Welcome

The Yakumo-goto Club was established to promote the culture of Japan and its members are mainly focused on the country`s tradition.

The Club`s symbol is the yakumo-goto, a musical instrument played in the Shinto shrines, which dates from the early years of the Japanese nation. Our Club has got this instrument owing to the courtesy of Mr. Hideki Kubota.

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Being open to all aspects of Japan - from her tradition to modern life - we try to explore their essence, to touch what might be called the "heart of Japan". We hope that the explorations, interesting in themselves, help us find our true selves in the world full of changes and turbulence.

Our inspiration comes from the yakumo-goto.

MichaƂ MusiaƂkiewicz


              The Sacred Zone of the Yakumo-goto at the Yakumo Shrine -               A Study of the Japanese Spirit

Abstract

The Yakumo-goto is a religious musical instrument used to devote prayer to the gods of the Japanese. The Yakumo-goto has been called "A Shrine of Sound". The Yakumo-goto was created by Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama, who was born in Iyo Province (now Ehime Prefecture) at the end of the Tokugawa period. Mr. Nakayama confined himself in the grand Shinto Shrine, Izumo Taisha Shrine in Izumo district, Shimane Prefecture, to pray for the healing of an eye disease. He was inspired by a divine revelation at the Izumo Taisha to cut a piece of bamboo, and stretch two silk strings over it. He called this bamboo koto the Yakumo-goto, from humming the first phrase of a song "yakumo" composed by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto. Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama was born in Tenma Village in Iyo on May 15, 1803, and died in the same village on September 18, 1881, at the age of 78. During most his life he had lived in the Izumo Taisha. However, he called the gods concerning the Yakumo-goto in the precinct of the Yakumo Shrine in his native village. Why did he invite the gods to an unknown small shrine? Nakayama`s life is a part of the mythology like the world of the Japanese gods. Searching for a clue about the gods enshrined at the Yakumo Shrine I try to trace the soul of Nakayama and make researches in the Japanese belief and spirit.

The Subject

The Yakumo-goto is a religious musical instrument used to devote prayer to the gods of Japanese. The Yakumo-goto has been called "A Shrine of Sound". In Japan, playing it has been compared to offering a prayer. It is not based on a particular religious sect or doctrine but is a common prayer to a folkloric deity or Buddha. The Yakumo-goto is played to wish for peace and stability in the world, so its essence could be said to be a "Prayer of Harmony".
The Yakumo-goto was created by Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama, who was born in Iyo Province (now Ehime Prefecture) at the end of Tokugawa period. Mr. Nakayama confined himself in the grand Shinto shrine, Izumo Taisha Shrine*1 in Izumo district, Shimane Prefecture, to pray for the healing of an eye disease. He was inspired by a divine revelation at the Izumo Taisha to cut a piece of bamboo, and stretch two silk strings over it. He is traditionally said to have named this instrument the Yakumo-goto because he composed his first tune while humming the following poem by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto.
"Yakumo tatsu Izumo yaegaki tsumakomi ni yaegaki tsukuru sono yaegaki o" (The many layered fence of Izumo, in a view of a towering mass of clouds rising vigorously to the sky, I make a many layered fence to protect my wife.) This poem is found in Kojiki, the record of ancient matters of Japan.
Thus was born the Yakumo-goto. The Yakumo-goto, 108 cm long and 13 cm wide, is a two string koto. The string is made of tightly twisted silk yarn. The body, shaped like a sea cucumber, is made of woods such as paulownia, Japanese cedar, or oak. On the Yakumo-goto thirty-one positions are marked with a mother-of-pearl inlay of 31 katakana characters. These syllables comprise a traditional waka, or 31 syllable short poem, which means that the positions of the Yakumo-goto have been named after the 31 syllables of waka. Most of the lyrics written for this instrument are waka poems praising and revering the gods. The reason why the Yakumo-goto has acquired divinity is that for this musical instrument, what matters most is not skillful performance, but rather the lofty spirituality and purest piety of the performer. In other words, to play the Yakumo-goto means to pray to the gods. The Izumo Taisha set a high value on Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama and the Yakumo-goto. *2

