In Japan Are Ten Thousand Gods…

In Japan are ten thousand gods, and they all apologize for being gods.

But here, in this capital of fundamentalism, there is only one god, and it is you — who must apologize for not being Him.

15 thoughts on “In Japan Are Ten Thousand Gods…

  1. This word, GOD, is a word used by man as he tries to explain the unexplainable.

    The simple fact is this, there’s a mystery, there are a thousand theories, but no one knows the truth of that mystery.

    Most are too afraid to suggest this imaginary being doesn’t exist, because they’ve been conditioned from birth to feel guilt and fear anytime they try to think for themselves.

    Personally, I don’t believe anything man has put together, especially a story, man himself has chnged more times than we can count.

    It’s an adult fairy story for fearful, insecure, so called adult people.

  2. Well!

    The Gods should apologize!

    And as for this god of the Christians, should he actually exist … and should I ever happen to run across him … I shall have a word or two or several thousand about his miserable conduct and stewardship of the world.

    • I agree the gods are polite when they apologize for being gods and rude when they don’t. I do think, however, that only about one-quarter to one-third of Christians are fundamentalists.

    • Karen,

      The last time I accidentally slipped into conversation with that Old Testament character, I ended up criticizing his handling (or not) of the treaty negotiations at Versailles following the First World War. In other words, I had concluded that Someone needed to apologize, as if that would do any good one bloody Second World War followed by the Iron Curtain, etc. later. After that, I realized I didn’t have anything good to say and you know what the conventional wisdom is about that sort of situation….

    • Hi Abibi! It’s good to see you again.

      I think the concept of the gods apologizing for being gods is a very Japanese concept, and somewhat difficult to understand. So far as I know, it involves the gods setting a good example of humility (as opposed to egotism). That is important because, as you might know, humility plays a role in Japanese society that is largely analogous to the role morals play in American society. In other words, the Japanese social order to some extent depends on the gods apologizing for being gods.

      • Hello Paul,

        Yes, I think the two traits many “Westerners” notice from Asian societies is a sense of both humility and conformity. But I would think these two traits would go against the grain of apologetic gods. They would enforce a very strict social hierarchy and an acceptance of the social order.

        I think this is important if we consider historic Japan prior to the Meiji revolution. The classes of Japanese society were very stratified and opposed to social movement. We can see in the Samurai a sense both of superiority but also duty. While they had the authority to kill anyone of lower status they were also bound by a “guidebook” similar to the European knightly orders.

        Or the Emperor whose power was absolute. While he possessed an important role as an interlocutor of the gods and duty to his country, I do not think that he was ever dependent on his subjects.

        I would find the idea of apologetic Japanese gods to be very confusing because their history and social customs run contrary to that notion. While they may have some duties I would think their rule and power would be unchallenged and respected.

        Best Regards, Abibi.

      • I think I must have failed to write with clarity about this issue, Abibi. Let me give it another try. So far as I understand, the Japanese gods do not apologize for being gods because there is anything morally wrong with being gods. As I understand it, they apologize in order to set a good example for people of how to behave. It’s a very difficult concept for Westerners to grasp, no? We tend to think their apologies mean they are somehow less august, less respectable, perhaps. But that is the way we might see things. So far as I know, it is not a very Japanese way of seeing an apology.

    • Hi Audrey! 🙂

      Well, I think we should keep in mind that an apology can mean something very different in Japan than it typically — or at least ideally — means in America. In America, if the gods apologized, I think that would indicate to most of us the gods were somehow in the wrong about something. But in Japan the gods can apologize without being morally wrong.

      In fact, if I understand any of this correctly (and that’s a big “if”), then the Japanese gods would be more in the wrong to not apologize than to apologize. You see, if they don’t apologize for being gods, then that indicates arrogance, no?

      But why are their apologies necessary — or at least desirable — in terms of supporting the social order?

      If I understand any of this, then the glue of Japanese society can (somewhat superficially) be said to be humility. As opposed to morality. In other words, in some parts of the world, including the West, the social order is in large part created and maintained by morality. But in Japan, even more so than in the other East Asian societies I’ve inadequately studied, the social order depends — not on morality — but on “humility”.

      And I put humility in quotes there to indicate that the Japanese concept of it seems to me at least to be far richer and more meaningful than the American concept of humility.

      All of what I just said is a gloss and very much superficial, Audrey. But it’s possible — I hope — that I have pointed you in the right direction.

      On the other hand, I have been known to be hopelessly block-headed when it comes to understanding Japan — just ask my ex-wife, Tomoko!

