Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mystery of Shozen Shin

This is another guest post by Mr. Trouble. And this is precisely what happens when you allow a proud Shinto freak take over your blog for a day. Having said that, I must admit that Mr. Trouble did a fabulous job writing about a very local, little-known Shinto god.

It’s always been a controversial issue whether dogs are superior to cats or vice versa. I can say I love both because I (and I was born in the year of the Dog, by the way) understand that each human companion has its own mission: “Dogs be ambitiously obedient and smart. Cats be sexy, noble and useless”, I can has cheezburger, says.

The other day I took my parents’ dog for a walk. His name is Daisuke and this is the name my parents couldn't give their human sons. Why? Their human son was named not by them, but by a priest at Futaara shrine in Nikko.

My parents took me there shortly after I was born and my name is what the priest decided I should have. It also happens to be absolutely non-international and almost every single foreigner bites his tongue when pronouncing my name for the first time.

Anyway, when we go for a walk, my youngest brother, Daisuke, settles himself at particular points where he does his business and while waiting for his mission to be done, one object caught my eye. It’s a rather large stone with the inscription “Shôzen Shin (勝善神)”. “What the heck is that?” I asked myself… 

Shozenshin stone

勝 (Shô) means “win or superior”, 善 (Zen) means “good" or "justice" but not the meditation type of Buddhism, that’s a different kanji (禅=zen). Shin (神) means “god”.

Since we live in the 21st century, I did not have to go to the public library to look up what Daisuke’s favorite peeing point is all about. (Sorry, a lot of this stuff is available in Japanese only.)

It turned out that Shôzen Shin is a local Shinto god equivalent to a Buddhist god called “Batô Kannon” (馬頭観音), a deity which also appears in Hinduism. Unlike the other Kannon (観音), which are frequently depicted as feminine and half-asleep figures in Buddhist iconography, Batô Kannon looks scary as hell.


Image: Wikipedia Commons

“This terrifying aspect expresses compassion’s fierce determination to help us overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions,” Wiki says. Whatever.

There are a lot of incidences in Japan of syncretism between two religions, and Batô Kannon and Shôzen Shin are a very good example of that.

Worshiping “Shôzen Shin” is restricted to the northern Kanto area (Tochigi, Ibaraki, and Gunma prefectures) and certain areas in Tohoku (Miyagi, Iwate and more). Even in such a relatively restricted area, the kanji description differs, although the pronunciation is nearly the same (probably due to local accents): 蒼前, 宗善, 蒼善, 正善, 惣善, 相染…

Worshiping Shôzen Shin was quite popular in the Edo through early Showa era (17th century until the 1930s).
Back then, a horse did the job of an automobile. The grandfather of your grandmother of your father had no choice but to use one horse power for everything (just imagine the engine power of your car now!!!). There was a time when the horse died while pulling a cart of veggies or rice. No “horse” insurance could cover that risk. What your ancestors did was to cry a little, eat the body, sell whatever parts they could salvage, and build a grave for their faithful horse companion. Then put the “Shôzen Shin” stone on the ancient route where the animal had dropped dead. (These days you simply go out and buy a new car…)

But why worship in a Shinto way instead of Buddhist???

Here is the complicated part of the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism in Japan.
Everybody knows that the Japanese are one of the more open-minded nations when it comes to religions. We welcome pretty much everything related to gods, and we see a divine spirit in everything from saints, criminals in jail, evil samurai, to foxes and natural even phenomena (thunder for instance), or even objects (knives, pebbles, stones, old trees, and so on). That’s what we call Shinto, and trust me, this is a very concise description.

