I never really thought about writing blogs before but I did, with this post I’ll be completing 30 blogs. Lie is unexpected isn’t it, you do what you have never thought of before. Writing blogs was all just a part of my internship that I HAD TO DO, but it became a wonderful experience. When I started posting the major problem I faced was What should I post about? I don’t know the first thing about it. I am not a technology geek who can talk about various new gadgets that came out in the market, nor do I like cars, nor am I much of a reader to write book reviews or a movie enthusiast for that matter. I am a simple, LAZY student who likes to do craft (yes my hobby is to make best out of waste kind of things), watching anime (It also helps practice my listening skills and get accustomed to listening Japanese; I am a Japanese language student) and listen to music (ARMYYYY!!; if you are new to this, ARMY is BTS’s fandom); these are the only three things that I do, of course beside studying and all (I DO STUDY OKAY(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻).
As I mentioned above I don’t really have the kind of hobbies I can write 30 posts about so I thought, Why not write about the thing that I love; I love Japan (so much that I am learning the language and want to go study there). Yes studying there is my ultimate dream, and to achieve my destination I am doing this internship right now, blogging which I never really thought about doing ever (sometimes you need to do those things that you never thought you will ever do just for the sake of making your dreams a reality).
But even if I never thought of blogging, I still enjoyed it sooo much; it was such a different experience, I did have some difficulty in deciding the topics, had to study a lot but, at the end it was worth it, I was able to share with you my knowledge about what I have learnt about Japan. Although my posts were a bit (okay a lot educational) and not really fun, but as a language student I am very well aware of the difficulties we face while learning about such topics, simply because enough material is not available online and our teachers ask us to write about these topics in 2500-3000 words ┬─┬ノ( º _ ºノ). So all those students or Japanese enthusiasts out there I hope my posts will help you a teensy bit. I am not a professional blogger but thank you if you liked my intense educational posts (づ￣ ³￣)づ.
In kanji, ‘Furo’ means ‘bath’ and ‘Shiki means ‘unfolding (a cloth)’. Furoshiki is a cloth wrapper which is used to wrap goods to make them easier to carry around. It is also very popular to wrap gifts with this cloth wrapper.
It art of furoshiki started in the Nara period (710-794), people knew it by the name ‘Hirazutsumi’ which means ‘folded wrappers’. In the Nara period, people thought of giving gifts wrapped up in ‘tsutsumi’ (cloth wrapper) and this was commonly called as ‘Hokeifuhaku’. It properly emerged as ‘Furoshiki’ in 756.
People started to use it to carry toiletries and clothes while going to public baths. It became very popular to wrap wedding gifts in furoshiki.
Furoshiki, or the cloth wrapper, comes in various designs and motifs. some of the most popular motifs are crane, fan, pine tree, and waves. Wrapping gifts in these furoshiki with these motifs is considered to be very auspicious and is said to bring blessings and good luck to the newly married couple.
The cloth material that is generally used for furoshiki are cotton, nylon, rayon or silk.
There are a few different techniques of wrapping furoshiki for different objects. ‘Hirazutsumi’ is the technique for wrapping flat objects without any knot; ‘Bintsutsumi’ is to carry bottles; ‘Entoutsutsumi’ is for long shaped objects; ‘Hikakutsutsumi’ for rectangular objects; ‘Yotautautaumi’ is for flat objects just like hiratzutsumi but this technique requires 2-4 knots; ‘Katakake fukuro’ is the technique for carrying objects on shoulders.
WHY SHOULD WE ADOPT THE ART OF FUROSHIKI IN OUR CULTURE? The answer is very simple. It is an eco-friendly method and helps in reduction in usage of plastic as the furoshiki cloth can be used again and again.
Bu unfortunately, this trend that should have bee increasing for the sake of our planet is in reality declining in recent times and opposite is taking effect, plastic usage is on the rise. PLastic bags being more convenient are making people shift from using furoshiki to using plastic.
‘Seijin no Hi’ or the ‘Coming of Age day’ is celebrated on 15th January every year in Japan. This is a national holiday for people who have turned 20 years of age anytime between 2nd April of last year to 1st April of the ongoing year. It officially started in the year 1946, in the city of Warabi city, formerly known as Saitama.
Every area in the city holds the ceremony in the local city halls. The people residing in the area who are registered to be turned 20 between the period of 2nd April to 1st April are invited to local city hall of that area. Speeches are given by the adults of the area, generally by important city hall figures and the people who have turned 20 are given souvenirs as a token of their memory of becoming an adult. The ceremony may be followed by a party, small scale parties are held for the new adults to welcome them into their adulthood in many areas. Families celebrate this event together.
Now lets talk about the clothing. Both the boys and girls wear traditional clothing. Girls wear ‘Furisode’ which is kimono with really long sleeves that is worn by unmarried women. As for boys, they wear traditional clothing which is called ‘Hakama’. A Hakama is worn over a kimono and is tied down at the waist and falls approximately to the ankles. But recently boys have started wearing western style clothing as it is more comfortable to these events. Girl’s start preparing for this event months ago. During this period many salons start advertising to style girls for this day. many photo studios also provide them with special photo options to make this day even more memorable.
Hina matsuri or doll festival or girl’s day, is a festival for girls which is held on 3rd March every year. It is also called ‘Joshi no Sekku, ‘Momo no Sekku’ or ‘Sangatsu Sekku’. This day is also known as ‘Momo no Sekku’ as the peach flowers start to bloom around this period. On this day, the members of the family pray for the health, happiness and prosperity of girls of the family. Now this has become a tradition to dispaly Hina-Ningyo or the Hina dolls on this day. This festivity dates back to the Edo era when these dolls were specifically used to ward off evil spirits back in those days.
Hina-Ningyo dolls consists of around 15 dolls that are seated on red cloth underneath them with a Heian period setting. They generally have a 5-7 tier setting with the bottom or the 7th tier displaying the items that the emperor and the empress use while they are away from the comforts of the palace; on the 6th tier, items that are used in the palace are displayed; on the 5th tier, dolls of helpers of the palace are displayed; on the 4th tier, dolls of ministers are displayed; on the 3rd tier, dolls of male musicians are displayed; on the 2nd tier, dolls of ladies of the court are displayed; and on the top or the 1st tier, imperial dolls or the dolls of the emperor and the empress are displayed.
Families celebrate it by having a meal together, eating ‘Hishimochi’ or ‘diamond shaped rice cakes’ and drink ‘Shirozake’, that is made of rice malt and sake. Although the customs differ slightly from region to region, the main gist of celebrating this festival remains the same.
Setsubun has its origin in China, and it is said that it entered in Japan in the Heian period. It is a fun festival celebrated the day before the first day of spring. it is also known as the ‘bean-throwing festival’. Setsubun is a traditional ceremony that is performed by the Japanese people to banish demons, and is celebrated on 3rd or 4th of February. People scatter beans or the ‘mamemaki’ to drive demons away. This is one of the many rituals that are performed to dispel evil. One of the elder in the family dresses as a demon while children throw beans at them and the children also scatter the beans all around the house. Usually people start to scatter beans from the room that is the farthest from the entrance and then gradually come towards the entrance while scattering beans throughout the house. Windows are left open and beans are thrown out of the windows in order to throw out the demons along with it.
On setsubun, beans; usually soybeans, are scattered everywhere around the house, be it outside or inside while chanting ‘oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!’ i.e. out with demons, in with good luck! It also a custom for the members of the family to eat the same number of beans as their age, this is said to bring good health. People also eat Makisushi rolls in complete silence while facing the lucky direction of the which is determined by the zodiac of the year, and the makisushi roll is eaten as a whole without slicing it as it is considered that slicing it would mean slicing your good luck. People close their eyes and make a wish while eating the makisushi rolls.
Many people visit temples during the setsubun as nowadays, many shrines hold special events during setsubun.
Hatsumode refers to the ‘first shrine or temple visit’. It marks a person’s first visit to the shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple during the new year. It used to be an absolute custom to visit a shrine or a temple during the new year that is located in the direction of one’s home; it was considered to be extremely auspicious and is said to bring prosperity in the next year. This practice used to be called ‘ehomairi’. But, nowadays, it has become a common practice to visit famous shrines and temples, not bothering about their locations. The visits to the shrine or temples begin at midnight on the new year’s eve, and are made by a large number of people.
during Hatsumode many people get their fortune predicted by drawing an ‘omikuji’ which is a paper that tells you about your luck in the upcoming year. many people buy various charms and amulets, along with talismans that are supposed to ward off evil and increase one’s luck in the upcoming year. These are kind of like lucky charms. many people even bring charms and amulets of the previous year and offer it to kami, to purify and incinerate them, in order to return it back to the heavens. Many people write their wishes on wooden wishing plaques and hang the in the shrines to get their wishes granted by the kami.
The most popular shrines that are visited by people during the new year are Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine and Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine. These shines expect millions of visitors on the first three days of new year each year. It is the most auspicious to visit the shine on the 1st of January, but nowadays, people avoid going to the shires on day one as it gets very crowded.
New year is the most important and the most elaborate of all events that took place in Japan. Whilst, there are differences in the local customs on how new year is celebrated, at this time all the houses are thoroughly cleaned and decorated and the holidays are celebrated with family members, friends and many people visit shrines. officially, new is observed from 1st January to 3rd January, and during this period all the schools, colleges and offices are closed.
these preparations for the new year are undertaken to greet the toshigami; the god of the incoming year (the chinese zodiac gods, for eg. year 2021 is the year of the Ox). cleaning of the houses start early and then the houses are decorated traditionally; ‘shimenawa’ or the sacred rope made out of straw with white papers dangling on it known as the ‘shide’ is hung over at the front door as a mark of the toshigami’s temporary abode and in order to keep the evil spirits away. ‘Kadomatsu’ or an arrange ment of tree springs are also placed at the entrance of the house. The ‘toshidana’ or the special alter for the toshigami is placed and is filled with the ‘kagamimochi’ or the rice cakes along with ‘sake’, persimmons and other special food all to honor the toshigami, who is residing in the house temporarily.
The night before the new year is called the ‘omisoka’. A large number of people visit Buddhist temples to hear the bell ring 108 times at midnight that is believed to end all evil of the last year. People believe that eating the ‘toshikoshi soba’ or the year-crossing noodles will extend family fortune just like the long noodles.
The very first day of the new year known as the ‘ganjitsu’ is celebrated with family members. People also visit shrines and temples on this day. Early in the morning of 1st January the emperor performs the rite of ‘shihohai’ in the imperial palace and prays for the prosperity of the nation. On the 2nd of January, the public is allowed to visit the inner grounds of the palace. On the 2nd and 3rd January people meet with their friends and acquaintances and extend greetings for the new year.
Oshogatsu and Koshogatsu
Shogatsu means the first month of the year. ‘Oshogatsu’ or the’ big new year’ is calculated by the Gregorian calendar and ‘koshogatsu’ or the ‘small new year’ is calculated according to the lunar calendar.. Koshogatsu starts with the first full moon of the year, i.e. from 15th January.
The Japanese aesthetics are a set of ideals followed since the olden days including Miyabi, yuugen, mono no aware, wabi and sabi. These ideas showcase was is considered to be beautiful in Japanese culture and aesthetic norms. The aesthetic norms in japan are considered to be an indispensable part of Japanese people everyday life.
Miyabi is one of the oldest Japanese aesthetic ideal. It is the norm to polish ones manners and to eradicate any kind of roughness and crudility in order to achieve the highest level of grace. The term miyabi can be translated as ‘elegance’. It requires the removal of any vulgar actions. It is also closely related to mono no aware.
Wabi and sabi entails that one should have a mindful approach in everyday life. According to this aesthetic ideal the true beauty of things lie in their impermanent and imperfect nature. It looks at the notion that the things that are in their full glory at the moment will eventually fade or decay. That beauty lies in the fact that things come and go and nothing stays permanently. In this way we can find beauty in the most simplest and ordinary things.
According to the zen philosophy there are 7 principles for achieving wabi and sabi.
Kanso or simplicity, yugen or grace, fukinsei or irregularity, shizen or natural, koko or basic, datsuzoku or to be free and seijaku or silence are the 7 principles of wabi sabi.
Each of these are found in nature and are the virtues of human character.
Yuugen is one of the most important of the Japanese aesthetics. Yugen implies to be having a deep awareness of the universe. It is one of the deep rooted idea in the Japanese Buddhism.
Yugen refers to looking at the world that we live in deeply and becoming aware of the virtues and the true beauty lying within.
The meaning of mono no aware has been complex and ever changing but the deep rooted meaning remains the same, it refers to the pathos of things deriving from their transcience.
In the classic anthology of Japanese poetry from the eighth century the feeling of aware is typically triggered by the plaintive calls of birds or other animals. It also played an important role in the world’s first novel, Murasaki Shikibu’s ‘The Tale of Genji’, in the early eleventh century clearly show impermanence as the basis for the feeling of mono no aware.
Nowadays mono no aware can be seen in the love of Japanese people for cherry blosoms. Huge crowds of people go to view cherry blossoms every year.
The blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees are more beautiful than those apple tree because of their transience, as they begin to fall within a week of their first appearing. It is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the wistful feeling of mono no aware in the viewer.
Japan is located in the eastern part of Asia and is surrounded by the sea of Japan in the west and the Pacific ocean in the east; stretching from sea of Okhotsk in the north and East China sea in the south.
Japan is known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, and is an island country which is divided into 47 prefectures, and is further bifurcated into 4 categories; Ke, To, Fu and Dou. Tokyo is the capital of Japan and has a population of around 37 million. 90% of the Japanese population lives in either Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoyo.
There are four main islands, namely: Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Shikoku. And there are around 6,847 remote islands as well that are located on the southern and eastern part of the main island. Japan is divided into 8 regions from the north to south, namely:
Touhoku region has 6 prefectures in it, Kantou region has 7, Chuubu region has 9 prefectures, Kansai region has 7, Chuugoku region has 5 prefectures, Shikoku has 4 and Kyuushu has 8 prefectures in it.
Japan is covered with about 66% of forests and is mostly ragged and mountainous. It is located near the ‘Ring of Fire’ which is a Volcanic zone near the Pacific ocean. Ring of Fire is a region around much of the edges of the Pacific ocean which is extremely prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
The climate of Japan varies from humid continental in the north and humid subtropical in the south. Hokkaido witnesses long winters and cool summers and the climate on the Pacific coastal area experiences humid climate.
The population of Japan is 126.3 million and is the 11th most populous country in the world.
Murasaki Shikibu who wrote ‘The tale of Genji’ and Sei Shounagon who wrote ‘The Pillow Book.
It is not easy or possible to compare the two books because they are both of two completely different genres. The Tale of Genji is a psychological work of fiction that captures the climate in the court during the Heian period, whereas in the Pillow Book, the author writes about her own real-life experiences in the form of narratives, poems and essays. Both the books have shown two completely different background of the Heian period. But the aspects of the Heian court depicted by the author, Sei Shounagon in her book ‘The Pillow Book’ showed the reality of the Heian era. In the Pillow Book, the author showed us the court and her experiences while working in the court through the perception of a gentlewoman, whereas the author of ‘The Tale of Genji’ majorly focused on nothing but nobility.
Their books may be world apart, but both these authors had a lot in common. They both served in the imperial court; they were both ladies-in-waiting. Both showed their love for nature and very highly intelligent and witty. They were very knowledgeable, and both had learnt the kanji writhing system but hid it well. But Murasaki Shikibu’s view of the world was completely different from how Sei Shounagon viewed the world.
From her novel ‘The Pillow Book’, the author, Sei Shounagon appears to be a very outgoing and witty person with a powerful personality and a good sense of humour. She can be mean, prideful but is an utterly compassionate person.
On the other hand, Murasaki Shikibu appears to be very sensitive person who thinks about things very deeply and in all seriousness. She added a few funny scenes as well in her novel but on the overall scale the tone of her book, The Tale of Genji, was dejected and dark.
