common people in regard to deity are chaotic. They believe in local spirits who are to be worshiped; some of these are of human origin, and some antedate all human life. The gods of the Shinto pantheon are "yaoyorodzu" in number, eight thousand myriads; yet in their "norito," or prayer rituals, reference is made not only to the "yaoyorodzu" who live in the air, but also to the "yaoyorodzu" who live on earth, and even to the "yaoyorodzu" who live beneath the earth. If we add these together there must be at least twenty-four thousand myriads of gods. These of course include sun, moon, stars, and all the forces of nature, as well as the spirits of men. Popular Buddhism accepts the gods of Shinto and brings in many more, worshiping not only the Buddha and his immediate "rakan," disciples, five hundred in number, but numberless abstractions of ideal qualities, such as the varieties of Kwannon (Avelokitesvara, gods and goddesses of mercy), Amida (Amitabha, the ideal of boundless light), Jizo (Kshitigarbha, the helper of those in trouble, lost children, and pregnant women), Emma O (Yama-raja, ruler of Buddhist hells), Fudo (Achala, the "immovable," "unchangeable"), and many others. Popular Buddhism also worships every man dead or living who has become a "hotoke," that is, has attained Buddhahood and has entered Nirvana. The gods of Japan are innumerable in theory and multitudinous in practice. Not only are there gods of goodness but also gods of lust and of evil, to whom robbers and harlots may pray for success and blessing.
In the Japanese pantheon there is no supreme god, such, for instance, as the Roman Jupiter, or the Greek Chronos, nor is there a thoroughgoing divine hierarchy.
According to the common view (although there is no definite thought about it), the idea seems to be that the universe with its laws and nature were already existent before the gods appeared on the scene; they created specific places, such as Japan, out of already existing material. Neither in Shinto nor in popular Buddhism is the conception formed of a primal fount of all being with its nature and laws. In this respect Japanese thought is like all primitive religious thought. There is no word in the Japanese language corresponding to the English term "God." The nearest approach to it are the Confucian terms "Jo-tei," "Supreme Emperor," "Ten," "Heaven," and "Ten-tei," "Heavenly Emperor"; but all of these terms are Chinese, they are therefore of late appearance in Japan, and represent rather conceptions of educated and Confucian classes than the ideas of the masses. These terms approach closely to the idea of monotheism; but though the doctrine may be discovered lying implicit in these words and ideas it was never developed. Whether "Heaven" was to be conceived as a person, or merely as fate, was not clearly thought out; some expressions point in one direction while others point in the other.
I may here call attention to a significant fact in the history of recent Christian work in Japan. Although the serious-minded Japanese is first attracted to Christianity by the character of its ethical thought—so much resembling, also so much surpassing that of Confucius, it is none the less true that monotheism is another powerful source of attraction. I have been repeatedly told by Christians that the first religious satisfaction they ever experienced was upon their discovery of monotheism. How it affected Dr. Neesima, readers of his life cannot have overlooked. He is a type of multitudes. In the earlier days of Christian work many felt that they had become Christians upon rejection of polytheism and acceptance of monotheism. And in truth they were so far forth Christian, although they knew little of Christ, and felt little need of His help as a personal Saviour. The weakness of the Church in recent years is due in part, I doubt not, to the acceptance into its membership of numbers who were, properly speaking, monotheistic, but not in the complete sense of the term Christian. Their discovery later that more was needed than the intellectual acceptance of monotheism ere they could be considered, or even be, truly "Christian," has led many such "believers" to abandon their relations with the Church. This, while on many accounts to be regretted, was nevertheless inevitable. The bare acceptance of the monotheistic idea does not secure that transformation of heart and produce that warmth of living faith which are essential elements in the altruistic life demanded of the Christian.
Nor is it difficult to understand why monotheism has proved such an attraction to the Japanese when we consider that through it they first recognized a unity in the universe and even in their own lives. Nature, and human nature took on an intelligibility which they never had had under the older philosophy. History likewise was seen to have a meaning and an order, to say nothing of a purpose, which the non-Christian faiths did not themselves see and could not give to their devotees. Furthermore the monotheistic idea furnished a satisfactory background and explanation for the exact sciences. If there is but one God, who is the fount and cause of all being, it is easy to see why the truths of science should be universal and absolute, rather than local and diverse, as they would be were they subject to the jurisdiction of various local deities. The universality of nature's laws was inconceivable under polytheism. Monotheism thus found a ready access to many minds. Polytheism pure and simple is the belief of no educated Japanese to-day. He is a monist of some kind or other. Philosophic Buddhism always was monistic, but not monotheistic. Thinking Confucianists were also monistic. But neither philosophic Buddhism nor Confucianism emphasized their monistic elements; they did not realize the importance to popular thought of monistic conceptions. But possessing these ideas, and being now in contact with aggressive Christian monotheism, they are beginning to emphasize this truth.
