Encyclopedia of Shinto
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|1. General Introduction
|Religious and Intellectual Influences on Shinto
Shinto and Christianity
Historically, Christianity can be broadly classified into Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. Roman Catholicism was introduced to Japan during the mid-sixteenth century. In the beginning it was referred to by such names as the Nanbanshū ("sect of the southern barbarians"), Batarenshū (the "padre sect"), or Tenjikushū (the "sect from India"), but later the appellations Kirishitan or Tenshukyō ("religion of the lord of heaven") became the most generally used apellations. Christianity reintroduced from the Meiji period onward is referred to as Kirisutokyō.
Needless to say, the initial introduction of Christianity to Japan was a new experience for the Japanese, one that had a strong impact and influence on Japanese culture in general and particularly on the established religions of Shintō, Confucianism, and Buddhism.
—Francis Xavier and Álvares' Informação do Japão—
The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier decided to propagate Christianity in Japan as the result of meeting the Japanese known as Anjiro (also rendered as Yajirō, Anger, or Han-Sir) in Malacca (in present-day Malaysia). As part of his preliminary preparation, Xavier requested Jorge Álvares—a Portuguese trader who had already been to Japan—to write a report about the situation there. Given among other things that it was compiled at Xavier's request, Álvares'Informação do Japão [Report on Japan] (1547) devotes considerable space to religious matters. Álvares notes that two types of religious facilities existed in Japan, drawing a distinct line between jinja (kami shrines) and jiin (Buddhist temples). He speaks of jinja as village tutelary shrines managed by yamabushi (mountain ascetics), and provides detailed accounts of rites performed, incantatory spells for healing, and sacred dances performed by shrine priestesses (miko), among other things. Thus we know that thanks to Álvares' report, Xavier had a certain amount level of information about Shintō before coming to Japan. His arrival in 1549 marked the start for a steady stream of missionaries to make the journey to Japan, and Christianity spread around country.
—Shintō as Seen in the Reports of Missionaries—
Xavier stated in his collection of letters from Kagoshima dated November 5, 1549, that most Japanese worshipped the sun and moon. His successor Fr. Cosme de Torres likewise reported that the Japanese worshipped the sun, moon, and all other things, but said their worship extended even to the devil.
The first appearance of the term "Xintŏ" (Shintō) in Christian documents comes in 1560 in the correspondence of a Japanese named Lourenço, a former biwahôshi (a blind lute-playing minstrel "priest"), who made reference to the "seita de Xintó" ("sect of Shintō"). While the word "Xintŏ" can be seen in such other works as Luís Fróis' Historia de Japam(History of Japan) and the Japanese-Portuguese dictionary Vocabvlario de Lingoa de Japam, the terms more frequently used at the time were "Camĩs" or "seita de Camĩs" ("sect of the kami").
The first historical document of the Christian genre to present a substantive report on the content of Shintō is the Sumario de los errores de Japão, de varias seitas ("Summary of the errors of Japan and its various sects") thought to have been written by Fr. Balthazar Gago in 1557. As the title indicates, this document points out the errors in the various sects of Japan, namely Shintō, Buddhism and Shugendō (mountain asceticism). A condensation of those sections dealing with Shintō reveals Gago's perception of Shintō in the following words: "The Japanese worship twenty idols that they call "Camĩs." Camĩs are all human beings, and because the kami who were the first humans pioneered this land, they say that Japan is the land of the Camĩs (shinkoku). The Japanese have absolutely no conception of the Creator. They think that the sun and moon are living things. Among the Camĩs it is the sun that is the most eminent. The sun was the first king. The sect of the Camĩs has five taboos (laws). The people who worship the Camĩs seek nothing in the next world, and seek only rewards in this world. The Camĩs are devils. The devil Camĩs enter into people's bodies and shout abuse. People worship these devil Camĩs out of fear, and devil Camĩs can even appear in the form of animals."
—The Kami of Shintō as Seen by Christians —
As the above indicates, Christians saw the kami (Camĩs) of Shintō as human beings, demons and animals. The view that "Camĩs are human beings and one cannot be saved by worshipping them" was passed down for quite some time.
For example, the Myōtei mondō of 1605 by Japanese Christian convert Fabian Fucan states that since both the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman and Tenman Tenjin "are mere humans, petitions to them for peaceful existence in this world or hopes for the hereafter cannot possibly be realized." Similarly, the spoken remarks of Takagi Zen'uemon dated May 2, 1873, that appear in the Takagi Zen'uemon oboegaki (Notes of Takagi Zen'uemon; in the possession of Takagi Kan) state: "Since kami and buddhas are the same as we humans, they should not be worshipped. And even if they are worshipped, they will not be of help for the next life."
However, in the face of this view that the kami of Shintō are human beings, consider the condemnation made by that same Fabian Fucan in his Ha Daiusu ("Deus Destroyed") (1620) written after his apostasy that "it is ignorant . . . to say that kami are humans." Fabian argues that the reason for this is because "kami are explained by the theory of honji suijaku [original essence, manifest traces]," and the appearance of kami in human form was for the purpose of saving human beings. Put simply, Fabian applied the theory of provisional appearances or avatars (gongen), explaining that kami "softened their radiance [wakō dōjin] and mixed with the dust" in order to save sentient beings and as their method for doing so appeared provisionally as human beings.
