I believe that the cultural background we grow up in, the place where we were born and the language we speak; all have an influence upon each human being. For example, I was born and raised in Japan and was exposed to the Japanese language and culture. I believe that these aspects make me different from Canadian people and any other nationalities. All those born in Canada have been influenced by Canadian culture, language, and geography, whereas I am influenced by Japanese culture, language, and geography. This can be supported by my personal experiences.
Canadian students tend to be encouraged to question or discuss any issues,
Japanese students are not encouraged to do so, but instead are suppose to
memorize historical facts and issues. For example, during my education in Japan,
I had to memorize word for word what the texts said. I was not asked to
questions what I read in each text because the teachers encouraged us to
memorize what was written and the exam formats were designed to illustrate how
much information students had have memorized. As I demonstrated above, I believe
that these different attributes effect how people think differently.
use of my Japanese background, I will discuss the differences of interpretation
of Japanese religion amongst Japanese authors and Western authors. I have chosen
three issues to explore further, which includes the interpretation of the origin
of religion in Japan, the year that Japan became organized society, whether it
was before the introduction of Buddhism or after, and the relationship between
Japanese nationalism and imperialism.
have chosen these issues to focus on because amongst them I found the most
conflicts of interpretation. In addition, I have been always interested in
examining these three issues since I was in Japan, but I did not have an
opportunity to do so. I believe that discussing these issues is important
because I am a Japanese person; I can compare the different ways of
interpretation of religion in Japan between Western authors and Japanese
authors, not only from the books, but also with my personal experiences as a
Japanese person. In addition, I can choose the texts that are written in
Japanese and English to help illustrate the different ways of interpretations of
the religion in Japan.
compare the Japanese religion focusing on three issues between Japanese authors
and Western authors effectively, I will use introductory textbooks of Japanese
religion that contain the same topics for comparison. I have chosen the text, Japanese
Religion: Unity and Diversity,
written by Dr.Earhart as a main source that represents a Western author’s
point of view. My reason for using
Dr. Earhart is because he is a well-known scholar in field of religion in Japan
and I found that he has a wide variety of knowledge regarding such things as
Japanese people, the history and the culture. This can be supported by the fact
that he was asked to write an introductory textbook by Frederick J. Streng, who
is an editor for Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity.
Also, according to the Web of Science- citation database, Dr. Earhart
books are cited twelve times by different authors. The year for these citations
is ranging from 1969 to the present.
of Dr.Earhart questions were also concerned with the origin of religion in
Japan. Dr.Earhart questioned the notion of what were the earliest forms of
Japanese religion and how were they related to economic, social, and political
developments in early Japan. Dr. Earhart is also concerned with how Shinto and
Buddhism are related to the earliest Japanese religious traditions (Earhart,
chose the first issue in regards to Dr. Earhart’s understanding of the origin
of religion in Japan because his interpretation and the Japanese author’s
clearly conflicts. For example, Japanese textbooks state that, “People believe
that there are sprits in the rivers, mountains, trees and glass and those
spirits have a power to control the nature and give problems to human beings”
(Gendaisyakaini Okeru Ningen to Bunka, 20). Another example is, “Animism is
the beginning of the religion in Japan” (Hamajima, 20). I have learned that
fact while I was in school in Japan.
second issue is regarding to when Japan became an organized society and weather
it was before the introduction of Buddhism in Japan or after. According to a
Japanese textbook, in 239 AD, the
Queen of Yamataikoku named Himiko, organized the community, which is now known
as Kyushu in Japan. Although there were other small communities, Yamataikoku was
the most advanced organized society. Himiko was deemed Shaman, who could make
contact with the spirits (Shinsyou Nihonshi, 23). This historical and
archeological fact can be supported by three Chinese records which lead us to
believe that by the third century A.D., there were a number of tribal
principalities in the Japanese archipelago and that there was a female shamanic
ruler, Himiko which in Japanese means the sun daughter or sun princess who
reigned over one of the principalities in Yamatai (Kitagawa, 99, Kitagawa, 6).
existence is important because it shows us that there was a Queen who organized
the community around 239 AD. before the introduction of Buddhism in Japan.
However, according to Dr. Earhart, he believes that it was “645 AD, Taikano
kaishin, is the first time that Japan had an organized community”.
Earhart notes in his book that:
many centuries the religious traditions and
within the Japanese islands were loosely
around family lines, with no central
without even a common name.
the imperial family and its tradition
to be considered supreme over all other
but still no name was given to the
larger or smaller traditions. Not until Buddhism
and advanced Chinese culture entered Japan
the middle of the sixth century) was
there any need to distinguish the old traditional
practice from any contrasting cults (Earhart, 30).
we can see, there are different ways of interpreting of the naming of Japan as
an organized society, before the introduction of Buddhism. For Japanese authors,
they named Yamataikoku (239 AD) as an organized community, whereas Dr.Earhart
named Taikano Kaishin (645 AD) as an organized community.
