Like others, the Japanese had legends about their ancestral rulers. They believed their earliest ruler was Jimmu, who was supposed to have reigned from 660 to 582 BCE and was believed to be descendant of the sun goddess. Japanese legend describes a ruling regent in the third century as Queen Jingo, and it describes Queen Jingo as a direct descendant of Jimmu and the Sun Goddess. It describes Queen Jingo and her son, Ojin, sending a military expedition to Korea. Gentle winds and god-like fish are said to have helped their armada cross the sea to Korea, so that no oars had to be used. Then, according to legend, a vast tidal wave carried the fleet inland, into the kingdom of Silla. The surprised and terrified Koreans are said to have surrendered at once and to have promised to pay homage and tribute to Queen Jingo until the sun rose in the west, rivers flowed backwards and stones turned into stars.
The islands of Japan are farther from the continent of Asia than England is from the continent of Europe, which gave people on the islands of Japan a little more protection from invasion than the Britons had around the time of the disintegration of the Roman Empire. And not having been oppressed by invaders, the religion of the Japanese had no martyrs. Nor did it have proselytizing teachers or reason for proselytizing teachers. The Japanese were animists, seeing the same magic and variety of spirits in nature as other peoples. They too believed that their supplications to the gods provided and protected them as a community.
The Japanese looked to guidance in fortune telling techniques that had been used by the Chinese, such as following the cracks in heated bones. Their rituals became known as Shinto, meaning Way of Life, or Way of the Gods. Like the gods of others, these gods were forces of nature: gods of mountain and valley, field and stream, fire and water, wind and rain, floods and earthquakes – all that was beautiful and terrible in nature. And that which seemed to contain a superior godly power, the Japanese called kami.
The Japanese perceived as gods those who had died after having made an exceptional contribution to society. Everyone believed his family had an ancestor who had become a god. Everyone saw himself or herself as descendant of gods. It was believed that every Japanese was descended from the Sun Goddess, the common people more distantly than ruling families and aristocrats.
Like others, before the Japanese had writing they had professional reciters, and the reciters had passed stories from generation to generation. Among these stories was the Japanese version of the Creation. According to this version, matter and spirit were not in the beginning separate and distinct. In the beginning heaven and earth were joined in a chaotic mass. The purest and clear elements of the mass rose and became the sky and heaven, and the more gross and heavy elements of the mass sank and became earth. In heaven, of course, were the gods, and from the gross and heavy elements of earth came humanity. One of the gods was banished to earth and became a god of the ocean, and here began humanity's ancestral tie with the gods. The god of the ocean married a farmer's daughter. The son from this union, Ninigi, with a retinue of attendant gods, appeared on Mount Takachiho in southern Kyushu. Ninigi built a palace at the foot of the mountain, and then he married a younger daughter of the local ruler. The eldest daughter of the local ruler was outraged at being bypassed in favor of her younger sister, and she cursed humankind. Here was the Japanese version of the fall of humanity: the outraged daughter announced that if she had been chosen instead of her sister, children fathered by Ninigi would have lived forever, but now she was putting a curse on his offspring, and humans forever after would grow and die like the flowers.
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