—Japanese Founding Myths and the Concept of a Creator —
Even before his arrival in Japan Francis Xavier knew that the Japanese were completely unaware of the concept of a creator deity. He declared, "Above all, one must begin with the doctrine of world creation." The missionaries who followed Xavier likewise began their missions with careful investigation into Shintō's foundation myths. Basically, the missionaries attempted to plant their doutrina of creation among the Japanese people by investigating the foundation myths believed by the Japanese and pointing out their errors. Also, they accompanied this with heated criticisms of Shintō for it lack of interest in salvation for the next world and for seeking benefits exclusively in this world, as is depicted in detail in the "Salvation in the Next World" section of Xavier's Doutrina Christão ("Christian doctrine").
—Vilela's Interest in Shintō—
Of all the missionaries the one who showed the greatest interest in Shintō was Gaspar Vilela. With the assistance of a Japanese named Lourenço, Vilela was active from 1559 mainly around Sakai and Kyoto. Vilela listened to and recorded various myths such as those pertaining to the founding of Japan, the seven generations of heavenly kami, and Izanagi and Izanami. He observed and made a detailed account of Kyoto's Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival), and visited such shrines as Atago, Kitano Tenmangū, and Iwashimizu Hachimangū. He also traveled to Nara and authored detailed reports of the Kasuga Shrine and Temukeyama Hachiman Shrine, and occasionally offered criticisms of the things he saw as well. Of special note among his activities was his baptism of Kiyowara Shigekata in 1563. Shigekata was the grandson of Kiyowara Nobukata and and was the most noted Confucian scholar after him. Nobukata was also the third son of Yoshida Shintō's founder Yoshida Kanetomo, and although he was adopted by the Kiyowara family it is said that he propounded Kanetomo's version of Shintō. It is certain that Shigekata inherited Yoshida Shintō from Nobukata, and it is not difficult to imagine that there was an intellectual exchange between Shigekata and Vilela and Lourenço. One theory even holds that the concept of kami in Yoshida Shintō was particlarly influential in the Japanese translation of the Latin term "Deus" as tendō (Way of Heaven), but this is a matter that requires further research.
—The Destruction of Shrines and Temples, and the Bateren Expulsion Edict—
As noted above, foreign Christians equated Japan's Camĩs (kami) and Hotokes (buddhas) with demons. They thought Shintō and Buddhism were demonic teachings that should be extirpated. These views took concrete form in the destruction of Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples. In sum, as records in both Japan and abroad indicate, the missionaries taught that one could not be saved by the Shintō or Buddhist sects, Christians who embraced this position razed shrines and temples and built churches to Deus in their place. That it was seen as a problem is evident from the reference to "the destruction of shrines and temples" in the second article of the Bateren tsuihō-rei (Missionary Expulsion Edict) issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587.
The Tokugawa bakufu inherited Hideyoshi's religious prohibition policy, issuing its own prohibition of Christian activities (Kirishitan kinsei) in 1612 followed by a subsequent prohibition of the religion (Kinkyōrei) the next year. Prohibition policies were progressively strengthened and intense persecution of Christians continued until the final years of the Tokugawa bakufu in the mid-nineteenth century.
The concept of Japan as a "land of the kami (shinkoku)" was touted officially throughout all these prohibition policies. To start with, the first article of the aforementioned Missionary Expulsion Edict read, "Japan is the land of the kami. A heretical doctrine from Christian countries is being taught here." Four years later, Hideyoshi would write in a letter to the vice-governor of India, "Our nation is the land of the kami," while six years later a similar letter to the governor of Luzon (Philippines) he noted,"Shintō is the main (tradition)." Furthermore, the Prohibition Edict of 1613, too, repeatedly states that Japan is the land of the kami, again heavily propounding the shinkoku theory.
—Early Modern National Learning Scholars and Christianity—
All this notwithstanding, throughout the Edo period it was in fact mainly Buddhists who presented arguments denouncing Christians and Christianity. Note should be made of the fact that some of the early modern students of Kokugaku ("National Learning") are thought to have been influenced by Christian thought. The representative example is Hirata Atsutane. He was informed about Christian literature published in China, as demonstrated by his work Honkyō gaihen. The writings of Watanabe Ikarimaru, who carried on Hirata's thought, are also worthy of note, including his "Thoughts on Amenominakanushi." To summarize, these men claimed that Japanese deity Amenominakanushi no kami corresponded to the universal sovereign deity of Christianity, the divine child Christ was a "heavenly grandchild," and Shintō itself was none other than the true religion of the Lord of Heaven (Tenshukyō = Christianity).
—Christianity and Shintō as State Religion —
There were new develoments in the relationship between Shintō and Christianity with official recognition of the latter in the Meiji period. Early in Meiji the short-lived policy to promote Shintō as a state religion a difficult situation for the proselytization of Christianity, but once the placards placed throughout the country carrying notice of the ban on Christianity were removed in 1873 more substantial efforts to spread the religion moved forward. Some groups of sectarian Shintō (kyōha Shintō) worked with the explicit aim of checking the Christian invasion, but this, too, gradually became insignificant.
From mid-Meiji onward, the clash between State Shintō (Kokka Shintō) and Christianity became an issue. The Uchimura Kanzō lèse-majesté affair of 1891 stands as the symbol of that conflict. As the nation entered the Shōwa era (1926-1989) and moved more to a wartime footing, there was a pronounced tendency among much of the country's Christian community to harmonize itself with the prevailing nationalist sentiment.
Under the new postwar legal system, the circumstances for Christian propagation have become more favorable, and there were fewer occasions for friction between Shintō and Christianity. However, members of Japan's Christian community, particularly Protestants, have frequently expressed opposition regarding the enshrinement of war dead at shrines, as seen for example in the uproar over the Yasukuni Shrine practice of "combined enshrinement," whereby all war dead are jointly enshrined as the main object of worship (saijin) of the shrine.
— Mitsuhashi Ken