Chapter Two. The Household Shrine


IN Japan there are two forms of the Religion of the Dead - that which belongs to Shinto; and that which belongs to Buddhism. The first is the primitive cult, commonly called ancestor-worship. But the term ancestor- worship seems to me much too confined for the religion which pays reverence not only to those ancient gods believed to be the fathers of the Japanese race, but likewise to a host of deified sovereigns, heroes, princes, and illustrious men. Within comparatively recent times, the great Daimyo of Izumo, for example, were apotheosised; and the peasants of Shimane still pray before the shrines of the Matsudaira. Moreover Shinto, like the faiths of Hellas and of Rome, has its deities of the elements and special deities who preside over all the various affairs of life. Therefore ancestor-worship, though still a striking feature of Shinto, does not alone constitute the State Religion: neither does the term fully describe the Shinto cult of the dead - a cult which in Izumo retains its primitive character more than in other parts of Japan.

And here I may presume, though no Sinologue, to say something about that State Religion of Japan - that ancient faith of Izumo - which, although even more deeply rooted in national life than Buddhism, is far less known to the Western world. Except in special works by such men of erudition as Chamberlain and Satow - works with which the Occidental reader, unless himself a specialist, is not likely to become familiar outside of Japan - little has been written in English about Shinto which gives the least idea of what Shinto is. Of its ancient traditions and rites much of rarest interest may be learned from the works of the philologists just mentioned; but, as Mr. Satow himself acknowledges, a definite answer to the question, 'What is the nature of Shinto?' is still difficult to give. How define the common element in the six kinds of Shinto which are known to exist, and some of which no foreign scholar has yet been able to examine for lack of time or of authorities or of opportunity? Even in its modern external forms, Shinto is sufficiently complex to task the united powers of the historian, philologist, and anthropologist, merely to trace out the multitudinous lines of its evolution, and to determine the sources of its various elements: primeval polytheisms and fetishisms, traditions of dubious origin, philosophical concepts from China, Korea, and elsewhere - all mingled with Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The so-called 'Revival of Pure Shinto' - an effort, aided by Government, to restore the cult to its archaic simplicity, by divesting it of foreign characteristics, and especially of every sign or token of Buddhist origin - resulted only, so far as the avowed purpose was concerned, in the destruction of priceless art, and in leaving the enigma of origins as complicated as before. Shinto had been too profoundly modified in the course of fifteen centuries of change to be thus remodelled by a fiat. For the like reason scholarly efforts to define its relation to national ethics by mere historical and philological analysis must fail: as well seek to define the ultimate secret of Life by the elements of the body which it animates. Yet when the result of such efforts shall have been closely combined with a deep knowledge of Japanese thought and feeling - the thought and sentiment, not of a special class, but of the people at large - then indeed all that Shinto was and is may be fully comprehended. And this may be accomplished, I fancy, through the united labour of European and Japanese scholars.

Yet something of what Shinto signifies - in the simple poetry of its beliefs - in the home training of the child - in the worship of filial piety before the tablets of the ancestors - may be learned during a residence of some years among the people, by one who lives their life and adopts their manners and customs. With such experience he can at least claim the right to express his own conception of Shinto.


Those far-seeing rulers of the Meiji era, who disestablished Buddhism to strengthen Shinto, doubtless knew they were giving new force not only to a faith in perfect harmony with their own state policy, but likewise to one possessing in itself a far more profound vitality than the alien creed, which although omnipotent as an art-influence, had never found deep root in the intellectual soil of Japan. Buddhism was already in decrepitude, though transplanted from China scarcely more than thirteen centuries before; while Shinto, though doubtless older by many a thousand years, seems rather to have gained than to have lost force through all the periods of change. Eclectic like the genius of the race, it had appropriated and assimilated all forms of foreign thought which could aid its material manifestation or fortify its ethics. Buddhism had attempted to absorb its gods, even as it had adopted previously the ancient deities of Brahmanism; but Shinto, while seeming to yield, was really only borrowing strength from its rival. And this marvellous vitality of Shinto is due to the fact that in the course of its long development out of unrecorded beginnings, it became at a very ancient epoch, and below the surface still remains, a religion of the heart. Whatever be the origin of its rites and traditions, its ethical spirit has become identified with all the deepest and best emotions of the race. Hence, in Izumo especially, the attempt to create a Buddhist Shintoism resulted only in the formation of a Shinto-Buddhism.

And the secret living force of Shinto to-day - that force which repels missionary efforts at proselytising - means something much more profound than tradition or worship or ceremonialism. Shinto may yet, without loss of real power, survive all these. Certainly the expansion of the popular mind through education, the influences of modern science, must compel modification or abandonment of many ancient Shinto conceptions; but the ethics of Shinto will surely endure. For Shinto signifies character in the higher sense - courage, courtesy, honour, and above all things, loyalty. The spirit of Shinto is the spirit of filial piety, the zest of duty, the readiness to surrender life for a principle without a thought of wherefore. It is the docility of the child; it is the sweetness of the Japanese woman. It is conservatism likewise; the wholesome check upon the national tendency to cast away the worth of the entire past in rash eagerness to assimilate too much of the foreign present. It is religion - but religion transformed into hereditary moral impulse - religion transmuted into ethical instinct. It is the whole emotional life of the race - the Soul of Japan.

