THE RELIGION OF THE HOME
The peculiar character of the early human sacrifices at graves, the character of the funeral-rites, the abandonment of the house in which death had occurred. - all prove that the early ancestor-worship was of a decidedly primitive kind. This is suggested also by the peculiar Shinto horror of death as pollution: even at this day to attend a funeral, - unless the funeral be conducted after the Shinto rite, - is religious defilement. The ancient legend of Izanagi's descent to the nether world, in search of his lost spouse, illustrates the terrible beliefs that once existed as to goblin-powers presiding over decay. Between the horror of death as corruption, and the apotheosis of the ghost, there is nothing incongruous: we must understand the apotheosis itself as a propitiation. This earliest Way of the Gods was a religion of perpetual fear. Not ordinary homes only were deserted after a death: even the Emperors, during many centuries, were wont to change their capital after the death of a predecessor. But, gradually, out of the primal funeral-rites, a higher cult was evolved. The mourning-house, or moya, became transformed into the Shinto temple, which still retains the shape of the primitive hut. Then under Chinese influence, the ancestral cult became established in the home; and Buddhism at a later day maintained this domestic cult. By degrees the household religion became a religion of tenderness as well as of duty, and changed and softened the thoughts of men about their dead. As early as the eighth century, ancestor-worship appears to have developed the three principal forms under which it still exists; and thereafter the family-cult began to assume a character which offers many resemblances to the domestic religion of the old European civilizations.
Let us now glance at the existing forms of this domestic cult, - the universal religion of Japan. In every home there is a shrine devoted to it. If the family profess only the Shinto belief, this shrine, or mitamaya* ("august-spirit-dwelling"), - tiny model of a Shinto temple, - is placed upon a shelf fixed against the wall of some inner chamber, at a height of about six feet from the floor. Such a shelf is called Mitama-San-no-tana, or - "Shelf of the august spirits." [*It is more popularly termed miya, "august house," - a name given to the ordinary Shinto temples.] In the shrine are placed thin tablets of white wood, inscribed with the names of the household dead. Such tablets are called by a name signifying "spirit-substitutes" (mitamashiro), or by a probably older name signifying "spirit-sticks." ... If the family worships its ancestors according to the Buddhist rite, the mortuary tablets are placed in the Buddhist household-shrine, or Butsudan, which usually occupies the upper shelf of an alcove in one of the inner apartments. Buddhist mortuary-tablets (with some exceptions) are called ihai, - a term signifying "soul-commemoration." They are lacquered and gilded, usually having a carved lotos-flower as pedestal; and they do not, as a rule, bear the real, but only the religious and posthumous name of the dead. Now it is important to observe that, in either cult, the mortuary tablet actually suggests a miniature tombstone - which is a fact of some evolutional interest, though the evolution itself should be Chinese rather than Japanese. The plain gravestones in Shinto cemeteries resemble in form the simple wooden ghost-sticks, or spirit-sticks; while the Buddhist monuments in the old-fashioned Buddhist graveyards are shaped like the ihai, of which the form is slightly varied to indicate sex and age, which is also the case with the tombstone.
The number of mortuary tablets in a household shrine does not generally exceed five or six, - only grandparents and parents and the recently dead being thus represented; but the name of remoter ancestors are inscribed upon scrolls, which are kept in the Butsudan or the mitamaya.
Whatever be the family rite, prayers are repeated and offerings are placed before the ancestral tablets every day. The nature of the offerings and the character of the prayers depend upon the religion of the household; but the essential duties of the cult are everywhere the same. These duties are not to be neglected under any circumstances; their performance in these times is usually intrusted to the elders, or to the women of the household.*
[*Not, however, upon any public occasion, - such as a gathering of relatives at the home for a religious anniversary: at such times the rites are performed by the head of the household.]
Speaking of the ancient custom (once prevalent in every Japanese household, and still observed in Shinto homes) of making offerings to the deities of the cooking range and of food, Sir Ernest Satow observes: "The rites in honour of these gods were at first performed by the head of the household; but in after-times the duty came to he delegated to the women of the family" (Ancient Japanese Rituals). We may infer that in regard to the ancestral rites likewise, the same transfer of duties occurred at an early time, for obvious reasons of convenience. When the duty devolves upon the elders of the family - grandfather and grandmother - it is usually the grandmother who attends to the offerings. In the Greek and Roman household the performance of the domestic rites appears to have been obligatory upon the head of the household; but we know that the women took part in them.
There is no long ceremony, no imperative rule about prayers, nothing solemn: the food-offerings are selected out of the family cooking; the murmured or whispered invocations are short and few. But, trifling as the rites may seem, their performance must never be overlooked. Not to make the offerings is a possibility undreamed of: so long as the family exists they must be made.