Religion Of Loyalty

Nov 10, 2021Blog, Culture, Shinto

Religion Of Loyalty

Among no other people has loyalty ever assumed more impressive and extraordinary forms than the Japanese.

Among no other people has obedience ever been nourished by a more abundant faith, the faith derived from the cult of the ancestors.

Militant societies, must have a patriotism which regards the triumph of their society as the supreme end of action.

They must possess the loyalty whence flows obedience to authority, and in order to be obedient, they must have abundant faith. 

The history of the Japanese people strongly exemplifies these truths. 

お辞儀- Land Of The Rising Son

One will understand how filial piety, the domestic religion of obedience widens in range with social evolution.

Eventually filial piety differentiates both into political obedience required by the Community, and military obedience exacted by the war-lord.

Obedience implying not only submission, but affectionate submission, not merely as a sense of obligation, but as the sentiment of duty. 

In its origin such dutiful obedience is essentially religious.

This is expressed in loyalty and it retains the religious character, becoming the constant manifestation of a religion of self-sacrifice. 

Self Sacrifice - Land Of The Rising Son

To his divinely descended lord, the retainer owed everything, goods, household, liberty, and life. 

Any or all of these he was expected to yield up without a murmur, on demand, for the sake of the lord. 

Duty to the lord, like the duty to the family ancestor, did not cease with death. 

As the ghosts of parents were to be supplied with food by their living children, so the spirit of the lord was to be worshipfully served by those who, during his lifetime, owed him direct obedience. 

At the death of a daimyo it was then common for fifteen or twenty of his retainers to disembowel themselves (junshi 殉死).  

切腹 - Land Of The Rising Son

Iyeyasu determined to put an end to this custom of suicide, and ended the practice of junshi among his own vassals.

Instead of performing harakiri, the retainer shaved his head at the death of his lord, and became a Buddhist monk.

禅坊さん - Land Of The Rising Son

It would seem that this form of self-destruction was not known to the Japanese in early ages, it may have been introduced from China, with other military customs. 

Women, did not perform harakiri, but jigai, the piercing the throat with a dagger so as to sever the arteries by a single thrust-and-cut movement.

The important fact to remember is that honour and loyalty required the samurai man or woman to be ready at any moment to perform self-destruction by the sword. 

Instances of female suicide, representing the old ideal of duty to a dead husband, have occurred in recent times. 

Such suicides are usually performed according to the feudal rules, the woman robing herself in white for the occasion. 

Japanese Female Ghost - Land Of The Rising Son

At the time of the late war with China there occurred in Tokyo one remarkable suicide of this kind.

The victim being the wife of Lieutenant Asada, who had fallen in battle. 

She was only twenty-one. 

On hearing of her husband’s death, she at once began to make preparations for her own, writing letters of farewell to her relatives, putting her affairs in order, and carefully cleaning the house, according to old-time rule. 

Thereafter she donned her death-robe, laid mattings down opposite to the alcove in the guest-room, placed her husband’s portrait in the alcove, and set offerings before it. 

When everything had been arranged, she seated herself before the portrait, took up her dagger, and with a single skilful thrust divided the arteries of her throat.

Woman Committing Ritual Suicide - Land Of The Rising Son

The Japanese still love these tragedies, and the foreign critic of their dramatic literature is quick to point out only the blood-spots, and to comment upon them as evidence of a public taste for gory spectacles.

As proof of some innate ferocity in the race.

Rather, I think, is this love of the old tragedy is clear proof of what foreign critics always try to ignore as much as possible, the deeply religious character of the Japanese. 

These plays continue to give delight, not because of their horror, but because of their moral teaching, because of their illustration of the duty of sacrifice and courage, the religion of loyalty. 

They represent the martyrdoms of feudal society for its noblest ideals.

All throughout society the same spirit of loyalty had its manifestations. 

As the samurai to his lord, so the apprentice was bound to the patron, and the clerk to the merchant. 

Everywhere there was trust, because everywhere there existed the common sentiment of mutual duty between servant and master. 

同心協力 - Land Of The Rising Son

Each industry and occupation had its religion of loyalty requiring, on the one side absolute obedience and sacrifice at need, and on the other, kindliness and aid. 

And the rule of the dead was over all.

When Japan at last found herself face to face with the unexpected peril of Western aggression, the abolition of the daimyo was felt to be a matter of paramount importance. 

This supreme danger of the Western peril required that the social units should be fused into one coherent mass, capable of uniform action.

The clan and tribal groupings should be permanently dissolved, and all authority should immediately be centred in the representative of the national religion.

The duty of obedience to the Heavenly Sovereign should replace, at once and forever, the feudal duty of obedience to the territorial lord. 

Heavenly Sovereign - Land Of The Rising Son

The religion of loyalty, evolved by a thousand years of war, could not be cast away.

Properly utilized, the religion of loyalty would prove a national heritage of incalculable worth, a moral power capable of miracles if directed by one wise will to a single wise end. 

Diverted to nobler ends, expanded to larger needs, it became the new national sentiment of trust and duty.

The modern sense of patriotism. 

One thing at least is certain, that the future of Japan must depends upon the maintenance of this new religion of loyalty, evolved, through the old, from the ancient religion of the dead.

Based Upon

Japan,  An Attempt At Interpretation

Published 1904

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn