Конкурс эссе «Shinto Essay Competition» ежегодно проводится Международным научным обществом синто:
(Синто: кокусай гаккай, http://www.shinto.org ).
Эссе А.С. Бачурина заняло первое место на конкурсе, проводившемся в 2000 г.
Московское представительство Общества было открыто в июне 2001 г., его возглавлял В.Н. Еремин.
С 2003 г. конкурс эссе проводится на русском языке.
The Shinto Concept of Kami
As any other religion, Shinto has its own ideas
about what is divine and what should be worshipped. The interesting thing about
these ideas is that in early and medieval
The Japanese word meaning “deity” or “divinity” and sometimes translated as “god” is “kami”. Its origin and the existence of the link with the word “kami” meaning “upper” are unclear. The Chinese character used to write the word “kami” consists of two parts: the first means “the altar of ancestors” or “deity”, and the second can be understood as “to report to a superior”, though it is again unclear whether the Chinese-style worship of ancestors was widely spread in Japan. So-called “ujigami” (a kami of a family) existed, but it seems possible that they were not always associated with ancestors. A kami could be a landscape deity, and a family living in a certain territory could later come to worship it as an ancestor. Anyway, it seems interesting that the character for Japanese word “kami” contains the idea of something superior, with which it is possible to communicate.
Another word to call deities used in chronicles is “mikoto”. It is more common for “Nihongi”, where there are two different Chinese characters for it (indicating different degrees of respect), than for “Kojiki”. Perhaps, by using one of these characters it was shown that the deity had a genealogical connection with the governing family and was very important for the Emperor The Japanese word “mikoto” itself has a prefix “mi” translated as “sacred”, so the whole word can be understood as “a sacred object”. There was also a special Chinese character for “mi”, and this prefix was often used in the names of deities, e.g. “Amaterasu-oho-mi-kami”.
Names of deities have a significant role for their characterization. Names contain the essence of myths: the most demonstrative example is the name of the first male deity born by Susanoo, which symbolizes Susanoo’s victory in the argument with Amaterasu (Masa-ya-a-katsu-kachi-hayabi-ama-no oshi-ho-mimi-no mikoto, it can be translated as “Truly-I-Conquer-Swiftness-Heavenly-Great-August-Person”). Sometimes the only thing known about a deity is its name including a name of some place, a mounain, or a river, or connected with the circumstances of the deity’s appearance or birth, or with some significant object. In any case, a name can give us information about a deity’s function or location. There are no names referring to abstract principles, like there are no deities worshipped in more than one shrine, so-called branch shrines started to appear later under the influence of Buddhism. This can be called “a functional locality” of kami, which corresponds to their geographical locality: kami, like “hashira”, pillars, which is a counter used for deities in ancient Japanese chronicles, link one point in the divine world with one point in our world.
There is no definite answer to the question about the location of the divine world. At least two types of cosmology can be found in Japanese mythology. The first can be called “vertical cosmology”, and it describes three world planes: Takamagahara - The Plain of High Heaven, The Central Land of Reed Plains associated with the human world, and Yomi-no kuni - subterranean world. Kami exist on every plane, and in mythical times even trees and herbs of The Central Land could speak, but the deities of Takamagahara, the ancestors of the Emperor and aristocratic families, subdued the land and brought the chaotic multitude of its kami into obedience. Often mountains are also regarded as a part of the divine world: kami descend from the mountains, and, according to the songs of “Mahyoshu”, the souls of dead people go to the mountains.