‘Makura no Soushi’ or ‘The Pillow Book’ is a book written by Sei Shounagon in the year 1002 while she was serving the empress consort Teishi. The book comprised of poems, essays anecdotes and her personal thoughts and experiences while working in the court during the Heian period. The passages she wrote had very miniscule relation with one another, they were basically her ideas and the experiences she had in her daily life. It consisted all her personal thoughts her opinions on her fellows, poetry and all the interesting things that happened in the court. Although what she wrote were just her personal experiences and her feelings, the book turned out to be an important piece of literature of the Heian era. The book ‘The Pillow Book’ was originally meant for her eyes only, it was accidently revealed in the court. She wrote the book for her own amusement and enjoyment for herself, it was like her personal diary wherein she wrote her thoughts and feelings, a place where she could express her thoughts and emotions that she could not share with anyone, or the things she couldn’t say out loud in the open due her lower status in the court.
The work that was meant for her eyes only and not for an audience was revealed by accident is now one of the national gems for the nation, a great piece of literature.
In ‘The Pillow Book’ the author Sei Shounagan also wrote how she had to turn the courtier away due to his lack of writing skills.
The Pillow Book’s genre is called ‘Zuihitsu’; this genre writing consists of one’s personal essays and ideas and not tales or lore’s, therefore, The Pillow Book comprises of three different types of writings: the events that she experienced while her time in the court, her thoughts on various subjects going on in the court or in general regarding any issue, and the things that made her upset happy; she wrote all her emotions in one book.
In ‘The Tale of Genji’ our hero or the main character of the story, Genji, is the son of the emperor and his most beloved concubine of his, Kiritsubo. Genji’s future was predicted to be brilliant but his mother died after suffering the envy of her rivals in court, which led to her sickness and then eventually she died. The emperor then finds himself another concubine, Fujitsubo, who reminds him of his erstwhile lover. After his mother’s death, as Genji did not have much of a standing in the court the emperor reduces his status to a commoner and designate him to the membership of the non-royal Genji clan. After reducing his status to that of a mere commoner the eldest son of the emperor with lady Kokiden was that announced as the crown prince of the nation. Genji was a very striking young man with inept skills who was loved by all but was also dreaded by none other than lady Kokiden and her family. At the very beginning of the story, the author talks about Genji’s ardent adventures with diverse group of women and talks about his friendship with To No Chujo. The author then talks about his marriage to To No Chujo’s sister, Aoi and the birth of their son. After that the author talks about his blooming relation with Murasaki, his wife later in the story. During this time, while Genji got married and had a son, the old emperor died and was then superseded by his and lady Kokiden’s son. Meanwhile, Genji’s amorous trysts started to cause troubles in the court, and he was exacted to leave the capital and forced to stay in Suma for the years to come, until the time period of his sentence was up. In the next chapter of his tale, Genji met with the Ex- governor along with his daughter ‘The Akashi Lady’. After this as his time away from the capital is up, he returns the then emperor renounces his throne in favor of Fujitaubo’s and Genji’s son. This makes Genji to reinstate his position at the court while he and the Akashi Lady welcomed a daughter. After he returned to the capital, he settles down with Murasaki and several other women of his in his Rokujo mansion. As he was reinstated in his position at the court his authority in the court increases with many of his children and grandchildren were started to be appointed in the court. He then visits the Sumiyoshi Shrine to give his utmost respect to the deity for his protection while he was stuck in a storm at Suma. Later, Genji is convinced to marry the third princess who then gives birth to a young boy but soon after renounces herself becoming a Buddhist nun. In the last chapters of his story, the author then shows the adventures of Genji’s son and grandson in the background of the mountain area of Uji, Kaoru and Niou, who are best of friends but are also vying the attention of the same lady. This intriguing plot circles around the daughters of the eighth prince and Genji’ half-brother and the impulsive Ukifune.
The Genji Monogatari or the Tale of Genji, a masterpiece of Japanese literature and is also contemplated as the world’s first novel and the first psychological novel ever written. It was one of the most popular stories written in the Heian period. It was written at the beginning of the 11th century by a great author of that time Murasaki Shikibu, as the many women in the Heian period the real name of the author is unknown. This story written around a thousand years back in history, serves as the kind of a travel guide helping us to make our way through the Heian period and the world of Genji, seeing his journey and story through our own eyes.
The book puts light on the culture of aristocracy in the early Heian period- like the dressing practices, what kind of entertainment did people enjoy, the daily lifestyle of the people and its moral codes and customs being followed. The author introduces us to Genji, whose character is portrayed as handsome, friendly and sensitive, a consummate courtier, a trusted friend and an excellent lover. The major portion of the story revolves around the lovers of Genji, and how each and every lover of his is evocatively depicted. The story is a beautiful journey of human emotions and displays the nature in its glory, but as the story progresses it take is a dark U-turn and starts to reflect the Buddhist persuasion of the world’s impermanence.
Murasaki Shikibu, wrote The Tale of Genji, while she was working as a lady in the Japanese court. At the time Japanese literary works mostly consisted the collections of poems written in the language of Tang, the kanji script that was appropriated from China. Therefore, during her time in the court, the court’s official and scholarly works were written in Chinese rather that in Japanese, as the literary works written in prose, usually by the women of court, were taken not so seriously and were not viewed as the literary work as equal of poetry. Proses written during the Heian period were restricted to fairy tales and only very few chronicles were written in the new phonetic language, Kana. Murasaki Shikibu was the first lady to write a complete convoluted novel, along with lots of plot twists and turns though out the narration of the tale. However as for The Tale of Genji, it was perceived as a refined work of imagination with a comprehensive knowledge of both Japanese and Chinese poetry. It constitutes of about 800 wakas, which tells the story of that one character and his legacy through a whole of 54 chapters.
Background of the Tale of Genji
In the Heian period, the community that is delineated is that of the cream of the society or so to say the aristocrats, who are unconcerned with anything but themselves, their own amusement and entertainment, and the emperor is at the center of their universe. These people are preoccupied with the ranks and the rearing. But the find grace in nature and enjoy the raptures of music, calligraphy, poetry and the way of dressing in fine clothes. The courtiers in the Heian period were more or less unaware of the outside world and could care less about it, they did not travel and considered people lower than the as less human. The highest three ranks were the high court nobles known as the ‘Kugyo’ and the ranks below that, meaning the fourth and the fifth ranks were the provincial governor class that was frequently looked down upon because of its low rank. Our author, Murasaki Shikibu, herself was the daughter of the governor of Echizen, a Fujiwara.
During the Heian period the women of the family were to stay hidden from any man who was not her father or husband, so these women mostly spent their time indoors hidden behind screen doors, the only escape for these house- bound ladies were these tales. And ‘The Tale of Genji’ provided them with all of it- Romance, drama, the supernatural and the perfect hero. The women who entered the courts as lady-in-waiting to become an empress or a royal concubine were free to seek associations with the gentlemen in the court, this also provided a background for the setting of the first part of the novel.
The men were more interested in women of good breeding who had an interest in poetry and calligraphy. The sense of style and fashion of a woman was what attracted the men to them. The men in the Heian period were unable to see women’s physical beauty so the only physical attribute they were attracted to in a woman were her hair. The thicker and longer a women’s hair were the more beautiful she was. This was also the reason why our main character Genji, did not let his wife in the story to have a tonsure whilst she was sick.
During the Heian period Buddhism had already started to affect the way of thinking for the aristocratic class, it was only obvious that it will also have an influence on the literary works of the writers of the era. Buddhist concepts ran deep in the literary works of this period, and the concepts of Buddhism and the practices that were followed in it found its way into the novel, the Tale of Genji, as well as it was shown by the author that all the characters in the story had the concept of Karma was always evidently present in the minds of all the central characters.
In the early adventures of our hero, Genji, he was rather hard- headed and egocentric, but after the development of his character in the story he was later portrayed as a gallant man who took care of women even after he lost interest in them. He mostly spent time boating on lakes while listening to flute and Koto music.
In the Nara and early Heian period, the Chinese style poetry known as ‘Kanshi’ and the waka poetry form ran out of favour officially in courts. But then in the 9th century the official representatives that were being sent to China were no longer being sent, worsening ties with the Tang dynasty and leading to the isolation of the country from the rest of the world. But this led to the court to encourage and foster new and native talent and harmonize Chinese poetic style and technique as per the local traditions. This was the time when the waka form of poetry started to gain popularity during the rule of emperor Daigo, who arranged for compiling the waka of poets into an anthology which came to be known as ‘Kokin Wakashuu’ meaning ‘’collection of ancient and modern Japanese poems’’. It was the first anthology that was issued by the imperial court to be issued, after that the tradition to issue these anthologies under the imperial court continued till Muromachi period.