The 200th Anniversary of the birth of the Founder of the Yakumo-goto, Kotonushi Nakayama, was held on April 7, 2003, at Mt. Aokaze, which is near the Yakumo Shrine in Tennma, Doi town, Uma County, Ehime Prefecture. After head priest Sumio Kondo recited a Shinto prayer seven performers, including three children, played a devotional piece on the Yakumo-goto called Haru-no-Shirabe (Tune of Spring) to the gods.
Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama was born in Tenma village on May 15,1803, and died in the same village on September 18,1881, at the age of 78. Mr. Nakayama had trouble with his eyes from early childhood. From the age of 7 or 8, he went to the Seki Pass about 7 kilometers from Tenma Village, separated from his parents, and he lived with a teacher, named Yoshinoto and learned how to play the shamisen and recite Joruri ballad dramas. At the age of 14, Mr. Nakayama left his village for Kyoto to train in the performing arts. While suffering from an eye disease he endeavored to cultivate the shamisen and koto. He visited the Izumo Taisha (grand shrine) and prayed to the gods to heal his eye disease. While confined in this shrine he was inspired by a divine revelation. According to the will of the gods, he cut a piece of bamboo and stretched two strings over it. Thus was born the Yakumo-goto.
Until the end of the Tokugawa period (1868), this shrine was known as the Gozu -Tennougu(Cow`s Head Heaven Shrine). Kotonushi Nakayama was born with very poor eyesight and he used to visit a nearby shrine to pray for his cure in his village. At that time, the shrine where he prayed was the Gozu-Tennougu and was dedicated to a cow-head god but in 1869, it became the Yakumo Shrine after the Meiji restoration edict ordered the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism. Three gods are deified at that shrine; they are Susanoo-no-mikoto, Kushinadahime-no-mikoto and Tenazuchi-no-mikoto. During the Edo period the name of that shrine was Gozu- Tennougu. A cow-head and a horse were worshipped there as the farming deities. This Gozu-Tennougu drew its energy and origin from the Indian Gion (Gionshouja=Jetavanavihara) guardian deity. This shrine also protects from the plague as is the case for the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto`s Gion district or the Tsushima Shrine in Owari district in Aichi Prefecture, each shrine blessed by the god Gozu. The name Gion can also be found in Doi-cho and it is believed to be the old name of Gozu-Tennougu.
Concerning the Yakumo-Shrine several mythologies have remained. It is said that the god Susanoo-no-mikoto came down from heaven and had a dwelling half way down the mountain and stayed there for a while. That place has also become the site of a shrine since long ago. Moreover, it is said that Susanoo-no-mikoto rode a horse there and that two of its footprints remain carved in a stone in the middle of the way. Those footprints are called Onma-no-ashime (the footprints of the horse) and it is believed that if one steps in them one will receive some kind of blessing.
It is also said that at that very place where the shrine is close to the mountain, every evening the rattling sound of fencing can be heard. However, when going there, one finds nothing strange and it is as quiet and desolate a place as can be. It is said that those are the doings of the long-nosed goblin Tengu. On one side of the shrine stands a large pine tree and when looked at from a distance, one can easily see that it suggests the shape of a Tengu.
The masterpiece of all that mythology is the story of the extermination of a giant snake named Yamata-no-Orochi at the hands of the god Susanoo-no-mikoto : It stands as one of the important Japanese myths: The god Susanoo was banished from Takama-ga-hara (the Japanese Olympus) because of doing violence to the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami. When the god Susanoo descended to the Hino-kawa (Hino River, nowadays in Shimane Prefecture) he found an old couple who were crying bitterly. The husband`s name was Ashinazuchi, and his wife’s name was Tenazuchi. When the god Susanoo-no-mikoto asked why they were crying they told him a terrible story about an 8 headed giant snake, Yamata-no-Orochi, who lived deep in the mountain. The snake had descended from the mountain producing burning red fruits from his eyes and this animal had eight heads and eight tails. The body had grown out of Hinoki (Japanese cypress) and Sugi (Japanese cedar) trees and was covered with moss. Its length was equal to the length of eight valleys and eight mountain ridges. The giant snake often attacked their village and abducted young women. They were afraid that their daughter, Kushinadahime, would be abducted next. The god Susanoo-no-mikoto devised a plan to destroy Yamata-no-Orochi. He knew that the snake liked sake very much, so the god Susanoo-no-mikoto set up 8 kegs of sake, one for each head. In the middle of the night, the snake appeared and drank all of the sake. He then fell into a deep sleep. At that point the god Susanoo-no-mikoto pulled out a sword and exterminated the pest cutting off its 8 heads on the spot. It is a very simple story that amuses even children nowadays but Yamata-no-Orochi`s appearance as a huge snake has also brought about the idea that he is a god. The mythology of the extermination of Yamata-no-Orochi by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto occupies such an important place in Japanese mythology that it has acquired much respect and dignity. Despite this, at the Yakumo Shrine only the history of the old couple and their daughter is related to the shrine and only three gods, the Susanoo-no-mikoto, the goddess Tenazuchi-no-mikoto and the goddess Kushinadahime-no-mikoto, are deified there. Where did Yamata-no-Orochi and the father of story, Ashinazuchi come from and what did become of it? Even at the Yakumo Shrine no one knows.
Many gods surrounded the Yakumo Shrine and the Yakumo-goto. That is why a small shrine called "Dragon Snake Shrine" built by Kotonushi Nakayama still exists in the precincts of the Yakumo Shrine. Kotonushi Nakayama invited the Sea Guardian deity from the Izumo Shrine (the Izumo Taisha in the Shimane Prefecture) and built the Dragon Snake Shrine to ask those gods to protect the place. On a scroll preserved in the shrine`s library was a prayer to the Dragon Serpent written by Kotonushi Nakayama. The prayer called to mind Nakayama`s and the people`s belief that sea snakes were shadows of the gods and therefore objects of worship. Sea snakes symbolized the Dragon Serpent coming across the sea to protect the people. The Dragon Serpent is also a symbol of nature`s power, bringing riches and happiness.
Faith in the "Dragon Snake" is still very alive around the region of Izumo (now part of Shimane Prefecture). In the region of Shimane where the Izumo Taisha is located, people believe in the Dragon-Serpent God. A God-gathering festival is held between the 10th and the 17th of October, which in the old Japanese calendar is called Kamiarizuki (month with the gods). The sea is rough during this period, and sea snakes are washed up on the beach. The sea snake`s body bears a tortoiseshell pattern just like the crest of the Izumo Shrine. People believe these sea snakes are guides of the god and gather and offer them to the Izumo Shrine. The Izumo Shrine preserves them and gives them to worshippers as an object of worship of the Dragon Sea God.