Another type of cosmology, which can be found in
Japanese mythology, is so-called “horisontal
cosmology” with its image of “marebito”, a deity from
some enigmatic overseas land. Sukuna-bikona-no mikoto comes from the land, which lies
accross the sea, and this land can be Tokoyo-kuni, The Everlasting Land, where he goes after
everything is accomplished in The Central Land. Kami
can also be found in the underwater world, as it is described, for example, in
the myth about a visit of Ho-deri-no mikoto to the underwater
As it is seen, kami can move from one plane to another, and the way they do it depends upon their nature: mountains tremble, when Susanoo rises to The Plain of High Heaven to see Amaterasu, and Sukuna-bikona-no mikoto sails to The Central Land in a small boat made of a rind of a kagami plant. Kami can turn into a serpent, like Oho-mono-nushi-no kami, the deity of mountain Miwa, to have an intercourse with a maiden, or to rise to heaven in such a form. Kami, according to the ancient beliefs, can descend (i.e. come to our world) not only on mountains, but on trees (such trees are called “himorogi”), pillars, stones and piles of stones (“iwasaka”). The sacred territory was surrounded by “shimenawa”, a rope. Shrines appeared later and not without influences from the continent. It should be mentioned here, that there is a special room, “shinden”, in a shrine, where objects called “shintai” are stored. Shintai are used as temporary containers for summoned kami. Shintai are placed in caskets or wrapped in cloth, and it is strictly forbidden to look at them. An object like a mirror, a sword or a stone can be a shintai, but sometimes even a mountain is worshipped as a shintai, like it is in Oomiwa shrine and in Suwakami shrine.
Speaking about Oomiwa shrine and Mountain Miwa we should say that, according to the norito “Divine Congratulatory Words of the Kuni-no Miyatsuko of Izumo” from “Engishiki”, Oho-na-mochi-no mikoto (another name for Oho-mono-nushi-no kami or Ookuninushi) placed his “peaceful spirit”, “nigi-mi-tama”, in a mirror - “kagami”, which was situated in a holy grove of Oomiwa shrine. Spirits of kami is a very interesting subject. There are at least four types of “tama”, translated as “spirit” or “soul”, which, maybe, show different aspects of a deity’s behaviour. After pacifying The Central Land, Oho-na-mochi-no mikoto meets his “fortune spirit (“saki-mi-tama”), wonder spirit (“kushi-mi-tama”)”, which comes lighting up the sea and says that it is going to rest on Mountain Mimoro in Yamato (the same as Mountain Miwa). A kami can also have a “rough spirit” - “ara-mi-tama”. In “Nihongi” Amaterasu says to the Empress Jingo that her ara-mi-tama may not approach the Imperial Residence, and Jingo uses kami’s ara-mi-tama to lead the army.
Kami can turn into everything from an arrow to a human or an animal. A kami itself is neither antropomorphic nor zoomorphic, it can be just more or less connected with such forms. For example, Izanagi and Izanami seem to be antropomorphic deities, as their sex, parts of body and clothes are mentioned in myths, but when Izanami gives birth to the The Deity of Fire, suffers injury, and goes to Yomi-no kuni, her “body” is not lost, it is transformed to another form, appropriate for that unclean territory. And a zoomorphic deity, the serpent Yamato-no worochi, dies, as Susanoo cuts its body into pieces. It does not matter, what the form of kami is at the moment, because it can be more or less easily changed. And of course, it is not necessary for kami to have only “spiritual” or only “physical” form. Some kami, as Taka-mi-musubi-no mikoto, have no “body” (or it is “hidden”), they are more like spiritual forces acting on their own will, and some kami are less powerful and more strongly connected with their visible physical form, “body”, so that they can be killed or hurt.
Finally, speaking about kami’s
nature, it should be said that kami are neither
“good” nor “bad”, they are ethically ambivalent. For example, Susanoo can be called a “raging deity” when acting in Takamagahara, and a “culture hero” when acting in Izumo, in The Central Land. Izanagi
and Izanami create The Great Eight Island Country
together, and after Izanami got to Yomi-no kuni she promises Izanagi to kill a thoursand
people of The Central Land every day. Kami can cause
different disasters, such as pestilence or epidemy,
when not worshipped or worshipped incorrectly, for example, as it happened,
according to the chronicles, in the reign of Emperor Sujin.
Oho-mono-nushi-no kami, who
caused the disasters, came to Emperor Sujin in a
dream as a noble man and explained what should be done to stop the disasters.
