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Face of the Deep: She's not there

September 14, 2016

Face of the Deep: She's not there
Inspired by the beginning of the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) too. Embracing as I do a fictional friend with whom I stir conjealed brine with my lance.

Utilizing Oil Slick by Andrew.

Each standing in the others light.

Posted by timtak at 07:21 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

The God of Hell and the People of the Sun

September 14, 2016

The God of Hell and the People of the Sun
According to Chamorran native legends of Guam, Fouha Rock, pictured above, was the first place created in the world. Being an oral culture without a cannon, there are various versions of the myth. One version has it that the rock was created from the body of the first female who made the sun shine.

Another version has it that a God of fire, had a fiery pit where he created souls to use as slaves. One day there was an explosion in hell, and a soul escaped to Guam as the rock pictured above which, softened in the rain to become a man. Finding himself alone he created others from the earth and gave them souls made of the sun. The God of Hell realised that one of his slave souls had escaped and came to Guam where he met a child and thinking that it was the soul that he was missing, he tried in vain to return it to hell. "The child became a man and told Chaifi he couldn't destroy him or the many other souls created since they came from the sun."

The Japanese have a similar myth in which a deity goes to hell and escapes, then makes ancestor of the Japanese with a soul made of the sun or mirror, or both,

Legend aside, Chamorrans lived naked in Guam for a long time until the Spaniards arrived with Catholicism more than three hundred years ago.

Another, semi-Catholic, Guamanian foundation myth has it that the naked people of Guam attempted to welcome an effigy of the virgin mother to Guam but were thwarted, three times. On the fourth attempt, they put on clothes to hide their nakedness, and were then able to accept the effigy of Mary, which stands to this day in the Cathedral in the capital of Guam. It is thought that it may be a statue from the prow of a Spanish ship.

Did the God of Hell re-enslave the people of the sun?!

Image "Puntan yan Fu'una by Guampedia Foundation, on Flickr

Posted by timtak at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Japanese Keyhole Shaped Ancient Tombs

September 14, 2016

Japanese Keyhole Shaped Ancient Tombs
Japan has some of the biggest tombs in the ancient world to rival and in area surpass the pyramids of Gaza and the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor of China, the largest being about 500 meters long 300 meters wide (see photos).

But what of the shape of these ancient Japanese tombs and which way up should they go? They are usually shown the opposite way up.

The burial chamber was in the round part with the entrance being in the triangular part so in Japanese they are termed "straight fronted round backed tombs" from the point of view of entering them. "Keyhole shaped" would appear to be a subsequent English language interpretation which again may lead to tombs being represented with the circular part positioned at the top.

Surprisingly, however, the first of these tombs is associated with the first historical Japanese emperor, Emperor Sujin, in whose record in the book of ancient mythology (The Kojiki) a "keyhole of a door" plays an important part.

A protagonist in the record of Emperor Sujin (part historical part mythical) is deemed to be of holy descent due to the following narrative.

A woman reported to her parents that she had become pregnant to a man that visited her only at night*. In order to find out the identity of this gentleman (?) the lady's parents instructed her to sprinkle red powder at the entrance to her bedroom and to attach a red thread to the clothing of her lover. This she did, and the next day the thread was found to leave three loops** before coming out through her "door's keyhole" ("to no kagi ana") and lead to the shrine of Oomononushi (an important Japanese god) in Mount Miwa (Three loop Mountain).

A very similar myth is found elsewhere in the Kojiki, where the deity is observed transformed into a snake.

The problem with this straightforward reading is that keys and keyholes probably did not exist in Japan at the time of Emperor Sujin, in the first century BC or even at the time that myth was written. The first keys in Japan were in the eighth century, contemporaneous with writing of the myth but these were padlock type mechanisms attached to the exterior of doors. The first keys that required holes were centuries later.

So what could this "door's hole" be?

Bearing in mind
1) The shape
2) That the deity penetrated the woman in order to have impregnated her
3) That the ancient word for the female sex organ was "hoto" possibly originating in "fire door"
4) That female sex organs and the entrance to tombs are elsewhere related or convoluted
5) That Joumon burial pots are thought to have represented wombs
6) That Japanese tombs were, like the myth mentioned above, sprinkled with red powder
7) That key and keyhole (kagi and kagi ana) are symbolic of sex organs in Japan to this day
7) That fear of death may encourage anyone to wish that death is a rebirth
8) The way in which an Other woman may be created of 'a side' of ourselves.

leads to the possibility that the shape of these massive tombs, of which there are thousands in Japan, represented female sex organs. This is why I have drawn the keyhole in the above orientation, and perhaps why Japanese tombs, despite being the largest in the world, are so un-publicised.

* That the god visited the woman only at night is less strange than it may otherwise seem since there is a tradition of "night crawling" (yobai) or night time visitation in Japan, and Wales in the UK.
** This reminds me of Lacan's borromean knot

Posted by timtak at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Magatama Curved Jewels as (Inner) Ears

September 14, 2016

Magatama Curved Jewels as (Inner) Ears
Children and adults can make curved jewels at the Yoshinogari museum of ancient Japanese culture in Saga (吉野ヶ里歴史公園) for about 2USD a jewel. My children enjoyed making one each this weekend.

Curved jewels (magatama) are one of the few things mentioned in Japanese mythology that are also found in reality.

As 'transitional object' in both myth and reality, they form one of the three sacred items symbolic of the Japanese imperial lineage the other two being a mirror, of the Sun Goddess, and the sword, that was found inside the tail of a multi-headed snake.

In Japanese mythology, the Sun Goddess is wearing a necklace of curved jewels when she meets her brother Susano who takes some of these jewels, puts them into his mouth, chews (onomatopoeically "kami-kami") them to bits and spits them out into the 'central well of heaven' to create other gods (kami) and imperial ancestors.

This act continues the Japanese mythological theme of "creation via dripping" often onto a reflective surface. The creative act of chewing symbols and spitting them out onto a mirror making the noise of what one is making ("kami" or deities), struck me as being a pagan expression of creation via the word - we speak to internalised other in the mirror of our mind, thereby making the world, speciated, en-wordified.

In Japanese mythology this act of creation, however, ends in disaster. Susano commits all manner of "sins" and his sister the Sun Goddess is lost to the world, since she hides in her cave. When the sun goddess has hidden in her cave, Amenouzume (lit "the headdress wearing woman of heaven) the founder of Japanese masked theatre (and I believe Susano in drag) wears a special headdress including curved jewels, to encourage the sun goddess to come back out of her cave by performing an erotic dance on top of a drum which made all present laugh, which encourages the Sun Goddess to come out of her cave again.

[My interpretation is that this is Susano attempting to return from the hell of the narrative self, by enacting it as an erotic solo, transsexual, auditory - hence the drum - dance to achieve enlightenment through satire and humour. Derrida represents the tragedy in a book of self addressed loving, erotic postcards. Japanese mythology and dance is more behavioural. ]

The curved jewels are said to have first have been made by deity by the name of "Parent of the Jewels" whose shrine is about 20 km from where I live in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Hōfu City (Tamanooya Jinja 玉祖神社).

This brings me to the occurrence of curved jewels in reality. They are found widely in ancient Japanese Joumon (lit. "string pattern" [pottery]) archaeological sites and in ancient burial mounds and in ancient archaeological royal sites from Korea.

The Japanese claim that the curved jewels spread from Japan to Korea, whereas Koreans claim that they spread from Korea to Japan. In Korea they are called gogok or comma shaped jewels and are found paired with mirrors on the regalia of Korean Kings in decidedly ear shaped forms, hanging from a tree shaped crown (similar that worn by Ameno-Uzume, the head-dress-woman, my "Sunsano in drag").

The fact that they hang from a tree has suggested that they represent a fruit.