The first three anthologies issued by the imperial court were Kokin Wakashuu, Gosen Wakashuu and Shuui Wakashuu. Kokin Wakashuu was compiled by Ki no Tsurayuki, Ki no Tomonori, Mibu no Tadamine and Oushikouchi no Mitsune on command of emperor Daigo in the year 905.
Gosen Wakashuu was commanded by emperor Murakami in 951 and Shuui Wakashuu was commanded by emperor Ichijou in 1005.
After these three anthologies another five anthologies known as the ‘Collection of Eight Ages’ or ‘Hachidai shuu’ was compiled during the Heian era.
Waka can be first traced back to the 8th century in the ‘Kojiki’ and ‘Manyoushuu’ but as time passed it came under the influence of other types of poetry and stories such as ‘The Tale of Genji’ it broadened its view and expressions.
Nowadays, the people all around the world are the most familiar with the Japanese poetry style known as the ‘Haiku’. Haiku is a 17-syllable poem and gained popularity in the 17th century. Whereas, on the other hand there is another type of poetic form that was developed thousands of years before the haiku, known as ‘Waka’. Waka (和歌) is a form of classical Japanese poetry and the word ‘Waka’ translates to ‘’Japanese Poem’’. Haiku was extracted from the Waka style of poetry.
Waka is a type of short poem with a specific structure, it has 31-syllables and is perfectly arranged in five lines in the form of 5-7-5-7-7 respective words in each line. Waka can be divided into two verses; it has an ‘upper verse’ that refers to the first three lines and then there is the ‘lower verse’ referring to the last two lines of the waka. Waka is written to convey our heart’s feelings. Waka’s both form and influence differs from the form and influence that our own traditional poetry has. Waka is written to encapsulate a person’s emotions and feeling rather than elucidating or explicating their emotions.
There are different forms of waka namely, the major forms being ‘Tanka’ (the short poem) and the ‘Chouka’ (the long poem), the other types of waka also include ‘Bussokusekika’, ‘Sedouka and ‘Katauta’, but these other types of forms were discontinued at the very beginning of the Heian period, now only ‘Tanka’ is the only waka that has remained till this age and when someone mentions waka it refers to tanka only.
In the Heian period, waka was the most major or the most important form of communication among lovers. Not only that but a person’s ability or skills in poetry was a dominant basis for ascertaining a person’s social and political standing in the society.
During the Heian period a renowned poet, Ki no Tsurayuki wrote the following about Japanese poetry:
“The poetry of Japan has its roots in the human heart and flourishes in the countless leaves of words. Because human beings possess interests of so many kinds it is in poetry that they give expression to the meditations of their hearts in terms of the sights appearing before their eyes and the sounds coming to their ears. Hearing the warbler sing among the blossoms and the frog in his fresh waters — is there any living being not given to song!”
The ‘song’ he mentioned in the lines above is nothing but a ‘Waka’.
In the Heian period a lot of importance was placed on art and literature. The aristocracy paid a lot of heed to developing a refined taste in literature and developed strong customs and behavioural conduct. During this period the nobles of the court known as ‘kuge’ accentuated on appearance and decorum and dictated rules for every aspect of life. Art, literature and poetry were an essential part of the imperial court. All the people working in the imperial court were expected to have a good education in writing and poetry. One’s writing skills were the parameter for earning a good reputation and position within the court.
Heian period was very rich period in development of Japanese culture because Japan was heavily influenced by the Chinese society and their culture, but it was in this period that japan started to keep clear of the Chinese influence on their way of lifestyle and their own traditions and practices.
In the Heian period, only men used to write works in kanji (the writing system that was borrowed by China) but they mostly or only wrote poems, and historical documents and not fiction. Whereas the women, although were not versed in kanji writing system but still wrote in kana. Men used to write in the Chinese script as it was believed that it was of higher social status. Ironically, the women of this period were the one who developed Japanese writing method and played a key role in the rise of Japanese vernacular literature. Female authors in Japan were more popular than the male because they wrote in an accessible language, the language of the common people, ‘kana’. The women wrote tales and fictional stories, the kinds that men usually shied away from.
The new writing system, Hiragana, was used by women to write their tales that gave them more freedom to express their emotions freely. Use of hiragana empowered women to be able to be able to write about their thought, feelings and their everyday hardships and lifestyle in the nation that they lived in. For the author Shounagon, she spent years in mastering kanji writing system so she could display her level of intelligence in the society dominated by men, and she often used kanjis in their writings. The most cardinal works of literature were written by women in the Heian period, the most notable work being ‘The Tale of Genji’ and ‘The Pillow Book’. Both books are considered to be masterpieces and very important work of literature of that time even today. Both books documented the important aspects of lifestyle of people during the Heian era.
The literal meaning of ‘kamikaze’ is ‘divine wind’. The relation with the Sung China that had been established in the Heian period was still prospering during the beginning of the Kamakura period. But this relationship started to deplete when China was conquered by the Mongols.
The Mongols first conquered China and then Korea and after conquering the two it laid eyes on the Japanese empire to conquer it and make it a part of the vast Mongolian empire. The most epoch-making event during the Kamakura period was the supposed try of the Mongolian conqueror Kublai Khan to capture Japan and make it a part of the expanding Mongolian empire.
The first attempt to invasion by the Mongols took place in 1274 in northern Kyushu but even before their attempt to attack they were allegedly hit by a typhoon that destroyed a large portion of their army and forced them to return back to China, according to the tales of the warriors. There were about 500 to 900 fleet of ships that were carrying around 40,000 Mongolian soldiers to attack Japan but while they were at the sea a typhoon hit the fleet leading to drowning of several of the Mongolian soldiers and many of the ships sank. But, a lot of scholars at this day believe that they were not struck by any typhoon at least not on their first attempt at invasion of Japan.
After this first attempt of invasion by the mongols, the Japanese built about 2mt high walls along the beaches to protect themselves from future invasions. After seven years of waiting the Mongols returned once again to try their hand in invading Japan but to no avail were able to do that. This time as the Japanese had built walls on their shores the Mongols were unable to find an area to land. After spending months on the sea they were destroyed by a great typhoon. The second fleet was larger, consisting of two forces with 4400 ships.
On the second attempt by Mongols at invasion of Japan, the Mongols again attacked northern Kyushu in 1281 with an army of 140,000 warriors, outnumbering Japanese soldiers, but, they were again forced to turn back to China after a battle of seven weeks with the Japanese soldiers and then struck by an actual typhoon. The typhoon led to death of half their soldiers and a few ships. After the storm the surviving Mongolian soldiers were killed by the Japanese soldiers. After this mongols never tried to invade Japan ever again. This typhoon is believed to be an interference of the deities to protect Japan from foreign invasion and was then referred to as ‘kamikaze’ or the ‘divine winds’. It is believed that it was god ‘Raijin’ was the one who turned these storms against the Mongols.
In Taika reforms the official posts were given only to men but they were not completely based on just their abilities and education but also on their social standing. High level positions were still reserved for the men belonging to the esteemed families. There were government colleges but they were only meant for the kids with a good family lineage and were not open to all. But then also even if a person had got the necessary education they were only entitled to high government positions by their family background. Higher the background, higher the position. The positions of the people at the higher ranks were inherited by their children. Thus these families never lost their status even after the implementation of the Taika reforms.
The main objective of bringing the Taika reforms was to restate the imperial authority by reorganizing the government and abolishing the title system called Kabane, which was being followed. The capital was set in Nara and land tax, military service and labor compulsions were introduced on the subjects, and also all the private weaponry was taken in the imperial armory. Even an exam system was established but unlike in China, the exam system was only meant for the noble families in Japan.
These reforms did mean the non- existence of women in the government offices. Before these reforms were implemented women used to work in the imperial courts, basically, as managers. Now the women were more restricted and much more in official platforms in japan just like in China.
In the Taika reforms only men were allowed to serve in the government as women were considered to be very emotional and not able to be practical when need be. The women could still very well inherit the property but they could not anymore increase their estate by the way of political authority as they were completely removed from possessing any political position.
