Chapter 1. The Sun – Spiritual foundation of the Japanese who were farmers

Like Vatican for Christians, and Mecca for Muslims, there is Ise Jingu, a Shintoism sanctuary, in Japan. It is said that about 90,000 shrines are located in Japan, and the Ise Jingu exists in the highest. The traditional event “Shikinen Sengu” ceremony is conducted this year. The ceremony takes place every 20 years and it has been continued for about 1300 years.

Ippin Project introduces the products based on traditional culture and aesthetics of Japan. I think that Japanese passion towards “mono” (or goods/products) comes from the Japan’s own religious views, Shintoism. Continuing from the ancient times, it is similar to the philosophy that has assimilated to the Japan’s unique customs. When considering Japanese people and craftsmanship, as it is also a year of Shikinen Sengu, I will write in three articles about this special ceremony.

In the island country Philippines, where propagation began about 500 years ago, about 90% of people are Christians now. Spanish missionary Francis Xavier also came to Japan at that time, however, after the five centuries, the number of Christians is only 3% of the population today. Japan is the only country among G8 countries that is not Christian, and believes in animism (polytheism). Many of its people are said to be irreligious nowadays.

Japan is now recognized as the country of economic big power and high technology, however, prior to the opening of the country to the world about 150 years ago, most of the people lived rather modestly by agriculture and fishing. Without the global distribution network, there of course was starvation, so that the good harvest and rich haul were the joy to the people. What did our ancestors, who lived the time without gluttony and science, find beyond the joy? I think it was the expression of the feeling of gratitude.

The Japanese ancestor who received the blessing from nature thought that relation with the land was very strong and gods dwelt in every land. It led people to prepare the place where they express appreciation to the land or the sea. Gokoku-Hojyo (bumper crops) is a joy to be shared with the communities, and people needed the place to give gratitude to gods. Although it seems that gratitude to nature was probably performed all over the world, Japanese people still value the system in present days. The places to give gratitude to nature are “shrine.”

Literal translation of Gokoku-Hojyo (五穀豊穣) is “five kinds of crops which grew up richly”, but the five definitions change over the times. However, there is one grain that Japanese cannot yield at any time, that is rice. Japanese cuisine mainly uses rice, as represented in Sushi. It is impossible to talk about Japanese culture without rice. Japanese people’s passion towards rice is extraordinary and it may seem difficult to understand for foreigners. Japanese people even improved the rice specie, originally a subtropical plant, to be harvested in Hokkaido whose latitude is similar to Switzerland. Japanese started eating rice 3000 years ago, and before opening the country to the world the rice was also used as monetary unit, called Kokudaka. The rice field was inherited from ancestors, generation to generation, and up until Edo period the land was so precious that it could not be used for trade or investment. It may sound like an uncivilized country without a monetary concept, however, when the economy, the European latest science at the time, was imported when opening the country, there were no words or terms that could not be translated. In spite the fact that the Japanese even started the future trading half a century earlier than European countries, rice fields were highly valued and cherished. The short-grain rice, preferred by the Japanese, requires the fertile land, clean water, generous sun light that produces warm temperature, and if one of these elements is missing, it cannot be grown.

And if there is no sun, no life can exist. Plant, of course, and animals depending on plants, and even human beings are no exceptions. Electric power that produces numerous technologies are made from oil, and oil itself is the fossil of past lives. Even the moon light that illuminates the night is the reflection of the sun, and without the sun, the earth literally becomes jet-black darkness both physically and mentally. It is a scientific fact that all the lives depend on sun. The Japanese who were farmers knew by their experience and intuition, that the sun was the highest existence to worship. Japan marked the sun in its national flag as its identity, and the highest god of Shintoism, Amaterasu-Omikami, goddess of the sun, is enshrined in Ise Jingu.

Keats, the poet, moaned “Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow, by reducing it to the prismatic colours”. It is the country that continues to project its deity and personality on the massive astronomical object in the center of solar system, that is 110 times bigger than the earth and repeats hydrogen explosions. The children of that country learn from parents somehow that deity exists not only in the sun but also in everything around their lives. Their parents are not taught in schools or any religious institutions. It has been inherited as word-of-mouth tradition from generation to generation. When those children are out in the society and create something, no matter if that is one screw, forefront materials, or their children’s lunch, they apply their earnest feelings to express their gratitude. It is not only towards the things but also towards the people, and it eventually creates high quality “made in japan” products, and constructs the Japanese society.

Teddy Cookswell
Cultural Facility Designer / Illustrator

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第1章  太陽、農民であった日本人の精神的礎


IPPIN PROJECTでは、主に日本の伝統文化や価値観、美意識に基づいた商品を紹介しています。日本人の「もの」への情熱、それは古来から続く神道という日本独自の風習にまで同化した哲学に似た宗教観によるものだと私は思っています。日本人とものづくりについて考えるとき、まずは、遷宮の年でもありますし、この遷宮に関して3回に分けて書いてみようと思います。






文化施設デザイナー / イラストレーター