[A fruit reminds me of Adam's apple, which gets stuck in our throat. I would also be inclined to suggest that the tree crown may also have had a practical purposes as a primitive "selfie-stick" to enable its wearer to see himself reflected, and echoed, in mirrors and jewels, there dangling.]

There are several other theories as to the significance of the shape of curved or comma jewels, all of the following from Wikipedia.
The shape of an animal tusk
The shape of the moon
The shape of a two or three part tomoe (as represented in the above image top row)
The shape of the soul
The shape of ear decorations

I had liked the part tomoe (Taoist and Shinto symbol) interpretation, for no good reason, but the ear decoration theory is more persuasive.

According to recent research (Suzuki, 2006) on curved jewels unearthed in Korea and Japan, curved jewels are found alongside "nearly circular ear jewellery split into two halves. The visual evidence for ear jewellery as the origin of curved jewels appears to be strong (see the above link and bottom left in the above image).

This interpretation does not conflict with the tomoe or soul interpretation. Various scholars (Mead, Bakhtin, Freud, Lacan, Derrida) claim that the self is dependent upon the assumption of an ear into the psyche. As such, a fitting together (either as a circle or tomoe) ear-shaped or ear-associated jewel may have represented a transitional, partial-self-object.

It is known that mirrors were given to others as remembrance tokens or keepsakes by the ancient Japanese from poems in the Book of Ten Thousand Leaves (manyoushuu). Looking at a mirror presented by a loved one, one might feel their gaze. Hearing the sound of the clinking of a curved jewel, made from the earring of ones mother or girlfriend, one might imagine the attention of their loving ear.

I have also claimed that headless deformed Venus figurines, including ancient Japanese dogu and and ancient Jewish Ishtar idols, may have represented the represented part of an autoscopic visual self. 'The ancients' may have known more about the parts from which the self is created, or at least been more fully aware that the self is created from parts. Moderns may have become more prudish, and lost our sense of humour.

In Japanese mythology, when Susano chewed the Sun Goddesses' curved jewels and spat them out into a reflective surface (in which he may have been reflected as his sister, I claim), she took his sword and chewed it and spat it out likewise into the well of heaven. The curved jewels therefore form a pair with swords. In a myth parallel to that in which the sword (Kusanagi no Tsurugi) was found in the tail of a snake, the sword is associated with the naming of its owner. Indeed it could be argued that the sword that Susano finds in the snake is his symbolic self-representation. If jewels represent internalised ears, then it would be appropriate that they be paired with swords as self symbols or names. Mirrors can represent the perspective/gaze, and the transitional, part-self image that is gazed at, and the world-heart in which it takes place.

It seems to me that my self-narrative and any internal ear take place on or in the mirror of my consciousness which sees as it is seen.

In China, "nearly circular" earrings (I thought that they were "butt" shaped earrings in an earlier version of this post!) are sometimes represented as a snake or dragon biting its own tail. Out out damn butt (! I jest, ketsu, 玦) snake! My self narrative is gay.

That in Japan the "incomplete circle" 玦 "pig dragon" earrings are broken into two, and worn as necklaces seems to me to represent the way in which language and the linguistic self in Japan does not form an "incomplete circle," completed by the reality of the ear or face, nor go around in Japanese people's minds but is broken. The linguistic self, the "I" of the cogito, is in Japan, as Mori claims, broken, a "you for you."

Under this reading, the myths of Susano - with his sister and in Izumo - are about how one form of selfing defeated another: in Japan the paradoxical circle of light defeated the incomplete snake circle of speaking. Or paraphrasing the myth from Guam, some humans managed to escape from hell to live in the light of the sun, without physically or imaginatively nailing themselves to a tree.

Perhaps I should dress up in drag and dance in front of a mirror, as a metaphor for that which I am always doing, now for instance. I did in fact recommend dancing in front of a mirror to a schizophrenic many years ago. That patient showed remarkable but only temporary improvement.

