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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Basic Concepts
Concepts of Emperor and the State
The origins of Japan as a nation, the imperial system (tennō-sei ) and rice culture are inseparable and date back to the Yayoi period. The term tennō (emperor) first appears in the Chinese Tang Period classic Gaosong-ji , but was first used in Japanese texts to refer to the first Emperor, Jinmu (Jinmu tennō , also referred to as Kan-Yamato-Iware-hiko-no-mikoto). The grounds for the imperial system are established, first, in the oldest written mythology of Japan (the Kojiki and Nihon shoki ) and, second, in the historical fact of an unbroken imperial line, from that time down to the present. Shinto's ideal form of state is one in which the emperor reigns while all kami , with Amaterasu at the center, are the object of ritual and worship. According to mythology, the first divine couple (Izanagi and izanami) received an order (mi-koto) from the Three Demiurges (zōka-sanshin or creator kami ), namely Ame-no-minaka-nushi, Taka-mi-musu-hi, and Kami-musubi, and from the first seven generations of kami , to procreate Ō-yashima-guni (which comprises Japan, the numerous kami and human beings [ao-hito-kusa]); these kami then ordered the most noble of their offspring, Amaterasu and Takami-musubi, to have their grandson Ninigi come down from Heaven to Japan so that he may govern it. The third generation after this Ninigi was the Emperor Jinmu.


The regalia and divine decrees
       According to the Nihon shoki, at the time of her Heavenly Grandson's descent to Japan (tenson-kōrin), Amaterasu granted him the Yasakani curved jewel, the Kusanagi sword, and the Yata mirror. These are called the three regalia (sanshu-no-jingi ) and are the symbol of the imperial rank. It is worth noting that Amaterasu decreed the following about the mirror (kagami ): "Whenever you look at this mirror, you should think you are looking at me. You should place it by your side and treat it with the same reverence." The tenth emperor, Sujin, feared this divine decree, and the eleventh emperor, Suinin, decided to enshrine the mirror at what is now called the Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise jingū ), rather than in the imperial residence. The sword has been in the Atsuta Shrine* ever since the time of Yamato-takeru, but a replica, as well as a replica of the mirror and the curved jewel, are placed within the imperial palace; the mirror has long been enshrined in the sacred hall called Kashiko-dokoro, which is today one of "Three Sacred Halls" (kyūchū sanden) located on the grounds of the imperial palace. The first divine decree (shinchoku) given by Amaterasu-ōmikami was "This Reed-plain-1500-autumns-fair-rice-ear Land is the region which my descendants shall be lords of. Do thou, my August Grandchild, proceed thither and govern it. Go! and may prosperity attend thy dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure forever." The national identity of Japan is therefore to be found in the "governance" (shirashi of the Emperor. The term "govern" here indicates the authority to decide on what type of government to recognize, not the authority to command subjects by military force. In this sense it can be said that imperial governance has been consistent throughout history. Whether during the period of regency by the aristocracy, or during the period of military government by the samurai, the grounds for their authority has always been the emperor because the imperial rank has never been transferred outside of the imperial family. The term Hōso refers to the imperial rank, but it also refers to the Festival of the First Fruit (Niiname-sai ), during which the emperor offers the newly harvested rice (the root of life) to the kami of Heaven, and shares it with them to commemorate the fact that in Takamanohara, Amaterasu originally provided rice for human survival. This is contained in the following divine decree: "I will give over to my child the rice-ears of the sacred garden, of which I partake in the Plan of High Heaven." As can be see in the Records of Customs and Products (Fūdoki ), it is clear that the festival of the first fruit was a central ritual common people engaged in everywhere, and that it reveals the spirit of the race. The institutionalization of this ritual on the imperial level took place during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (the fortieth emperor); known as Daijō-sai , it has since been performed in autumn, on the first year of each emperor's reign. It was during the reign of Emperor Tenmu, probably, that the Department of Divinities (Jingi-kan), which did not exist in Tang China, was established, and that the system of regular offerings (hōhei) to 3,132 kami enshrined across the nation was instituted. The fact that the emperor is referred to as the master of rites is grounded in these beliefs and this history.


The traditions of 'manifest kami ' and 'land of the kami '
       The expression "August Reign of the manifest kami, the Emperor of Japan" (akitsumi-kami-to-ame-no-shita-shiroshimesu-yamato-no-sumera-mikoto) first appears in the Nihon shoki record of the first year of Emperor Kōtoku's reign (645), in an edict given to an envoy from Goguryeo (on the Korean Peninsula), and under the Ritsuryō system it became the prescribed term for all imperial decrees and was used frequently in the Shoku Nihongi. One also finds in the Man'yōshū the expression, "Since the lord of the land is a kami ." The term 'manifest deity' (akitsumi-kami ) was last used in the imperial declaration of January 1, 1946. This is due to the fact that after the Second World War, it was confused with the term arahito-no-kami, sometimes used to refer to the emperor. The latter expression is used only in the Nihon shoki, reigns of Emperor Keikō and Emperor Yūryaku, to indicate that some originally invisible kami at times manifests themselves in a human form. The term akitsumi-kami was a respectful term used solely to refer to the emperor, with the word akitsu meaning a manifest kami. The term 'land of the kami ' (shinkoku) refers to the belief founded in mythology that Japan is sacred since it was created by the kami ; much like the belief that the emperor is a kami since he is descended in a direct line from Amaterasu. The term appears in the Nihon shoki, in the record of the regency of the Empress Jingū (Jingū kōgō ) in which the King of Scylla is reported to have said: "I have heard that to the east is a sacred land called Japan." According to later usage, the original meaning of the term is "a land created by the kami and therefore protected by the kami ," and in this sense became the spiritual ground for the imperial cultic system, but it varied depending on historical circumstance. It became widely believed after the Mongol invasions of the Kamakura period, due to these foreign threats. One can already see the development of ultra-nationalistic interpretations among some Nativist scholars, but the use of the term to denote control over foreign nations by Japan occurs in the Kokutai no hongi published by the Ministry of Education in 1937 and in the 1940 publication of the Kokutai no hongi kaisetsu taisei by private citizens. It must be added that criticism of this position arose in some Shinto circles at the time.

—Ueda Kenji
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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