Monday, 26 September 2011

Research into Kami and Japanese Mythology...

I was sent a link from Phil and Chris that was super helpful when it comes to Japanese mythology. I'm a bit stumped for where to start researching so being pointed towards these spirits called Kami is a great help.

The link was for a programme on BBC iPlayer from Radio 4, and it was about the history of Shinto, a belief system that tries to match up to the religion of Buddhism.  It has no particular deity that people come to worship at its shrine, instead there are multiple spirits called Kami that they come to pray to and appease.  Kami are in no way concerned with the material world we live in, but they do enjoy being 'fed' and worshipped. These Kami are spirits of nature, they manifest in our material world as forces of nature, such as natural disasters, whenever they please because they are amoral and indifferent to us. These spirits are incredibly prideful and easily offended, they can be appeased with offerings but they have no real desire to act out any divine intervention that would benefit humanity.

After looking into Kami I've found a lot of useful information on them and other Japanese deities:

"Atsutane asked, “What’s the difference between demons and tengu, and where do the demons live?” ..."They are always flying around in the sky and causing calamities in the world. That is, if a person is evil, they increase the evil, and if the person is good, they obstruct his good deeds and cause evil thoughts to arise within him. They seek out the vanity and laziness in people and prey on those thoughts to bring about all kinds of calamities and disasters. They pervert people’s thoughts toward evil things. They deceive humans by manifesting themselves in shapes and appearances that would appeal to each person. They can change into anything: buddhas, bodhisattvas, handsome men, beautiful women, and apparitions from hell or paradise... The demons I have seen with my own eyes look like the ones in the accompanying pictures. The one moving the cart is called a dairiki [great power]. These are not the only two types but these are the types of demons that I clearly remember seeing. I don’t know the name of the other demon drawn here. I drew him as I saw him, with chains hanging from his ears. Strings hang from the hands of the demons and they lower them to cause disaster to strike whatever they touch. In addition, they seem to have fur on their heads that looks more like iron needles. They pull on the strings hanging from their hands, but they can’t catch good people with them. Also, they walk around peeking into people’s houses. These demons are infested with horseflies. Also, there are some demons that have skulls for heads. One of the reasons that kami exist is to rescue humans from all these kinds of demons running around.
This was Torakichi’s most detailed statement on demons, and some of the extant pictures show precisely what kind of beasts he was describing. Their reason for existence seemed to be to destroy good and spread evil. While Torakichi claimed there was a certain amount of protection from demons provided by strong moral character, he also insisted that demons could cause evil thoughts even among the good. Although their natural appearance was ugly, scary, and dangerous, they also had shape-shifting abilities. In other words, anything could be a demon in disguise. "

"The bulk of the information given by Torakichi about the inhabitants of the Other World concerns beings that fit into two categories: the tengu and the mountain-dwelling humans, referred to as sanjin. Even so, Torakichi often collapsed the categories; for example, he sometimes called sanjin kami, called demons tengu, and used the terms sanjin and tengu interchangeably. In particular, when it came to the term tengu, Torakichi often used it as a positive appellation meant to bestow a good and powerful status on his master."

On using the term tengu for real historical figures:

"The ones with the bad reputations were tengu, and the ones with the good reputations were sanjin.  At least this was the dichotomy on which Atsutane was relying to distinguish the supernatural figure he intended to praise."

Hansen, Wilburn. (2008) When Tengu Talk : Hirata Atsutane's Ethnography of the Other World. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. Page 76-78, 81

Now this is as helpful as it is confusing.  I've learnt that the words tengu, sanjin and kami are often used interchangeably, and because of this I'm not entirely sure which to use for what when it comes to my story.  However! This dilemma can also be seen as allowing me to choose which I want to use in a negative and positive light, which is very nice indeed. So, time to make some decisions!

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