But there is also another important god who is worshipped in the vicinity of the Yakumo Shrine. Three more shrines are located in its vicinity on the top of Mt. Aokaze (The blue wind mountain) located about 1.5 kilometers from the Yakumo Shrine. On the top of the mountain three stones about 40 cm high are placed there. The stone in the middle points to the Izumo Shrine, next to it the stone on the left points to "The Blue Wind Shrine" and the stone on the right points to the Oota Shrine. These are three shrines built by Kotonushi Nakayama late in life. These are composed of simple rocks placed on the earth which describe the god`s name. The god Aokaze daimyoujin and the god Oota-daimyoujin faced directly to the Izumo Taisha over the sea. People called the god Aokaze-daimyoujin "the god Wind, Aokaze-han", but they didn`t know the god or the goddess. As for the god Oota-daimyoujin they don`t know the god`s character at all. Nakayama built these shrines to call both gods to the top of Mt. Aokaze. Nakayama built these shrines to pray to the gods that he revive Ame-no-Norigoto (the Heavenly Decree Koto) of Japanese mythology to the reality through the Yakumo-goto. In the Yakumo-kinpu (the notation of the Yakumo-goto) by Nakayama he described that the god Oota-daimyoujin told him the god Aokaze-daimyoujin is the god of Music, and that the gods reveal their will in the lyrics of the Yakumo-kinpu. For these reasons Kotonushi Nakayama prayed to revive the Heavenly Decree koto in front of the Aokaze Shrine and the Oota Shrine. He could pray to the god Okuni-nushi no-mikoto of the Izumo Taisha far from both shrines and the sea.
Why did Kotonushi Nakayama enshrine the god Oota-daimyoujin and the god Aokaze-daimyoujin on the top of Mt. Aokaze? Both the Aokaze- daimyoujin and the Oota-daimyoujin are gods of which I had not heard before. The appearance of those gods goes back to May 14, 1855, and was announced through the voice of a priest of a shrine. In the Yakumo-kinpu written by Kotonushi Nakayama a hint appeared as follows: "On the anniversary of that day a musical performance on the Yakumo-goto was offered at the Ukimido-kumano Shrine in Tamanoura (nowadays in Hiroshima Prefecture). At that time, the head priest, Gijun Sukune was possessed by the god Oota-daimyoujin and said," Oota-daimyoujin attended the musical offering to protect the Yakumo-goto. This sacred had been searching for many years for the suitable person to revive Ame-no-Norigoto (the Heavenly Decree Koto)*3 that was long forgotten and finally found it. In fact, the koto master, Nakayama searching in the depths of the heart of Ookami (the Great God) had become his oracle. The shape of the Yakumo-goto was designed by the god Fukiaezu-no-mikoto. A plectrum was made by the god Kasuga-daimyoujin, and the strings were stretched by the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto. And the god Aokaze-daimyoujin has always protected Kotonushi Nakayama and his worshippers. And the god Aokaze-daimyoujin is called the god of music.
Although the god Aokaze-daimyoujin and the god Oota-daimyoujin don`t appear in the Japanese mythology the local people venerate these gods in a sacred place concerning the Yakumo-goto. Borrowing that story of the gods, it has now become a mythology of the Yakumo-goto.
It is traditionally said that Kotonushi Nakayama played the Yakumo-goto as Ame-no-Norigoto (the Heavenly Decree Koto), and also that he was given bamboo and he used it to carve the shapes of the god Dragon-Serpent. I would like to explain this because I feel that having plural objects of worship might be somewhat confusing for non-Japanese. For Japanese people, the Yakumo-goto represents the god Dragon-Serpent or the Heavenly Decree Koto. It was deified by Nakayama and his followers, because for them, the instrument brought all of these religious symbols of the powers of nature together. Japanese cannot explain the god`s world in a logical theology, only as feelings of what is sacred in nature. So, for the Japanese mind, there is no contradiction in saying that the Yakumo-goto is shaped like the god Dragon-Serpent and Ame-no-Norigoto (the Heavenly Decree Koto). At this point, I would like to explain the Japanese beliefs.*4 But, why was the name "Yakumo" chosen for this shrine? It is said that the name probably came from the song by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, yakumo tatsu izumo yaegaki tsumakomini yaegaki tsukuru sono yaegaki o in Kojiki, the record of ancient matters of Japan with the name of the Yakumo-goto chosen from this poem.
Kotonushi Nakayama had a room in the old head priest`s house of the Yakumo Shrine, and he lived there during his trips from Kyoto. It indicated that Kotonushi Nakayama did not have a home to which he was supposed to return. But, the Yakumo Shrine enshrined the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, the Dragon Serpent and the other gods concerning the Yakumo-goto was truly his spiritual origin and his home.*5 At the Meiji Restoration, the Izumo Taisha abolished the playing of the Yakumo-goto and the gagaku at the ritual, being afraid of political pressure in the storm of the movement of the destruction of the old system, including the anti-Buddhist movement, and adopted the Izumo-kagura ( sacred music and dancing ) as a religious music. *6 Adding this unfortunate happening in the very confused situation of Meiji Restoration, Kotonushi Nakayama and the Yakumo-goto lost the base of its activity. Its occurrence was concerning the gods and proselytizing of the Izumo-Taisha like the story of the Kojiki, described the world of the gods.
By the grace of the gods, and under patronage of the Izumo Taisha, the Yakumo-goto played an important role in the proselytizing movement of the missionary Oshi. (honorary messenger of the gods). Traveling around Japan, he preached the word of Okuninushi-no-mikoto while strumming holy songs on the Yakumo-goto. In the end of the Tokugawa period and the beginning of the Meiji period, the use of the Yakumo-goto spread rapidly, reaching a peak in the age of Takatomi Senge, the 80th Kokuso. Takatomi Senge also served as the superintendent priest for Western Japan, a very high post in the Meiji Restoration government`s Shrine Department. As a politician, he reached the position of Minister of Justice. Hereupon, a heated dispute arose between Takatomi Senge and the Shinto Bureau over which the gods should be worshiped. When it was formed in 1875, the Shinto Bureau, led by Mr. Yoritsune Tanaka, head priest of the Ise Shrine, decided that the major gods to be worshiped would be the Zokanosanshin ( Three creators : Amenominakanushi-no-kami, Takamimusubi-no-kami, Kamimusubi-no-kami) and the sun goddess Amaterasu-Omikami. The goddess Amaterasu became the most important and central enshrined in the Naiku of the Ise Shrine, gathering the nation`s reverence. Senge was a strong proponent of includingthe worship of Okuninushi-no-mikoto, the grand god of the Izumo Taisha, and became involved in a heated dispute with the head priest Tanaka of the Ise Shrine. In February of 1881, the dispute was seemingly settled by an Imperial edict, but Senge felt strongly that an independent proselytizing attitude was necessary for the worship of Okuninushi-no-mikoto. In May of 1882, Senge broke away from the Shinto Bureau and founded the Shinto Taisha sect, assuming the post of the first superintendent priest. Senge, with indomitable resolve, passed the post of Kokuso to his younger brother, Takanori Senge.*7 In this process, Kotonushi Nakayama lost his most powerful patron, vanishing established appraisal and the high stage in the Izumo Taisha.
Kotonushi Nakayama went home alone to Doi Village, and lived in solitude in his later years, only to pray to the gods through playing the Yakumo-goto.