examine this dispute is important because it shows us the different ways of
interpretation of the word “organized community”. For example, according to
Dr. Earhart, organized community means the society, which has an organized
government system. Examples of an organized government system can be Jyuu
nanajyouno kenhou, which is the seventeen rules of social rules, and Ikai sei,
which are the 30 statuses that people were given from the government. On the
other hand, for Japanese authors, meaning of the word “organized community “
does not necessarily include huge governmental change or rules that gave
different status levels to people. As I demonstrated above, the different
translation of the words can affect how Dr. Earhart and Japanese authors think
final issue that I propose to examine is the relationship between Japanese
nationalism and imperialism. This topic seems to be the most controversial even
amongst Japanese people. I will discuss the different ways of elucidating them
and examine what kind of sources Dr. Earhart and Japanese authors use to assist
have chosen this issue as my final topic because since I was studying in Japan,
I have been very interested in examining this issue. However, I was not
encouraged to do so, but now I can discuss this without worrying about being
criticized about speaking out examining emperor by saying something I should
not. Especially since my father is a policeman, I am not supposed to criticize
the emperor in public. Although there are books criticizing the emperor, it
seems to me that it is still not considered an appropriate thing to do. Japanese
people still tend to not be able to criticize the emperor in Japan and it seems
to me that the expression of freedom is still limited by the Japanese Education
Ministry. For example, there is not a lot of information about the fact that
Japanese soldiers have killed so many people in an inhumanly way, especially
during the War with China and Korea. I know that there are people who claim that
we should educate people with the textbooks including good and bad thing that
Japanese people experienced. Sometimes, I hear that some of the Japanese history
textbooks are not accepted from the Japanese Education Ministry because they
contain some controversial issues including criticizing the Japanese government
or the emperor.
Earhart and Japanese authors interpret the relationship between nationalism and
imperialism differently and it can show us that their opinions are influenced by
the sources that the authors used and their translation of them.
Earhart notes that:
today in the United States there remains a
conception that the cause of the war was
According to this view, because Shinto
worship of an emperor-God,
soldiers were bound to follow the
command to extend the Japanese
into foreign lands. However, this exaggeration
is more representation of American wartime wears
of the actual situation in Japan (Earhart, 156).
do not think that it is an exaggeration. I have heard the story of the emperor
being an equal to God. My grandparents in Japan believe that those who have
fought in a War for an emperor are like those who fight for God. I think it is
true that we ought to believe that the emperor is our God because of the
explanations that the emperor as descendent of the Sun Goddess from the Shinto
story. I also believe that the Japanese people have a strong collective
consciousness that has helped to create the notion of the emperor being equal to
God. For example, everyone did what was expected of him or her and if you did
not do what was expected, you become segregated from society and treated as if
you did not exist. With the belief that the emperor is God, people were inclined
to die for God. Totukoutai and Himeyurino tou are two examples of people who
committed suicide and give their life to protect the Japanese emperor (Gendaisyakaini
Okeru Ningen to Bunka, 202).
I do not have a Japanese introductory textbook at the moment, and cannot
demonstrate how these three issues are presented differently from Dr.
Earhart’s book in this paper. I will have the text when I go back to Japan and
then I will add it to this paper. When I analyze the Japanese introductory
textbook, I will use the same method that is to examine each issues and find out
what the Japanese authors say, which source they use and how they interpret
intend to compare how and why the Japanese authors and Dr. Earhart interpret the
three issues that I discussed earlier differently. It seems to me that there are
three reasons why the differences happen. First, the important point or focusing
point that Dr. Earhart and Japanese authors have, are different. For example,
Dr. Earhart believes that the relationship between the Chinese influences and
the Japanese religion is essential, so he wrote based upon his own beliefs and
it is important. This is why Dr. Earhart interpret the word organized society as
the one which has the organized government systems such as Jyuu nanajyouno
kenhou which is the seven teen rules of social rules and Ikai sei which is the
30 status that people were given from the government.
the previous knowledge of the students can affect the way that authors write.
For example, comparing to Japanese students and American students, Japanese
students have learned about Japanese culture, the history and the religion
throughout their education. On the other hand, I think that most American
students are new to the Japanese culture, history
religion because of lack of exposure. Therefore, Japanese authors write an
introductory textbook assuming that they have good previous understanding of the
knowledge about Japan. On the other hand, as Dr. Earhart said, he explains basic
knowledge of religion in Japan as well as culture in his book. In addition, Dr.
Earhart mentioned that to avoid students becoming confused, he is not
explicating a lot about the issue of Japanese ingenuous people that are the Ainu
and Okinawa people, when he discuss the prehistoric religion in Japan.
the interpretation can affect the meaning of the sources. Dr. Earhart uses many
books written by Japanese authors that have been translated into English. He or
other western interpreters translate some of books that Dr. Earhart uses.
Translating words is very difficult. For example, the word Iikaeru in
Japanese can have different meaning and it is very hard to translate in English.
Iikaeru can be meant to say the same thing again or to say a different thing
again. In another context, it can be said as Ii kaeru which means that, “ No,
I am going home”, or it can also mean, “ Good frog”. Like English, even
though it is the same word, some of the Japanese words can have very different
meanings and in order to translate these words, the person must have good
understanding of Japanese language.
though we discuss the same topics, there are different ways of interpretations
and opinions. I believe that it is because every one of us has our own unique
individual experiences including culture, language, and geography.
If we could find out how other people’s experiences have affected them, in
regards to how they interpret Japanese history, culture and religion, I believe
that we can understand Japanese religion more and from a different prospective.