Suzuki, K. 鈴木克彦 (2006) "縄文勾玉の起源に関する考証."『玉文化』3号.

Posted by timtak at 07:18 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Totem badges Old and New

May 16, 2013

Totem badges Old and New
Top row: Shinto shrine amulets (omamori)
Bottom row: Kamen Rider OOO medals, Kamen Rider W Gaia Memories
Please see also an even longer history of totem badges from Australian bull roarers, through shrine amulets, seals (mitokoumon's inro) to the seal of the Shinkenja- Super sentai.

My son plays with various totem badges that are said to transmit the spirit of a supernatural entity to a person allowing them to transform into a superman of sorts. These "totem badges" seem to have much in common with the good luck amulets (omamori) available at shrines.

Continue reading "Totem badges Old and New"
Posted by timtak at 06:28 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

What are the Kami not? Beyond the logodome

June 21, 2012


I am really confused about the Kami. Also, alas I have not even been going to Shrines much lately. But here I will describe Shinto as a sort of Nacalian philosophy, a sort of reversal of world as described by Jacques Lacan.

I have long been interested in what God might be. I was raised in many ways an atheist. I had good physics classes and a parent that thought the world physical. I had another parent that believed in "God." "What?" I thought. And I asked, and got answers that did not make much sense to me. "God is love," was one of them. Lately, that answer makes a little more sense, but still not a lot.

I have since searched around for other answers to this question as to what (first of all) the God that Christians talk about might be. So here is my collection of theories on what God might be.

Starting with the most atheistic, Richard Dawkins (2008) says that God is an "imaginary friend". that is a start.

Following on, a book I liked about an imaginary friend is John Wyndham's "Chocky" (1968). In that children's book, the imaginary friend turned out to be an alien from outer space! It has been a long time since I read "Chocky" but I think I liked, or like now, the way the imaginary friend turned out to be real:-). Speaking of imaginary friends that turn out to be real, my son has for the past couple of years been addicted to "The Gruffalo" a picture book by Julian Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (2006). In it a mouse makes up a sort of imaginary friend - a monster called a Gruffalo, who again turns out to be real. Can that which starts out as an imaginary friend become real?

Someone also asked what attracted us to Shinto. One of the things that really attracted me to Shinto was sorry for using a nerdy numbered list but...
1) My feeling was that I did have an imaginary friend
2) Not only do I have an imaginary friend but I can't seem to stop having one.
3) Christianity seemed to require that I claim my imaginary friend is *real,*
4) That seemed to be going a bit too far - to claim reality to my imaginary friend.
5) I met Shinto practitioners (at least three) who said that while they believed in the Kami they were not sure if they were real or not. One famous Shinto practitioner (the founder of a Shinto Sect; Kurozumi, 2000) even seemed to intimate that they thought that their Kami are not real. But as far as they were concerned, that did not matter. 'If you believe then that is okay,  welcome to Shinto!' I bet that a lot of Shintoists would not agree and insist that the Kami are 100% real. But at least some Shintoist felt that belief, imagining something to be true, feeling something to exist, and acting as if something exists, is enough to do Shinto. That struck me, strikes me, as very attractive, very much in tune with how I feel.

Moving on to more highbrow theories of (Christian) God.

Adam Smith (1812, see Brat, 2005), the economist was a Calvinist by upbringing. He theorised the existence of an "Impartial Spectator." He said that we see ourselves from the point of view of an "Impartial Spectator". Bearing in mind where I am going to take this, I should mention that Adam Smith felt the "Impartial Spectator" to be above all *rational*. What is a "rational impartial spectator"? Why should we have, or imagine one?

