Welcome back from Summer & A Short History of Japanese Philosophy


Well, it has been a beautifully long and busy summer, and in all of it I seem to have neglected posting my discussion notes. So, over the next few days you will get a few updates! This first post was not used for intro notes, but rather a guideline to some of the topics we’re discussing at the 5pmSLT Sunday meetings on Sengoku.


 

Japanese Philosophy

In the West we typically approach philosophy from finding the space between a set of opposites – for instance mind and matter, or self and other. In the Japanese traditions, rather, they try to find where these philosophies overlap, essentially negating that anything is separate from anything else, but rather everything is a process of apparent opposites.

Before 7th Century CE – Yamato Period
⁃ Shintoism, a native form of animism that addressed an essence within each of us and in every living thing known as “kami,” which governed the world.
⁃ respect for animals, weather, nature, and ancestors.

7th-9th Centuries CE – Asuka and Nara Periods
⁃ Confucianism and Buddhism imported from Korea and China.
⁃ “Confusianism addressed the “social self,” influencing government structure and patterns of formal behaviour.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism focused on the workings of the inner self. The most common ideas in Buddhism are impermanence, emptiness, dependent co-origination, and the impermanence of the self.
⁃ Shotoku Taishi, the then crown prince, declared in the “Seventeen Article Constitution” (604 CE) that the goal of “philosophy as well as government was harmony, rather than competition or separation, between the traditions.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism and Confusianism came together to allow the people to view the universe as a constantly fluctuating process, and acquire an understanding of the self as “interdependent with the social and natural worlds.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)

9th-12th Centuries CE – Heian Period
⁃ Kūkai (774-835) and Saichō (767-822) were two primary thinkers of this period. They influenced the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist schools. The main ideas they brought about were of every phenomenon as an expression of the cosmos (macro mirrored in micro) and that enlightenment, a goal of Buddhist practitioners, was not able to be attained as a concept but “was an act of the full complex of mind, body, and spirit as transformed through ritual practice.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ It was in this period that the miyabi (elegance) and (okashi) charming aesthetic themes emerged.
⁃ The philosophical ideas of impermanence (mujō) and deep ontological being or mystery (yōgen), poignancy (mono no aware) and sensitivity (ushin) were further developed.

12th-16th Centuries CE – Kamakura Period
⁃ Samurai class takes over the court life seen in the classical period, turning people to search for a religious philosophy which would lead to peaceful everyday life rather than big-picture answers. Buddhist schools such as Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren were established.
⁃ Thinkers of this time were Hōnen (1133-1212), Shinran (1173-1263), Dōgen (1200–53), and Nichiren (1222–82).
⁃ Hōnen and Shinran each founded a school of Pure Land Buddhism which focuses on faith in Amida Buddha, “the buddha of light who promises rebirth in the Pure Land to the faithful.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy) They critiqued the idea of self as an isolated ego.
⁃ Dōgen was a main figure in Zen Buddhism, known for his ideas of the self and consciousness, with a focus on zazen, a particular form of seated meditation. Zazen was developed not as a means to enlightenment but as a form of discipline as an end in itself.
⁃ Nichiren focused on the Lotus Sutra and its ideal of the bodhisattva.
⁃ The native Shintō ideas and practices were absorbed into the Buddhist traditions during this period.

17th-19th Centuries CE – Edo and Tokugawa Periods
⁃ Confucian ideas reemerged to encourage peace and stability, unifying the state to political centrality.
⁃ Bushidō, the Code of the Warrior, emerged. This code expressed ideals of loyalty, stoic self-control, and personal virtue. These are in line with, respectively, “Confucian propriety, Buddhist self-discipline, and Shintō purity of heart.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ There are two main groups of Confucian thinkers:
⁃ First are those who emerged from the neo-Confucian philosophies of Zhu Xi (Shushi; 1130-1200), Wang Yangming (Ōyōmei; 1472-1529), Hayashi Razan (1583-1657) and Nakae Tōju (1608-48). This group had some members who thought that the neo-Confucian philosophy was too abstract when detailing ri (metaphysical principle) was the structuring force of the universe – they emphasized that qi (vital force) was the main structuring force of the universe.
⁃ The next group was the school focused on the “traditional” ideas of Confucianism as presented by Confucius, which emphasized a less metaphysical view and was more concerned with the functioning of everyday lives than answering the greater picture. This school is known as the kogaku school.
⁃ During this period, a school of thought known as kokugaku emerged which held the idea of returning to the original “ancient ways” of Shintōism. They wanted to renew the ideas of mono no aware – a sensitivity to or sympathy for the things that constitute the world.

19th-Current Centuries CE – Taisho and Heisei Periods
⁃ A new word was coined during this period that was meant to be a direct translation of the English term “philosophy” – testugaku, comprised of wisdom (tetsu) and learning (gaku).
⁃ Here is when the Western constructs started to influence Japanese philosophers. The first major Japanese philosopher to use the Western style of philosophy was Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945) in his “An Inquiry into the Good” (1911). He introduced a philosophy he called “Nothingness” (mu), which fuzed the ideas of Zen and William James to come to an idea of “pure experience” based on experiential and logical experiences of judgement and action. His ideas inspired the Kyōto school of philosophy which explored the differences and similarities of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious traditions.
⁃ Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990) explored the idea of Nothingness and brought the ideas of Martin Heidegger (who he studied under), which was already arguably similar to Japanese ideas of being and existence.
⁃ Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960) disagreed with the ideas of Western individualism as well as Confucian collectivism, and instead posited an ethical idea of “betweenness,” as if each individual exists on a sliding scale of “individual freedom and socially imposed norms.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy).
⁃ Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962) also found a sliding scale between the universal and particular ideas, feeling that the schools of either ignore the fact of specific species. For instance, the respective schools would emphasize a person’s universal human nature or atomistic individuality. What Tanabe introduced was the idea of a person as an ethnic, national and cultural being, having an individual role as well as a universal role.
⁃ Some modern philosophers that have stuck to the traditional philosophies are Tamaki Kōshirō (1915-1999) and Nakamura Hajime (1911-1999) who follow a Buddhist tradition. Some others, such as Yuasa Yasuo (1925-2005) and Ueda Shizuteru (1926-current) focus on integrating ideas to establish a universal or global perspective rather than monocultural.

Food and Culture in Japan


Japanese Food Culture and Festivals

Second Life

Quotes taken from: http://www.savoryjapan.com/learn/culture/festivals/

What is your favorite kind of Japanese food?

Food in Japan is greatly affected by location – Japan is surrounded by the ocean, so a very common food is fish. Rice is a staple food, grown locally in huge rice fields. Though rice is the stable food, many kinds of noodles, such as udon, soba, and ramen, are also common.

On an interesting note, it was only in 2013 that UNESCO declared the traditional food cultures of Japan, known as washoku, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. In other words, they only recognized it as something deserving to be preserved in order to keep the culture alive last year.

But, something that I didn’t know, was when Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century, it became taboo to eat all flesh of animals and/or fowl. Because of this, the vegetarian style of cooking known as shojin ryori introduced soy sauce (shoyu), miso, tofu, and other products made from soybeans to replace the animal products. Also coming from the zen buddhist tradition is the well-known simple and elegant display of the food that we still see today and I’ll describe a bit below.

TEA CEREMONY

The sado, or tea ceremony, is highly ritualized and greatly influenced by Zen buddhism. The type of tea is a green tea known as matcha, which is powdered tea leaves. I won’t go in to all the details, even I don’t know them, but be sure that each movement is highly learned if it is done properly.

CHAKAISEKI RYORI

This is one of three basic styles of Japanese cooking, which we will cover all three today. This one in particular is served during a tea ceremony. The foods served are fresh, seasonal, and usually local, and are prepared without decoration. The meal is then followed by the tea ceremony.

HONZEN RYORI

In this style of Japanese cooking the food is served carefully arranged on legged trays, as it would have been to the nobility during the Heian period (794-1185) when this style emerged.

The menu usually consists of a soup with three types of side dishes such as sashimi (raw seafood), yakimono (broiled fowl or fish), and nimono (simmered veggies or meats). This is the minimum serving, sometimes they can be as large as three soups and eleven side dishes. It is important to ensure that foods of similar tastes are not served together.