Notes

*1. Chased by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto returned to the upper world with the god Susanoo-no-mikoto`s daughter, the goddess Suserihime-no-mikoto, and commenced to build the world. Later, at Inasa Beach, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto ceded his land peacefully to the god Ninigi-no-mikoto who was dispatched from Takama-ga-hara (the Japanese Olympus), the land of the gods ruled by the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami. The goddess Amaterasu-Omikami praised the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto for his act of sincerity and built a palace for him at the present-day location of the Izumo Taisha Shrine, entrusting the conduct of religious ceremonies to the god Ame-no-hohi-no-mikoto.
The head priest of the Izumo Taisha, called the Kokuso who inherits the spirit of the god Ame-no-hohi-no-mikoto and thus possesses both a human and a divine aspect, plays the role of an intermediary between the people and the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto. That is, the Kokuso delivers the people`s wishes to the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto by worshiping this god, and by serving the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto, he received the love and blessing of the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto for the people.
As a priest, when praying for the granting of the people`s wishes, and as the Ame-no-hohi-no-mikoto, when receiving the love and the blessing of the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto, he informs the people that the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto will bless them with spiritual power. In fact the role as an intermediary for the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto is of great importance to both the Kokuso of Izumo and the Izumo Taisha. By transferring his land to the god Ninigi-no-mikoto, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto enables the spirit of the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami to succeed from the god Ninigi-no-mikoto to the Imperial line, thus giving the Tenno (Emperor) divine status. Through this process, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto retired from this world to protect the Emperor`s land from the hidden world (the land of dimness, expressed as the land of origin in Japanese mythology).
The head priest of Izumo succeeds the spirit of the god Ame-no-hohi-no-mikoto who worships the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto with both humanity and divinity, as well as the Emperor, who inherits the divinity of the god Ninigi-no-mikoto. The god Okuninushi-no-mikoto represents the divinity of the deities in the land of dimness, and the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto, the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, and the god Ameno-hohi-no-mikoto are connected with such Takama-ga-hara deities as the god Ninigi-no-mikoto and the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami. The divinities of Takama-ga-hara and the land of origin are peacefully united at the Izumo Taisha by the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto. Therefore, the Izumo Taisha is located at the point where the hidden world touches this world, and can be regarded as a place of worship where the deities of both worlds meet to create harmony. For that reason, it seems quite natural that Kotonushi Nakayama created a two-string koto at the Izumo Taisha, where he was inspired by the poem of "many layered fence" composed by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto.

*2. When the classicist Mr. Shigetane Suzuki, stayed at the house of Mr. Masataru Hiraoka, assistant head priest at the Izumo Taisha, on May 13, 1858, Kotonushi Nakayama came to visit. The two men stayed together until the 17th, visiting the shrines and purifying themselves at Inasa Beach. The extremely pious Shigetane Suzuki, under the tutelage of Mr. Atsutane Hirata, took a positive approach to research and writing. While studying the Japanese classics, he traveled around Japan to survey the actual sites of events in antiquity the age of the gods. His representative works are Norito-kogi (Discourse on Shinto Prayer) and Nihon-shokiden, a study of the Nihon-shoki (Chronicles of Japan). These records reflect the entire history of Japan from the beginning of the world to the year 697, and were compiled for the Imperial family in 720. The literary scholar Mr. Masakage Nakaomi and Mr. Fumikiyo Sakusa of the same priestly family came to this house and amused themselves with poetry readings, performances of the Yakumo-goto, and drinking parties. Mr. Nakaomi and Mr. Sakusa wrote the book on the Yakumo-goto entitled "Yakumo kinpu".

*3. The god Okuninushi-no-mikoto is the chief god of the Izumo Taisha. In Japanese mythology, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto is a god among 80 gods called Yaso-kami. According to Kojiki, the record of ancient matters of Japan, the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto is persecuted by his half-brother Yaso-kami, and escapes to the nether world of the god Susanoo-no-mikoto. However, at the hands of the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, he is also subjected to such ordeals as being put in a room of centipedes, wasps, and snakes. When the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto trys to escape with the god Susanoo-no-mikoto`s daughter, the goddess Suserihime-no-mikoto (First princess), bearing the iku-tachi (the sword) and the iku-yumiya (the bow and the arrow), and carrying the Ame-no-Norigoto (the koto), the koto brushes a tree and wakes the god Susanoo-no-mikoto. Chased by the god Susanoo-no-mikoto, they return to the upper world, whereupon the god Okuninushi-no-mikoto commences to build the world. The iku-tachi and the iku-yumiya were treasured weapons, and the Ame-no-Norigoto was a treasured Shinto ritualistic instrument.

