The fourth character to introduce in the "i-ro-ha" series is "ni".
Words that start with "ni":
ni = two
niji = rainbow
ningen = human
not to be confused with...
ninjin = carrot
oh, oh, oh NINJA!
and of course another word that starts with "ni" is NIPPON or NIHON. You know this as JAPAN.
a land of grey buildings and red gates...
Here is the kanji for Nihon
Rice paddy near my mother's home...
I started this series as an attempt to describe Japan, and here I am trying to explain the word Japan (Nihon) in one session.
...uh... not going to happen.
So allow me to focus just a little on religion.
Japan is often called a Buddhist country and although that is not a false statement it only captures one side of Japan's spirituality.
Buddhism was popularized in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185~1333).
One of the most well known religious figures of the time was a man whose name starts with todays letter "Ni"(に).
He founded the Nichiren sect which focuses on the Lotus Sutra.
The most influential sect that embraces the teachings of Nichiren would have to be the Soka Gakkai. They are popular overseas as well, with many famous musicians and other celebrities among their followers. They are known in Japan for their ties with the Komeito, a political party that is now one of the ruling parties.
Other Buddhist sects are the Jodo, Jodo-Shin and of course Zen, just to name a few.
So, if Buddhism doesn't have that long of a history in Japan... then, what is an indigenous Japanese religion?
a shinto shrine I pass during my commute...
I'll try to take better pictures someday.
Two chronicles written in the 8th century (the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki) are known as Japan's first history books. They are books that show how mythology and history are intertwined in this country.
Amaterasu-no-omikami is one of the 3 original gods and is part of the root of Shintoism. There are more gods though...Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto were husband and wife and they gave birth to dozens of gods who also gave birth to gods...
Included in the ranks of the gods, was the Emperor. Emperors were deified up until the end of World War 2, after which religion was separated from government.
(I remember seeing a picture of the Showa Emperor (the current Emperor's father) hanging on a wall at my Japanese grandmother's house when I was about 4 years old... I don't know what happened to it after my grandparents passed away.)
Another aspect of Shintoism that started before the word Shinto was put into use, is the belief in...well...almost everything!
Japan is the land of ... Yaoyorozu-no-kami (八百万の神）. It means, 8 million gods.
I'm not kidding.
Eight million gods.
There is a god in everything. Not just the elements like earth, wind and fire, but also in all species.
There are spirits in all things and all spirits are divine, and have powers.
There is another saying in Japan...
Iwashi no atama mo shinjin kara. = Even a sardine's head can be worshiped.
This means that "faith can make anything holy".
Although the saying is rather critical and not used as praise, I think there is a lot of wisdom and beauty in worshipping nature.
This philosophy has enriched Japanese culture (example: paintings and kimono designs.) and literature (example: haiku which has now become quite the phenomenon!).
Although the Japan I know of now seems to be letting these ideals slip through their fingers
I have hope that some of the ancient philosophy will be revived and live on.
Movies like "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away" show the basics of the Shinto philosophy...without the preaching.
oh and another word that starts with "ni":
ninjou = human nature
this is always used in a good way, focused on the warmth and kindness of humans...
Thank you for reading this extremely long post...and thank you for visiting!