The child is born Shinto. Home teaching and school training only give expression to what is innate: they do not plant new seed; they do but quicken the ethical sense transmitted as a trait ancestral. Even as a Japanese infant inherits such ability to handle a writing-brush as never can be acquired by Western fingers, so does it inherit ethical sympathies totally different from our own. Ask a class of Japanese students - young students of fourteen to sixteen - to tell their dearest wishes; and if they have confidence in the questioner, perhaps nine out of ten will answer: 'To die for His Majesty Our Emperor.' And the wish soars from the heart pure as any wish for martyrdom ever born. How much this sense of loyalty may or may not have been weakened in such great centres as Tokyo by the new agnosticism and by the rapid growth of other nineteenth-century ideas among the student class, I do not know; but in the country it remains as natural to boyhood as joy. Unreasoning it also is - unlike those loyal sentiments with us, the results of maturer knowledge and settled conviction. Never does the Japanese youth ask himself why; the beauty of self-sacrifice alone is the all-sufficing motive. Such ecstatic loyalty is a part of the national life; it is in the blood - inherent as the impulse of the ant to perish for its little republic - unconscious as the loyalty of bees to their queen. It is Shinto.

That readiness to sacrifice one's own life for loyalty's sake, for the sake of a superior, for the sake of honour, which has distinguished the race in modern times, would seem also to have been a national characteristic from the earliest period of its independent existence. Long before the epoch of established feudalism, when honourable suicide became a matter of rigid etiquette, not for warriors only, but even for women and little children, the giving one's life for one's prince, even when the sacrifice could avail nothing, was held a sacred duty. Among various instances which might be cited from the ancient Kojiki, the following is not the least impressive:

Prince Mayowa, at the age of only seven years, having killed his father's slayer, fled into the house of the Grandee (Omi) Tsubura. 'Then Prince Oho-hatsuse raised an army, and besieged that house. And the arrows that were shot were for multitude like the ears of the reeds. And the Grandee Tsubura came forth himself, and having taken off the weapons with which he was girded, did obeisance eight times, and said: "The maiden-princess Kara, my daughter whom thou deignedst anon to woo, is at thy service. Again I will present to thee five granaries. Though a vile slave of a Grandee exerting his utmost strength in the fight can scarcely hope to conquer, yet must he die rather than desert a prince who, trusting in him, has entered into his house." Having thus spoken, he again took his weapons, and went in once more to fight. Then, their strength being exhausted, and their arrows finished, he said to the Prince: "My hands are wounded, and our arrows are finished. We cannot now fight: what shall be done?" The Prince replied, saying: "There is nothing more to do. Do thou now slay me." So the Grandee Tsubura thrust the Prince to death with his sword, and forthwith killed himself by cutting off his own head.'

Thousands of equally strong examples could easily be quoted from later Japanese history, including many which occurred even within the memory of the living. Nor was it for persons alone that to die might become a sacred duty: in certain contingencies conscience held it scarcely less a duty to die for a purely personal conviction; and he who held any opinion which he believed of paramount importance would, when other means failed, write his views in a letter of farewell, and then take his own life, in order to call attention to his beliefs and to prove their sincerity. Such an instance occurred only last year in Tokyo, [1] when the young lieutenant of militia, Ohara Takeyoshi, killed himself by harakiri in the cemetery of Saitokuji, leaving a letter stating as the reason for his act, his hope to force public recognition of the danger to Japanese independence from the growth of Russian power in the North Pacific. But a much more touching sacrifice in May of the same year - a sacrifice conceived in the purest and most innocent spirit of loyalty - was that of the young girl Yoko Hatakeyama, who, after the attempt to assassinate the Czarevitch, travelled from Tokyo to Kyoto and there killed herself before the gate of the Kencho, merely as a vicarious atonement for the incident which had caused shame to Japan and grief to the Father of the people - His Sacred Majesty the Emperor.


As to its exterior forms, modern Shinto is indeed difficult to analyse; but through all the intricate texture of extraneous beliefs so thickly interwoven about it, indications of its earliest character are still easily discerned. In certain of its primitive rites, in its archaic prayers and texts and symbols, in the history of its shrines, and even in many of the artless ideas of its poorest worshippers, it is plainly revealed as the most ancient of all forms of worship - that which Herbert Spencer terms 'the root of all religions' - devotion to the dead. Indeed, it has been frequently so expounded by its own greatest scholars and theologians. Its divinities are ghosts; all the dead become deities. In the Tama-no-mihashira the great commentator Hirata says 'the spirits of the dead continue to exist in the unseen world which is everywhere about us, and they all become gods of varying character and degrees of influence. Some reside in temples built in their honour; others hover near their tombs; and they continue to render services to their prince, parents, wife, and children, as when in the body.' And they do more than this, for they control the lives and the doings of men. 'Every human action,' says Hirata, 'is the work of a god.' [3] And Motowori, scarcely less famous an exponent of pure Shinto doctrine, writes: 'All the moral ideas which a man requires are implanted in his bosom by the gods, and are of the same nature with those instincts which impel him to eat when he is hungry or to drink when he is thirsty.' [4] With this doctrine of Intuition no Decalogue is required, no fixed code of ethics; and the human conscience is declared to be the only necessary guide. Though every action be 'the work of a Kami.' yet each man has within him the power to discern the righteous impulse from the unrighteous, the influence of the good deity from that of the evil. No moral teacher is so infallible as one's own heart. 'To have learned that there is no way (michi),'[5] says Motowori, 'to be learned and practiced, is really to have learned the Way of the Gods.' [6] And Hirata writes: 'If you desire to practise true virtue, learn to stand in awe of the Unseen; and that will prevent you from doing wrong. Make a vow to the Gods who rule over the Unseen, and cultivate the conscience (ma-gokoro) implanted in you; and then you will never wander from the way.' How this spiritual self- culture may best be obtained, the same great expounder has stated with almost equal brevity: 'Devotion to the memory of ancestors is the mainspring of all virtues. No one who discharges his duty to them will ever be disrespectful to the Gods or to his living parents. Such a man will be faithful to his prince, loyal to his friends, and kind and gentle with his wife and children.' [7]

How far are these antique beliefs removed from the ideas of the nineteenth century? Certainly not so far that we can afford to smile at them. The faith of the primitive man and the knowledge of the most profound psychologist may meet in strange harmony upon the threshold of the same ultimate truth, and the thought of a child may repeat the conclusions of a Spencer or a Schopenhauer. Are not our ancestors in very truth our Kami? Is not every action indeed the work of the Dead who dwell within us? Have not our impulses and tendencies, our capacities and weaknesses, our heroisms and timidities, been created by those vanished myriads from whom we received the all-mysterious bequest of Life? Do we still think of that infinitely complex Something which is each one of us, and which we call EGO, as 'I' or as 'They'? What is our pride or shame but the pride or shame of the Unseen in that which They have made? - and what our Conscience but the inherited sum of countless dead experiences with varying good and evil? Nor can we hastily reject the Shinto thought that all the dead become gods, while we respect the convictions of those strong souls of to-day who proclaim the divinity of man.


Shino ancestor-worship, no doubt, like all ancestor-worship, was developed out of funeral rites, according to that general law of religious evolution traced so fully by Herbert Spencer. And there is reason to believe that the early forms of Shinto public worship may have been evolved out of a yet older family worship - much after the manner in which M. Fustel de Coulanges, in his wonderful book, La Cite Antique, has shown the religious public institutions among the Greeks and Romans to have been developed from the religion of the hearth. Indeed, the word ujigami, now used to signify a Shinto parish temple, and also its deity, means 'family God,' and in its present form is a corruption or contraction of uchi-no-Kami, meaning the 'god of the interior' or 'the god of the house.' Shinto expounders have, it is true, attempted to interpret the term otherwise; and Hirata, as quoted by Mr. Ernest Satow, declared the name should be applied only to the common ancestor, or ancestors, or to one so entitled to the gratitude of a community as to merit equal honours. Such, undoubtedly, was the just use of the term in his time, and long before it; but the etymology of the word would certainly seem to indicate its origin in family worship, and to confirm modern scientific beliefs in regard to the evolution of religious institutions.

Now just as among the Greeks and Latins the family cult always continued to exist through all the development and expansion of the public religion, so the Shinto family worship has continued concomitantly with the communal worship at the countless ujigami, with popular worship at the famed Ohoya-shiro of various provinces or districts, and with national worship at the great shrines of Ise and Kitzuki. Many objects connected with the family cult are certainly of alien or modern origin; but its simple rites and its unconscious poetry retain their archaic charm. And, to the student of Japanese life, by far the most interesting aspect of Shinto is offered in this home worship, which, like the home worship of the antique Occident, exists in a dual form.


In nearly all Izumo dwellings there is a kamidana, [8] or 'Shelf of the Gods.' On this is usually placed a small Shinto shrine (miya) containing tablets bearing the names of gods (one at least of which tablets is furnished by the neighbouring Shinto parish temple), and various ofuda, holy texts or charms which most often are written promises in the name of some Kami to protect his worshipper. If there be no miya, the tablets or ofuda are simply placed upon the shelf in a certain order, the most sacred having the middle place. Very rarely are images to be seen upon a kamidana: for primitive Shintoism excluded images rigidly as Jewish or Mohammedan law; and all Shinto iconography belongs to a comparatively modern era - especially to the period of Ryobu-Shinto - and must be considered of Buddhist origin. If there be any images, they will probably be such as have been made only within recent years at Kitauki: those small twin figures of Oho-kuni-nushi-no-Kami and of Koto-shiro- nushi-no-Kami, described in a former paper upon the Kitzuki-no-oho- yashiro. Shinto kakemono, which are also of latter-day origin, representing incidents from the Kojiki, are much more common than Shinto icons: these usually occupy the toko, or alcove, in the same room in which the kamidana is placed; but they will not be seen in the houses of the more cultivated classes. Ordinarily there will be found upon the kamidana nothing but the simple miya containing some ofuda: very, very seldom will a mirror [9] be seen, or gohei - except the gohei attached to the small shimenawa either hung just above the kamidana or suspended to the box-like frame in which the miya sometimes is placed. The shimenawa and the paper gohei are the true emblems of Shinto: even the ofuda and the mamori are quite modern. Not only before the household shrine, but also above the house-door of almost every home in Izumo, the shimenawa is suspended. It is ordinarily a thin rope of rice straw; but before the dwellings of high Shinto officials, such as the Taisha-Guji of Kitzuki, its size and weight are enormous. One of the first curious facts that the traveller in Izumo cannot fail to be impressed by is the universal presence of this symbolic rope of straw, which may sometimes even be seen round a rice-field. But the grand displays of the sacred symbol are upon the great festivals of the new year, the accession of Jimmu Tenno to the throne of Japan, and the Emperor's birthday. Then all the miles of streets are festooned with shimenawa thick as ship-cables.


A particular feature of Matsue are the miya-shops - establishments not, indeed, peculiar to the old Izumo town, but much more interesting than those to be found in larger cities of other provinces. There are miya of a hundred varieties and sizes, from the child's toy miya which sells for less than one sen, to the large shrine destined for some rich home, and costing perhaps ten yen or more. Besides these, the household shrines of Shinto, may occasionally be seen massive shrines of precious wood, lacquered and gilded, worth from three hundred even to fifteen hundred yen. These are not household shrines; but festival shrines, and are made only for rich merchants. They are displayed on Shinto holidays, and twice a year are borne through the streets in procession, to shouts of 'Chosaya! chosaya!' [10] Each temple parish also possesses a large portable miya which is paraded on these occasions with much chanting and beating of drums. The majority of household miya are cheap constructions. A very fine one can be purchased for about two yen; but those little shrines one sees in the houses of the common people cost, as a rule, considerably less than half a yen. And elaborate or costly household shrines are contrary to the spirit of pure Shinto The true miya should be made of spotless white hinoki [11] wood, and be put together without nails. Most of those I have seen in the shops had their several parts joined only with rice-paste; but the skill of the maker rendered this sufficient. Pure Shinto requires that a miya should be without gilding or ornamentation. The beautiful miniature temples in some rich homes may justly excite admiration by their artistic structure and decoration; but the ten or thirteen cent miya, in the house of a labourer or a kurumaya, of plain white wood, truly represents that spirit of simplicity characterising the primitive religion.


The kamidana or 'God-shelf,' upon which are placed the miya and other sacred objects of Shinto worship, is usually fastened at a height of about six or seven feet above the floor. As a rule it should not be placed higher than the hand can reach with ease; but in houses having lofty rooms the miya is sometimes put up at such a height that the sacred offerings cannot be made without the aid of a box or other object to stand upon. It is not commonly a part of the house structure, but a plain shelf attached with brackets either to the wall itself, at some angle of the apartment, or, as is much more usual, to the kamoi, or horizontal grooved beam, in which the screens of opaque paper (fusuma), which divide room from room, slide to and fro. Occasionally it is painted or lacquered. But the ordinary kamidana is of white wood, and is made larger or smaller in proportion to the size of the miya, or the number of the ofuda and other sacred objects to be placed upon it. In some houses, notably those of innkeepers and small merchants, the kamidana is made long enough to support a number of small shrines dedicated to different Shinto deities, particularly those believed to preside over wealth and commercial prosperity. In the houses of the poor it is nearly always placed in the room facing the street; and Matsue shopkeepers usually erect it in their shops - so that the passer-by or the customer can tell at a glance in what deities the occupant puts his trust. There are many regulations concerning it. It may be placed to face south or east, but should not face west, and under no possible circumstances should it be suffered to face north or north-west. One explanation of this is the influence upon Shinto of Chinese philosophy, according to which there is some fancied relation between South or East and the Male Principle, and between West or North and the Female Principle. But the popular notion on the subject is that because a dead person is buried with the head turned north, it would be very wrong to place a miya so as to face north - since everything relating to death is impure; and the regulation about the west is not strictly observed. Most kamidana in Izumo, however, face south or east. In the houses of the poorest - often consisting of but one apartment - there can be little choice as to rooms; but it is a rule, observed in the dwellings of the middle classes, that the kamidana must not be placed either in the guest room (zashiki) nor in the kitchen; and in shizoku houses its place is usually in one of the smaller family apartments. Respect must be shown it. One must not sleep, for example, or even lie down to rest, with his feet turned towards it. One must not pray before it, or even stand before it, while in a state of religious impurity - such as that entailed by having touched a corpse, or attended a Buddhist funeral, or even during the period of mourning for kindred buried according to the Buddhist rite. Should any member of the family be thus buried, then during fifty days [12] the kamidana must be entirely screened from view with pure white paper, and even the Shinto ofuda, or pious invocations fastened upon the house-door, must have white paper pasted over them. During the same mourning period the fire in the house is considered unclean; and at the close of the term all the ashes of the braziers and of the kitchen must be cast away, and new fire kindled with a flint and steel. Nor are funerals the only source of legal uncleanliness. Shinto, as the religion of purity and purification, has a Deuteronomy of quite an extensive kind. During certain periods women must not even pray before the miya, much less make offerings or touch the sacred vessels, or kindle the lights of the Kami.


Before the miya, or whatever holy object of Shinto worship be placed upon the kamidana, are set two quaintly shaped jars for the offerings of sake; two small vases, to contain sprays of the sacred plant sakaki, or offerings of flowers; and a small lamp, shaped like a tiny saucer, where a wick of rush-pith floats in rape-seed oil. Strictly speaking, all these utensils, except the flower-vases, should be made of unglazed red earthenware, such as we find described in the early chapters of the Kojiki: and still at Shinto festivals in Izumo, when sake is drunk in honour of the gods, it is drunk out of cups of red baked unglazed clay shaped like shallow round dishes. But of late years it has become the fashion to make all the utensils of a fine kamidana of brass or bronze - even the hanaike, or flower-vases. Among the poor, the most archaic utensils are still used to a great extent, especially in the remoter country districts; the lamp being a simple saucer or kawarake of red clay; and the flower-vases most often bamboo cups, made by simply cutting a section of bamboo immediately below a joint and about five inches above it.

The brazen lamp is a much more complicated object than the kawarake, which costs but one rin. The brass lamp costs about twenty-five sen, at least. It consists of two parts. The lower part, shaped like a very shallow, broad wineglass, with a very thick stem, has an interior as well as an exterior rim; and the bottom of a correspondingly broad and shallow brass cup, which is the upper part and contains the oil, fits exactly into this inner rim. This kind of lamp is always furnished with a small brass object in the shape of a flat ring, with a stem set at right angles to the surface of the ring. It is used for moving the floating wick and keeping it at any position required; and the little perpendicular stem is long enough to prevent the fingers from touching the oil.

The most curious objects to be seen on any ordinary kamidana are the stoppers of the sake-vessels or o-mikidokkuri ('honourable sake-jars'). These stoppers - o-mikidokkuri-nokuchisashi - may be made of brass, or of fine thin slips of wood jointed and bent into the singular form required. Properly speaking, the thing is not a real stopper, in spite of its name; its lower part does not fill the mouth of the jar at all: it simply hangs in the orifice like a leaf put there stem downwards. I find it difficult to learn its history; but, though there are many designs of it - the finer ones being of brass - the shape of all seems to hint at a Buddhist origin. Possibly the shape was borrowed from a Buddhist symbol - the Hoshi-notama, that mystic gem whose lambent glow (iconographically suggested as a playing of flame) is the emblem of Pure Essence; and thus the object would be typical at once of the purity of the wine-offering and the purity of the heart of the giver.

The little lamp may not be lighted every evening in all homes, since there are families too poor to afford even this infinitesimal nightly expenditure of oil. But upon the first, fifteenth, and twenty-eighth of each month the light is always kindled; for these are Shinto holidays of obligation, when offerings must be made to the gods, and when all uji- ko, or parishioners of a Shinto temple, are supposed to visit their ujigami. In every home on these days sake is poured as an offering into the o-mikidokkuri, and in the vases of the kamidana are placed sprays of the holy sakaki, or sprigs of pine, or fresh flowers. On the first day of the new year the kamidana is always decked with sakaki, moromoki (ferns), and pine-sprigs, and also with a shimenawa; and large double rice cakes are placed upon it as offerings to the gods.


But only the ancient gods of Shinto are worshipped before the kamidana. The family ancestors or family dead are worshipped either in a separate room (called the mitamaya or 'Spirit Chamber'), or, if worshipped according to the Buddhist rites, before the butsuma or butsudan.