Sigmund Freud (1913) said we have a "Super Ego," which is an imaginary father figure hidden inside our head. Freud, for all his popularity, is rather hocus pocus it seems to me. He claimed that we have a Super Ego due to the real event (!) of killing and eating (yuck) a primal big bully father, in the depths of human history, and then (for reasons that are not entirely clear) feeling so guilty about it that we felt and feel obliged to internalise that father figure, that our ancestors killed. Freud has written a lot, and gives other reasons for the origin of the "super ego" but, I am not keen on historico-concrete or physiological essentialism of his theories. One thing I do like however is that he emphasises that we *hide the internalisation*. Going back to the "imaginary friend" metaphor, it is as if we make, and intake (eat, internalise) an imaginary friend and then hide the fact that have done so. That part is very much how I feel. For many years it seems to me I kind of forgot my imaginary friend was even there. I had sort of hidden my friend, it seems to me. Freud also asserts that the Super-ego is a condition for the ego or "I" (me, myself) but I am not able to say why. These next theorists start to explain why.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1986) was a Russian literary critic and philosopher of language. Before I introduce what he had to say, Hermans and Kempen (1993) are two Dutch, I think, psychologists, who are quite popular at the moment that have a theory of imaginary friends (though not of god) based upon Bakhtin. Bakhtin argued, I think, that language is always meaningful in communication, in discourse. So what happens when we are on our own? Bakhtin, and Hermans and Kempen, say that we are always imagining a variety of real friends and acquaintances as listeners to our language. Yes! As I write this blog post I am thinking of how a few list members (if they are still reading) might react to what I am writing. It is by imagining their presumed reaction that I am able to be coherent to myself, to be meaningful. Bakhtin (and his followers Hermans and Kempen, 1993) provide an answer as to why it may be difficult to give up on imaginary friends. If language is essentially discursive, depending upon an addressee, then all those times we are using language on our own, we need imaginary-real-friends at least to help, or allow us to understand what we are saying.

Bakhtin (1986, p126) himself went further to assert that not only do we imagine the reaction of imaginary real others, (i.e. for instance John Dougill or David Chart, or Sean K., or anyone we are talking to) Bakhtin also claims that we imagine a "super addressee." What is a super-addressee? Bakhtin says that any person that we are talking to, or even any group that we are talking to, are not going to understand all that we have to say. We want to say more. We want to say what we have to say and not be limited by our audience (as if!). So Bakhtin claims, we also imagine in addition to all the people (the second persons of our narrative, a third person, someone else who is, hearing or reading our words and understand them. This rings a bell: Adam Smith's "impartial spectator." It also explains the "reasonable-mess" of Smith's spectator. I think that Smith said that his "spectator" is reasonable because rather than "spectating" (that is to say viewing) the impartial spectator is an impartial listener.

George Herbert Mead (1967 and free on the Internet) has the same kind of theory, but also provides more meat to notion that our imaginary friend is essential, or even that the imaginary friend turns out to be real. Mead starts out from the "Radical Empiricism" of William James in which experience, for the child at least is a chaos of colours and feelings in which there is no self nor world just a mishmash of experience [Aside, Japanese philosopher of Zen, Nishida was also very influenced by James]. Mead proposed a way for us to recognise ourselves, our self, from out of that confusion. He said that we do, we must do it, by expressing ourselves and internalising the reaction we imagine others to have - imaginary real friends again - and then gradually, to internalise so many perspectives, that similar to Bakhtin's "super addressee" we become able to simulate a "generalised other." That is to say, a sort of amalgam of all the friends we have, of our mother, our father, our friends, our enemies, eventually an impartial listener. By coming to be able understand at first the reactions of real others, and finally to the reaction of their amalgam/average/generalisation, we are able to understand our words objectively, and understand who we are, from the perspective of that simulation.

I bet all these people are (in my version) sounding very similar. Too right. The above is merely my interpretation of all these theories.

Now break (Collins, 1982, 1:59)....When I was about 22 I went stone raving mad and found that I not only did I agree with all the above, but that I met my "super-addressee," my "super-ego" my "generalised other," the "Gruffalo". And I did not like, did not want to share a head with the simulated person I met, primarily because she was a woman. Or rather, most of all, I did not like the self that I had (have) in the dialogue I had (have) with my internalised "other," because all this talking to a woman had feminised him (me) more than seemed advisable. Also, until that point I had been an atheist. After that point I came to think that I had an imaginary friend upon whom I depend.