It is particularly important when attending a meal of this style to follow proper etiquette, most importantly eating a bit of rice before passing from one dish to another.

KAISEKI RYORI

Kaiseki ryori is regarded as Japan’s most exquisite culinary refinement. This is a multi-course dinner consisting mainly of vegetables and fish with a seasoning base of seaweed and mushrooms, the dishes are characterized by their refined flavour.

There are two kinds of kaiseki ryori’s. The first is a set menu served on an individual tray. The other is the meal served before a ceremonial tea, known as cha-kaiseki.

The courses served in this style consist of the following:

Appetizers: sweet alcohol or local alcohol and bite-sized appetizers.

Main courses: soup, sashimi (raw fish), nimono (boiled vegetables, meat, or seafood in a mix of soy sauce, sweet cooking sake, and sugar), yakimono (grilled fish or meat), agemono (tempura – deep fried seafood and vegetables), mushimono (which is exactly what it sounds like…lol…a steamed dish. The most popular is chawanmushi, a savory egg custard flavored with fish stock with mushrooms, chicken, ginko nuts and seafood), and sunomono (vegetables and seafood in a vinegar based sauce).

The next set is called Shokuji, which we don’t typically do in western cultures, but it consists of rice, miso soup and pickles (tsukemono).

Dessert: can be anything sweet but is typically made up of local or seasonal fresh fruit or sorbet.

HOLIDAYS

Ochogatsu, or New Years, isn’t the best time to visit Japan since all the shops and restaurants are closed between Dec 28 and Jan 3. The time is spent in temples and shrines and with family. The chopsticks used during this time are pointed on both sides so the gods can partake in the feast of osechi-ryori. This is a dish of predominately vegetables with grilled fish, served in special boxes called jubako which resemble bento boxes. Many dishes can be served, so I’ll only name a few. They all have special meaning with regards to the New Year. Daidai, “from generation to generation,” is a bitter orange which symbolizes the wish for children in the New Year. Kamaboko is a broiled fish cake arranged in rows or patterns which resemble the Japanese rising sun. Konbu is a type of seaweed which is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning “joy,” and is used for wishing for joy in the new year. Ebi is skewered prawns cooked with sake and soy sauce and it symbolizes a wish for a long-life, symbolizing a long beard and bent waist.

Hina Matsuri, or Girl’s Day, is celebrated on the third of March. The most stunning thing about it is the heirloom dolls that are display, and promptly taken down on the fourth since they are thought to delay the girls’ marriage if they are left on display too long. These dolls the caretakers of the girls’ health and happiness, warding off bad luck and bringing in good fortune. This is probably my favourite festival food wise, because they get mochi! Hishimochi are lovely, diamond-shaped mochi (rice cakes) with pink, white and green layers. Pink represents plum blossoms, in season in late February and early March. White represents the snow of the waning winter, while green represents the new, fresh growth of early spring. They also get sake, or rice wine. Shiro-zake is the first variety of sake of the year, available in early spring. White, unfiltered and sweet, it came to be associated with girls, (and thus, the festival) even though women did not necessarily drink sake in the old days. The pure-white color of the sake also compliments the pink of the plum blossoms. Red (or pink) and white also signify happiness and good fortune, and are often displayed during festivals. The next treat they get to indulge in is hina arare. Hina arare are small, blossom or snowflake-like pink, white and green balls of crunchy puffed rice, sometimes sweetened with sugar. In the old days, arare were made of leftover mochi from the Oshogatsu (New Year’s) festival celebration, and therefore, were often enjoyed during girl’s day. This thrifty and creative use of materials also came to symbolize the desirable qualities of a good wife.

The Sakura festival is the world-renowned cherry blossom festival between the end of March and early April (depending on when they blossom). I was going to try to explain this phenomenon myself, but I found this quote and it’s just perfect, ” I had thought it was sentimental hype until I found myself in Kyoto one year during the height of cherry blossom season. The city was awash in pink; enveloping me and everyone around me with their delicate fragrance; the petals falling, fluttering like gentle rain on the sidewalks and onto the hair of young women in their sakura-patterned kimonos. Since then, I haven’t missed a single season.” The season is a time of change, a gentle reminder that the harsh winter is over. It reminds us of the fleeting nature of reality, a prominent Buddhist belief. Hanami bento is a homemade dish that most people take to the viewing of the blossoms and accompanying parties. These boxes include seasonal grilled fish and spring vegetables, rice with vegetables cut into the delicate shape of sakura petals, green yomogimochi (spring herb dumplings) and kamaboko (fish cakes) with pink designs.

A poem about the Sakura flowers:

“The Sakura Flower

I watch the lovers walk hand in hand, and feel sad that I will not live long enough to do the same.

The sadness pulls me down, I sway, I lean, I can feel the wind pulling on me.

Eventually it succeeds and I drift slowly towards the ground.

I fear the landing, the eventual end that I know will come.

I remember all the beautiful people I saw in my lifetime;
All the lovers, all the friends, and I regret that I will not see them again.

But, rejoice!, next year, I will have been born again, and will watch, perched from my high branches, learning the ways of love.”

I found this lovely story for you, for our journey to the next festival…

“You’re in a roji (“dewy path”, a small Japanese tea garden) on your way to your friend’s tea house. As you mindfully step on granite stones freshly splashed with water for your arrival, you notice that the stone lanterns, lit for the evening, are shining a little more brightly than usual. You peer inside of one of them, and notice an extra candle.

However, as you round a bamboo fence, the tiny and simple thatched roof teahouse comes into view, and you notice that the windows are dark, and find this a just a little odd. The tea house roof is so low that you have to lower your head as you enter the genkan. Despite your quiet arrival, your host welcomes you, opening the small shoji door for you to enter the four mat tearoom. In the dim natural light, you see the tokonoma, where a scroll painting of a moon, barley visible against the palest grey sky, and a bold arrangement of pampas grass and autumn flowers are displayed. It’s grown chilly in recent days, so you’re happy when your host invites you to sit close to the coals as he prepares the kettle for tea.

The light begins to grow brighter to the east, and you look out of the open shoji doors to see the moon, barely visible at first, rising past the trees in the distance. The sky is cloudless and the air, clear, rendering the outline of the moon in crisp detail. As the moon appears, impossibly huge and dazzling orange, you take a deep breath and your heart fills with joy. As the moon scatters golden reflections on the garden pond below, you watch, speechless, as it rises, past the sweeping branches of the pines.”

Can you guess what festival this is representing?

It’s o-tsukimi, the harvest moon festival! This usually falls in the middle of October, on the full moon.

“Autumn flowers and susuki (pampas grass, which is at its tallest and most beautiful at this time), are displayed, and kabocha (pumpkin), chestnuts, satoimo (taro potato) and tsukimi dango (small white rice dumplings, piled high on a tray), are offered to the moon in the family alter. The dumplings were traditionally thought to bring happiness and good health, and the offering is not only for the moon’s beauty, but an expression of gratitude for the autumn harvest.”

It is tradition to write poems to the moon. Shall we give it a try?

This past year I wrote one while bathing on a river under the local harvest moon:

Harvest Moon

By way of night creation is born,
Spontaneously, energy emerges
Riding the back of a turtle.

Like a monk on a mountaintop
He leaves the shattered cage
Emerging into silence.

Birds stir into flight,
the miraged man
Bathing them in orange light

Giants grasp at him,
Longing for a taste of his grace.
Smiling, he eludes them.

All the creatures yearn,
They ask, “how can energy
Be so still?”

That is all for today! Phew! Any comments or questions?

An Intro to Shintoism


Tomorrow, Tuesday Jan 22 at 7pmSLT I’ll host this discussion on Shintoism. Click here for the SLURL. You may need to IM me for a tp, as the SLURL will take you to the main landing point. Hope to see you all there!

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Welcome everyone to Sengoku! I want to thank everyone here, and a special thanks out to Cat who made this all happen! Please feel free to leave a donation if you like what you see and want to support the sim growth.

Today we are going to discuss the basics of the Shinto religion of Japan. Please feel free to share any comments or questions at any time.

The word “Shinto” is comprised of two Chinese characters: Shen (divine being) and Tao (way), meaning “Way of Spirits.”

Shinto practitioners believe in invisible spirits called “kami,” which are worshiped in shrines or temples called “Jinja.” Kami can also be things that possess power, like mountains and earthquakes.

