The Religious Life Of Modern Japan -- By: George E. Albrecht

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 062:245 (Jan 1905)
Article: The Religious Life Of Modern Japan
Author: George E. Albrecht


The Religious Life Of Modern Japan

Rev. George E. Albrecht

Two considerations must precede every attempt at describing the present religious life of Japan,—the one historical, the other psychological. The present is rooted in the past: present conditions cannot be duly appreciated when viewed apart from their historic, origin. And, again, some acquaintance is needed with the psychical characteristics of the people; for, without a study of human nature, the inner characteristics of any religion—the secret of its influence, its growth, its decline —cannot be understood.

When, in the sixth century, Buddhism gained entrance into Japan, it found the nation fairly consolidated, under the sway of the emperor, who was believed to be the direct descendant of the “heaven-shining-great-august goddess,” ruling in the “plain of high heaven.” Thence the conquerors of the aboriginal tribes claimed to have come on their divinely appointed mission to bring under their sway all the “ever-fruitful land, with its reed-covered plains and its luxurious rice-fields,” having the promise of the gods that the imperial line established by them should “flourish forever with the heavens and the earth.” They were most probably invaders from the South-

west;1 and by superior prowess and by better weapons they subdued the native tribes, and conquered the native religions of the aborigines. By his conquests the ruler of the Yamato clan had proved his divine claims, and it was not strange that the religion of the conquerors became the religion of the conquered also. Cujus regie, ejus religio. Western history is not without parallels.

One of the chief features of the Yamato religion was belief in the divine descent of the ruler, who on earth was the representative and vicar of heaven, to be obeyed and worshiped.2 Towards the various native faiths, this religion showed itself as obliging as, later on, Buddhism showed itself towards Shintoism. The various gods of the aborigines were acknowledged, but they all were declared to be inferior to the vicegerent of Heaven. The Mikado was “virtually chief-god in a great pantheon.”

This belief was the bond holding together the various tribes, or clans, of Central and Southern Japan. It came to be the strongest force in the history of the nation, a sacred principle inherited from “ages eternal.” It is the central belief to-day of Shintoism. It has begotten the Yamato damashii, the proud spirit of Japan, shown in absorning devotion to emperor and country, being the supreme force of the nation’s life...

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