About two years later I came to Japan.

Continue reading "What are the Kami not? Beyond the logodome "
Posted by timtak at 01:31 AM | Comments (1) | Permalink

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished

May 22, 2012

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished by timtak
Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

In front of many Shinto shrines there are many stone lanterns. They have the shape of lanterns. They have windows in them representing the sun and the moon. But perhaps it is more appropriate to say that they are copies of lanterns because, in the vast majority of cases the simulated lanterns are never lit. They may appear to be fake lanterns, containing nether candle, nor any sort of lamp. So what are they doing there?

It seems to me that these lamps draw attention the visual or qualia field of consciousness, or in other terms, "the mirror of the sun goddess".
It was this mirror that became the first copy-that-was-not-a-copy, in Shinto mythology. Amaterasu, the Sun-Godess appeared to have been fooled by it, tricked out of her cave, but was she? Was she perhaps not a mirror all along? Certainly when the first imperial ancestor left her company for Japan he was given, as a senbestu of sorts or keepsake, a mirror, which the first emperor was told to worship as if it were the original.

his mirror or field always extended, and in a sense alight, while we are awake, and can not be turned off other than globally by death, unconsciousness and sleep. The lanterns in front of Shinto shrines are thus never extinguished and in a way shiny brightly, even or especially in daylight. So bearing that in mind, are these lanterns copies of lanterns, or really lanterns after all?

Continue reading "Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished"

Posted by timtak at 03:43 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

"Chinkon" and Inhaling the Earth

May 17, 2012

Chinkon literally means something like "sinking the soul" or "putting the soul down into the body", or perhaps again "pacifying the soul (so that it does not fly off somewhere?)"

In Shinto, as in many other religions, the soul of humans comes from the outside, from the divine.

Chinkon uses the characters for "sink" (chin, shizumu) and "soul" (kon, tamashii, spirit, mind, perhaps self), and refers to the notion that for humans to be human, to exist at all, to have a soul, they need to take into themselves the divine.

Shinto says that we need to make sure that our soul stays inside us. And that we need to take in the divine, periodically, especially at New Year, when Japanese eat Rice Cakes and get an new amulet from their Shrine and by this means, take in the spirit, effecting a rebirth.

Continue reading " "Chinkon" and Inhaling the Earth"
Posted by timtak at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Shinto Symbols as Totemism/Bricolage

April 10, 2012

Shinto shrines are covered in pieces of paper, often zigzag strips of paper. They hang from the rice straw ropes (shimenawa 注連縄) that mark a sacred site. They are attached to the sacred branches that people give as an offering in Shinto ceremonies (tamagushi 玉串). They are used as a tool for purification, when swung to and fro in bulk at the end of a wand (大幣/祓い串). They stand next to mirrors at shrines as gohei(御幣).

In addition the the zig zag strips however, there are other pieces of paper that Shrines give out, specifically the pieces of paper that people take home to put in their household shrines (ofudaお札), and the pieces of paper that are contained inside Shinto lucky charms (omamoriお守り).

However, in many case, as Yanagita (1990) bewails, the same things are at once offerings to the gods (like money today) and invested of, containing the gods themselves (note 1).

It seems to me that essentially they are all the same, the vector for the sacred symbols of Shinto: the offerings which start out as simply pieces of paper become sacred as a result of their use as symbols. When they are in their zig-zag form, the form which is usually given to shrines, they have yet to have been cut or torn into their individual form for distribution to worshippers as sacred tags (fuda札) or lucky charms (omamori).

This video shows you how to make the zigzag strips and how I propose they were originally used, to create strips of paper for distribution to the faithful.