  3. Hello Paul,

    I am it was not your fault at all, but rather my lack of sleep! As to the idea of an apologetic stance that does not display any weakness, I believe the inherent definition of the word necessitates either premeditated or reflexive concessions. The only thing that I could see that would be variable between various cultures is the amount of accountability and personal blame that lies in one’s own mistakes.

    I also still believe that my examples hold, no? Japan was and is a very hierarchical society with the gods composing the upper totem pole. If they are to take an apologetic stance why is that not seen among the other heads of various classes throughout Japanese society such as the absolute power of the Emperor, the Samurai ruling class, or even the modern day Japanese CEO.

    From what I understand Japanese CEOs live very humble lives, within modest means, but that humility does not equate with an apology. From my understanding Japanese society entrusts the various rulers with absolute power, but it is a very heavy burden and any mistakes are to be met with immediate personal accountability and repentance of acts (with repentance often being the end result of Bushido being suicide).

    • Abibi, it has been more than 15 years now since I was last in the habit of studying the Japanese and other East Asian cultures. I got to thinking this afternoon, “Memory plays horrible tricks on us.” So, I tried to find on the internet anything I could about what apologies mean in Japanese culture. I wanted to be very sure that they were more about showing humility than acknowledging fault.

      Abibi, I must apologize. After more than an hour of googling various phrases and terms all I could dig up were a couple articles on the subject. I thought there would be tons of information about the role of apology in Japanese culture. But apparently, if there is, I have not been clever enough to find it.

      What I did find goes into more detail than I have in my responses to you. Again, I apologize for that. My memory of what I studied so many years ago is plainly inadequate.

      Here is the best article I could find on the subject. As you can see, apologies in Japan are not necessarily admissions of guilt, sorrow, or wrong doing. They are instead primarily means of smoothing over various social situations, showing concern for others, and expressing humility (as opposed to arrogance and egotism).

      I am very sorry that I could not find anything that specifically addressed the issue of the gods apologizing. I have forgotten my source for that, but it could easily have been my ex-wife. She used to translate for me literature from Japan and China. What she translated was often not otherwise available in English. Regrettably, I myself lack any ability to read those languages.

      One thing I do recall — or at least recall if my memory is not tricking me — is that, in Japan, leaders will publicly apologize for the mistakes of subordinates — rather than publicly blame the subordinate who made the mistake.

      I think it is a mistake to see Japanese society as simply more rigidly hierarchical than other societies. If I recall, how you treat someone and are treated by them depends on where you are. For instance, if you are at work, you are very deferential to your boss. But if you are out at a bar with your boss, you might not defer to him at all. Rules are place-bound, among other things.

      A question I have, but am unable to answer, is to who were the gods apologizing to for being gods? In China, the emperor used to apologize for being “worthless” — but he would not apologize to his subjects for being worthless. He would apologize to heaven for being worthless. Or maybe it’s that the emperor was the only allowed to apologize for being “the worthless son of heaven”, while everyone else had to apologize for being something less august than the son of heaven. Or maybe it was both. It’s been so many years since I knew this stuff.

      Another question I have, but am unable to answer, Abibi, is how popular is the myth that the gods apologize for being gods? Is it something every Japanese school child knows, or is it something relatively few people know? There are, as an analogy, parts of the Bible that almost every American knows, and there are parts of the Bible that almost no Americans know. So, I have been thinking about that and wondering how popular that myth is?

    • You know, Abibi, your questions and concerns have been jogging my memories from years ago. I just now recalled something that happened to my ex-wife when she was a young girl. It involves apologizing and so it might be relevant here.

      When Tomoko was about ten years old, she was one day ill with a cold or the flu when her father got a phone call from an employee of a huge Japanese corporation. A corporation that, among other things, is a household name even in the US. The employee wanted to know if her father could fly to Singapore and troubleshoot a quality-control problem the corporation was having in one of its factories there.

      Her father said no. He said his daughter was sick and that he was going to stay home with her while she was ill.

      A bit later, the president of the Japanese corporation called Tomoko’s father and asked him to do the same thing. This time, because the president was a personal friend, Tomoko’s father agreed to leave his daughter while she was sick.

      The next day, a vice president of the corporation showed up at Tomoko’s house, respectfully asked to see her, and then, when she came out, the vice president apologized profusely to the ten year old for depriving her of her father. He then gave her an art vase valued at ten thousand dollars.

      To me, the significance of that is two-fold. First, the apology was from a social superior to a social inferior. And second (and more importantly) the folks in that corporation probably did not think they had done anything they should not have done in asking the father to leave his daughter. In other words, they were not apologizing with a sense of having done anything wrong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s