Many social practices were ended to bring the Japanese society more closely to the Chinese practices. But still the powerful clans enjoyed their authority in the imperial court as well as the regional governments.
In the start of the 8th century, the officials that were seated at the higher ranks of bureaucracy were no more than 125 men. These were the men that had the highest offices as were positioned as the governors of the major provinces. At the top most level there were at least ten court aristocrats who were the key decision makers. They were considered to be politically, socially, and culturally the most elite of all. This led to the widening of gap between the common people and the aristocrats and it was further increased as the aristocrats were not willing to leave the capital and serve in the countryside.
The Taika reforms shortened the independence of the local officials and placed the power in the hands of the imperial court which ultimately became the place for the place of appeal or complaint for the people.
Why were they rejected
The Taika reforms were introduced in Japan because the Han and the T’ang dynasties in China both used these reforms and were extremely successful, but unfortunately these reforms were rejected by the Buddhist monks and even the aristocrats because they wanted to brace Japan’s own culture and not become like the Chinese and follow their ideologies and cultural tradition. The Taika reforms were meant to be better adjusted to the Japanese political system but it did not please the aristocrats that were already inside the system. There was confrontation from the Japanese aristocrats as well as the Buddhist monks, they were against the Taika reforms. Rather than the imperial court the regional lords had more power. The aristocrats and the Buddhist monks slowly started to gain a lot of support from the Japanese people and were then able to prohibit the Taika reforms that were implemented. Hence the Taika reforms failed to influence the people of japan and Japanese society. Japan shifted from the imperial system to a regionalized government.
The Taika reforms were brought by emperor Kotoku in 645. They were a set of doctrines written after death of Prince Shotoku, and they united Japan.
Emperor Kotoku was the 36th emperor of japan and his ruled from 645 to 654, until his death in 654. He enacted the Taika reforms and the Hasshou kyakkan during his reign as an emperor.
Before the Taika era began, japan was under the Soga clan which united the nation and they also dominated to court for 50 years.
The characteristic features of taika reforms
The T’ang dynasty’s political model and practices were implemented but not in their complete entirety, but with changes to suit the Japanese society. The first step taken towards the implementations of the reforms was to establish the ultimate supremacy of the imperial court. Then the reorganization of the central government took place along with the abolishment of the offices of Omi and Muraji and in their place the minister of right, left and center took charge. The minister of the center was the most important and the personal advisor of the emperor.
Taika reforms were a set of political and social innovations that were implemented after the defeat of the Soga clan. They were an imitation of the Chinese system of a centralized government. The Chinese tradition of naming the eras of an emperor’s reign was being followed by emperor Kotoku and so he, for his reign took the name “Taika” meaning “Great Reform” as the name of the era in which he reigned. More specifically, his rule is identified into more than one era, namely, ‘Taika’ from 645 to 650 and ‘Hakuchi’ from 650 to 655.
Japan imitated the centralized government system of political development from the Chinese T’ang Dynasty, and these reforms were a bit more practical in Japan than in China because Japan was a small island country but China was very big in size and different tribal and ethenic groups also posed as serious problem for the Chinese government to implement them. Plus quarrelsome neighbors also made it difficult for the Chinese government to retain proper and strict order in the country.
The Taika reforms were based on the ideas of Confucianism and on the political philosophies that came from China.
According to the Taika reforms the ruler was now the emperor and not just a clan leader, who exercised absolute authority.
The Taika reforms firstly abolished any private ownership of land and established a feudal system. That is all of the land belonged to the emperor ultimately although the lords could exercise some power in their respective land, but still all the land was under the emperor who enjoyed absolute authority.
Secondly, the freedom of the regional officials was reduced and a centralized administration was established which was run by educated bureaucrats. The new military organizations and administrations that were answerable to the emperor were established in capital as well as all the provinces.
Thirdly, the construction of a road network began, even a survey was conducted regarding the population density and about the use of land and productivity of the land for fair distribution of the land. The main idea about the redistribution of land was to cut short the land holdings of the clan leaders, to shrink the number of people under them so as to reduce their power and authority. Because of this the land and the clan heads were now under the direct control of the imperial government.
But this idea of fully nationalizing the land was not completely implemented as some important clansmen were given some freedom to hold certain amount of land as per their ranks. And as a special advantage to the aristocrats some estates were made tax- free.
The land that was nationalized was redistributed among the people. Everyone was given smaller allotments of the land except the salves that were given nothing. But the imperial family and the nobles were given huge land holdings; from 16 to 160 acres depending upon the rank and the positions held by them. Every 6 years the redistribution of land took place.
Lastly, the fair redistribution of land lead to a new and equitable system of taxation according to the reform. A tax of 2- 3 percent on the harvest was levied. The burden of the land tax was fairly lesser but the burden of other forms of taxation was nearly exhausting for the people. Each person had to perform unpaid labor as a form of tax for the use of land. The labor performed by the people was to be minimum for 10 days but it could be extended to forty more days. But if the person was not able to perform labor he had to pay the taxes in the form of produce. All the male had to provide gods such as silk and hemp fabrics as a part of taxation. The estates under the monasteries and shrines were however exempted from paying any taxes. The authority to levy taxes lied in the hands of the provincial governors. But the term of the provincial governors on the office was only up to 6 years unlike that of the county heads who had lifetime tenures and after then their sons used to inherit the authority.
Finally, students were also sent to china to learn everything about their culture. From their reading and writing system to the eating habits of the people. The students learned about the Chinese literature, the religion followed, as well as the architecture. The impact of these Chinese social practices can still be seen in Japanese culture till date.
There was also a military code as well. About one- third of all the males, ranging from 20 years old to 60 years old were required to serve in the army, and the person who will be enlisted in the army was selected by the respective families for a period of one to three years.
The nation was again organized into 66 imperial provinces and 592 counties and these counties were further broken down into townships having 50 households in each township. Governors were appointed to and they were given the task of enquiring and preparing the data about all the land holdings and which clan was the land under, who held the ownership of the land.
But this did not mean the end of authority of the clan heads in any way. The clan heads were appointed as the governors of the provinces.
After emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Kyoto, he started to encourage the growth and formation of new Buddhist sects. For doing that a new Buddhist movement was headed by two leaders, Saicho and Kukai, who were also known as the ‘Kobo Daishi’. Saicho went to China in 804 to study Buddhism and was influences by Tien Tai and Ch’an who were zen Buddhists. And then upon returning to Japan he founded the Tendai sect of Buddhism.
The teachings of the Tendai sect are based on the lotus sutra, as the sect asserted the belief the lotus sutra was identical to the living Buddha. As a supporter of Mahayana Buddhism, Saicho worked towards laying the foundation and spreading its beliefs countrywide. He claimed that the doctrines were based on the actual words of Buddha and so claimed the precedence of the Tendai sect. they believed that Buddha nature is present in all of the living beings and that everyone can find their road to salvation. They addressed that the path of salvation is contemplation and moral perfection.
The Tendai sect was also somewhat related with esoteric practices. The ‘Tendai Esotericism’ was known as the Taimitsu. The esoteric rituals were given equivalent prevalence to the exoteric teachings of lotus sutra in the Taimitsu doctrine. Just like the belief in Shigon sect, in Tendai sect it was also believed that performing mudras, reciting mantras and doing meditation will help attain or connect with our inner Buddha nature. In Tendai sect much like Shigon sect, the doctrine enabled the Buddhists to reconcile Buddhism and Shintoism. But according to Buddhism, a person should be free from all of the worldly attachments, including activities like poetry and literature were to be scraped as well in order to attain enlightenment. Unlike other sects the Tendai sect believed in contemplation, so they believed that the contemplation of poetry and literature could also lead to enlightenment. Tendai sect played a major role in spreading Buddhism in japan through their schools, as some of their schools are still going on.
A new Buddhist movement was headed by two leaders, Saicho and Kukai, who were also known as the ‘Kobo Daishi’. Saicho went to China in 804 and upon returning to Japan he founded the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Like Saicho, Kukai also went to China and studied there for three years.
Kukai was was a Japanese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar and a calligrapher. During the duration of his stay in China he came under the influence of esoteric Buddhism. Later when he returned to Japan he founded the Shingon sect or the True Word sect of Japanese Buddhism. With the help of several emperors, Kukai was able to preach shingon teachings and establish shingon temples.
