2024/07/20 21:49

"What does work mean for Japanese people? What about childbirth? 《Interpreting from the Kojiki》




"What does work mean for Japanese people? What about childbirth?

《Interpreting from the Kojiki》

【Is work a punishment or a blessing from the gods?】

From the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Professor Nakanishi learned about what constitutes the "national identity" or the "foundation of the soul" for Japanese people. For instance, regarding our daily work, there's a striking difference in perspective between the Old Testament and Japanese mythology. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve, who previously lived leisurely in paradise, ate the "fruit of knowledge of good and evil," leading to the "original sin." As punishment, men were condemned to "work" and women to "painful childbirth," implying that work is a punishment from God. Consequently, workers dream of quickly saving money and retiring to live a carefree life, perhaps lounging on a beach in paradise.

On the other hand, in Japanese culture, even the supreme deity, Amaterasu Omikami, is depicted as engaging in agriculture by owning rice paddies in Takamagahara and supervising women in the sacred weaving hall to weave textiles. Essentially, even the highest deity, Amaterasu Omikami, was involved in "work." According to a passage in the Nihon Shoki, during the descent of the heavenly grandson, it is said that "Amaterasu Omikami bestowed the rice she had cultivated in the heavens upon the earth," suggesting that Japanese agriculture originates from the rice of the heavenly world. Thus, for Japanese people, work is not a punishment from the gods but rather a blessing bestowed upon them by the gods. In Japan, it's common for the Emperor, as a symbol of national unity, to participate in activities like rice planting and harvesting every year. Most people wouldn't find this embarrassing; instead, they would feel grateful. For Japanese people, work is a source of joy.

【Modern management theories aligning with Japanese mythological views on work】

Which perspective do you think is more uplifting while doing the same job: feeling punished or feeling blessed? In an aging society where octogenarians are often healthy, would it be better to retire and live a paradise-like life for 20 years after retirement, or would it be better to contribute to society using your experiences and skills? In modern management studies, there's a growing trend towards ensuring that employees find social contribution, meaning, and connections in their work, aiming to achieve both employee satisfaction and company performance. This emphasis on human values aligns more closely with Japanese mythological views on work than with the Old Testament. In other countries, there are still many people who only seek career advancement and money in their jobs. Although Japanese people might feel a sense of discomfort in such a world, they often adapt to it and live accordingly, naturally feeling less energized. Therefore, by reading the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki and understanding that work is considered a blessing from the gods within Japanese culture, people might find more enthusiasm even in the same job and may strive to steer their workplaces in that direction. The vitality inspired by mythology is precisely this.

【"Painful childbirth" or the sacredness of life's continuation?】

The concept of "painful childbirth" as a punishment for women in the Old Testament might cause considerable discomfort for Japanese people. The Japanese archipelago where Japanese people reside is not merely a land allowed for habitation by a covenant with God; rather, it's considered a land where the lives of gods dwell, born from the union of the male and female gods, Izanagi and Izanami. Hence, reproduction itself is considered an act of the gods, implying it's a blessed act rather than a punishment. Nevertheless, both work and reproduction are indispensable for sustaining human life. The difference between seeing both as "God's punishment" and as "God's work" is immensely significant.

The assertion made by some in the women's liberation movement about the "right not to bear children" might also stem from the unconscious adoption of the Old Testament's view of "painful childbirth" as divine punishment.

In Japanese mythology, the emphasis is on the continuation of life through marriage. For example, the grandson of Amaterasu Omikami, named Ninigi, descended to this land and married the daughter of the mountain god, giving birth to the child, Hoori no Mikoto (also known as Yamasachihiko), who then married the daughter of the sea god. Their offspring eventually became Emperor Jimmu. Therefore, through reproduction, the lives of the heavens, mountains, and seas flow into the Imperial Family and are inherited by the general populace. The painful childbirth experienced by women is a noble duty associated with the inheritance of life. The elevated status of women in Japan likely stems from the sacredness of life's continuation taught by Japanese mythology. If contemporary Japanese people better understand this through mythology, they might reverse the trend of declining birth rates. It could become a new source of vitality for Japan.

【The significance of the blockbuster movie "Avatar"】

The concept that our country's land is the result of the marriage between Izanagi and Izanami, creating a land where "divine lives reside," is unique and absent in the Old Testament. Both humans and this land are born from the continuation of divine lives, akin to siblings sharing the same blood. This understanding of the land as sacred, rooted in mythology, shapes the Japanese view of nature.

The masterpiece 3D film "Avatar" depicts a lush green planet where tall alien beings connect with and worship sacred trees. It's very much akin to the world of Japanese mythology. Those who, after witnessing the vivid symbiosis with nature in that three-dimensional world, return to the sterile urban life of America might experience depression, termed "Avatar syndrome." However, Japanese people are unlikely to experience "Avatar syndrome." Nearly 70% of our country is covered in forests, and even in large cities, there are Shinto shrines with sacred groves scattered throughout.

The immense success of "Avatar" indicates that the concept of connection between land and life is finally gaining ground in Western societies. This insight has been taught by Japanese mythology for thousands of years. Japan's advanced environmental technology might also stem from the sense of sanctity that people have long inherited through our history and traditions, viewing the land as sacred.

By delving into Japanese mythology and consciously inheriting its view of nature, our country could lead the world in environmental protection. This could bring new vigor to Japan.

【The revitalization brought by the "Kojiki"】

As we've seen, Japanese mythology holds rich wisdom in views on work, marriage, and nature that can guide the 21st-century world. Regarding polytheistic religions like Japanese mythology as primitive, and considering only Christianity as a modern religion, is a 19th-century mindset.

Japanese mythology offers abundant hints for resolving various contemporary global issues. If Japanese people relearn the "Kojiki" and "Nihon Shoki" and derive unique Japanese answers to global problems from them, it would be a significant contribution to the world and would bring vitality to Japan's future. (From the International Japanese Studies Course)