There is strong evidence to suggest that these strips of paper evolved from the use of branches, leaves, and grass as is recorded in the ethnology of Kunio Yanagita(1990), and as is suggested by the form of the tamagushi, which like the composite forms recorded by Yanagita, may be the old form of the Shinto symbol (a branch with leaves) combined with new (the zig zag strips shown in this video). For ethnographic evidence that these strips of paper were once branches and leaves, and that they were distributed, please notes in Japanese at the bottom of this post.

Bearing in mind the natural origins of Shinto symbols, I think that Shinto can be interpreted as a form of totemism, that is to say, a religion that values, structures, distributes a certain type of sign. Levi-Strauss (1966) redefined totemism as "bricolage," (DIY) or "the science of the concrete": the use of things to hand, things in the world to signify their gods *and themselves*. The importance of this observation is that it provides a hint to a non-logocentric (i.e. hearing yourself speak) form of self.

The problem with this interpretation is that, while Levi-Strauss(1966) concentrates on the use of natural articles for thought, he does mention the use of manufactured articles (such as gourds) used as totems, and even mythical articles (mythical creatures) used for totems. This considered, the distinction between "savage thought" and Western thought (using mental images of phonemes) becomes very vague. If Shinto is a form of totemism then it has moved beyond using solely natural articles to using seals printed on pieces of paper. In what sense if any are such symbols "concrete" or part of the world any more than phonemes are part of the world? I suggest that these symbols, that are organised, distributed and valued by the Shinto religion are above all visual, understood by the eye rather than ear of the mind.

That visual signs can mean by themselves without the vector of the phoneme is argued persuasively by Hansen (1993) but runs directly against the Western tradition (Barthes, 1977) and is attacked vociferously by scholars such as Unger (1990).

That Japanese may have used branches, leaves, and grass as important religious symbols may be the reason why they are recorded as saying things in the "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" (Manyoushu) and why, as recorded in the same book, as a result of the imperial government being so effectively organised (and I suggest the use of paper and ideograms) that the same trees and grass stopped saying things. I need to find those two poems.

Sorry it was not poems. In the great purification ritual in the Shinto book of prayers and rituals (engishiki) it says
国内にあらぶる神たちをば、神問はしに問はし給ひ、神掃ひに掃ひ給ひて、語問ひひ磐ね樹だち、草の片葉をも語止めて、天之磐座放れ、天の八重雲をいつの千別に千別きて、天降りし依しまつりき (Toyota, 1980, p74)
Which may mean something like. To all the wild spirits throughout the land, impeaching them and sweeping them away, the rocks and trees and the leaves of grass that before called out to us, stopped speaking, when (and) the imperial ancestors left the rock of heaven and parting the clouds came down from heaven.

By performing the purification ritual (which these days is accompanied by a lot of waving of paper, but in those days seemed to use tablets or pieces of wood that are washed away in a river) the ancient Japanese felt that their ritual provided by the new imperial system enabled them to rid of their wild spirits, and prevent the rocks, trees, and grass from speaking despite the fact that they had done so hitherto. I argue that what we are seeing here is the gradual transformation (or subjugation) of a purely natural science of the concrete (totemism), wherein rocks, trees and grass where used as symbols - hence they 'spoke' - into a ritualistically structured legal, political religious system eventually using Chinese characters stamped on pieces of wood, cloth and paper. By way of analogy imagine if some deposed EU bureaucrats from Brussels, went to live with the Nuer (as studied by Evans-Prichard, 1940), and rather than converting them to Christianity, ordered and persuaded the Nuer to formalise their belief system. "No, there is no need to cut scars into your face any more. Please use these ID cards instead. Don't worry, the same information will be contained in the bar-code here. Yes, the bar-code reader will be available at all marriages and festivals." And so the science of the concrete evolved, but it did not become logo-phoocentric (Derrida), or alphabetical (Hansen, 1993).

