Sunday, 13 March 2011

Japan and its mythological intercourse with the elements

The Japanese myths speak of a fundamental relationship of its people to a ‘sacred’ land that has historically been under constant threat of external and foreign forces. The most recent Tsunami is another example of how the Japanese character has been moulded in the process of adaptation and transformation of this ‘land of the rising sun’ as the country is better known.

Having descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, the Nippon community obtained an initial sense of honor in the fact that both their origins and agriculture were rubber-stamped and protected by a deity that would assure them continuity and success in the hands of her chosen leaders, the imperial house. The national’s flag symbol, the sun, is the projection of Amaterasu’s grace upon its people. It is then a symbol of national pride and unity.

The Shinto beliefs and religion describe a land that was created by the gods, thus reinforcing the idea that a special people were related to a divine and chosen land. It would lay in the hands of the leaders, in not only maintaining these ideas, but in expanding them to in order to establish an organized and well-controlled community that would seek progress in order to better legitimate the terrestrial but divine realm that was bequeathed for them in order to do so.

So, in this sense, the 13th century Mongol invasion that was thwarted by a sea storm must have been the intervention of some divine being. This gave birth to a concept, better known as ‘Kamikaze’ or divine wind, that describes the predestinatory salvation of ‘the chosen nation of the gods’ to have survived one of the most aggressive tribes that history has seen, the Mongolian hordes.

The Japanese are a conservative people - not just because of the obvious fact of being inhabitants of an island nation that lies under a geological fault line. Its culture has been under constant threat of ancient imperialism and the more contemporaneous forces of globalization. This has enclosed them even further within their own political bounds. It is safe to say that the nature of the Japanese land and the character of its people that has been successfully laid out as the main fact behind the astonishing discipline and work ethos of a most successful nation today.

But a most ironic reality is that Japanese imperial leaders utilized the Shinto beliefs and symbolism to justify military ventures both within and outside the nation. The aggressions of the 1940s was portrayed in the modification of the national flag, were the Sun extends its rays outwards. This symbol was deliberately made to represent the expansionism and belligerence of its military and naval forces whilst simultaneously intending to unleash the Japanese spirit, which remained dormant and well tied to domestic mores and constraints. The desperate aerial raids - kamikazes- used during the war against the allies, were justified once again in divine myths.

The fire and atomic bombs which devastated part of Japan’s geography revived once again its mythological makeup, and its greater effects - besides the most obvious deadly ones - was to put back the ultra-nationalist genie and extremist tendencies back into the bottle. On the other hand, the collective energy, which was still there, was harnessed into constructing one of the most powerful and progressive economies in the world.

Today’s tsunami is reminiscent, again, of how much this country and its people have been shaped by external events, especially the forces of nature. It remains for them only to reshape their fate once more by altering the curse of their 'special destiny' that their mythology supports. But the risk of the fire god of blowing its nuclear breath into the veins of the land has to be averted. The ‘Kamikaze’ has to make its appearance anew, but this time the task is to prevent a catastrophe of atomic proportions. Good luck to them.

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