*4. The gods of Japanese mythology represent the power of nature. The power of nature is expressed in many forms, such as people, animals, and birds. These forms are then given a god`s name. Mountains, stones, rocks and snakes are also symbols of the deification of nature`s power. I think that Japanese have the habit of seeing nature as a blessing, especially when looking at the mountains or the sea. Japanese pray to the mysterious mountain`s and sea`s power to protect them. The power of nature is called various names in different regions.
There are some cases of deification of humans. For example, Mr. Michizane Sugawara, a scholar and politician ( 845-903 ), become the god of learning. General Maresuke Nogi ( 1849-1912 ), distinguished himself in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, as the god of war. And the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo is famous for enshrining the Meiji Tenno (Emperor).
With regards to the Emperor, I will touch briefly on His Imperial Majesty, Tenno. Before the Pacific War, Japanese worshipped His Imperial Majesty as a god incarnate. After the War, The Late Emperor Showa declared that he was a human being. In Japan of today, Tenno is the symbol of the State under the Constitution. Tenno is also a sacred character who represents the unity of the Japanese people. On the 23rd of November, every year, His Imperial Majesty conducts the Harvest Festival. Tenno offers the new crop of rice to the Japanese gods. Tenno symbolically harvests rice, as he has been asked to do by the gods in mythology, and asks the farmers to help with this sacred work. In this symbolic ceremony, Tenno is respected as the mediator between the god and the Japanese people. He has been given this authority by the gods and can therefore bless the bounty of the harvest. Let me report that this is no more than ceremony.

Japanese gods are different from monotheism. We feel sacred power in nature, such as the sound of wind blowing through the tops of trees, the sea along the beach and the falling of blossoms. We experience divine feelings through these sounds of nature, and are thus influenced and better able to find our way in human life.
In the process of finding our way, we endeavor to become very calm, like the surface of water. By keeping a calm mind, we hope to produce harmony in the universe, and in all living things, such as the land, and even the spirits of our ancestors. To produce more and more harmony, Japanese try to maintain calmness, and in this process, transcend life and death, feeling only the sound of wind and waves. We can melt into nature, forgetting our own situations, and feel that we are heading for nothing, the same as a deep sacred zone. Touching the sacred power in nature, Japanese notice the god. By becoming enveloped by nature, we can reach the sacred world, a world that expresses unification of humans and nature.
With these thoughts and feelings, Japanese produced unique artistic practices, such as Noh theater, Tea Ceremony, and Flower Arranging. Through these spiritual practices, human became united with nature`s power. In Noh theater, the performer enters a world of subtlety and depth through the refinement of Noh dance and the solemn sound of slow tempo Noh songs. A Noh player maintains a noble beauty and serene calm even when playing parts that represent murder and demons, and, as such, he takes his audience to the sacred world that surrounds Noh theater. A Noh actor is deified as the symbol of good or evil and the audience is touched by this sacredness. The founder of the Tea Ceremony is Juko Murata ( 1422-1502 ), who lived in the Muromachi era but it is also said that Sen-no-Rikyu ( 1522-1591 ) established the world of Wabi-cha ( The Taste for Simplicity and Quietness ). A devotee of the tea cult aims at simplification of the surrounding world and at self-purification in order to access the sacred region through his style, behavior, rituals and his way of dealing with the objects used for serving tea.
There are a few different schools of Flower Arrangement in Japan. Each of these schools insists more upon its spirituality than upon the skillfulness of the flower arrangement. First, a trainee will sit down in front of a flower vase or bowl and will endeavor to compose himself or herself. At this time the trainee will try to get in harmony with nature and with the world. The trainee is going to unite with the universe and express the whole world, including himself or herself using flowers as the material. Flower Arrangement expresses each trainee`s universe and his or her sacred world through the act of putting flowers in a vase or a bowl. At the same time, the trainee is purified through this flower arrangement.
Even in Kendo, Japanese fencing, it is said that the sword is not for killing but for experiencing the sacred. "Ken" means sword, and "do" means the way of human life. The sword was used in the battlefield. But, through the practice of Kendo, we felt the sacred world, which would enable us to transcend sorrow and suffering, and give us tranquility. It is said that Kendo has an aspect of religious practice. In ancient times, the Japanese sanctified the katana (sword), death and even suicide according to the Bushido (the way of the samurai). A samurai would perform suicide according to a ritual. One such strange custom is called Hara-kiri (self-disembowelment) and was performed according to the Bushido. The samurai attempted to sublimate suicide, transforming Hara-kiri in a sacred act, going to a sacred place, and honoring the spirit of respect and service to his "Tonosama" (his Lord ). As such the samurai elicited respect as the Flower of Bushido. This conferred sacredness and inviolability upon the death of the samurai. Those who were present at the Hara-kiri ceremony felt themselves touched by its holiness. On the 25th of November in 1970, the famous writer Yukio Mishima performed Hara-kiri in the room of the Inspector General of the Eastern area of the Japanese-self-defense-Forces to petition for amendments to the National Constitution. General Maresuke Nogi also performed Hara-kiri at the demise of Meiji Tenno (The Meiji Emperor), in 1912. The Japanese are not a warlike people. The Japanese are not cold-blooded. Japanese stare at katana and feel life and death. Japanese symbolize katana enclosing life and death, including life and death. In the sparkle of the katana, Japanese touch the sacred feeling and transcend life and death through the katana`s beauty. At this time, the katana becomes a sacred sword for Japanese.
There is a word in Japanese : Kamu-nagara in Japanese. Kamu-nagara means that the Japanese people should live only according to the god`s will and obey the sacred rules of conduct under any circumstances. According to that rule of conduct the Japanese people should entrust themselves to fate and be prepared whatever may happen. All which happens transcends the will of human beings, and the Japanese people think that any event is a manifestation of the god`;s will. The Japanese people threw themselves on everything beyond human knowledge, unlooked-for misfortune and fortune, to a degree that exceeds imagination. There is a proverb, which states the following: "Do your best and leave the rest in the hands of God". How are the Japanese people able to enter into the sacred world, Kamu-nagara ? The Japanese people recognize the shadow of the gods in the power of nature. To reach the world of Kamu-nagara the Japanese people endeavor to unite with nature, coming to naught of self-consciousness as much as possible.
