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In
Japan's mythology there is a special difficulty for the
interpreter--a difficulty of nomenclature. It has been the constant
habit of foreign writers of Japan's story to speak of an "Age of
Gods" (Kami no yo). But the Japanese word Kami* does not necessarily
convey any such meaning. It has no divine import. We shall presently
find that of the hundreds of families into which Japanese society
came to be divided, each had its Kami, and that he was nothing more
than the head of the household. Fifty years ago, the Government was
commonly spoken of as O Kami (the Honourable Head), and a feudatory
frequently had the title of Kami of such and such a locality. Thus to
translate Kami by "deity" or "god" is misleading, and as the English
language furnishes no exact equivalent, the best plan is to adhere to
the original expression. That plan is adopted in the following brief
summary of Japanese mythology.

*Much stress is laid upon the point by that most accurate scholar,
Mr. B. H. Chamberlain.

COSMOGONY

Japanese mythology opens at the beginning of "the heaven and the
earth." But it makes no attempt to account for the origin of things.
It introduces us at once to a "plain of high heaven," the dwelling
place of these invisible* Kami, one of whom is the great central
being, and the other two derive their titles from their productive
attributes. But as to what they produced or how they produced it, no
special indication is given. Thereafter two more Kami are born from
an elementary reedlike substance that sprouts on an inchoate earth.
This is the first reference to organic matter. The two newly born
Kami are invisible like their predecessors, and like them are not
represented as taking any part in the creation. They are solitary,
unseeable, and functionless, but the evident idea is that they have a
more intimate connexion with cosmos than the Kami who came previously
into existence, for one of them is named after the reed-shoot from
which he emanated, and to the other is attributed the property of
standing eternally in the heavens.

*The expression here translated "invisible" has been interpreted in
the sense that the Kami "hid their persons," i.e., died, but the true
meaning seems to be that they were invisible.

Up to this point there has not been any suggestion of measuring time.
But now the record begins to speak of "generations." Two more
solitary and invisible beings are born, one called the Kami who
stands eternally on earth, the other the "abundant integrator." Each
of these represents a generation, and it will be observed that up to
this time no direct mention whatever is made of sex. Now, however,
five generations ensue, each consisting of two Kami, a male and a
female, and thus the epithet "solitary" as applied to the first seven
Kami becomes intelligible. All these generations are represented as
gradually approximating to the exercise of creative functions, for
the names* become more and more suggestive of earthly relations. The
last couple, forming the fifth generation, are Izanagi and Izanami,
appellations signifying the male Kami of desire and the female Kami
of desire. By all the other Kami these two are commissioned to "make,
consolidate, and give birth to the drifting land," a jewelled spear
being given to them as a token of authority, and a floating bridge
being provided to carry them to earth. Izanagi and Izanami thrust the
spear downwards and stir the "brine" beneath, with the result that it
coagulates, and, dropping from the spear's point, forms the first of
the Japanese islands, Onogoro. This island they take as the basis of
their future operations, and here they beget, by ordinary human
processes--which are described without any reservations--first, "a
great number of islands, and next, a great number of Kami." It is
related that the first effort of procreation was not successful, the
outcome being a leechlike abortion and an island of foam, the former
of which was sent adrift in a boat of reeds. The islands afterwards
created form a large part of Japan, but between these islands and the
Kami, begotten in succession to them, no connexion is traceable. In
several cases the names of the Kami seem to be personifications of
natural objects. Thus we have the Kami of the "wind's breath," of the
sea, of the rivers, of the "water-gates" (estuaries and ports), of
autumn, of "foam-calm," of "bubbling waves," of "water-divisions," of
trees, of mountains, of moors, of valleys, etc. But with very rare
exceptions, all these Kami have no subsequent share in the scheme of
things and cannot be regarded as evidence that the Japanese were
nature worshippers.

*The Kami of mud-earth; the Kami of germ-integration; the Kami of the
great place; the Kami of the perfect exterior, etc.

A change of method is now noticeable. Hitherto the process of
production has been creative; henceforth the method is transformation
preceded by destruction. Izanami dies in giving birth to the Kami of
fire, and her body is disintegrated into several beings, as the male
and female Kami of metal mountains, the male and female Kami of
viscid clay, the female Kami of abundant food, and the Kami of youth;
while from the tears of Izanagi as he laments her decease is born the
female Kami of lamentation. Izanagi then turns upon the child, the
Kami of fire, which has cost Izanami her life, and cuts off its head;
whereupon are born from the blood that stains his sword and spatters
the rocks eight Kami, whose names are all suggestive of the violence
that called them into existence. An equal number of Kami, all having
sway over mountains, are born from the head and body of the
slaughtered child.

At this point an interesting episode is recorded. Izanagi visits the
"land of night," with the hope of recovering his spouse.* He urges
her to return, as the work in which they were engaged is not yet
completed. She replies that, unhappily having already eaten within
the portals of the land of night, she may not emerge without the
permission of the Kami** of the underworld, and she conjures him,
while she is seeking that permission, not to attempt to look on her
face. He, however, weary of waiting, breaks off one of the large
teeth of the comb that holds his hair*** and, lighting it, uses it as
a torch. He finds Izanami's body in a state of putrefaction, and amid
the decaying remains eight Kami of thunder have been born and are
dwelling. Izanagi, horrified, turns and flees, but Izanami, enraged
that she has been "put to shame," sends the "hideous hag of hades" to
pursue him. He obtains respite twice; first by throwing down his
head-dress, which is converted into grapes, and then casting away his
comb, which is transformed into bamboo sprouts, and while the hag
stops to eat these delicacies, he flees. Then Izanami sends in his
pursuit the eight Kami of thunder with fifteen hundred warriors of
the underworld.**** He holds them off for a time by brandishing his
sword behind him, and finally, on reaching the pass from the nether
to the upper world, he finds three peaches growing there with which
he pelts his pursuers and drives them back. The peaches are rewarded
with the title of "divine fruit," and entrusted with the duty of
thereafter helping all living people***** in the central land of
"reed plains"****** as they have helped Izanagi.

*It is unnecessary to comment upon the identity of this incident with
the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

**It will be observed that we hear of these Kami now for the first
time.

***This is an obvious example of a charge often preferred against the
compilers of the Records that they inferred the manners and customs
of remote antiquity from those of their own time.

****Again we have here evidence that the story of creation, as told
in the Records, is not supposed to be complete. It says nothing as to
how the denizens of the underworld came into existence.

*****The first mention of human beings.

******This epithet is given to Japan.

This curious legend does not end here. Finding that the hag of hades,
the eight Kami of thunder, and the fifteen hundred warriors have all
been repulsed, Izanami herself goes in pursuit. But her way is
blocked by a huge rock which Izanagi places in the "even pass of
hades," and from the confines of the two worlds the angry pair
exchange messages of final separation, she threatening to kill a
thousand folk daily in his land if he repeats his acts of violence,
and he declaring that, in such event, he will retaliate by causing
fifteen hundred to be born.

In all this, no mention whatever is found of the manner in which
human beings come into existence: they make their appearance upon the
scene as though they were a primeval part of it. Izanagi, whose
return to the upper world takes place in southwestern Japan,* now
cleanses himself from the pollution he has incurred by contact with
the dead, and thus inaugurates the rite of purification practised to
this day in Japan. The Records describe minutely the process of his
unrobing before entering a river, and we learn incidentally that he
wore a girdle, a skirt, an upper garment, trousers, a hat, bracelets
on each arm, and a necklace, but no mention is made of footgear.
Twelve Kami are born from these various articles as he discards them,
but without exception these additions to Japanese mythology seem to
have nothing to do with the scheme of the universe: their titles
appear to be wholly capricious, and apart from figuring once upon the
pages of the Records they have no claim to notice. The same may be
said of eleven among fourteen Kami thereafter born from the pollution
which Izanagi washes off in a river.

*At Himuka in Kyushu, then called Tsukushi.

But the last three of these newly created beings act a prominent part
in the sequel of the story. They are the "heaven-shining Kami"
(Amaterasu-o-mi-Kami), commonly spoken of as the "goddess of the
Sun;" the Kami of the Moon, and the Kami of force.* Izanagi expresses
much satisfaction at the begetting of these three. He hands his
necklace to the Kami of the Sun and commissions her to rule the
"plain of heaven;" he confers upon the Kami of the Moon the dominion
of night, and he appoints the Kami of force (Susanoo) to rule the
sea-plain.



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