An Essay by Achim Bayer: “Silence (沈黙): The Cannon and the Cross”

I’m subscribed to a few Japanese culture and literature listservs. Topics that fellow subscribers post about range from arcane vocabulary in the Kojiki 古事記 to problems facing today’s humanities programs.

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Shūsaku Endō

Just today I saw a post by Achim Bayer, an Associate Professor at Kanazawa Seiryo University 金沢星稜大学. The post advertised an essay that he has recently written and made available for free online about Martin Scorsese’s film Silence. Scorsese’s film is based on the Japanese author Shūsaku Endō’s 遠藤周作 (1923-1996) novel Chinmoku 沈黙 (1966). The essay is titled “Necessary Reflections on Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”: Religious Violence in the Seventeenth Century, as Seen from Japan.” It’s a short read, but full of pertinent information regarding the state of world in which Silence is set. And, while Bayer wrote this essay in response to Silence, the information is also to germaine to another of Endō’s novels, The Samurai (Samurai 侍, 1980).

In the article Bayer seems to be criticizing the film (and by extension, the novel) for not portraying the ugly affairs happening in other parts of the world in which Christians were involved. (see Dr. Bayer’s cordial comment below about my interpretation of his article.) He mentions Spain’s conquering of the Philippines and the bloody 30 Years’ War–two “current events” that Bayer claims the Japanese shogun (who was the military, de facto ruler of Japan)  knew fully about. Understanding the historical background is important for understanding any text, I would argue. But I do not think Endō was purposefully leaving out key information (such as the role played by missionaries in conquering lands), I think he was just a guy trying to write a novel. I do not think the novel makes the Japanese warlords or the missionaries look like the villains, nor do I think it makes them look like the heroes. The novel is simply a commentary about a historical event in Japan.

I was really excited to see a Japanese novel make it to the big screen in America–not only make it to the big screen, but be a masterpiece–so I have posted about Silence in the past here and here. Bayer’s essay covers information that I did not address in my previous posts.

Day 07 in Ise…Disrupting the Shintō Tradition

This post is titled “Day 07…” but really it’s the end of week 2! Time flies.

By now I’ve attended many lectures on Shintō 神道 that have covered a wide range of topics. I feel as though two radical changes in the way Shintō has been practiced over the centuries have been detrimental to maintaining “true” Shintō.


This family shrine was probably once in the middle of the rice field they tended–now surrounded by buildings. No rice fields for miles.

Uji-gami 氏神

The first one is when local family shrines were forced to combine to form conglomerate shrines.  For argument’s sake, let’s just call Japan’s native folk religion Shintō.” This form of early Shintō centered on village worship practices focusing on agriculture. Therefore worshiping the kami 神 (deity) associated with the family or village was the center of Shintō traditions. A family, or clan, ruled a particular area and that family’s or that area’s kami was the object of worship. The term for this is uji-gami 氏神 (clan deity). As Japan began establishing itself as a nation, the regions’ powerful families combined and many uji-gami were discarded.

Today what we have in modern Japanese Shintō is not families or villages worshipping their own kami. Instead, what happened at various times in history but (mainly in the early days of the Meiji period (1868-1912) is that families and local areas were forced to dismantle their local shrines (in essence, relinquish their ancestral kami) and focus on new larger shrines representing the nation. These larger, newer shrines were established in order to rally the Japanese people around the emperor and the “nation” rather than around their ancestral kami.


Lunar Solar Calendar 太陰太陽暦

The second harmful change to practicing true Shintō is when Shintō officials decided to adopt the western calendar. The result is that annual matsuri 祭り (festivals, rituals) became divorced from the natural agricultural-based seasonal calendar. Shintō and kami worship is intrinsically and undeniably an agricultural based religion. The matsuri were created to be in-sync with the planting season and the lunar-solar calendar, thus bringing harmony between people, the kami, and the seasons. By discarding the lunar-solar calendar, which is deeply connected to the planting cycle, in favor of a western calendar beginning on January 1st,  Shintō officials (who probably live in the middle of Tokyo and don’t know the first thing about rice farming) have essentially eradicated part of what makes  Shintō Shintō.”

The population in rural areas is declining in Japan, just like it is in many countries all over the globe, so revitalizing family and village kami worship would probably be a very daunting task. However, re-claiming the lunar-solar agricultural calendar would be rather easy to do. For example, everyone knows about “Chinese New Year”–well that’s the Shintō New Year, too! But in all my time in Japan  I have never heard of a festival happening at that time of year at a Shintō shrine. (There are thousands of Shintō shrines in Japan, so one of them must have a Lunar New Year festival, I just have not heard of it.)

Modern day Shintō leaders should turn back to the family- and community-centered roots rather than focusing on the country and politics.

Day 06 in Ise… Japanese Pilgrimages

About 8 years ago I was part of a program that retraced Matsuo Bashō’s 松尾芭蕉 (1644-1694) Oku no hosomichi 奥の細道. Many western scholars refer to Bashō’s journey as a type of pilgrimage. What I had read about Bashō’s pilgrimage gave me the impression that Japanese pilgrimages were circular (starting and ending in the same place) whereas western/ European pilgrimages were linear (a start point differing from the end point). However, participating in the Ise and Japan Study Program has changed my understanding of Japanese pilgrimages.