Using the term “spirits” for kami is a simplification. Kami are beings that respond to prayers and can influence the environment or a situation, but aren’t spirits like ghosts as Westerners think of them. They are forces of nature that exist independently as well as in large forces like storms.

Everything contains kami. It’s like a yogi saying that energy exists in all of us and in everything. Kami is a property that we all have access to. It is what makes an object itself rather than something else.

While everything has kami within it, only those things which show it in a striking way are referred to as kami.

We must note that kami are not omnipresent, are not divine, are not inherently different from human or nature, but are a higher manifestation of life energy.

Three types of kami are very important:

-Ujigami, the ancestors of the clans: in tribal times, each group believed that a particular kami was both their ancestor and their protector, and dedicated their worship to that spirit

-Kami of natural objects and creatures, and of the forces of nature

-The souls of dead human beings of outstanding achievement

Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, is considered to be a kami. Other Gods are also considered to be kami.

The shrines that are used to worship kami can be as large as thousands of acres per shrine, or as small as a few square feet.

Rather than Shinto being a belief system of its own, it’s more a system of rituals which can be incorporated into many other religions.

For this reason, Shintoism has coincided peacefully with Buddhism, Confusianism, and Animism, among others.

Shintoism has no direct belief in a transcendental other world such as heaven, and has no specific God or Gods in which it follows.

Shintoism doesn’t have a single scripture, like Christians with the Bible or Buddhism with the sutras. However, you can find written works about Shintoism throughout history.

There are, however, symbolic structures and objects practitioners use to go about their rituals. These include torii gates, which are usually located in water, and shimenawa ropes.

The practice is not based on commandments or laws that tell one how to behave, but on the will of the kami. Note: Kami are not perfect, and they do make mistakes.

Shintoism sees everything as a single unified creation, meaning there is no split between a natural world and a supernatural world, or a body and a spirit.

However, it does distinguish between the visible world (kenkai) and the invisible world (yukai); the invisible world being an extension of the visible world.

Ethics

The overall aims of Shinto ethics is to promote harmony and purity in all spheres of life. By saying “purity” we mean not just spiritual purity but moral purity; having a pure and sincere heart.

In Shinto ethics there are no moral absolutes; the good or bad of a situation or action is determined based on the context of which it occurs.

There are a few things which are considered bad on most occasions:

1. things which disturb kami

2. things which disturb the worship of kami

3. things which disrupt the harmony of the world

4. things which disrupt the natural world

5. things which disrupt the social order

6. things which disrupt the group of which one is a member

The followers of Shintoism believe that the world and humans are essentially good, and that evil enters the world through evil spirits which affect human beings in a similar way as disease.

Impurity refers to anything which separates us from kami, and from musubi, the creative and harmonizing power.

The things that make us impure are called tsumi (pollution or sin).

Tsumi can be physical, moral, or spiritual.

Impurities can be removed by cleansing or purifying rituals. These rituals can be completed by anyone, and do not require someone like a priest.

The concept of purification originates in the legend of the god Izanagi no mikoto, who washed himself free of pollution after visiting his wife in the Land of the Dead.

The following are some examples of purification rituals (called misogi):

-haraigushi: the use of a wand made from a stick with streamers of white paper or flax fastened to one end. Waived by a priest over the person, place, or object to be purified.

-oharae: ritual used on a large group, usually performed in June and Dec in the Imperial Household and other shrines to purify the whole population. Also used after disasters.

-shubatsu: sprinkling of salt, used in sumo wrestling to purify the ring, among other things.

As you can see, Shintoism is more a single practice, which makes it accessible to anyone, anytime, whether from home, school, work, or in a shrine or temple.

It does not require anything of the practitioner, nor does it tell them how to live their lives.

The most relevant use of Shintoism in modern days is to ask the kami for a favor, whether its getting a good grade on a test, making your grandmother well, or saving the people from a tsunami.

Because of this relaxed use, many Japanese still practice it today, without really knowing that they are. Also, people from all religious backgrounds are able to incorporate it into their daily lives. You can practice it anywhere in the world, at any time.

Any questions or comments? I open the floor.