As Japan has had no adequate conception of God, her conception of man has been of necessity defective. Indeed, the cause of her inadequate conception of God is due in large measure to her inadequate conception of man, which we have seen to be a necessary consequence of the primitive communal order. Since, however, we have already given considerable attention to Japan's inadequate conception of man, we need do no more than refer to it in this connection.
Corresponding to her imperfect doctrines of God and of man is her doctrine of sin. That the Japanese sense of sin is slight is a fact generally admitted. This is the universal experience of the missionary. Many Japanese with whom I have conversed seem to have no consciousness of it whatever. Indeed, it is a difficult matter to speak of to the Japanese, not only because of the etiquette involved, but for the deeper reason of the deficiency of the language. There exists no term in Japanese which corresponds to the Christian word "sin." To tell a man he is a sinner without stopping to explain what one means would be an insult, for he is not conscious of having broken any of the laws of the land. Yet too much stress must not be laid on this argument from the language, for the Buddhistic vocabulary furnishes a number of terms which refer to the crime of transgressing not the laws of the land, but those of Buddha.
In Shinto, sin is little, if anything, more than physical impurity. Although Buddhism brought a higher conception of religion for the initiated few, it gave no help to the ignorant multitudes, rather it riveted their superstitions upon them. It spoke of law indeed, and lust and sin; and of dreadful punishments for sin; but when it explained sin it made its nature too shallow, being merely the result of mental confusion; salvation, then, became simply intellectual enlightenment; it also made the consequences of sin too remote and the escape from them too easy. The doctrine of "Don," suddenness of salvation, the many external and entirely formal rites, short pilgrimages to famous shrines, the visiting of some neighboring temple having miniature models of all the other efficacious shrines throughout the land, the wearing of charms, the buying of "o fuda," and even the single utterance of certain magic prayers, were taught to be quite enough for the salvation of the common man from the worst of sins. Where release is so easily obtained, the estimate of the heinousness of sin is correspondingly slight. How different was the consciousness of sin and the conception of its nature developed by the Jewish worship with its system of sin offerings! Life for life. Whatever we may think of the efficacy of offering an animal as an expiation for sin, it certainly contributed far more toward deepening the sense of sin than the rites in common practice among the Buddhists. So far as I know, human or animal sacrifice has never been known in Japan.
In response to the not unlikely criticism that sacrifice is the result of profound sense of sin and not its cause, I reply that it is both. The profound sense is the experience of the few at the beginning; the practice educates the multitudes and begets that feeling in the nation.
Ceremonial purification is an old rite in Japan. In this connection we naturally think of the "Chozu-bachi" which may be found before every Shinto shrine, containing the "holy water" with which to rinse the mouth and wash the hands. Pilgrims and worshipers invariably make use of this water, wiping their hands on the towels provided for the purpose by the faithful. To our eyes, few customs in Japan are more conducive to the spread of impurity and infectious disease than this rite of ceremonial purification. No better means could be devised for the wide dissemination of the skin diseases which are so common. The reformed religion of New Japan—whether Buddhist, Shinto, or Christian—could do few better services for the people at large than by entering on a crusade against this religious rite. It could and should preach the doctrine that sin and defilement of the hearts are not removed by such an easy method as the rite implies and the masses believe. If retained as a symbol, the purification rite should at least be reformed as a practice.
Whether the use of purificatory water is to be traced to the sense of moral or spiritual sin is doubtful to my mind; in view of the general nature of primitive Shinto. The interpretation given the system by W.E. Griffis, in his volume on the "Religions of Japan," is suggestive, but in view of all the facts does not seem conclusive. "One of the most remarkable features of Shinto" he writes, "was the emphasis laid on cleanliness. Pollution was calamity, defilement was sin, and physical purity at least was holiness. Everything that could in any way soil the body or clothing was looked upon with abhorrence and detestation."[CE] The number of specifications given in this connection is worthy of careful perusal. But it is a strange nemesis of history that the sense of physical pollution should develop a religious rite fitted to become the very means for the dissemination of physical pollution and disease.
Japanese personal cleanliness is often connected in the descriptions of foreigners with ceremonial purification, but the facts are much exaggerated. In contrast to nearly if not quite all non-Christian peoples, the Japanese are certainly astonishingly cleanly in their habits. But it is wholly unnecessary to exaggerate the facts. The "tatami," or straw-mats, an inch or more in thickness, give to the room an appearance of cleanliness which usually belies the truth. The multitudes of fleas that infest the normal Japanese home are convincing proof of the real state of the "tatami." There are those who declare that a Japanese crowd has the least offensive odor of any people in the world. One writer goes so far as to state that not only is there no unpleasant odor whatever, but that there is even a pleasant intimation of lavender about their exhalations. This exactly contradicts my experience. Not to mention the offensive oil with which all women anoint their hair to give it luster and stiffness, the Japanese habit of wearing heavy cotton wadded clothing, with little or no underwear, produces the inevitable result in the atmosphere of any closed room. In cold weather I always find it necessary to throw open all the doors and windows of my study or parlor, after Bible classes of students or even after the visits of cultured and well-to-do guests. That the Japanese bathe so frequently is certainly an interesting fact and a valuable feature of their civilization; it indicates no little degree of cleanliness; but for that, their clothing would become even more disagreeable than it is, and the evil effect upon themselves of wearing soiled garments would be much greater. In point of fact, their frequent baths do not wholly remove the need of change in clothing. To a Japanese the size of the weekly wash of a foreigner seems extravagant.