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Bashō’s counterclockwise pilgrimage route.

As for western pilgrimages, consider the Canterbury pilgrimage, the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage, or even the Hajj (which is not western or European obviously but I feel as though Christianity and Islam share enough history for their respective pilgrimages to be similar). The Canterbury pilgrimage, made famous by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, begins in London’s Southwark and ends in Canterbury. The Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage begins at various starting points in Europe that all lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James the Great are buried. Similarly, the Hajj has various starting points all which end in Mecca. Each of these pilgrimages follows a linear route.

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The Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury.

Bashō’s Oku no hosomichi

Bashō’s pilgrimage route was circular, following a counterclockwise path. His route starts in Tokyo then proceeds north along Japan’s east coast towards Sendai, then traverses Honshū to present day Yamagata/Akita, and back south down to Ogaki, just outside of Nagoya. The Shikoku Junrei 四国巡礼 starts in Tokushima, Shikoku and follows a clockwise route ending in Kagawa.

I thought that these pilgrimages were indicative of all Japanese pilgrimage traditions, but this is wrong. Take for example the pilgrimage to Ise Jingū. Since the Jingū was originally only for the tennō 天皇 (emperor) exclusively to make pilgrimages, it began wherever the tennō was (generally in the areas of Nara and Kyoto) and ended at Ise Jingū–a linear route. In the Edō period 江戸時代 (1600-1868), pilgrimages to Ise Jingū were open up to everyone. Pilgrimage starting points were thus established any place where people could gather in groups and make the journey. One such gathering spot is located in Osaka at Tamatsuri Inari Jinja 玉造稲荷神社 and follows a linear route to Ise.

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Linear Pilgrimage Route from Tamatsuri Inari Jinja to Ise Jingū

Since checking out more information on Japanese pilgrimages, I have found quite a lot of linear pilgrimage routes, especially into mountain regions (i.e. the base of the mountain, to the top, and back). I’ve learned that in Japan there are a variety of pilgrimage routes through out the country and that they vary in either linear or circular layouts.

Day 05 in Ise… Ōku no Himemiko and the Manyōshū

One of the Ise traditions that we learned about this week is the practice of interning a young female relative of the tennō (Japanese emperor) in Ise. Unlike the tradition of rebuilding the main shrines every 20 years, this tradition is no longer perpetuated. The young girls were known as saiō 斎王. They would pray at Ise Jingū on behalf of the tennō, officiate a few ceremonies a year, and otherwise live a life of calm and relative leisure until they were summoned back to capitol. The tradition started with Ōku no Himemiko大来皇女 (661-702), who was the first young girl to be appointed saiō in 674. She was appointed by her father Tenmu tennō 天武天皇 (631-686).

斎王・斎宮について 斎王とは、

Ōku no Himemiko is said to have spent her time writing poetry while she was living in the  saigū  斎宮 (the saiō‘s residence). A few of her poems appear in the Manyōshū 万葉集–Japan’s oldest existing poetry anthology compiled in the late 8th century. One of the poems appears in the text that I use in my Introduction to Japanese Culture course. I distinctly remember this poem being a discussion topic this past semester. The is poem in question is number 105 in Book II (Nishi Honganji-bon 西本願寺本):



わがせこを / やまとへやると / さよふけて / あかときつゆに / われたちぬれし

To speed my brother / parting for Yamato,  / in the deep of night I stood / ’til wet with the dew of dawn.


This translation is the one that appears in the book Anthology of Japanese Literature (compiled and edited by Donald Keene). The introduction to this poem says that Ōku wrote this poem after her brother Ōtsu 大津皇子 (663-686) secretly came to visit her at Ise, and then left.

In class a student asked me why her brother needed to visit her in secret. At the time I did not understand the saiō system, nor could I answer him why Ōtsu had to visit in secret–couldn’t he just travel freely? I read the footnotes that accompany this poem in the Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系 and was able to answer his question in the following class. The footnotes said that because the Tenmu tennō (Ōku & Ōtsu’s father) had just died, Ōtsu risked polluting or defiling Ise, which was considered such a sacred place. However, Ōtsu really wanted to see his sister so he secretly went to see her at the saigū.

At this time (7th century) Ise Jingū was not open for just anybody to make a pilgrimage–in fact it was only for the tennō to visit. Commoners, lower ranking officials, and the casual tourist were forbidden from going to Ise. Therefore Ōtsu had broken this rule. According to what I further researched online, Ōtsu believed that he would be the next tennō, so I can imagine that he just took the liberty and went to Ise. However, another one of Tenmu’s consorts wanted her son to be the tennō, so she convinced the authorities to punish Ōtsu with death for polluting Ise (that is, even the death of a family member could cause one to be polluted until after the appropriate amount of time had passed and the appropriate rituals were completed.)

Learning about the saiō tradition and actually visiting the site where the saigū once stood has really been valuable to me. I look forward to passing on this information in my classes!


Day 04 in Ise… Shintō and Bushidō 神道と武士道

Yesterday (22 February) Sugano-sensei 菅野覚明 gave us a presentation on Bushidō 武士道, the way of the warrior. I was quite interested when I saw this lecture listed on the program schedule, so I was looking forward to hearing Sugano-sensei’s talk.

An image of the Gosei baishiki moku (御成敗式目,ごせいばいしきもく)–a Kamakura period document written for warriors, setting laws and guidelines by which they should abide.

His lecture was broken into 5 main parts:

  1. Origins of Bushidō 武士道の起原
  2. The Relation between Bushidō and Shintō 武士道と神道の関係
  3. What is Bushidō? 武士道と何か
  4. The Ideal Warrior 理想の武士
  5. Representations of Kami and the Ideal Warrior 神のイメージと武士の理想

The talk was a mix of some folklore and legends (some dating to the 6th century) that he said were indicative of bushidō, as well as some citations of historical documents that mention bushi and bushidō.

This talk made me think that notbushidō and Shintō” but rather a talk on modern day BUDŌ 武道 and Shintō would be interesting. By budō I mean things like karate 空手, jūdō 柔道, kyūdō 弓道, etc. For example in my aikidō 合気道 dōjō 道場 there are a lot of Shintō implements and we follow some Shintō rules of etiquette. And again with aikidō, the founder of aikidō implemented a lot of Shintō myths and legends into his aikidō philosophy. This topic would have shown us how Shintō is blended in to modern day activities, and not only in Japan, but all over the world.

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An example of some Shintō furnishings in a typical aikidō dōjō

Day 03 in Ise…

In my last post I wrote about an example of a change in the Japanese language that was connected with how people think and talk about Time. I wanted to write about another Time related theme that was presented to us: the calendar of Shintō festivals throughout the year. The title of the lecture was Ise Jingū’s festivals (伊勢神宮の祭り) and was given by Matsumoto-sensei (松本丘), a professor of Shintō Studies at Kōgakkan University.

Print of an Edo period (1600-1868) new year’s festival, most likely held in early February. 『江戸砂子年中行事 元旦の図』


To use an example from Catholicism, think of the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is the yearly timeline of church events: feast days, holy days of observation, Lent, Advent, and others. The liturgical calendar generally runs independent of the official public calendars that we use locally day-to-day. Following the liturgical calendar keeps all churches, parishes, and individuals uniform. It also affects how Catholics conceptualize their day-to-day lives. Not only conceptualize their lives, but it also affects their work life, family life, and the economies in which they participate. So this liturgical calendar (although a fabricated measure of Time) has very real concrete effects in the world in which Catholics live. Similarly there is a calendar of Shintō festivals. There are various Shintō schools and sects (Ise Shintō 伊勢神道, Ryōbu Shintō 両部神道, Watarai Shintō 度会神道, Yoshida Shinō 吉田神道, etc.) but of course the Shintō calendar that we learned about was the Ise Festival Calendar.

A few points about Shintō festivals (matsuri 祭り) to keep in mind:

  • There are about 80,000 Shintō shrines (jinja 神社) in Japan
  • The purposes of Shintō festivals are peace in the Emperor’s household, peace in the Nation, and peace for the People, as well as prosperity for the whole world
  • The festivals are tied to rice cultivation (inasaku 稲作), that is to say Japanese people’s traditional daily activities
  • The festivals are not only observed at shrines, but also privately within people’s homes

A couple points to keep in mind about the Ise Jingū festivals:

  • There are over a thousand matsuri (though not all massive festivals like are seen on TV or in guide books)
  • Ise Jingū’s “Big 3” traditional festivals are in June and December (Tsukinami no matsuri 月次祭) and in October (Kan name no matsuri 神嘗際)

As of about 1873 (Meiji 6) the Shintō sacred year begins on January 1st. The Meiji period (1868-1912) is the time immediately following the 268 years of Japanese self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. When the Meiji period began, Japan began mimicking European and American governance (as well as other things like fashion and other customs) in an attempt to “catch up” with the rest of the developed world. Hence one way of catching up and conforming was by adopting the western calendar (Gregorian calendar).

The Shintō sacred calendar is based on the rice planting season, thus it begins not on January 1st in the dead of winter, but later—around the time of “Chinese New Year,” which is a lunar new year. For example, according to the lunar new year, the Shintō new year and sacred calendar should have started 4 February 2017, a whole 35 days after the western 1 January new year. Speaking from my own observations this year, during the weekend of 4 February this year, the snow in farmlands like Gifu, Aichi, and Shiga (and I’m assuming Mie) had all but melted away. Temperatures were also above freezing, meaning the earth had begun thawing and making it ready for the planting season. A month earlier the fields would have been nowhere near the conditions needed to prepare for the planting season.

I think that if Shintō really wants to preserve Japan’s folk, rice agriculture based traditions (as it claims to do) then discarding the western calendar and reclaiming it’s lunar-solar calendar is a necessity. Government, fiscal, and academic calendars can stay the same—there’s no need for Shintō to follow suit with them.