Kukai is also very well known for his artistic and linguistic achievements. He was an outstanding calligrapher and is also credited with the invention of the kana syllabary but this is not completely authenticated.
Kūkai, considered the protection of Japan is one of the central functions of Buddhism. Kūkai, in order to serve his nation established his Shingon center on Mt. Koya, south of the capital in 819.
Dainichi Nyorai, also known as the ‘Maha Vairocana’ or the Great Illuminator was the chief or principal deity in Shingon sect. ‘Maha Vairocana was the primal form of Buddha from whom all the other forms of buddha emerged. These form not only included the deities but also the demons, saints and goblins, were said to have been emerged from The Great Illuminator alike. According to Kukai teachings, the Maha Vairocana, had its prensence in all things the universe holds, the body, speech and the thought of Maha Vairocana, is what constitutes the life of the universe.
The Shingon sect of Buddhism aimed at eliciting the vitality of the ‘three mysteries’ in the bodies, speech and thought in each and every individual. The Great Illuminator is present in each and every being present in this universe, all of the beings have the mystical bodies of the Great Illuminator, the voice is his mystical mouth and the thoughts are his mystical mind. All of this is beyond the comprehension of an ordinary persons mind, hence they are but mysteries to our senses. According to the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, the body, mouth and mind is united with the Great Illuminator by practicing mudras for the body, reciting mantras for the mouth and performing meditation for the mind, this enables the person to connect to the Buddha. After one connected to the Buddha they will find the road to their salvation.
Shingon sect also played the role of reuniting or reconciling Buddhism with Shinto. The shigon sect proposed the idea that all the gods and goddesses in Shintoism are the manifestations of the great Buddha. During the end if the Heian period they were successful in the reconciliation of Shinto and Buddhism and it came to be known as ‘Dual Shinto’.
Confucianism was founded by Confucius or King Fu-Tzu, who was also a Chinese scholar. It is a system of ethics and stresses over loyalty, correct behavior and obedience to hierarchy. The concept of Confucianism was developed in China but then found its way to Korea and then to Japan. Confucianism is a practical and moral philosophy that is mainly concerned with society and government and having the main agenda to maintain social order and to have affective governance. Confucianism lays emphasis on three things:
the mandate of heaven
words of Sages
The concept of ‘Mandate of Heaven’ refers to the order from above, that is, influential people in society influence other people and those people follow the ways of those influential people.
The Great Maine is the one who is supreme so that all the other people could accept his words without any questions and doubts. If the person is morally incapable or unfit they cannot be a ruler as he won’t be able to maintain order. Only a person who is morally and ethically fit is capable of being a ruler as according to Confucianism a ruler needed to be a paragon of virtues.
He should have a respectable attitude towards heaven and the sages. He is also expected to acquire the virtues of benevolence, righteousness, wisdom and propriety.
Confucius taught the principle of cardinal relationships. He emphasized on the importance to preserve the order in the society was based on these five relationships:-
between Lord and his Subject
between Father and Son
between Husband and Wife
There must be loyalty between lord and his subject. Respect and love between father & son and husband & wife, as well as between brothers and friends must have mutual trust.
In all the above relationships except that of friends all involve authority of one over another. This power or authority belongs to the one who is superior among the two. Among the five mentioned relationships above, three of them are family relations.
Confucius emphasized that if the relations between families are good then the order of the society will be maintained as families form the base of an empire. So it is necessary to have ideal relationships.
please do your research I am just a student myself.
‘Taoism’ or ‘Daoism’ is a fundamental idea, a philosophical tradition of Chinese origin. Taoism dates back to 4th century BC. ‘Tao (道)’ is a Chinese word meaning ‘way’ or ‘path’. Tao is said to be a cosmic force that flows through all the things and binds them together. It emphasizes on doing what is natural and going with the flow; to live in harmony with Tao. Taoism was the first religion/idea to enter into Japan followed by Confucianism and then Buddhism. It is believed that everything that is in existence is governed by Tao and that it is the way of ‘nature’. It does not have any rigid rituals and practices but it rather believes in achieving perfection by becoming one with nature. There are three essential elements of Tao- Naturalness, Simplicity & Spontaneity.
The concept of Tao is very rich and complex. The ‘Way to Tao’ is considered to be ‘Way of Water course’. Just as a river has no pre-planned idea where it would flow and just follows the nature, that is; if nature wants it to turn left, it turns left and if the nature wants it to take a right turn, it turns right. Taoism believes we should be just like that river, we should also flow freely and let the nature decide our course and destination. Taoism teaches us to be neutral in nature or so to say conduct ourselves according to the altering cycles of nature because “NOTHING LASTS FOREVER”.
Taoism, Shintoism or Confucianism for that matter does not answer the big questions-
Who we are?
Is there any meaning in life?
What is reality?
What happens after we die?
Laotzu, is the founder of Taoism and was an ancient Chinese philosopher who wrote the ‘Tao Te Ching’, which is the religious text of Taoism.
In the religious text, Tao Te Ching, Laotzu wrote about the essential elements of Taoism, which were as follows:-
Following the course of nature and living in harmony with it- Taoism stresses on doing what is natural and just going with the flow. To leave everything to nature and to just follow its course freely and everything eventually will fall in its place.
Spontaneity- as Taoism emphasizes on going with the flow of nature it also means not setting any plan beforehand so spontaneity becomes a part of it. When we have a habit of pre-planning everything a small roadblock in our plans stresses us out but if we leave everything to the natural flow then even if there is a slight change in the direction it doesn’t affect us and we become quick on our feet and spontaneous in our approach which ultimately boosts our confidence and make us quick thinkers.
Rejection of rules and regulations- similar to Shintoism and Confucianism, Taoism does not have any defined set of rules and regulations and also because Taoism does not believe in following any pre-plans course of action but to change oneself according to the changes in our surrounding so it is rather meaningless as well to have any defined set of rules.
Emphasis on intuition over reaction or intellect- Our conscious mind is where our sense of reason and intellect resides and guides us to the choices that we ‘think’ we want or what we ‘think’ is correct. But in our subconscious mind, where our ‘intuition’ resides, always shows us the path that that we ‘believe’ to be correct and what we ‘feel’ that we ‘need’ in actuality. Intuition is more powerful and accurate than reason and intellect because it makes us follow the path that we believe in deep inside.
By ethical point of view, Taoism is ‘action without action’. It means that if we keep doing something repeatedly it becomes natural for us and we stop identifying it as it just comes to us naturally and we let the nature to take over ourselves and our actions.
I am just a student learning about these things. please do your own research.
Shinto is a religion of shrines, festivals, and rituals. Large, medium, and small Shinto shrines with their torii gates are found all across Japan. Shrines are considered to be the homes of kami and are located around scenic natural surroundings, near banks of rivers or at the foot of a mountain. Many of the sites of the older shrines were considered to be sacred spaces long before the erection of any structure. Japanese considered Shinto to be an optimistic and happy religion and can be found in everyday practices or lifestyle of people.
Children are christened at shrines and many couples have Shinto weddings. Shinto-related festivities take place during rice planting and harvesting cycles. Millions of Japanese visit Shinto shrines on New Year’s Day. Some shrines do a small business all around the year by selling good-luck charms for granting various prayers. A large number of Shinto shrines hold annual matsuri, or festivals, where people carry large portable shrines to transport the local kami all around shrine.
Individuals or groups who visit shrines to worship complete three processes: purification, making an offering, and praying or making a request of the local kami. Before entering the shrine, the people use water to wash one’s hands or wash out one’s mouth to purify themselves. Then an offering is presented to the kami, followed by the prayer.
Values common to most Japanese people today, originated from early religious practices including love for bathing and deep respect for nature.
To pay respects at a Shinto shrine, stand in front of the cashbox and the long ropes dangling from a gong. The shrine may contain offerings of food and sake that are placed in front of the kami. People toss a coin in the box, sound the gong a couple of times, bow deeply twice, clap hands twice, bow once deeply, once lightly and then back away politely and avoid turning their back to the shrine.
What makes shinto different from other religions? if wanna know then read on. But first you should know what is shinto. To learn what is shinto read my last blog.
There are five characteristic features of Shinto
The belief that everything has a life of its own. All the objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. The wind, rain, rivers, mountains, trees everything that is important for life are worshipped as kami. As Shinto developed, not only spirits living in nature but also ancestors’ spirits were enshrined as gods. After death, ancestors’ spirits were believed to become guardian gods, watching over and protecting their living descendants. The main theme in the Shinto religion is love for nature and all living beings. So a waterfall or a special rock might come to be regarded as a spirit (kami) of that place; so might abstract things like growth and fertility. Sacred objects, such as rocks or trees, can be recognized by the special ropes (shimenawa) and they have white paper strips attached to them.
Shintoism is a polytheistic religion. Polytheism is the belief or worshipping more than one god. Shinto gods are basically spirits that are everywhere in nature and also in men, hence the assumption of many gods. The Japanese feared the natural forces and believed those forces came from the power of spirits living in various natural entities. In Shinto, the subjects of worship are not visible idols but spirits that are believed to have supernatural power. Both malevolent and benevolent spirits are called ‘Kami’ in singular and ‘Kamigami’ (神々) in plural. The arrival of Buddhism, however, brought with it stylistic carved figural icons, an art form that influenced images of gods in Shinto , and as Shinto-Buddhism started to merge together, many Shinto shrines and their deities were combined with Buddhist temples and figures.
EMPHASIS ON PURITY AND POLLUTION
The central aspect of Shinto ritual is purification. Shinto ceremonies are designed to appeal to the kami for benevolent treatment and protection and consist of abstinence (imi), offerings, prayers and purification.
Purification has two forms ‘Misogi’ and ‘Harae’.
Misogi, the purification from contact with sullying elements such as disease and death. Misogi is said to have originated from the myth of ‘Izanagi no Mikoto’ who followed ‘Izanami no Mikoto’ to the ‘Yomi no Kuni’ only to find her in the state of decomposition. After returning to the world cleans himself in a stream. The purification of his left eye leads to the appearance of the solar divinity Amaterasu Omikami. The purification of his right eye leads to the appearance of the lunar divinity Tsukuyomi no Mikoto. The purification of his nose leads to the appearance of the storm divinity Susanoo no Mikoto.
Harae, the restoration of proper relationships after wrongdoings, through the offering of compensation. The second type of purification, harae, has been derived from the myth of Susanoo no Mikoto, after he rampaged through the palace of his sister Amaterasu. And then he is compelled to make recompose by offering up a great quantity of goods and having his beard cut and nails pulled off.
INDIGENOUS RELIGIOUS PRACTICE
There is no outer influence of any kind in Shinto rituals and practices. Shinto has no founders, no official sacred scriptures and no fixed creeds but it has preserved its main beliefs and rituals throughout the ages. When the Japanese people and Japanese culture became aware of themselves, Shinto was already there.
When Buddhism entered Japan in 552 AD (officially) and Shinto kami were made equivalent to ‘Deva’ (Buddhist term for gods) and in the late 8th century kami were being considered as the incarnations of Buddha and bodhisattvas; bodhisattvas names were given to kami and Buddhist statues were placed even in the inner sanctuaries of the Shinto shrines. But there were always attempts to separate Buddhism from Shintoism. Several attempts were made to make Shintoism pure again far from any Buddhist influence so that there was no outer influence on Shintoism of any kind.
LACKS PHILOSOPHY OR ANY MORAL INJUNCTIONS
There are no absolute right or wrongs in Shintoism. Shinto has no moral absolutes and assesses the good or bad of an action or thought in the context in which it occurs: circumstances, intention, purpose, time, location, are all relevant in assessing whether an action is bad. Specifically Shinto ethics are not based on a set of commandments or laws that tell the faithful how to behave, but on following the will of the kami. Shinto ethics start from the basic idea that human beings are good, and that the world is good. Evil enters the world from outside, that is, it is brought by evil spirits. These affect human beings in a similar way to disease, and reduce their ability to resist temptation. When human beings act wrongly, they bring pollution and sin upon themselves, which obstructs the flow of life and blessing from the kami. Because Shinto coexists with Buddhism and Confucianism and their ethical values, it’s hard, and not very useful, to isolate the distinctly Shinto elements in Japanese ethics.
In my last blog I talked about the creation myth of Japan, which is a part of Japanese mythology; their religion. Then let’s delve deeper into Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan.
What is shinto?
The word Shinto is made up of two Chinese characters ‘Shin’ and ‘to’. ‘Shin’ meaning ‘Kami’ (神) and ‘To’ meaning ‘Michi’ (道). Together it forms ‘Kami no Michi’ or ‘The way of Gods’. It is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people; the indigenous religion of Japan. The word ‘Shinto’ first appeared in the ‘Nihon Shoki’ (日本事紀) that came into existence in 720 A.D. It is the second oldest book of classical Japanese history.
Shinto came about as a religion in the 6th century CE. Worship of ‘Kami’ emerged. ‘Shinto Gods’ are called ‘Kami’ (神). Kami are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, trees, rain, mountains, rivers and fertility. Each Kami has an efficient force called ‘Tama’, that is, object of religious activity. The Tama can either be positive and peaceful, that is, Nigimitama and negative and violent, that is, Ara-mitama. Tama resides in beings as ‘Tamashii’ and leaves at the time of death. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ‘Ancestral Kami’. The Sun Goddess ‘Amaterasu’ is considered Shinto’s most important kami.
In contrast to many other religions, there are no absolute right and wrongs; no distinction between good and bad. The main purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep the evil spirits away by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.
Shinto is involved in every aspect of Japanese culture: It touches ethics, politics, family life and social structures, artistic life and sporting life, as well as spiritual life.
And there was an interaction of Shinto with Buddhism and Confucianism.
Shintoism and Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced into Japan in either 538 CE or 552 CE (traditional date) from the Korean kingdom of Baekje.
Shinto, especially, with its emphasis on the here and now and this life, left a significant gap regarding what happens after death and here Buddhism was able to complete the religious picture for most people. As a consequence, both religions co-existed, many people practiced both, and even temples of both faiths existed together on the same site. Many Buddhist deities and figures from Indian mythology were readily incorporated into Shinto. At the same time Shinto gods acquired Buddhist names, for example, the sun goddess Amaterasu was considered an avatar of Dainichi; and Hachiman, the god of war and culture, was the avatar of the Amida Buddha.
As death is still considered to be impure so it is left to Buddhism. The afterlife, and belief, are not major concerns in Shinto; the emphasis is on fitting into this world instead of preparing for the next, and on ritual and observance rather than on faith. While weddings are often Shinto or Christian ceremonies, funerals (soshiki) are almost always Buddhist. The body is cleaned, dressed in white robes.
At the funeral the next day, mourners gather at a photograph of the person who has passed on to the next life and priest from any local temple recites sutras.
Again pointing out to the fact that I am not a historian but just a student who wants to share her knowledge about the country she loves so much.
Let’s get a bit studious. Today I’ll be telling you about the first thing that we learnt in our class about Japan ‘The creation myth of Japan’. The tale is a simple one according to the ancient text of Japan ‘Kojiki’ and ‘Nihon Shoki’, Japan was created by god Izanagi-no-Mikoto and goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto. The myth goes like this; ‘One day, god Izanagi-no-Mikoto and goddess Izamani-no-Mikoto were walking along the floating bridge up in the skies while looking down towards the ocean, wondering what lied beneath it.
Giving into their curiosity to learn about what lies in the ocean, god Izanagi-no-Mikoto thrust his staff into the waters. After pulling it out of the waters, he saw mud dripping from his staff and falling onto the ocean. The mud that was dripping hardened and grew and became the islands of Japan.
Then god Izanagi-no-Mikoto and goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto descended to these islands and began to explore them. They both went in different directions, and wherever they went while exploring they created or gave life to all kinds of plants, rivers, mountains, valleys and all of Japan’s flora and fauna. This is how Japan was formed.
Now let me tell you another tale about how major deities of Japanese mythology came into being. Goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto ended up in ‘yomi no kuni’ or ‘the land of the demons’ or you can say the netherworld. In shinto, netherworld is an unclean place, it is the land of the dead. God Izanagi-no-Mikoto followed her to the netherworld only to find her in a state of decomposition. This meant that she will not be able to return back to the other realm now, but god Izanagi-no-mikoto had to leave the netherworld and her behind.
After returning to the other realm Izanagi-no-Mikoto had to purify himself from the miasma of the netherworld. So he started to clean himself in the stream. While cleaning the purification of his left eye, gave existence to the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami; purification of his right eye gave existence to the moon god, Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto; and the purification of his nose gave existence to the god of wind, Susanoo-no-Mikoto.
I am always very curious to learn about myths and legends, they always fascinate me. So you should know I myself am a learner, a student and not a historian. I shared with you what I have learnt, I am not that well versed in shinto as a religion, so this is just the story that I was told. If you interested in learning more about mythology, you should surely do your research.
It’s not easy but it is indeed very interesting to be able to speak a tongue totally different from your own, it is a completely euphoric feeling (at least for me). Learning any language is very tough it requires time and effort but above all what you need is patience; yes, patience. You cannot just cram a language, you need a deeper understanding, you need to feel the emotions underlying in the words that are spoken. When you learn any new language you become a little closer to the culture, traditions and the people of that tongue. If you start learning a language part-time along with other academic or work commitments it would get pretty difficult and sometimes you would feel like quitting just to have some time for yourself because language demands time.
But here are you few reasons why you absolutely should not quit:
Learn about new cultures: language learning opens up doors to learning about a whole new culture. Language is the first step in bridging the gap between cultures. If you are keen on learning about a countries cultural practices you should start by learning the local language as it brings you closer to the traditional practices and develop a better understanding of their culture.
Connect with people: making friends (something I am not very good at, but I do try even if those people find me weird). People are more comfortable in speaking their own tongue; when someone tries to talk with me of course I will prefer Hindi because I am used to it and feel more connected to the person (if it were me I would write this blog in hinglish; but, anyways, I need to show my English skills(ツ)). This applies to all the people around the world, so what is the better way to connect with people other than speaking in their native tongue (plus it’s sure to make you popular, like ‘wow! They speak our language’; everyone wants a foreigner friend ¬‿¬).
Travelling: have a heart of wanderlust? Then this is kind of self-explanatory. When you visit a country, knowing their local language helps you in enjoying the things that regular foreigners cannot understand as you have absorbed their culture and understand their lifestyle better.
Now let’s go back to business. We have talked about all the fun part, now let’s dive into the academic or working aspect of it.
Career advancement: as I mention in my ‘Five reasons why internships are so important’ employers look for more than just your academic achievements. They want something more outside of it. Then what is better than throw in a language into the CV of yours. (They themselves won’t know the language, but want you to know something extra. Why the world work this way, why are they not satisfied with your degree alone ¯\_༼ ಥ ‿ ಥ ༽_/¯. But you will certainly have a benefit; curse all you want and they won’t understand any of it ( ˘ ͜ʖ ˘)) .
Learning a language helps in improving your communication skills: it certainly has improved my communication skills as now I am able to easily (better than before) communicate with people around me without getting hesitant.
Improves listening skills: you need to be a good listener in order to learn any language. Language learning sharpens your ears as you become more accustomed to it. It certainly helped me, because I am always paying attention to my surroundings now and have become more observant.
Gaining confidence: who doesn’t feel proud of themselves if they know a language others don’t know. I certainly do, I even pat my back because of it ¬‿¬. But in all seriousness, we do gain confidence in ourselves whenever we do something new AND fruitful. (Don’t go around gaining confidence in stuff like ‘hey, I can control my poop for an hour! Can you?? ( ͝סּ ͜ʖ͡סּ)’. I don’t even know if this is humanly possible but IT IS something new BUT NOT fruitful. You’ll just hurt yourself in the end (╭☞⚆ᗜ⚆)╭☞).
‘I’m learning a new language’ feels good to say right. When you tell other people that you are learning a language and they go ‘Awe that is awesome! But isn’t it difficult’ and then you reply ‘Nahh, it’s so easy and interesting (yes, I’m a born genius (ツ))’. But who are you kidding, learning a new language is hell of a difficult job to do!!
When I started learning Japanese it was very fun, easy but as I progressed further it started becoming tough; tough, yes BUT interesting. You have no idea how good it feels to be able to watch anime without subtitles. Okay, okay sometimes I do need subtitles because I am still learning but you have to agree starting to understand a different language other than your own does feel like a great accomplishment, doesn’t it.
Now as to why I started to learn Japanese, because I AM IN LOVE WITH JAPAN, always have been ever since I was 10. I was always fascinated by it. I wanted to learn more about the country and still learning. I was a student of economics, yes I studied economics first, graduated and then currently doing my second graduation in Japanese. All of the people around me asked me ‘what the hell are you doing?’ ‘Shouldn’t you be doing your post-graduation?’ ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ and I had only one answer ‘BECAUSE I WANT TO¯\_(ツ)_/¯’.
But the truth is I realized it a little late what I actually wanted to do. I took economics because it was a very trending course and everyone around me was doing it (luckily, got the percentage for it) but after 3 years of studying I realized this wasn’t what I should be doing because I was not able to see myself anywhere. The initial idea was to learn Japanese as something extra outside of my normal academic life but it turned out to be something that I should have been doing all along. So I did. After graduating I told my parents I want to do another graduation and they happily agreed. Then for the first time in my life I had the answer to the question-‘Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years’. The picture has finally become clear to me. So do what you want to do, then only you will be able to look in the future and see yourself standing where you actually want to be. No regrets.
Nowadays, having a degree isn’t nearly enough for you to land your dream job. Employers are not only interested in knowing what you achieved academically but they also need something extra, outside the field of academics. Doing internships has become a necessity for upping your game to land your dream job by improving your CV. And you can do so by participating in all kinds of extra-curricular activities that you do besides your studies in college and by gaining work experience be it full-time or part-time.
There are many of you out there (I hope I’m not the only one) just like me who are a bit timid or don’t really know how or why do we need to go through the process of doing internships. I myself didn’t really understand as to why we need to do internships and didn’t want to do them anyway, because doing them would mean me talking to people, something I am not very good at.
But one time I got a call from a very prestigious organization (won’t disclose the name but it was a big deal ✖‿✖). They had selected students through a seminar in our college and I had no idea about it, so when they called me for a phone interview…I.BLEW.IT. and it didn’t really bother me at that time because I wasn’t really wanting to do it, but as time passed and I started to think about my future and career it really hit hard that I wasn’t up to the level of my peers. Just studying won’t get me anywhere. Then I realized it was time to finally let go of my insecurities and start to think about how to better my CV to get to my dream.
Now let’s get to doing my job (as a part of my internship ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) which is to tell y’all why doing internships is so important, fun isn’t it, me telling you to do internships as a part of my own. But this is what makes me perfect for the job as I can put myself in your shoes and you can put yourself in mine and see for yourself that it’s not that difficult once you try.
Let’s start it off with something simple:
To learn new skills: when start doing internships, you will learn new things with every internship that you do because every job is different every jobs requirements are different which makes the environment very competitive as well. As you proceed doing different internships with different requirement you will learn a set of whole new things, which brings me to my next point.
Learning about yourself in a competitive environment: as I mentioned in the previous point that doing internships makes you learn new skills and while learning new skills and working under a competitive environment because there might be people who are already have those skills, this will indeed pressurize you to do your best, honing your skills. This will further help you in understanding yourself better and realize what you are actually good at and what you want to do long term.
Developing problem solving skills: Working under different environments will definitely help improve your problem solving ability. Thinking at your feet is a very good skill to have while on the job as it helps you to tackle problems that you face and that comes though experience. When you have had all kinds experience you become a quick thinker thus making your job easier.
Getting a taste of real working environment: this point doesn’t really need an explanation it’s self –explanatory. While doing internships you will realize what a real working job feels like. This will be your first step into the world as a working individual.
Helps in social networking: it doesn’t have to do with social networking, it is social + networking….get that? Okay in easier words, when you are on the job you meet new people and socialize with them (something I’m not very good at) which helps you increase your networking; that is how many people you know on the job which might come in handy in the future. So here you have it SOCIAL + NETWORKING.
This was me telling you why doing internships is important but if you still want to know more, then it is important to do your research.