Implications for Non-Shintoists Continue reading "Shinto Symbols as Totemism/Bricolage"
Posted by timtak at 02:20 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Earthquakes in Japanese Religion

March 14, 2011

Earthquakes in Japanese Religion by timtak
Earthquakes in Japanese Religion a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Earthquakes - more horrifying than lightening and typhoons - were thought to be caused by the movements of giant catfish.

While Typhoons and Lightening have patron gods (Fuujin and Raijin respectively) who are respected enough to be appeased, so cataclismic is the history of Japanese earthquake disasters perhaps, that they are not deified, but attributed to the maleficence of a big black fish.

Japanese catfish, or namazu, are or were thought to be, large lazy, bottom-dwelling fish with little culinary value who, for their part feel jealous of the admiration humans have for other fish species. Earthquakes were thought to be caused by the movements, or jealous malisciousness of giant catfish at the bottom of the sea, or beaneath the ground.

These catfish were held in place however by the god Takemikazuchi who is enshrined at two shrines in Ibaraki prefecture, including Kashima Jinguu (Imperial Shrine) in Kamisu City.

The Shinto deity uses an enourmous rock (whose tip can be seen in the shrine grounds - most of the rock is buried), his sword, or a giant gourd to prevent the catfish from moving.

The rock, the most famous means of keeping the catfish in places, is called a Kanameishi or keystone.

However, in moments of lapse, or while on holiday to Izumo in October - which is called the Godless-Month since all Shinto Kami are said to make the trip to Izumo - the giant catfish moves with horrendus consequence.

In the 6th century book of poems, the Manyoshu (book of ten thousand verses) there is a poem which reads

"The keystone may wobble but it will not become unstuck so long as the God of Kashima Shrine is with us."

Reading this poem three times was believed to be a protection from earthquakes by 19th century dwellers in Edo (Tokyo).

The Giant Catfish was depicted in many Ukiyoe (pictures of the floating world). The genre is known as "Catfish-pictures" but only 300 survive since they were banned by the Edo government.

As well as depicting the subjugation of the giant catfish by the God and the Key stone rock, they also showed (as in the picture above) house builders taking a different attitude to the catfish. In the above picture the group of construction workers top left do not participate in subjugating the Catfish. In another picture construction workers are shown worshiping or thanking the catfish for the profits that they earned after an earthquake. In another picture construction workers are seen helping the catfish in a tug of war between the catfish and Takemikazuchi, helped by representatives of the general population. 

After the great Tokyo earthquake of 1855 the catfish is also depicted as being responsible for redistributing wealth from rich to poor, and became regarded as a world repairing deity (Yonaoshi Daimyoujin).

So in the end it is probably true to say that Japanese religion, particularly Shinto, can be trusted to see a positive side to nature, even the most horrific, even in the face of great human loss and tragedy.

The above image is believed to be in the public domain. The above text is my interpretation of internet recsources such as Japanese wikipedia and these two blog posts (in english)
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And the source of the above photo (in Japanese)
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The theme of a natural calamity being held in check by a giant rock is also found in the Shinto creation myth. Izanami, the primal female that gave birth to all of creation, dies when she gives birth to the god of fire. Izanagi, her husband, kills the god of fire, and goes to visit his wife in the underworld where he finds her rotting form terrifying and flees, trapping Izanami in the underworld with a giant rock. Thus trapped, Izanami promises to kill 1000 people a day. Her husband responds that he will allow for 1500 people a day to be born.

The connection between the belief in the catfish and the Shinto creation myth, is reinforced since it is one of Izanagi's sons, born from the blood of the god of fire (that killed his mother, killed by his father) dripping onto rock, that holds the earthquake subduing keystone in place.

I asked my neighbours for their thoughts concerning the earthquake. One said that with the long history of earthquakes in Japan fear of them is built into their system, and at the same time their destructive power is seen as inevitable (shikata ga nai).

Perhaps the feeling is that earthquakes like death are going to come. All that we can do is postpone them, by villigence, and believe in natural creation. 

Posted by timtak at 06:45 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink