Is Shinto Why Japan Finds Social Justice Confusing?


In continuing in my study of Japanese culture and why feminism despises it. I think its appropriate to look at its native religion. The reason for this is out of all of the other world religions it is the only one other than Hinduism that is polytheistic and still surviving. However, India has gone full blown feminist and has actually been shown to be in a worse state than we are dealing with here in the West (As evidenced in the Fireside Chat with Jyoti Tiwari). My understanding through talking to various friends and colleagues has been that feminism isn’t as successful with splitting the genders apart as they have been. I’m attributing this to the nature of Shinto.

In Japan, the religion is simply called Shinto because ‘Shintoism’ is redundant as Shinto (Using the kanji 神 and 道) translates to “Way of the Gods,” so saying ‘Shintoism’ makes it “Way of the Way of the Gods.” The religion, like many polytheistic pagan faiths, is spread mainly through oral tradition. However, there are texts on the subject, the main one we’ll be pulling from for this article will be “Shinto: The Way of the Gods,” by William G Aston, published in 1905 originally. It is public domain and fairly easy to find cheaply or even for free online. There have been multiple reprints of the tome over the past century with very little to no change due to its overall accuracy in the study of the faith structure from a Western viewpoint. We will also be looking into this from Japanese texts such as the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki which can be equated to the Torah more or less.

To begin we’ll look at their creation myth, unlike most this simply looks at the creation of Japan and not the whole of the world. It can actually be  considered a primitive way of comprehending the islands of Japan splitting off of China and Korea in a pre-scientific age. The story goes as follows:

In the beginning, the world was divided between Takamagahara, the heavens, and the Earth. Many gods came to be in the heavens, but the earth remained a bleak chaotic shell. The gods in Takamagahara charged Izanagi and Izanami with forming the world and creating the deities that would populate the realms (henceforth called kami). After creating the islands that make up Japan, they set to create the kami. Everything went well at first; the kami of nature were formed at this time. Then Izanami gave birth to the kami of flame Kagutsuchi, and she suffered horrible burns that caused her to fall ill and eventually die.

Izanagi buried Izanami on Mt. Hiba, which is on the border of Izumo and Hoki, and her spirit descended to Yomi-no-kuni, the underworld. Now that Izanami was gone, Izanagi missed her terribly. He decided to journey to underworld to bring her back. He followed the dark path to its gates, where Izanami came out to greet him while staying in the shadows.

Izanagi said, “My dear Izanami, our creation is unfinished. Come back with me so that we may complete what we have begun together.”

To which Izanami responded sadly: “I want to go with you, but you’re too late. I have already eaten of the food of this land, and I can no longer go back with you.” Then, giving it some further thought, she said, “You came all the way here to bring me back, and I really do want to go back with you, so I’ll talk to the lord of this land about it. You have to wait here while we’re talking, and you must not look in on me.” Not once stepping out from the shadows to where he could see her fully.

Izanagi agreed, and waited patiently, for a time. But he finally got to a point where he could wait no longer, and breaking a tooth off of the comb he wore in his hair, he fashioned a torch and entered the realm of the dead. When he at last found her, he was shocked by her appearance. She was rotten and crawling with maggots, and eight hideous gods of thunder were hanging on to her body. Terrified, Izanagi decided to flee back to the land of the living.

“I told you not to look, and yet you ignored me! You will pay for the shame you have caused me!” shouted Izanami, and ordered the evil hags of the underworld to chase after him.

The story then continues to show the mourning of Izanagi over his wife and birthing the three most important kami from his grief. Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun born from his right eye. Tsukuyomi, God of the Moon born from his left eye. Then Susano-O, God of Storms born from him blowing his nose. Even at this point the inherent humor of a Japanese mindset apparent. This also shows how Japanese culture is formed to cleanly and openly admit the vulnerabilities of men and boys by showing the loss and grief of its creator god for its creator goddess, not once putting the male over the female or vice versa.

In addition, this is effectively them showing marriage as an institution as ’till death,’ which also explains as  a whole why in Japan divorce is a decidedly more difficult action to take. They view the act itself as a different type of dying act. The act isn’t shamed in the same way it is in Abrahamic faiths, considering that in conjunction with Bushido each day is a new death. Yet this is merely the beginning of the story.

Let’s now study the structure among the three main kami that were made in the end of this myth.

To begin the first, Amaterasu O-Mikami. kami of the Sun and progenitor of the Imperial Yamato clan. Every emperor of Japan has traced their lineage back to her and is seen as the most important kami. Let me restate this, in the state religion of Japan, Shinto, the most important god is a goddess – a female. This reinforces my prior article that stated Japanese culture as openly matriarchal.

The second, Tsukuyomi No-Mikoto, kami of the moon is also the technically separated husband of his sister Amaterasu. The incest is strong with this one. The explanation given for the distance between the two being Tsukuyomi’s killing of the kami of food, Uke Mochi, due to how she created a banquet for the two at the time newlyweds. She essentially vomited out the meal for them after looking at the traditional food sources. Granted, I’d be disturbed as well, I’m not so sure killing them would have been the best course of action. Then again, this is a religious myth, but the story given here is important to our subject due to the fact that Tsukuyomi, a man, is punished by his wife for killing a woman. I say this being the case disproves any hypothesis of Japan as a patriarchal nation.

Now, how about the third god? Sure we may have already thoroughly proven our point here but it wouldn’t be fair to just stop at the two. Susano-O No-Mikoto is the kami of the sea and storms. As the last of the three siblings born of the grief of their father over Izanami’s descent into the underworld, he is typically the most mocked of the three. Depicted as a brute and insensitive, he infuriated his sister at one time, after which she left and hid. This is obviously an allegory for storm clouds blotting out the sun. This legend is taken further by the idea that after this happens he is exiled from the heavens to the Earth. This leading into the Yamata-no-Orochi legend in which he defeats the 8 headed reptilian beast for the hand of Kushinada as his bride. This is the earliest hero-styled legend in Japanese written lore through the Nihon Shoki, meaning here is where we get a prime example of male disposability that Japan had to work to fix.

This was, of course, cleared up throughout the Heian era somewhat by working towards the culture discussing and coming to the understanding that both men and women were disposable and important in equal ways. That understanding lead to various advisers to the imperial court through various miko, onmyoji, and monks, not to mention the fact that geisha were often confidants, which is how kunoichi had the most success with either assassinations or spying: They were disguised as geisha. This also applies to men as there were male geisha in the past as well, to satisfy the desires of homosexual men of status in the culture. However, this is a subject for another article.

I will finish this up by going into how this affects current views of Japanese culture to what we deal with in the West as Social Justice. The myths depicted show equal positives and negatives of important figures of both sexes. In addition to this, it has depicted the mingling of gods and mortals which can be interpreted easily as interracial marriage. As such it’s apparent that interracial coupling was never much of a taboo although these legends also encourage incest. To be generous we can interpret this as a “do as you wish” attitude towards love and sex, with their openness towards mocking both men and women goes to show why there is more equality of comedy between men and women in Japanese media. This is  evidenced by the newcomer comedy award by the BBC radio being a Japanese woman by the name of Yuriko Kotani, whose act uses a surprising amount of sarcasm coupled with self-deprecation. That’s right, an example of a woman who is actually willing to mock herself for comedic purposes. Who knew?

With this in mind, it’s no wonder Japan seems to be confused by the ideas of SJWs. This is because as we can see from their specific religion the culture is one of humility and stoicism with a touch of open minded playfulness via a live and let live attitude. As always please give your opinions in the comments and feel free to expand on what I’ve presented here as it will only help! Hmmm, maybe I’ll look into Japanese comedy next?

Alex Tinsley
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About the author

Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.

<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="154925">3 comments</span>

  • Interesting, although ” the mingling of gods and mortals which can be interpreted easily as interracial marriage” is a bit of a stretch.
    Traditionally the wife takes ALL of the husbands income and manages the “family” money, giving the husband an allowance, sometimes barely enough to get through the day. Hardly evidence of Patriarchal dominance.

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