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The Sei-rio-den is used chiefly for levées. In one of the rooms a corner of the floor is strewn every morning with earth, so that the Mikado may worship his ancestors without descending to the ground. Except for the panels, some of the ceilings, and the beautiful wood used for doors and screens, there is not much to attract in the palace. But it is impossible to turn in any direction without being confronted with evidence of the reverence with which the person of the Mikado was regarded, even during the long period when he was practically a prisoner of state, a crowned puppet of the Shoguns.
Sovereigns in Western states are more or less servilely approached as human beings placed on lofty pedestals. The Mikado was, and in considerable measure yet is, more than a human being. His office was of heavenly ordination; and he is descended through a long line of personages who figure in popular mythology. How long this will last it might not be friendly to inquire. But, undoubtedly, the most suicidal blow the Mikado has struck at his own mystic authority fell when he signed the decree of compulsory national education.
TEMPLES AND WORSHIPPERS.
The many gods whose shrines and temples stand thickly in all the towns of Japan, have grown into the condition of deity almost under the eyes of the people. They have been for the most part military heroes or prominent ministers under successive sovereigns. Had the Duke of Wellington lived in Japan, he would by this time have been a god, with his shrines and temples, his many priests, and the rin raining throughout the day into his gridironed money-box. So would Lord Nelson; so would the first Duke of Marlborough ; and Lord Randolph Churchill, instead of busying himself with politics, might have been abbot of the principal family shrine. It was thus that Michizane came to be a deity, and to have his temple at Kioto and elsewhere. Michizane was third Minister of State to the Mikado towards the end of the ninth century.
His rapid advance and his personal influence exciting the jealousy of a colleague named Tokikira, finally led to his degradation and banishment. He died in exile and was buried by the roadside. As his body was being carried to the cemetery in a bullock car the animal stopped, and since it could not by any means be induced to go farther, the disgraced minister was buried on the spot.
There does not seem anything very extraordinary in this incident. The reasonable conclusion would appear to be
to be that the bullock was tired, perhaps having been out on a job earlier in the day. But combined with other portents, the Mikado, troubled in his conscience, saw in this a heavenly sign. He withdrew the decree of banishment, conferred his former earthly rank upon the dead man, and, without more to-do, made a god of him.
The bull which played so prominent a part in establishing Michizane's posthumous career is largely represented in his temple at Kioto. Amongst other models there are two, one in black marble, and the other a curious speckled red. These bulls and all others in and about the temple are covered with pellets of chewed paper, cast at them by devotees. A man or woman in doubt as to some particular course contemplated, comes here, chews a bit of paper, makes a pellet of it, and, standing at some distance, throws it at the bull, deciding according to the spot on which the pellet sticks. Something akin to this pagan habit is found in England, where a man halting between two courses determines them by tossing up a halfpenny.
On the left, as the temple is approached, there is a curious picture gallery, with more bulls and other objects marvellously painted. These also are covered with pellets of chewed paper. I was much struck with one painting representing two men in scanty clothing holding by a halter a lively bay horse. Their astonishment at discovering that the horse has a sky-blue eye is very graphically delineated. Curious-looking animals, understood to be tigers, are carved in great numbers. Wherever they are within reach they have pieces of paper string tied round their forelegs just above the heel, which gives them the appearance of tigers with their garters slipping down. The temple itself is like an old curiosity shop, full of mirrors and lanterns. At the upper step, close by a large cloth covered with rin, an old man knelt in prayer. He was terribly in earnest, clapping his hands to arrest the attention of the god, wringing them with gestures of piteous entreaty, and
pleading in broken voice for blessing or forgiveness. At the foot of the steps were half a dozen men and women also engaged in prayer. But none had the earnestness of this old man, who neither saw nor heard anything around him.
The temple of Riyomidzu-dera, like that at Asakusa, is approached through an avenue crowded with little shops and penny shows, which give it the appearance of a fair. It was a fête day when we visited it, and a dense crowd was always passing up or down. In the porch of the temple, amongst other votive offerings, was a large lock of greasy black hair tied with string to a wooden frame. This, Ito explained, was the offering of a man who had probably been too much given to drink. He had come there, taking a vow to abstain, and in token thereof had cut off his hair and hung it up. Another votive offering was a vivid picture of an explosion on a steamship, with full account of the catastrophe, and of the providential escape of the pious votary. In a little recess close by the altar, three priests were driving a flourishing trade in the sale of charms. For a penny I bought two, one warranted to hold me scatheless against thunder, and the other securing for me general good fortune.