Friday, 4 September 2009


I am currently reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins. He is one of the academics I most respect, however his writing and themes are often too sophisticated and difficult to comprehend for a non-native reader. Besides, I keep being distracted by the concept of ‘God’ used in the book, which, as acknowledged by Dawkins, is far different from the Japanese understanding of ‘Kami’.

The other day, I had the chance to visit an exhibition – Ise Jingu and Treasures of Shinto, at the Tokyo National Museum, held in commemoration of the 62nd Shikinen Sengu Ceremony. At Jingu, there are over 1600 rituals conducted annually, and these are based on agricultural cycles. The cycle reaches its culmination in October, when Kanname-sai – the offering of new crops to Kami – is conducted. Every 20th year, the temple is reconstructed completely, which means everything including the building, ornaments, clothes and earthenware is renewed. Seeing the astonishing sacred treasures created by dedicated craftsmen, and understanding more about the historical ceremonial rituals conducted by Tennou and priests, made me think about what ‘work’ really means to both ancient and current Japanese people.

There is an etymological theory that the word ‘Ine’ (a rice plant) is derived from ‘Inochi no ne’ (roots of life), and that ‘Kome’ (rice) takes its meaning from the verb ‘komeru’ (to insert). In this way, ‘Kome’ can be understood to mean ‘the crop in which the roots of life are inserted’. For at least two millennia in Japanese history, the cultivation of rice has been inseparable from daily life. Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess, blesses the entire world indiscriminately, and under her gentle light, other numerous Kamigami (deities) conduct their own duties – some in charge of nature, such as water, fire, mountains, fields, and others in charge of roads, the kitchen, food, clothes and a myriad of other things. We humans are a part of their world, so we grow rice and vegetables, we fish and hunt, we create tools, cook meals and make clothes amongst Kamigami. There are some playful or unhelpful Kamigami, so humans are best to avoid their mischievous behaviour. When harvest time comes, people offer new crops to all Kamigami. Previously Tennou, but nowadays priests at Jingu, direct prayers to Kami (nature) for national prosperity and people's happiness, and special salt, food, earthenware, clothes and various ornaments are produced for this purpose. Everyone’s daily conduct and work is a part of the ceremony.

In some years, you may not have abundant harvests. Sometimes, you cannot achieve your intended objectives in projects. Focusing solely on results, the process seems a sheer waste of effort. Yet even if objectives are fulfilled, if you take credit for yourself, the contributions made by others and their involvement in the process lose their meaning. Nature, environment and other factors are intertwined and work is simply a part of your daily life. Understanding that a succession of good harvests is not an outcome for you alone leads to an appreciation of nature. Knowing that a poor harvest does not mean lack of effort means you pray for better.

When you recognise numerous Kamigami around you and the existence of the Shinto system and people who carry on traditions for our well-being, you view the cultivation of land or your everyday work as a fortunate opportunity. With or without results, you do what needs to be done.

OK, enough detour. I shall go back to my reading.


現在リチャード ドーキンス著「The God Delusion (邦題 神は妄想である)」を読んでいます。ドーキンスは私の最も尊敬するアカデミックの一人なのですが、彼の洗練された文章とテーマ性は、英語ネイティブで無い読者にとっては難解なところが多々あります。そのうえ、彼自身が著作の中でも明確にしているのですが、本の中で頻出する「God」という単語が日本人の理解している「神」とあまりにも異なるため、ついつい思考が中断されてしまうのです。

先日、東京国立博物館で展示中の「伊勢神宮と神々の美術 -第62回式年遷宮記念 特別展」を訪れる機会がありました。神宮では年間1600もの祭事があり、これらは農の周期に準じて執り行われます。中でも特に重要とされる祭典は、現行の暦で収穫期である10月に行われる神嘗祭です。神嘗祭では、その年の新穀が神様に奉納されます。20年に一度の大祭である神宮式年遷宮では、社殿だけではなく、殿内の装束やその他神宝の全てを新調し、神様にお移り頂きます。工芸士の作り続ける煌びやかかつ神聖な宝物を目にし、かつては天皇、現在では名代である祭主が継承し続ける伝統儀礼に触れ、古から現代に至るまでの日本人にとっての「勤労」とは何かということを考えずにはいられませんでした。





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