While training their minds in such a way the Japanese people reach emancipation from the ego, just as if they were melting into nature. With the Yakumo-goto the Japanese people make arrangements for entering into the world of Kamu-nagara, while playing the Yakumo-goto and hearing its sound echoed in their calm minds. For this reason the Yakumo-goto has been used to devote prayer to the gods and has been called "A Shrine of Sound".
The Japanese use to say, "when you look with serenity at death`s face, you will be able to find your way out of it". It also means that if we are able to reach complete selflessness we will be immersed in a sacred air of blessings. The Japanese call it "Absolute being". They often say, "All is vanity and vanity is matter". This, actually, is a quote from the "The Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya Sutra" of Buddhist scriptures. These phrases are deeply revered by the Japanese, and have had a great influence on the Japanese outlook on the universe.
"Vanity" is deified and, as such, it bears a great influence on the way life and death are perceived. Therefore, the Japanese people always associate their sacred feelings with own place in nature. Japanese always attempt to identify with the tranquility of nature, closing their eyes to calm down their minds. When attaining a spiritual state of perfect selflessness, they can feel the freshness of the air and the infinity of space and they become intimately united with nature. Nature and the Japanese are one and indivisible.
When they are in such a spiritual state of perfect selflessness they can feel the fresh air, listen to the shrill cry of a bird or the subtle sound of a drop of water falling on a rock, sanctify even a rustle of leaves in the wind, they then become able to perceive the purified and sacred world in which they live and they can transcend the various difficulties they face in the reality of everyday life.
A samurai, Masatsune Ogishi mastered the mysteries of the chained sickle, a kind of arms. Ogishi was a younger brother of Kotonushi Nakayama, and his koto performer`s name was Motogoto. He had two sickles, a large one and a short one on the tips of which weights were hanging. The weights are designed to be thrown at the enemy`s arms, then pull the enemy close and decapitate him with the sickle. The dimensions of the large scythe are with a blade 27 cm and 67 cm whole long while the short one`s blade is 16 cm and it`s length 43 cm ; the grip looks like that of a saber. An engraving on the scythe reads "Ogishi the originator of the Yakumo style". It seems that there was also a school that taught the Ogishi sickle style. In the Divine Comedy of the Yakumo-goto world, the notion of life and death proper to the martial arts, gradually blended in the heart of Masatsune Ogishi. A samurai, Ogishi contributed some writings to the subject of the Yakumo-goto in the Yakumo-kinpu as follows.
"On the orders of the two Great Gods, Izanagi and Izanami, the god Susanoo was ordered to build and rule a magnificent country and received for that purpose a sword, a bow and a arrow, and Ame-no-Norigoto belonging to the god`s treasure. Armed with those the sacred three objects of supernatural powers, the god Okuninushi and the goddess Suserihime set out for the great work of building such a country. When the great master Kotonushi Nakayama was young, he loved military arts and he struck the door of one of its sub-group schools in order to reach to their innermost secret. When he attained that secret he realized that he could beautifully play with a five note scales as playing perfectly six scales and, as he was perfectly familiar with the 12 scales he could decide in the middle of his struggle to how to advance and retreat in the battlefield to hear the struggle`s voice and the sounds of a fierce battle like sounds of the melodies. Mr. Kotonushi Nakayama thus found the way of performing all the melodies of the tempered scales. After many years of practice on the bamboo koto he reached its sacred character of the Yakumo-goto. He visited the Izumo Shrine with the intention of paying his respect to the Great god Okuninushi and to honor the god Okuninushi in his very dwelling, with the sound of those scales. In then built the Yakumo-goto there for the first time to achieve that goal. Although since a childhood, I have been urged to practice martial arts and read extensively, I was never given a chance to learn the sounds of a tempered scale. As I had heard of the miraculous power of the god`s koto for ruling and administer the country and as I had no clue as to the origin of that supernatural power, I decided to find out about those magic powers of the Yakumo-goto. As the years went by, I am becoming able to recognize the subtle differences in the tuning of those scales. Furthermore, as I deepened the practice of the Yakumo-goto, as well as researching the roots of military arts, I could understand the secrets of military arts and music of the Yakumo-goto. As I continued praying day after day and month after month the god finally delivered to the secret of the Heavenly Decree Chained Sickle called Ame-no-yaegama, and as I could penetrate the mystery of the Ogishi style I was also given liberty and purity of a samurai as the blessing of the god. I still have many remaining fears, but I was deeply moved by the sacred nature of the Yakumo-goto and the blessing of the Great God. Performing the two ways of the Yakumo-goto and the Ogishi Chained Sickle, whose styles are prospering, I prayed to the gods for the seas to be quiet and to be granted a long life for myself." - That phrase is signed by Yakumo Ogishi Masatsune.