The Buddhist family worship coexists in the vast majority of Izumo homes with the Shinto family worship; and whether the dead be honoured in the mitamaya or before the butsudan altogether depends upon the religious traditions of the household. Moreover, there are families in Izumo - particularly in Kitzuki - whose members do not profess Buddhism in any form, and a very few, belonging to the Shin-shu or Nichirenshu, [13] whose members do not practise Shinto. But the domestic cult of the dead is maintained, whether the family be Shinto or Buddhist. The ihai or tablets of the Buddhist family dead (Hotoke) are never placed in a special room or shrine, but in the Buddhist household shrine [14] along with the images or pictures of Buddhist divinities usually there inclosed - or, at least, this is always the case when the honours paid them are given according to the Buddhist instead of the Shinto rite. The form of the butsudan or butsuma, the character of its holy images, its ofuda, or its pictures, and even the prayers said before it, differ according to the fifteen different shu, or sects; and a very large volume would have to be written in order to treat the subject of the butsuma exhaustively. Therefore I must content myself with stating that there are Buddhist household shrines of all dimensions, prices, and degrees of magnificence; and that the butsudan of the Shin-shu, although to me the least interesting of all, is popularly considered to be the most beautiful in design and finish. The butsudan of a very poor household may be worth a few cents, but the rich devotee might purchase in Kyoto a shrine worth as many thousands of yen as he could pay.

Though the forms of the butsuma and the character of its contents may greatly vary, the form of the ancestral or mortuary tablet is generally that represented in Fig. 4 of the illustrations of ihai given in this book. [15] There are some much more elaborate shapes, costly and rare, and simpler shapes of the cheapest and plainest descriptions; but the form thus illustrated is the common one in Izumo and the whole San-indo country. There are differences, however, of size; and the ihai of a man is larger than that of a woman, and has a headpiece also, which the tablet of a female has not; while a child's ihai is always very small. The average height of the ihai made for a male adult is a little more than a foot, and its thickness about an inch. It has a top, or headpiece, surmounted by the symbol I of the Hoshi-no-tama or Mystic Gem, and ordinarily decorated with a cloud-design of some kind, and the pedestal is a lotus-flower rising out of clouds. As a general rule all this is richly lacquered and gilded; the tablet itself being lacquered in black, and bearing the posthumous name, or kaimyo, in letters of gold - ken-mu-ji-sho-shin-ji, or other syllables indicating the supposed virtues of the departed. The poorest people, unable to afford such handsome tablets, have ihai made of plain wood; and the kaimyo is sometimes simply written on these in black characters; but more commonly it is written upon a strip of white paper, which is then pasted upon the ihai with rice-paste. The living name is perhaps inscribed upon the back of the tablet. Such tablets accumulate, of course, with the passing of generations; and in certain homes great numbers are preserved.

A beautiful and touching custom still exists in Izumo, and perhaps throughout Japan, although much less common than it used to be. So far as I can learn, however, it was always confined to the cultivated classes. When a husband dies, two ihai are made, in case the wife resolves never to marry again. On one of these the kaimyo of the dead man is painted in characters of gold, and on the other that of the living widow; but, in the latter case, the first character of the kaimyo is painted in red, and the other characters in gold. These two tablets are then placed in the household butsuma. Two larger ones similarly inscribed, are placed in the parish temple; but no cup is set before that of the wife. The solitary crimson ideograph signifies a solemn pledge to remain faithful to the memory of the dead. Furthermore, the wife loses her living name among all her friends and relatives, and is thereafter addressed only by a fragment of her kaimyo - as, for example, 'Shin-toku-in-San,' an abbreviation of the much longer and more sonorous posthumous name, Shin-toku-in-den-joyo-teiso-daishi. [16] Thus to be called by one's kaimyo is at once an honour to the memory of the husband and the constancy of the bereaved wife. A precisely similar pledge is taken by a man after the loss of a wife to whom he was passionately attached; and one crimson letter upon his ihai registers the vow not only in the home but also in the place of public worship. But the widower is never called by his kaimyo, as is the widow.

The first religious duty of the morning in a Buddhist household is to set before the tablets of the dead a little cup of tea, made with the first hot water prepared - O-Hotoke-San-nio-cha-to-ageru. [17] Daily offerings of boiled rice are also made; and fresh flowers are put in the shrine vases; and incense - although not allowed by Shinto - is burned before the tablets. At night, and also during the day upon certain festivals, both candles and a small oil-lamp are lighted in the butsuma - a lamp somewhat differently shaped from the lamp of the miya and called rinto On the day of each month corresponding to the date of death a little repast is served before the tablets, consisting of shojin-ryori only, the vegetarian food of the. Buddhists. But as Shinto family worship has its special annual festival, which endures from the first to the third day of the new year, so Buddhist ancestor-worship has its yearly Bonku, or Bommatsuri, lasting from the thirteenth to the sixteenth day of the seventh month. This is the Buddhist Feast of Souls. Then the butsuma is decorated to the utmost, special offerings of food and of flowers are made, and all the house is made beautiful to welcome the coming of the ghostly visitors.

Now Shinto, like Buddhism, has its ihai; but these are of the simplest possible shape and material - mere slips of plain white wood. The average height is only about eight inches. These tablets are either placed in a special miya kept in a different room from that in which the shrine of the Kami is erected, or else simply arranged on a small shelf called by the people Mitama-San-no-tana, - 'the Shelf of the August Spirits.' The shelf or the shrine of the ancestors and household dead is placed always at a considerable height in the mitamaya or soreisha (as the Spirit Chamber is sometimes called), just as is the miya of the Kami in the other apartment. Sometimes no tablets are used, the name being simply painted upon the woodwork of the Spirit Shrine. But Shinto has no kaimyo: the living name of the dead is written upon the ihai, with the sole addition of the word 'Mitama' (Spirit). And monthly upon the day corresponding to the menstrual date of death, offerings of fish, wine, and other food are made to the spirits, accompanied by special prayer. [18] The Mitama-San have also their particular lamps and flower-vases, and, though in lesser degree, are honoured with rites like those of the Kami.

The prayers uttered before the ihai of either faith begin with the respective religious formulas of Shinto or of Buddhism. The Shintoist, clapping his hands thrice or four times, [19] first utters the sacramental Harai-tamai. The Buddhist, according to his sect, murmurs Namu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo, or Namu Amida Butsu, or some other holy words of prayer or of praise to the Buddha, ere commencing his prayer to the ancestors. The words said to them are seldom spoken aloud, either by Shintoist or Buddhist: they are either whispered very low under the breath, or shaped only within the heart.


At nightfall in Izumo homes the lamps of the gods and of the ancestors are kindled, either by a trusted servant or by some member of the family. Shinto orthodox regulations require that the lamps should be filled with pure vegetable oil only - tomoshiabura - and oil of rape-seed is customarily used. However, there is an evident inclination among the poorer classes to substitute a microscopic kerosene lamp for the ancient form of utensil. But by the strictly orthodox this is held to be very wrong, and even to light the lamps with a match is somewhat heretical. For it is not supposed that matches are always made with pure substances, and the lights of the Kami should be kindled only with purest fire - that holy natural fire which lies hidden within all things. Therefore in some little closet in the home of any strictly orthodox Shinto family there is always a small box containing the ancient instruments used for the lighting of' holy fire. These consist of the hi-uchi-ishi, or 'fire-strike-stone'; the hi-uchi-gane, or steel; the hokuchi, or tinder, made of dried moss; and the tsukegi, fine slivers of resinous pine. A little tinder is laid upon the flint and set smouldering with a few strokes of the steel, and blown upon until it flames. A slip of pine is then ignited at this flame, and with it the lamps of the ancestors and the gods are lighted. If several great deities are represented in the miya or upon the kamidana by several ofuda, then a separate lamp is sometimes lighted for each; and if there be a butsuma in the dwelling, its tapers or lamp are lighted at the same time.

Although the use of the flint and steel for lighting the lamps of the gods will probably have become obsolete within another generation, it still prevails largely in Izumo, especially in the country districts. Even where the safety-match has entirely supplanted the orthodox utensils, the orthodox sentiment shows itself in the matter of the choice of matches to be used. Foreign matches are inadmissible: the native matchmaker quite successfully represented that foreign matches contained phosphorus 'made from the bones of dead animals,' and that to kindle the lights of the Kami with such unholy fire would be sacrilege. In other parts of Japan the matchmakers stamped upon their boxes the words: 'Saikyo go honzon yo' (Fit for the use of the August High Temple of Saikyo). [20] But Shinto sentiment in Izumo was too strong to be affected much by any such declaration: indeed, the recommendation of the matches as suitable for use in a Shin-shu temple was of itself sufficient to prejudice Shintoists against them. Accordingly special precautions had to be taken before safety-matches could be satisfactorily introduced into the Province of the Gods. Izumo match-boxes now bear the inscription: 'Pure, and fit to use for kindling the lamps of the Kami, or of the Hotoke!'

The inevitable danger to all things in Japan is fire. It is the traditional rule that when a house takes fire, the first objects to be saved, if possible, are the household gods and the tablets of the ancestors. It is even said that if these are saved, most of the family valuables are certain to be saved, and that if these are lost, all is lost.


The terms soreisha and mitamaya, as used in Izumo, may, I am told, signify either the small miya in which the Shinto ihai (usually made of cherry-wood) is kept, or that part of the dwelling in which it is placed, and where the offerings are made. These, by all who can afford it, are served upon tables of plain white wood, and of the same high narrow form as the tables upon which offerings are made in the temples and at public funeral ceremonies.

The most ordinary form of prayer addressed to the ancient ancestors in the household cult of Shinto is not uttered aloud. After pronouncing the initial formula of all popular Shinto prayer, 'Harai-tamai,' etc., the worshipper says, with his heart only - 'Spirits august of our far-off ancestors, ye forefathers of the generations, and of our families and of our kindred, unto you, the founders of our homes, we this day utter the gladness of our thanks.'

In the family cult of the Buddhists a distinction is made between the household Hotoke - the souls of those long dead - and the souls of those but recently deceased. These last are called Shin-botoke, 'new Buddhas,' or more strictly, 'the newly dead.' No direct request for any supernatural favour is made to a Shin-botoke; for, though respectfully called Hotoke, the freshly departed soul is not really deemed to have reached Buddhahood: it is only on the long road thither, and is in need itself, perhaps, of aid, rather than capable of giving aid. Indeed, among the deeply pious its condition is a matter of affectionate concern. And especially is this the case when a little child dies; for it is thought that the soul of an infant is feeble and exposed to many dangers. Wherefore a mother, speaking to the departed soul of her child, will advise it, admonish it, command it tenderly, as if addressing a living son or daughter. The ordinary words said in Izumo homes to any Shin-botoke take rather the form of adjuration or counsel than of prayer, such as these: -

'Jobutsu seyo,' or 'Jobutsu shimasare.' [Do thou become a Buddha.]

'Mayo na yo.' [Go not astray; or, Be never deluded.]

'Miren-wo nokorazu.' [Suffer no regret (for this world) to linger with thee.]

These prayers are never uttered aloud. Much more in accordance with the Occidental idea of prayer is the following, uttered by Shin-shu believers on behalf of a Shin-botoke:

'O-mukai kudasare Amida-Sama.' [Vouchsafe, O Lord Amida, augustly to welcome (this soul).]

Needless to say that ancestor-worship, although adopted in China and Japan into Buddhism, is not of Buddhist origin. Needless also to say that Buddhism discountenances suicide. Yet in Japan, anxiety about the condition of the soul of the departed often caused suicide - or at least justified it on the part of those who, though accepting Buddhist dogma, might adhere to primitive custom. Retainers killed themselves in the belief that by dying they might give to the soul of their lord or lady, counsel, aid, and service. Thus in the novel Hogen-nomono-gatari, a retainer is made to say after the death of his young master: - 'Over the mountain of Shide, over the ghostly River of Sanzu, who will conduct him? If he be afraid, will he not call my name, as he was wont to do? Surely better that, by slaying myself, I go to serve him as of old, than to linger here, and mourn for him in vain.'

In Buddhist household worship, the prayers addressed to the family Hotoke proper, the souls of those long dead, are very different from the addresses made to the Shin-botoke. The following are a few examples: they are always said under the breath:

'Kanai anzen.' [(Vouchsafe) that our family may be preserved.]

'Enmei sakusai.' [That we may enjoy long life without sorrow.]

'Shobai hanjo.' [That our business may prosper.] [Said only by merchants and tradesmen.]

'Shison chokin.' [That the perpetuity of our descent may be assured.]

'Onteki taisan.' [That our enemies be scattered.]

'Yakubyo shometsu.' [That pestilence may not come nigh us.]

Some of the above are used also by Shinto worshippers. The old samurai still repeat the special prayers of their caste: -

'Tenka taihei.' [That long peace may prevail throughout the world.]

'Bu-un chokyu.' [That we may have eternal good-fortune in war.]

'Ka-ei-manzoku.' [That our house (family) may for ever remain fortunate.]

But besides these silent formulae, any prayers prompted by the heart, whether of supplication or of gratitude, may, of course, be repeated. Such prayers are said, or rather thought, in the speech of daily life. The following little prayer uttered by an Izumo mother to the ancestral spirit, besought on behalf of a sick child, is an example: -

'O-kage ni kodomo no byoki mo zenkwai itashimashite, arigato-gozarimasu!' [By thine august influence the illness of my child has passed away; - I thank thee.]

'O-kage ni' literally signifies 'in the august shadow of.' There is a ghostly beauty in the original phrase that neither a free nor yet a precise translation can preserve.


Thus, in this home-worship of the Far East, by love the dead are made divine; and the foreknowledge of this tender apotheosis must temper with consolation the natural melancholy of age. Never in Japan are the dead so quickly forgotten as with us: by simple faith they are deemed still to dwell among their beloved; and their place within the home remains ever holy. And the aged patriarch about to pass away knows that loving lips will nightly murmur to the memory of him before the household shrine; that faithful hearts will beseech him in their pain and bless him in their joy; that gentle hands will place before his ihai pure offerings of fruits and flowers, and dainty repasts of the things which he was wont to like; and will pour out for him, into the little cup of ghosts and gods, the fragrant tea of guests or the amber rice-wine. Strange changes are coming upon the land: old customs are vanishing; old beliefs are weakening; the thoughts of today will not be the thoughts of another age - but of all this he knows happily nothing in his own quaint, simple, beautiful Izumo. He dreams that for him, as for his fathers, the little lamp will burn on through the generations; he sees, in softest fancy, the yet unborn - the children of his children's children - clapping their tiny hands in Shinto prayer, and making filial obeisance before the little dusty tablet that bears his unforgotten name.