Another way to find out the deity’s will was to let it posess
a human and speak through him or her. Usually a woman was such a medium, and it
correspondes to the ancient systyem
of ruling a tribe, when a man was a chief and a woman was a shaman. This system
After this short overview of the main characteristics of kami we may proceed to a very important question: what can be a kami? As we have figured out, it is possible for every object of our world to contain specific sacred forces and be regarded as kami, especially for such awe-inspiring and significant phenomenons like the sun, the moon or the sea. We can see here a great difference between Shinto and, for example, Christianity. In Christianity God is not a part of the created world, but the man can know about God by means of perceiving God’s manifestations in the world. So, the act of creation and the created world separate the man from God. In Shinto there are no “supernatural forces”: all kami are “natural”, they are a part of the world, and the feeling of their presence tells us that the nature around us is more complicated than we sometimes think. Kami are usually invisible or hide themselves, but their creative or destructive forces can be always awaken, or kami themselves can appear in form of birds, foxes, bears or serpents. Shinto makes no strict distinction between divine powers, the man and the world. Divine powers are incorporated in the world, and men can be posessed by kami or even become kami; for example, souls of dead people can help their alive descendants. Again, all the people are descendants of kami: The Emperor is a descendant of Taka-mi-musubi-no mikoto and Amaterasu, noblemen are descendants of the deities from Takamagahara, and the other people are descendants of the deities from The Central Land.
It seems possible that the first deities, which appear in the first episode of “Kojiki” and “Nihongi” (Ama-no mi-naka-nushi-no kami, Taka-mi-musubi-no kami and Kami-musubi-no kami in “Kojiki”) and have no visible form, are the images strongly influenced by Chinese philosophy. Nothing is said about their shrines and geographical location. Only Taka-mi-musubi and Kami-musubi take part, but still very rarely, in the following myths, though, of course, Taka-mi-musubi together with Amaterasu play an important ideological role as the ancestors of the Emperor’s family. The concept which can be found even in the names of these deities is the concept of “musubu”, which is literally translated as “to tie”, “to bind” or “to link” and interpreted as “a power which gives birth and life force”.
After the center of the world (this Chinese idea can be traced in the name “Ama-no mi-naka-nushi”) and this power appear, other deities come to existence. These deities appear in pairs - a male and a female deity, and they are not born, but “appear” or “become” - the Japanese verb “naru” is used to describe it. Only Izanagi and Izanami start to bear children, and their first children are the islands of The Great Eight-Island Country. So, the world is becoming more and more formed as different kami come to life; among them there are numerous deities of the different types of landscape, trees, rivers, the sea, the fire, and so on. Such diversity shows a great attention of the Japanese to the phenomenons of nature and even to the different sides of one phenomenon. But it does not mean that the world was seen as a numer of separate phenomenons: each of them had a kami, or was a kami, and these kami, according to the mythology, had the same ancestors and, we may say, the same nature.
Nevertheless it seems incorrect to say, even basing on the first episodes of “Kojiki” and “Nihongi”, where the influences of Taoism and the ideas of Yin and Yang can be found, that kami were regarded as a single force saturating the world. Though we have mentioned the concept of “musubu” above, even “musubu” seems to be more like a function than like such an abstract force. There are situations described in the myths, when the nature acts as a whole, but even in such cases not a single force, but a multitude of kami can be seen.
When Susanoo cries, when Amaterasu hides in The Heavenly Rock Grotto, and when the deities of Takamagahara are going to pacify The Central Land of Reed Plains, there appears an image of “numerous deities which shone with a lustre like that of fireflies and evil deities which buzzed like flies”. This image represents a picture of chaos, and when it happens, people die, herbs wither and the sea goes dry. Anyway, we see here only a great number of kami (as it is written in the chronicles, “eight hundred miriades”, which stands for “a great number”), but not some abstract force.
One more interesting idea concerning these situations of chaos is that they are always considered to be negative and dangerous for people and for nature. Although it is clear that the ideas and concepts found in “Kojiki” and “Nihongi”, including the ideas concerning kami, are to a great extent the products of the scholars familiar with Chinese philosophy and culture and have nothing to do with the folk religion, this negative relation towards chaos can be suggested universal not only for all the Japanese, but for all the nations of the world. Chaos is always associated with death and destruction , especially in an agricultural society.
So, we are approaching to what might be called “a concept of kami”, as seen not by the compilers of the chronicles, but
by the ordinary people of ancient