As to the frequent bathing, its cleanliness is exaggerated by Western thought, for instead of supplying fresh water for each person, the Japanese public baths consist usually of a large tank used by multitudes in common. Clean water is allowed for the face, but the main tank is supplied with clean hot water only once each day. In Kumamoto, schoolgirls living with us invariably asked permission to go to the bath early in the day that they might have the first use of the water. They said that by night it was so foul they could not bear to use it. Each hotel has its own private bath for guests; this is usually heated in the afternoon, and the guests take their baths from four o'clock on until midnight, the waiting girls of the hotel using it last. My only experience with public baths has been mentioned already. At first glance the conditions were reassuring, for a large stream of hot water was running in constantly, and the water in the tank itself was quite transparent. But on entering I was surprised, not to say horrified, to see floating along the margin of the tank and on the bottom of it suggestive proofs of previous bathers. On inquiry I learned that the tank was never washed out, nor the water entirely discharged at a single time; the natural overflow along the edge of the tank being considered sufficient. In the interest of accuracy it is desirable to add that New Japan is making progress in the matter of public baths. In some of the larger cities, I am told, provision is sometimes made for entirely fresh water for each bather in separate bathrooms.
In view of these facts—as unpleasant to mention as they are essential to a faithful description of the habits of the people—it is clear that the "horror of physical impurity" has not been, and is not now, so great as some would have us believe. Whatever may have been the condition in ancient times, it would be difficult to believe that the rite of ceremonial purification could arise out of the present practices and habits of thought. One may venture the inquiry whether the custom of using the "purificatory water" may not have been introduced from abroad.
But whatever be the present thought of the people, on the general subject of sin, it may be shown to be due to the prevailing system of ideas, moral and religious, rather than to the inherent racial character. In an interesting article by Mr. G. Takahashi on the "Past, Present, and Future of Christianity in Japan" I find the statement that the preaching of the monks who came to Japan in the sixteenth century was of such a nature as to produce a very deep consciousness of sin among the converts. "The Christians or martyrs repeatedly cried out 'we miserable sinners,' 'Christ died for us,' etc., as their letters abundantly prove. It was because of this that their consciences were aroused by the burning words of Christ, and kept awake by means of contrition and confession." Among modern Christians the sense of sin is much more clear and pronounced than among the unconverted. Individual instances of extreme consciousness of sin are not unknown, especially under the earlier Protestant preaching. If the Christians of the last decade have less sense of sin, it is due to the changed character of recent preaching, in consequence of the changed conception of Christianity widely accepted in Protestant lands. Who will undertake to say that Christians in New England of the nineteenth century have the same oppressive sense of sin that was customary in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries? The sense of sin is due more to the character of the dominant religious ideas of the age than to brain structure or to race nature. I cannot agree with Mr. Takahashi that "To be religious one needs a Semitic tinge of mind." It is not a question of mind, of race nature, but of dominant ideas.
In this connection I may refer to an incident that came under my notice some years ago. A young man applied for membership in the Kumamoto Church, who at one time had been a student in one of my Bible classes. I had not known that he had received any special help from his study with me, until I heard his statement as to how he had discovered his need of a Saviour, and had found that need satisfied in Christ. In his statement before the examining committee of the church, he said that when he first read the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he was so impressed with its beauty as a poem that he wrote it out entire on one of the fusuma (light paper doors) of his room, and each morning, as he arose, he read it. This practice continued several weeks. Then, as we continued our study of the Bible, we took up the third chapter of John, and when he came to the sixteenth verse, he was so impressed with its statement that he wrote that beside the poem from Corinthians, and read them together. Gradually this daily reading, together with the occasional sermons and other Christian addresses which he heard at the Boys' School, led him to desire to secure for himself the love described by Paul, and to know more vitally the love of God described by John. It occurred to him, that, to secure these ends, he should pray. Upon doing so he said that, for the first time in his life, his unworthiness and his really sinful nature overwhelmed him. This was, of course, but the beginning of his Christian life. He began then to search the Scriptures in earnest, and with increasing delight. It was not long before he wished to make public confession of his faith, and thus identify himself with the Christian community. This brief account of the way in which this young man was brought to Christ illustrates a good many points, but that for which I have cited it is the testimony it bears to the fact that under similar circumstances the human heart undergoes very much the same religious experience, whatever be the race or nationality of the individual.
In regard to the future life, Shinto has little specific doctrine. It certainly implies the continued existence of the soul after death, as its ancestral worship shows, but its conception as to the future state is left vague in the extreme. Confucius purposely declined to teach anything on this point, and, in part, for this reason, it has been maintained that Confucianism cannot properly be called a religion. Buddhism brought to Japan an elaborate system of eschatological ideas, and so far as the common people of Japan have any conception of the future life, it may be attributed to Buddhistic teachings. Into their nature I need not inquire at any length. According to popular Buddhism, the future world, or more properly speaking, worlds (for there are ten of them, into any one of which a soul may be born either immediately or in the course of its future transmigrations), does not differ in any vital way from the present world. It is a world of material blessings or woes; the successive stages or worlds are graded one above the other in fantastic ways. Salvation consists in passing to higher grades of life, the final or perfect stage being paradise, which, once attained, can never be lost. Transmigration is universal, the period of life in each world being determined by the merits and demerits of the individual soul.
Here we must consider two widely used terms "ingwa" and "mei." The first of these is Buddhistic and the other Confucianistic; though differing much in origin and meaning, yet in the end they amount to much the same thing. "Ingwa" is the law of cause and effect. According to the Buddhistic teaching, however, the "in," or cause, is in one world, while the "gwa," or effect, is in the other. The suffering, for instance, or any misfortune that overtakes one in this present life, is the "gwa" or effect of what was done in the previous, and is thus inevitable. The individual is working off in this life the "gwa" of his last life, and he is also working up the "in" of the next He is thus in a kind of vise. His present is absolutely determined for him by his past, and in turn is irrevocably fixing his future. Such is the Buddhistic "wheel of the law." The common explanation of misfortune, sickness, or disease, or any calamity, is that it is the result of "ingwa," and that there is, therefore, no help for it. The paralyzing nature of this conception on the development of character, or on activity of any kind, is apparent not only theoretically but actually. As an escape from the inexorable fatality of this scheme of thought, the Buddhist faith of the common people has resorted to magic. Magic prayers, consisting of a few mystic syllables of whose meaning the worshiper may be quite ignorant, are the means for overcoming the inexorableness of "ingwa," both for this life and the next. "Namu Amida Butsu," "Namu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo," "Namu Hen Jo Kongo," are the most common of such magic formulae. These prayers are heard on the lips of tens of thousands of pious pilgrims, not only at the temples, but as they pass along the highways. It is believed that each repetition secures its reward. Popular Buddhism's appeal to magic was not only winked at by philosophical Buddhism, but it was encouraged. Magic was justified by religious philosophy, and many a "hoben," "pious device," for saving the ignorant was invented by the priesthood. It will be apparent that while Buddhism has in certain respects a vigorous system of punishment for sin, yet its method of relief is such that the common people can gain only the most shallow and superficial views of salvation. Buddhism has not served to deepen the sense of responsibility, nor helped to build up character. That the more serious-minded thinkers of the nation have, as a rule, rejected Buddhism is not strange.
One point of great interest for us is the fact that this eschatological and soteriological system was imported, and is not the spontaneous product of Japan. The wide range of national religious characteristics thus clearly traceable to Buddhistic influence shows beyond doubt how large a part of a nation's character is due to the system of thought that for one reason or another prevails, rather than to the essential race character.
The other term mentioned above, "mei," literally means "command" or "decree"; but while the English terms definitely imply a real being who decides, decrees, and commands, the term "mei" is indeterminate on this point. It is frequently joined to the word "Ten," or Heaven; "Ten-mei," Heaven's decree, seeming to imply a personality in the background of the thought. Yet, as I have already pointed out, it is only implied; in actual usage it means the fate decreed by Heaven; that is, fated fate, or absolute fate. The Chinese and the Japanese alike failed to inquire minutely as to the implication of the deepest conceptions of their philosophy. But "mei" is commonly used entirely unconnected with "Ten," and in this case its best translation into English is probably "fate." In this sense it is often used. Unlike Buddhism, however, Confucianism provided no way of escape from "mei" except moral conduct. One of its important points of superiority was its freedom from appeal to magic in any form, and its reliance on sincerity of heart and correctness of conduct.
Few foreigners have failed to comment on the universal use by the Japanese of the phrase "Shikataga nai," "it can't be helped." The ready resignation to "fate," as they deem it, even in little things about the home and in the daily life, is astonishing to Occidentals. Where we hold ourselves and each other to sharp personal responsibility, the sense of subjection to fate often leads them to condone mistakes with the phrase "Shikataga nai."
But this characteristic is not peculiar to Japan. China and India are likewise marked by it. During the famines in India, it was frequently remarked how the Hindus would settle down to starve in their huts in submission to fate, where Westerners would have been doing something by force, fighting even the decrees of heaven, if needful. But it is important to note that this characteristic in Japan is undergoing rapid change. The spirit of absolute submission, so characteristic of the common people of Old Japan, is passing away and self-assertion is taking its place. Education and developing intelligence are driving out the fear of fate. Had our estimate of the Japanese race character been based wholly on the history of Old Japan, it might have been easy to conclude that the spirit of submission to rulers and to fate was a national characteristic due to racial nature; but every added year of New Japan shows how erroneous that view would have been. Thus we see again that the characteristics of Japan, Old and New, are not due to race nature, but to the prevailing civilization in the broadest sense of the term. The religious characteristics of a people depend primarily on the dominant religious ideas, not on the inherent religious nature.
SOME RELIGIOUS PRACTICES
Among the truly religious sentiments of the Japanese are those of loyalty and filial piety. Having already given them considerable attention, we need not delay long upon them here. The point to be emphasized is that these two principles are exalted into powerful religious sentiments, which have permeated and dominated the entire life of the nation. Not only were they at the root of courage, of fidelity, of obedience, and of all the special virtues of Old Japan, but they were also at the root of the larger part of her religion. These emotions, sentiments, and beliefs have built 190,000 Shinto shrines. Loyalty to the daimyo was the vital part of the religion of the past, as loyalty to the Emperor is the vital part of the popular religion of to-day. Next to loyalty came filial piety; it not only built the cemeteries, but also maintained god-shelves and family ancestral worship throughout the centuries. One of the first questions which many an inquirer about Christianity has put to me is as to the way we treat our parents living and dead, and the tombs and memories of our ancestors. These two religious sentiments of loyalty and filial piety were essential elements of primitive Shinto. The imported religions, particularly Confucianism and Christianity, served to strengthen them. In view of the indubitable religious nature of these two sentiments it is difficult to see how anyone can deny the name of religion to the religions that inculcate them, Shinto and Confucianism. It shows how defective is the current conception of the real nature of religion.
Despite the reality of these religious, sentiments, however, many things are done in Japan quite opposed to them. Of course this is so. These violations spring from irreligion, and irreligion is found in every land. Furthermore, many things done in the name of loyalty and piety seem to us Westerners exceedingly whimsical and illogical. Deeds which to us seem disloyal and unfilial receive no rebuke. Filial piety often seems to us more active toward the dead than toward the living.
Closely connected with loyalty and filial piety, and in part their expression, is one further religious sentiment, namely, gratitude. In his chapter in "Kokoro" "About Ancestor-Worship," Mr. Hearn makes some pertinent remarks as to the nature of Shinto. "Foremost among the moral sentiments of Shinto is that of loving gratitude to the past." This he attributes to the fact that "To Japanese thought the dead are not less real than the living. They take part in the daily life of the people, sharing the humblest sorrows and the humblest joys ... and they are universally thought of as finding pleasure in the offerings made to them or the honors conferred upon them." There is much truth in these statements, though I by no means share the opinion that in connection with the Japanese belief in the dead there "have been evolved moral sentiments wholly unknown to Western civilization," or that their "loving gratitude to the past" is "a sentiment having no real correspondence in our own emotional life." Mr. Hearn may be presumed to be speaking for himself in these matters; but he certainly does not correctly represent the thought or the feelings of the circle of life known to me. The feeling of gratitude of Western peoples is as real and as strong as that of the Japanese, though it does not find expression in the worship of the dead. That the Japanese are profuse in their expressions of gratitude to the past and to the powers that be is beyond dispute. It crops out in sermons and public speeches, as well as in the numberless temples to national heroes.
But it is a matter of surprise to note how often there is apparent ingratitude toward living benefactors. Some years ago I heard a conversation between some young men who had enjoyed special opportunities of travel and of study abroad by the liberality of American gentlemen.
It appeared that the young men considered that instead of receiving any special favors, they were conferring them on their benefactors by allowing the latter to help such brilliant youth as they, whose subsequent careers in Japan would preserve to posterity the names of their benefactors. I have had some experience in the line of giving assistance to aspiring students, in certain cases helping them for years; a few have given evidence of real gratitude; but a large proportion have seemed singularly deficient in this grace. It is my impression that relatively few of the scores of students who have received a large proportion of their expenses from the mission, while pursuing their studies, have felt that they were thereby under any special debt of gratitude. An experience that a missionary had with a class to which he had been teaching the Bible in English for about a year is illustrative. At the close of the school year they invited him to a dinner where they made some very pleasant speeches, and bade each other farewell for the summer. The teacher was much gratified with the result of the year's work, feeling naturally that these boys were his firm friends. But the following September when he returned, not only did the class not care to resume their studies with him, but they appeared to desire to have nothing whatever to do with him. On the street many of them would not even recognize him. Other similar cases come to mind, and it should be remembered that missionaries give such instruction freely and always at the request of the recipient. In the case cited the teacher came to the conclusion that the elaborate dinner and fine farewell speeches were considered by the young men as a full discharge of all debts of gratitude and a full compensation for services. This, however, is to be said: the city itself was at that time the seat of a determined antagonism to Christianity and, of course, to the Christian missionary; and this fact may in part, but not wholly, account for the appearance of ingratitude.
The Japanese pride themselves on their gratitude. It is, however, limited in its scope. It is vigorous toward the dead and toward the Emperor, but as a grace of daily life it is not conspicuous.
Few achievements of the Japanese have been more remarkable than the suppression of certain religious phenomena. Any complete statement of the religious characteristics of the Japanese fifty years ago would have included most revolting and immoral practices under the guise of religion. Until suppressed by the government in the early years of Meiji there were in many parts of Japan phallic shrines of considerable popularity, at which, on festivals at least, sexual immorality seemed to be an essential part of the worship. At Uji, not far from Kyoto, the capital of the Empire, for a thousand years and more, and the center of Buddhism, there was a shrine of great repute and popularity. Thither resorted the multitudes for bacchanalian purposes. Under the auspices of the Goddess Hashihime and the God Sumiyoshi, free rein was given to lust. Since the beginning of the new regime such revels have been forbidden and apparently stopped; the phallic symbols themselves are no longer visible, although it is asserted by the keeper of the shrine that they are still there, concealed in the boxes on the pedestals formerly occupied by the symbols. When I visited the place some years since with a fellow missionary we were told that multitudes still come there to pray to the deities; those seeking divorce pray to the female deity, while those seeking a favorable marriage pray to the male deity; on asking as to the proportion of the worshipers, we were told that there are about ten of the former to one of the latter, a significant indication of the unhappiness of many a home. Prof. Edmund Buckley has made a special study of the subject of phallic worship in Japan; in his thesis on the topic he gives a list of thirteen places where these symbols of phallic worship might be seen a few years since. It is significant that at Uji, not a stone's throw from the phallic shrine, is a temple to the God Agata, whose special function is the cure of venereal diseases.
But though phallic worship and its accompanying immorality have been extirpated, immorality in connection with religion is still rampant in certain quarters. Not far from the great temples at Ise, the center of Shintoism and the goal for half a million pilgrims yearly, are large and prosperous brothels patronized by and existing for the sake of the pilgrims. A still more popular resort for pilgrims is that at Kompira, whither, as we have seen, some 900,000 come each year; here the best hotels, and presumably the others also, are provided with prostitutes who also serve as waiting girls; on the arrival of a guest he is customarily asked whether or not the use of a prostitute shall be included in his hotel bill. It seems strange, indeed, that the government should take such pains to suppress phallicism, and allow such immorality to go on under the eaves of the greatest national shrines; for these shrines are not private affairs; the government takes possession of the gifts, and pays the regular salaries of the attending priests. It would appear from its success in the extermination of distinctly phallic worship that the government could put a stop to all public prostitution in connection with religion if it cared to do so.
One point of interest in connection with the above facts is that the old religions, however much of force, beauty, and truth we may concede to them, have never made warfare against these obscene forms of worship, nor against the notorious immorality of their devotees. Whatever may be said of the profound philosophy of life involved in phallic worship, for many hundreds of years it has been a source of outrageous immorality. Nevertheless, there has never been any continued and effective effort on the part of the higher types of religion to exterminate the lower. But Japan is not peculiar in this respect. India is even now amazingly immoral in certain forms of her worship.
Another point of interest in this connection is that the change of the nation in its attitude to this form of religion was due largely, probably wholly, to contact with the nations of the West. The uprooting of phallic worship was due, not to a moral reformation, but to a political ambition. It was carried out, not in deference to public opinion, but wholly by government command, though without doubt the nobler opinion of the land approved of the government action. But even this nobler public sentiment was aroused by the Occidental stimulus. The success of the effort must be attributed not a little to the age-long national custom of submitting absolutely to governmental initiative and command.
Another point of interest is that, in consequence of official pressure, the religious character of a large number of the people seems to have undergone a radical change. The ordinary traveler in Japan would not suspect that phallicism had ever been a prominent feature of Japanese religious life. Only an inquisitive seeker can now find the slightest evidences of this once popular cult. Here we have an apparent change in the character of a people sudden and complete, induced almost wholly by external causes. It shows that the previous characteristic was not so deeply rooted in the physical or spiritual nature of the race as many would have us believe. Can we escape the conclusion that national characteristics are due much more to the circle of dominant ideas and actual practices, than to the inherent race nature?
The way in which phallicism has been suppressed during the present era raises the general question of religious liberty in Japan. In this respect, no less than in many others, a change has taken place so great as to amount to a revolution. During two hundred and fifty years Christianity was strictly forbidden on pain of extreme penalties. In 1872 the edict against Christianity was removed, free preaching was allowed, and for a time it seemed as if the whole nation would become Christian in a few decades; even non-Christians urged that Christianity be made the state religion. What an amazing volte-face! Religious liberty is now guaranteed by the constitution promulgated in 1888. There are those who assert that until Christianity invaded Japan, religious freedom was perfect; persecutions were unknown. This is a mistake. When Buddhism came to Japan, admission was first sought from the authorities, and for a time was refused. When various sects arose, persecutions were severe. We have seen how belief in Christianity was forbidden under pain of death for more than two hundred and fifty years. Under this edict, many thousand Japanese Christians and over two hundred European missionaries were put to death. Yet, on the whole, it may be said that Old Japan enjoyed no little religious freedom. Indeed, the same man might worship freely at all the shrines and temples in the land. To this day multitudes have never asked themselves whether they are Shinto or Buddhist or Confucianist. The reason for this religious eclecticism was the fractional character of the old religions; they supplemented each other. There was no collision between them in doctrine or in morals. The religious freedom was, therefore, not one of principle but of indifference. As Rome was tolerant of all religions which made no exclusive claims, but fiercely persecuted Christianity, so Japan was tolerant of the two religions that found their way into her territory because they made no claims of exclusiveness. But a religion that demanded the giving up of rivals was feared and forbidden.
New Japan, however, following Anglo-Saxon example, has definitely adopted religious freedom as a principle. First tacitly allowed after the abolition of the edict against Christianity in 1872, it was later publicly guaranteed by the constitution promulgated in 1888. Since that date there has been perfect religious liberty for the individual.
Yet this statement must be carefully guarded. If we may judge from some recent decrees of the Educational Department, it would appear that a large and powerful section of the nation is still ignorant of the real nature and significance of "religious liberty." Under the plea of maintaining secular education, the Educational Department has forbidden informal and private Christian teaching, even in private schools. An adequate statement of the present struggle for complete religious liberty would occupy many pages. We note but one important point.
In the very act of forbidding religious instruction in all schools the Educational Department is virtually establishing a brand-new religion for Japan, a religion based on the Imperial Educational Edict.[CF] The essentially religious nature of the attitude taken by the government toward this Edict has become increasingly clear in late years. In the summer of 1898 one who has had special opportunities of information told me that Mr. Kinoshita, a high official in the Educational Department, suggested the ceremonial worship of the Emperor's picture and edict by all the schools, for the reason that he saw the need of cultivating the religious spirit of reverence together with the need for having religious sanctions for the moral law. He felt convinced that a national school system without any such sanctions would be helpless in teaching morality to the pupils. His suggestion was adopted by the Educational Department and has been enforced.
In this attitude toward the religious character of entirely private schools, the government is materially abridging the religious liberty of the people. It is abridging their liberty of carrying belief into action in one important respect, that, namely, of giving a Christian education. It virtually insists on the acceptance of that form of religion which apotheosizes the Emperor, and finds the sanctions for morality in his edict; it excludes from the schools every other form of religion. It should, of course, be said that this attitude is maintained not only toward Christian schools, but theoretically also toward all religious schools. It, however, operates more severely on Christian schools than upon others, because Christians are the only ones who establish high-grade schools for secular education under religious influences.
It is evident, therefore, that in the matter of religious liberty the present attitude of the government is paradoxical, granting in one breath, what, in an important respect, it denies in the next. But throughout all these changes and by means of them we see more and more clearly that even religious tolerance is a matter of the prevailing social ideas and of the dominant social order, rather than of inherent race character. By a single transformation of the social order, Japan passed from a state of perfect religious intolerance to one just the reverse, so far as individual belief was concerned.
Taking a comprehensive review of our study thus far, we see that the forms of Japanese religious life have been determined by the history, rather than by any inherent racial character of the people. Although they had a religion prior to the coming of any external influence, yet they have proved ready disciples of the religions of other lands. The religion of India, its esoteric, and especially its exoteric forms, has found wide acceptance and long-continued popularity. The higher life of the nation readily took on in later times the religious characteristics of the Chinese, predominantly ethical, it is true, and only slightly religious as to forms of worship. When Roman Catholic Christianity came to Japan in the sixteenth century, it, too, found ready acceptance. It is true that it presented a view of the nature of religion not very different from that held by Buddhism in many respects, yet in others there was a marked divergence, as for instance, in the doctrine of God, of individual sin, and of the nature and method of salvation. The Japanese have thus shown themselves ready assimilators of all these diverse systems of religious expression. Just at present a new presentation of Christianity is being made to the Japanese; some are urging upon them the acceptance of the Roman Catholic form of it; others are urging the Greek; and still others are presenting the Protestant point of view. Each of these groups of missionaries seems to be reaping good harvests. Speaking from my own experience, I may say, that many of the Japanese show as great an appreciation of the essence of the religious life, and find the ideas and ideals, doctrines and ceremonies, of Christianity as fitted to their heart's deepest needs, as do any in the most enlightened parts of Christendom. It is true that the Christian system is so opposed to the Buddhistic and Shinto, and in some respects to the Confucian, that it is an exceedingly difficult matter at the beginning to give the Buddhist or Shintoist any idea of what Christianity is. Yet the difficulty arises not from the structure of the brain, nor from the inherent race character, but solely from the diversity of hitherto prevailing systems of thought. When once the passage from the one system of thought to the other has been effected, and the significance of the Christian system and life has been appreciated,—in other words, when the Japanese Buddhist or Shintoist or Confucianist has become a Christian,—he is as truly a Christian and as faithful as is the Englishman or American.
Of course I do not mean to say that he looks at every doctrine and at every ceremony in exactly the same way as an Englishman or American. But I do say that the different point of view is due to the differing social and religious history of the past and the differing surroundings of the present, rather than to inherent racial character or brain structure. The Japanese are human beings before they are Japanese.
