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Home » 1. General Introduction » Religious and Intellectual Influences on Shinto
Shinto and Ancient Chinese Thought
The Japanese Naturalization of Written Chinese —       
With the spread of rice cultivation, the Yayoi period (ca. 300 B.C.E.–300 C.E.) way of life brought about changes in the customs that had been prevalent during the preceding Jōmon period (ca. 8000–300 B.C.E.). During these centuries, the fundamental structures of Japanese culture gradually developed, and the basic forms of belief in the "kami of heaven and earth (jingi)" took form. The extent to which immigrants from China contributed to the development of this rice cultivation culture, or the extent to which the foundation of the East Asian cultural sphere had previously spread to Japan, is unclear. However, as concerns customs related to rice cultivation, it can be assumed that a certain amount of cultural commonalities had spread throughout East Asia. Rather than saying that agricultural rituals or ancestor veneration practices (sosen sūhai) were influenced by foreign cultures, it is better to say that they represent a general note of similarity throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. It is extremely difficult to discuss questions of who influenced whom in the earliest periods.
       The first appearance of the term "Shinto" (literally "kami-way") is found in the Nihon shoki's chronicle of Emperor Yōmei where it is written, "The emperor believed in Buddhism and respected Shinto." It is well known that this is taken from the commentary (tuanzhuan) on the Guangua hexagram section found in the Chinese text Zhouyi (Jp. Shūeki, also known as the Yijing or in English as the "Book of Changes" ), where it says, "Knowing the shendao (shintō) of the heavens one will not err throughout the four seasons. Wise men teach with knowledge of the shendao, and convince all under heaven." However, there is already a problem at this stage of the inquiry—who used the word Shinto in the Nihon shoki, with what meaning, and from what point of view? It is possible that a new interpretation or different conceptualization was applied when the Chinese character (Japanese pronunciation shin, Chinese pronunciation shen) was used to express the Japanese word kami . At the point that the Chinese loan word shendao/shintō (n.b., some believe the term was prounced jindō in the early period) came to be used in Japanese, it had already passed through a process of what might be called folk exegesis. In this fashion, when Japanese culture came to be expressed through Chinese characters it was a kind of translation, while on the other hand, when Chinese characters were read with Japanese pronunciations (kun'yomi), they became Japanese expressions, with the result that their meaning sometimes diverged from that of the original Chinese script. As a result, even though the same Chinese terms might be used in early texts, it is dangerous to conclude from that fact the direct influence of Chinese thought on the way the expressions were understood. This is why the adoption of Chinese characters (kanji) cannot necessarily be equated with the adoption of Chinese culture.
       Be that as it may, the first and greatest influence from China can be seen in the decision to record the Nihon shoki and Kojiki using Chinese characters. Concepts derived from Chinese thought are apparent in the creation story found at the beginning of the text, and in the tripartite worldview of ame (heaven), tsuchi (earth), and yomi (the underworld). The Chinese sources drawn on are also obvious (the Tianwenxun chapter of the Huainanzi, Sanwuliji, etc.). It is possible, however, to understand these usages as representing the attempt to use a more rational form of speech to express concepts from the common cultural base possessed by Japan and China. As a result, one must be very cautious when talking about the influence of Daoism or Chinese teachings regarding "immortals" on Shinto. While it can be argued that the concept of Penglaishan (Jp. Hōraisan), home of the immortals, may have influenced the idea of the land of Tokoyo, it is doubtful whether this is relevant to the essence of Shinto. It is particularly important to remember that even Daoism was not based on an acceptance of every aspect of Chinese religious thought and tradition.
       Through the court's Bureau of Diviners (Onmyōryō) and in other ways, numerous Chinese concepts concerning the relationship between humans and heaven were adopted in Japan and influenced Shinto thought. Some of these include theories regarding Yin and Yang, the Five Phases of Matter (Ch. wuhang, Jp. gogyō), various theories of the correspondence between Heaven (or Nature) and human behavior (Ch. tienren xiangguan; Jp. tenjin sōkan) including those called jireisetsu (Ch. shiling), and sai'i (Ch. zaiyi, theories that natural aberrations and disasters are warnings from Heaven of poor government), as well as theories of geomancy (Ch. fengshui, Jp. fūsui). An example of this kind of influence can be seen in the description of Emperor Jinmu's accession, which is recording as taking place based on shin-i thought (a theory of divination) in a year predicted to have a revolution that would change the ruling dynasty according to the will of Heaven.
       It is without doubt that the regulations pertaining to kami-related matters (Jingiryō) in the early eighth century Yōrō Code (Yōrōryō) drew on Chinese codes such as the Kaihuangling of the Sui period and the Kaiyuanling of the Tang period. The application of Confucian observances to Japanese imperial household rituals is also considered a product of the development of the Ritsuryō State. Furthermore, concepts of shinbutsu shūgō (the correspondence between kami and buddhas) existed from an early date, and since it is the product of the influence of sinicized Buddhism, Chinese religious thought came to Japan as part of the transmission of Buddhism. The influence of Chinese religious thought also extends to Sannō Shintō and Ryōbu Shintō.


Chinese Thought and the Awakening of Shinto
Ise Shintō (Watarai Shintō), which began in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), was the first instance of a form of Shinto consciously construed as a different religion from Buddhism. In the so-called "five books of Shinto" (Shinto gobusho), the representative collection of works on Ise Shintō theory, an attempt is made to reach back to the very beginning of creation, before even the creation of heaven and earth with the aim of developing a new interpretation of Shinto and kami. The gobusho makes use of the concept of purity (shōjō), an important concept for Shinto, employing not only Buddhist sutras but also various classic Chinese texts. This is not the purity of body gained through abstention and physical purification (kessai), but purity of spirit found through returning to the source of creation before the creation of heaven and earth. This can be seen as overlapping with the Daoistic concept of "non-intervention" (wuwei). While wuwei was originally a Daoist term, it could also be found as a translation of certain Buddhist terms in sutras. Also, honesty (shōjiki, or seichoku), an important concept of Ise Shintō, was originally a term used in the Hongfan chapter of the Chinese work Shangshu (Jp. Shōsho). These terms were presumably chosen as the most appropriate words to express the concept of purity common to all religions.
       Yoshida Shintō, advocated by Urabe Kanetomo (Yoshida Kanetomo) during the Muromachi period (ca. 1392-1568), adapted Daoist texts to oppose the cult of the Big Dipper (known as Hokuto) found in esoteric Buddhism, and Daoist amulets were distributed to shrines under the Yoshida's control. Also, while it appears to have never been realized, evidence exists that some attempts were made to implement purification practices in accordance with the Daoist theory of neidan (Jp. Naitan; a form of inner alchemy). Around the same time, Zen practitioners within Kyoto's Gozan (Five Mountain) system promoted the adoption of new Confucian thought and Confucian-related moral teachings. This led to a gradual divergence from Buddhism and the establishment of the next generation of Juka Shintō (Confucian Shinto). As Confucian moral thought was made the official dogma of the Tokugawa shogunate, Shinto during the Edo period became, for all intents and purposes, "Confucian Shinto." Beginning with Fujiwara Seika and Hayashi Razan, Confucian moral deeply colors various branches of Shinto throughout the period, including Yoshikawa Shintō, which succeeded Yoshida Shintō, Yamazaki Ansai's Suika Shintō, and the revived Ise Shintō as well.
       It can be said that Shinto adopted traditional Chinese thought as a means of distinguishing itself, particularly from the foreign religion of Buddhism, and that the Chinese characters that had supplied a sophisticated vocabulary for the world of East Asia were seen as a neutral medium and used actively for the independence of Shinto.

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