According to Japanese myths (Kojiki and Nihon shoki), gods were created from Kagu-tsuchi’s body (迦具土神) [(eight from blood: 石折神, 根折神, 石筒之男神 (link in Spanish), 甕速日神, 樋速日神, 建御雷之男神 (link in Portuguese), 樋速日神, 建御雷之男神, head (正鹿山津見神), chest (淤縢山津見神), belly (奥山津見神), sexual organs (闇山津見神), left hand (志藝山津見神), right hand (羽山津見神), left foot (原山津見神), and right foot (戸山津見神)], and Izanami’s bodily secretions [two from her shit (波邇夜須毘古神 - link in Polish, 波邇夜須毘賣神), two from pee (彌都波能賣神, 和久産巣日神) and vomit (金山彦神 - link in Spanish)].

And there are even more that came from Izanagi: tears (泣澤女神), dead skin and wax (禍の神). After the misogi, three gods appeared from his face parts: left eye (Amaterasu-ōmikami - 天照大御神), right eye (Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto - 月読命) and nose (Susanoo-no-Mikoto - 建速須佐之男命)]. These three are called “Three noble gods”.
“She (= Amaterasu) is also said to be directly linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor, who are considered descendants of the kami themselves”, Wiki says.

The current Emperor, Akihito, is the 125th generation descendant of Emperor Jimmu(神武天皇).


Emperor Akihito - great-great-great (repeat 125 times) grandson of gods? (Image: Wikipedia)

When in the 6th century Buddhism arrived from Eurasia in Wa (倭 - ancient Japan), it incorporated domestic gods based on the honji suijyaku (本地垂迹) principle, and deities from both religions were shuffled (神仏習合)…

All right, now it’s time to organize all this information listed above, digest it and try to come to some cohesive conclusion.
I believe that there must have been some charismatic Shinto priest who was responsible for spreading the Shôzen Shin worship out in northern part of Japan. It must have been either an individual or a whole Shinto branch that had enough influence upon the local population, but it did not reach Edo (old name of Tokyo), the center of Tokugawa Japan. That’s why no descriptions are found in history books because history is written from the ruler’s (= winner) point of view.

So here is my speculation. In Tochigi, there is a local Shinto, as well as Buddhist influence of worshiping Ieyasu Tokugawa. The dude became a god in Nikko Tosho-gu (日光東照宮), and after his death we call him Tosho Daigongen.


Toshogu shrine in Nikko

Adjacent to Tosho-gu, there is the Nikko Futaara shrine (日光二荒山神社), the place where I got my name!!!

Not so many people are aware that this shrine is dedicated to the worship of three mountains: Mt. Nantai (男体山, male), Mt. Nyohou (女峰山, female), and Mt. Taro (太郎山, male). Mt. Taro is said to be the son of Nantai (husband) and Nyohou (wife). Taro is a common name for the eldest son in Japanese families.

Three mountains map

Each mountain has their own assigned gods both in Shinto and Buddhism. Mt. Nantai has Ōkuninushi (大己貴命/大国主神) as a Shinto god and Senju Kannon (千手観音) from Buddhism.

Takiri Hime (田心姫命) from Shinto and Amida Nyorai/ Amitābha (阿弥陀如来) from Buddhism are the gods assigned to Mt. Nyohou.

Ajisukitakahikone (味耜高彦根命) from Shinto and BATÔ-KANNON from Buddhism are for Mt. Taro!!! Of course in Japanese myths, Ajisukitakahikone is a real child of Ōkuninushi and Takiri Hime.

Mt nantai

Mt. Nantai to the left (taken by Mrs. Trouble while driving to work in Nikko)

Monk Shōdo is believed to be the pioneer of developing those three mountains for worship – he built the first shrine on top of Nantai and Nyoho. He also built a shrine on Taro, but a recent survey revealed an even older shrine already there, suggesting that there were more than one Shinto school developing mountains as a place for worship and for religious training. We do not yet know who built the original Taro shrine.

It could be that this party was the one who popularized the worship of Shôzen Shin.

So what's my final conclusion? I think I should ask my youngest “brother” to change his “business spot” to preserve our neighborhood Shôzen Shin stone….

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