*5 At the recommendation of the Kokuso, Kotonushi Nakayama, who was not blessed with a child, adopted Tariho, the second son of Mr. Masaakira Kato, a priest at the Izumo Taisha. However, Tariho was not fond of the Yakumo-goto, and regardless, he didn`t have children, so the Kato line died out.

*6 The Meiji Restoration posed a serious threat to the old system, also religious music. Through the policy of the Meiji Government, the Tennoji Temple Music Office in Osaka was abolished, along with the Imperial Music Office and the Nanto Music office in Nara, thus putting musicians out on the street. Temples themselves were uncertain of their own fate in the midst of an anti-Buddhist movement, which resulted in the destruction of many temples. The priest Myoniyo of Nishihonganji Temple in Kyoto made a donation to the Imperial Household, by asking that his temple be left undisturbed. In April of 1879, Buddhist-related parties gathered at the Shitennoji Temple in Osaka to plan political action to ensure the survival of their religion. Musicians were forced to sell off their gagaku costumes and musical instruments to support themselves. However, they were bought by wealthy parishioners living around Nanba and Shimanouchi in Osaka, who later donated them to Garyokai (Garyo Gagaku Association) when it was founded by the head priest, Shoin Ono of the Gansenji Temple in Osaka, as a continuance of the Tennoji Temple Music Office.

*7 The ex-Kokuso of the Izumo-Taisha Takatomi Senge formed the Izumo Taisha Keishinko (Piety Association), which was the predecessor of the current Izumo Taisha-kyo religious movement. The basic spirit of his teachings was represented by faith in the god Okuni-nushi, belief in a way of life which allows transcendence of life and death, attainment of a well-administered country, a tranquil spirit reached through harmonious compromise, and reverence for one`s ancestors. These teachings were seen as the way to attain : salvation, a secure state, and a prosperous foundation of Imperial rule. The enlightened nature of the Shinto Taisha sect is evident in the way in which the sect joined with such new religions as Tenri-kyo, Konko-kyo and Omoto-kyo, which grew out of the soul of Japanese folk beliefs to devote themselves to proselytizing in the final years of the Tokugawa period and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Izumo Taisha kyo produced the book Izumo Fudoki ( Chronicle of Izumo ), their answer to the government produced Kojiki and Nihon-shoki, in which can be felt the historical uniqueness of the gods and spirit of the Izumo Taisha. The spread of the Yakumo-goto can be thought to have relied greatly on the beliefs and enlightened nature of the Izumo Taisha. The followers of the Taisha don white robes and perform ablutions at Inasa Beach on bitter cold winter nights. The people, who are trying to receive divine inspiration and succor, tightly grasp sand in both hands and pray to the sea. The priest conducting the ceremony uses a paper lantern to signal to the devotees when to proceed and when to stop. The devotees proceed without a word, with the tranquil silence of the night disturbed only by the whisper of hundreds of feet shuffling across the sand.

By Hideki Kubota








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