For these reasons have I absolute confidence in the final acceptance of Christianity by the Japanese. There is no race characteristic in true Christianity that bars the way. Furthermore, the very growth of the Japanese in recent years, intellectually and in the reorganization of the social order, points to their final acceptance of Christianity and renders it necessary. The old religious forms are not satisfying the religious needs of to-day. And if history proves anything, it proves that only the religion of Jesus can do this permanently. Religion is a matter of humanity, not of nationality. It is for this reason that the world over, religions, though of so many forms, are still so much alike. And it is because the religion of Jesus is pre-eminently the religion of humanity and has not a trace of exclusive nationality about it, that it is the true religion, and is fitted to satisfy the deepest religious wants of the most highly developed as well as the least developed man of any and every race and nation. In proportion as man develops, he grows out of his narrow surroundings, both physical and mental and even moral; he enters a larger and larger world. The religious expressions of his nature in the local provincial and even national stages of his life cannot satisfy his larger potential life. Only the religion of humanity can do this. And this is the religion of Jesus. The white light of religion, no less than that of scientific truth, has no local or national coloring. Perfect truth is universal, eternal, unchangeable. Occidental or Oriental colorations are in reality defects, discolorations.
SOME PRINCIPLES OF NATIONAL EVOLUTION
And now, having studied somewhat in detail various distinctive Japanese characteristics, it is important that we gain an insight into the general principles which govern the development of unified, national life. These principles render Japanese history luminous.
Let us first fix our attention on the fact that every step in the progress of mankind has been from smaller to larger communities. In other words, human progress has been through the increasing extension of the communal principle. The primitive segregative man, if there ever really was such a being, hardly deserves to be called man. Social qualities he had very slight, if at all; his altruistic actions and emotions were of the lowest and feeblest type. His life was so self-centered—we may not call it selfish, for he was not conscious of his self-centeredness—that he was quite sufficient to himself except for short periods of time. It was a matter of relative indifference to him whether his kinsmen survived or perished. His life was in only the slightest degree involved in theirs. The first step of progress for him depended on the development of some form of communal life. The primary problem of the social evolution of man was that of taking the wild, self-centered, self-sufficient man, and of teaching him to move in line with his fellow-men. And this problem confronted not only mankind at the beginning, but it has also been the great problem of each successive stage. After the individual has been taught to live with, to work with and for, and to love, his immediate kinsmen (in other words to merge his individual interests in those of the family, and to count the family interests of more importance than his own), the next step was to induce the family to look beyond its little world and be willing to work with and for neighboring families. When, after ages of conflict, this step was in a measure secured and the family-tribe was fairly formed, this group in turn must be taught to take into its view a still larger group, the tribal nation. Throughout the ages the constant problem has been the development of larger and larger communal groups. This general process has been very aptly called by Mr. Bagehot the taming process. The selfward thoughts and ambitions of the individual man have been thus far driven more and more into the background of fact, if not of consciousness. The individual has been brought into vital and organic relations with ever-increasing multitudes of his fellow-men. It is, therefore, pre-eminently a process of social or associational development. It not only develops social relations in an ever-increasing scale, but also social qualities and ideals and desires.
Now this taming, this socializing process, has been successful because it has had back of it, always enforcing it, the law of the survival of the strongest. What countless millions of men must have perished in the first step! They consisted of the less fit; of those who would not, or did not, learn soon enough the secret of existence through permanent family union. And what countless millions of families must have perished because they did not discover the way, or were too independent, to unite with kindred families in order to fight a common foe or develop a common food supply. And still later, what countless tribes must have perished before the secret of tribal federation was widely accepted! In each case the problem has been to secure the subordination of the interests of the smaller and local community to those of the larger community. Death to self and life to the larger interest was often the condition of existence at all. How slow men always have been and still are to learn this great lesson of history!
The method whereby this taming process has been carried on has been through the formation of increasingly comprehensive and rigid customs and ideas. Through the development and continued existence of a common language, series of common customs, and sets of common ideas, unity was secured for the community; these, indeed, are the means whereby a group is transformed into a community. As the smaller community gave way to the larger, so the local languages, customs, and ideas had to break up and become so far modified as to form a new bond of unity. Until this unity was secured the new community was necessarily weak; the group easily broke up into its old constituent elements. We here gain a glimpse into one reason why the development of large composite communities, uniting and for the most part doing away with smaller ones, was so difficult and slow.
The process of absorption of smaller groups and their unification into larger ones, when carried out completely in any land, tends to arrest all further growth, not simply because there is no further room for expansion by the absorption of other divergent tribes, but also because the "cake of custom" is apt to become so hard, the uniformity enforced on all the individuals is liable to become so binding, that fruitful variation from within is effectually cut off. The evolution of relatively isolated or segregated groups necessarily produces variety; and the process whereby these divergent types of life and thought and organization are gradually brought together into one large community provides wide elements of variation, in the selection and general adoption of which the evolution of the whole community may be secured. But let the divergent elements of the lesser groups once be entirely absorbed by the composite community and let the "cake of custom" become so rigid that every individual who varies from it is branded as a heretic and a traitor, and the progressive evolution of that community must cease.