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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Basic Concepts
Concepts of History (rekishikan)
How Shinto views the origins of this world, which includes human beings, and the changes that occur with the passage of time, is best evidenced in the myths contained in the Kojiki, and this view grounded Shinto beliefs through history.


The beginning of time
       These myths begin with the sentence "At the time of the beginning of heaven and earth." Although the Nihon shoki uses a Chinese-style terminology, as in "Of old, when Heaven and Earth when not yet separated, and when Yin and Yang were not yet differentiated, they formed a chaotic mass like an egg which was of obscurely defined limits and contained germinating matter," it does not fundamentally differ from the Kojiki 's view, as is evidenced by the following words contained in one of the variant versions of the Nihon Shoki: "A thing existed in the midst of the Void." That is, at the very beginning of this world there already was something existing, and this split into heaven and earth. From heaven issued the Three Demiurges (zōka sanshin), Amenominakanushi, Takamimusuhi, and Kamimusubi. At that point the verb "to become" is used, which clearly implies that the kami are understood to be the essence of this world. Thereafter two kami appear, followed by the twelve kami of the seven generations (kamiyo), and finally by Izanagi and Izanami, who received the august command to solidify the drifting world. This may be interpreted as an expression of the ancient belief that the creation of this world was the very expression of the will to being. However, the work of the kami was to "create and firm up" (shuri kosei), that is, to turn chaos into order, which implies that temporal changes were conceived of neither as a mere state of flux, nor as a teleological process.


The origins of Japan
       The myths then make a major shift in focus and narrate the birth of (the land) of Japan (kuni-umi). In this case the word kuni (country) refers to nature (mountains, rivers, plants and trees) and people (aohitokusa), that is, to a community inhabited by kami and their progeny. The most noble kami of the High Plain of Heaven (Amaterasu) and by the kami Takamimusubi, who symbolizes the power of growth, entrust this Japan (called toyoashiharanochiaki-no-nagaihoakinomizuho-no-kuni) to Amaterasu 's heavenly grandson, Ninigi with the words "You shall rule this land". One variant of the Nihon shoki reads, "May prosperity attend thy dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure forever." The word dynasty indicates the solar imperial lineage; concretely, however, it can only mean that it is the duty of the Son of Heaven (the Emperor) to ensure, as a descendant of kami, that the people make Japan prosper. The kami thus blessed in advance the continuous prosperity of the land and its people. In the context of international relations, this belief generated the notion that Japan would be protected by the kami, that it was a 'sacred land' (shinkoku). The earliest statement to this effect is found in the Nihon shoki record of the regency of Jingū kōgō , where the king of Scylla is made to say, "I have heard that to the east is a sacred land called Japan."


The formation of a concept of history
       However historically, imperial rule has not been what it should have, for it was dominated by aristocratic regency and, later on, by warrior-based governments, and there were many ills caused by repeated armed conflicts and natural disasters. It was in such a context that the Nativist Studies (kokugaku) scholar Motoori Norinaga came up with a theory of history that provided a new benchmark in Shinto thought. In his work, Naobi-no-mitama, he indicated his belief that "whatever happens in the world is the deed of the kami;" he searched mythology to find the ultimate cause of historical disasters and claimed to have found it in the violent designs of the kami Magatsuhi, born of the pollutions of the realm of the dead. He also wrote that, even though there may be disasters, the healing powers of Naobigami and the divine power of Amaterasu do not change and, together with imperial rule, open the way to prosperity. Indeed, he adduced, in his time the shogun established peace after he received a mandate from the emperor, and the life of the people was better than in the past. Thus it is important to view history over a period of five hundred or a thousand years and recognize that historical changes are brought about by human force and wisdom. In saying so, Motoori Norinaga rejected the medieval glorification of the past, and even disavowed restorationist thought. Such a view of history he called 'Shinto of time.' It is only after the Meiji period that Shinto theories created by Nativist Studies scholars came to be called 'Restorationist Shinto' (Fukko Shintō); this was a correct characterization in the sense that it looked for a restoration of imperial power, but it is not adequate if it should be used to qualify the view of history described above.


The nature of the concept of history
       After the Meiji period, again, the word 'in the present' (naka-ima), found in the edicts (senmyō) contained in the Shoku Nihongi, has been used to define a nuance in the Shinto view of history that could be contrasted with Christian and Buddhist eschatologies. The truth, however, is that this word was used to glorify the reign of a newly appointed emperor. Furthermore, one can detect a modern, anthropological and ethnographic tendency to interpret the Shinto concept of history with Mircea Eliade's notion of "eternal return", based on the fact that Shinto rituals and agrarian rituals are said to re-enact the myths of the origins and to display a repetitive character that is grounded in the four seasons' cyclical return. But the re-enactment of the origins and the repetitiveness of rituals mean a renewal of the life force, for rituals are religious activities geared at the development of new life and the continued "production and consolidation" of the land and the people.

— Ueda Kenji
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
URL http://21coe.kokugakuin.ac.jp/
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