It is crucial to know a bit of Japanese mythology if you genuinely want to acquaint yourself with Japanese culture.
It is an essential medium for transmitting Japanese culture because it emphasizes core beliefs that permeate every aspect of society.
Furthermore, Japanese mythology combines religious and spiritual folklore to act as a guiding stone for Japanese society. Many of these old texts chronicle the adventures of gods, showcasing their human nature, similar to Greek or Hindu mythology.
It is heavily influenced by Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism and offers minor similarities with Chinese, Tibetan, and other Asian myths.
Shinto is an ancient religion originating natively from Japan; it means "the way of the gods." Meanwhile, the elements of Buddhism and Confucianism were added to Japanese mythology because of trade and travel between Japan and the rest of Asia.
Additionally, the two most essential texts in Japanese mythology are the Kojiki and Nihongi, which serve as a moral and spiritual guide for locals. It is through these texts that they trace their connection to Japanese gods.
However, they also offer intrinsic value to Japanese royalty and ruling class by establishing a link between Emperors and Japanese gods, referring to their divine ancestry.
Creation Myths In Japanese Mythology
Japanese myths are aboriginal to the island and incorporate history as well as culture. One of the most important legends in Japanese folklore deals with how Japan came to be.
Most mythology, be it Greek, Indian, or Egyptian, provide compelling arguments for the origin of life, and Japanese folklore is no different.
These tales of creation help Japanese people connect with their past and harmonize it with the present. It also presents a genealogical history that connects them to their ancestors.
According to the creation myth, Japan was created by deities who were later sent to govern the world. Before the descent of these gods, Japan was a wild place without any order.
It presents plants and animals as animated objects that could speak and move. The Shinto elements become apparent here, as it shows all natural things to possess "kami" or a spirit. The idea was that nature descends from gods.
In one instance of the creation myth, the Sun Goddess' grandson descends from the skies to rule the Earth by taming it and making it suitable for human inhabitance. It is a narrative on the ruling system of Japan, which legitimizes itself as divinely ordained.
Moreover, the origin tale also stresses the Japanese code of conduct and the importance of proper mannerism. In the myth of Izanagi and Izanami's copulation, Izanami speaks first, which goes against the code of conduct; therefore, the child born as a result is a failure.
Myths like these drive home the importance of maintaining discipline and order proportionate to specific circumstances.
Harmony Between Man And Nature
Japanese folklore features inherent regard for discipline and respect, and this is proven through man's relationship with nature.
Respect for nature, group harmony, and righteousness feature quite strongly in Japanese mythology. They form a core element in the guidelines for how the ideal Japanese should behave.
Japanese myths regard humanity and nature to originate from the same place and to be identifiable with each other because of the underlying "kami" that permeates everything.
This thought is quite similar to the concept of atman found in Hinduism. Both ideologies prioritize respect for one's surroundings and the living things that help the world function the way it does.
Additionally, some Japanese gods were born from objects of nature, emphasizing the importance of nature in the Japanese consciousness.
Perhaps that is why you see the most beautiful and intricate displays of horticulture, flowing water, and rocks around Japanese temples.
Meanwhile, some instances of Japanese folklore also chronicle the lives of heroes, such as how a Samurai must conduct himself. They include a strong undercurrent of harmonization between man and nature.
These particular myths feature heroes setting out to unite man and nature by taming the natural forces. Narratives such as this help us appreciate the flora, fauna, and topography of Japan, symbolizing harmony between the Japanese people and their land.
The depiction of natural objects as independent beings who can speak and think gives them a say in how the world works. It also helps Japanese people value their place within nature.
Another myth deals with regular occurrences of deadly epidemics during Emperor Sujin's rule. This plague was defeated when Opo-Tata-Neko worshipped Mi-Moro, and the land returned to peace and harmony.
Japanese myths are rife with anecdotes and stories like these, emphasizing the importance of respecting nature and striking a balance between man, the gods, and the world.
Ancestor worship is also an essential part of Japanese folklore, drawing influence from the Shinto religion. Nature and ancestor worship plays a recurrent role in Shinto ideology. Together, it creates a system of worship that provides a moral code for the Japanese people.
Importance Of Loyalty And Honor In Japanese Mythology
So far, we have discussed how spiritual and religious aspects of Japanese myths help create a belief system.
However, certain re-tellings help establish a code of conduct that serves as a roadmap for Japanese society. Virtues, such as loyalty, courage, and honor, are focused-on in these myths.
One such tale deals with a restless badger creating loud chaos, only for the people to yell back at the badger louder. The story concludes with the badger disemboweling itself for failing to scream as loud as the people.
This particular myth deals with the Japanese emphasis on humiliation and shame, which forms a massive part of society.
You might have heard of Japanese soldiers committing seppuku (ritual suicide) in World War 2, a practice that is justified in Japanese society through myths of a similar message.
Another example of a myth talks of a woman who covets a celibate monk and has to cross Lake Biwa a certain number of times to be with him. Just as she is completing her last trip, Hurricane Hira strikes and kills her.
The lesson here is that a prescribed code of conduct should not be betrayed, which in this case was the celibacy of monks. Moreover, nature's intervention in the matters of man is also well-described here.
While these myths had a direct cause and effect, other tales are more profound. An excellent example of this is the myth of the gardener whose parents died. He upheld his duty to maintain his garden, culminating in his parents being reborn as butterflies in the same garden.
Why You Should Learn Japanese Mythology
Perhaps Japanese mythology's most significant value lies in its ability to shape culture. No matter how trivial or old the stories may be, they still influence the discipline and scarcity of Japanese society.
If you live in Japan or plan to move there, reading up on Japanese folklore and mythology can help you understand local culture and why Japanese people behave the way they do.
So, if you're looking to get yourself acquainted with Japanese stories of yore, get yourself in touch with a Superprof tutor who can start you off with Japanese mythology.