Asked about the soul of Japan,
I would say
That it is
Like wild cherry blossoms
Glowing in the morning sun.
Providence ordained a particular fate to Japan. The Japanese believe the Sun rises earlier in their boundless sky than anywhere else in the world. The picturesque and thought-provoking landscape is covered with forested mountains cut by glens that run into the sea. They surround the thousands of other mountainous islands, protecting the mainland with their vastness and giving it life with their unpredictability. But this Garden of Eden has its challenges. While the summers are fertile and damp, they are contrasted by harsh winters. Severe earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and floods are constant reminders of life’s fragility and reinforce the people’s belief in karma.
The Japanese people are ethnically unique, and no one can offer a concrete answer regarding their origins. The most probable theory is that they are a mix between the Polynesian and Mongol-Tungus ethnic groups that moved to the Japanese archipelago in pre-historic times. The Japanese nation was formed over many centuries and most likely included a long period of assimilation with local tribes, many of which were gradually expelled towards the northeast. Our knowledge of Japan in those times is scarce. It is clear that the tribes living on the islands were organized into small, primitive communities — predecessors of the ancient Japanese state which can be traced back to 660 BCE. Its first divine ruler was Emperor Jimmu, and his ancestors were believed to be gods. Jimmu was the great-grandson of Ninigi — the first god who descended to Earth in human form and became the forefather of the Japanese nation. Ninigi in his turn was the beloved grandson of the immortal celestial goddess Amaterasu, the most venerated and powerful being in the Shinto pantheon.
In this manner, the Land of the Rising Sun came to be ruled by a permanent, unbroken dynasty of emperors who were believed to be gods and humans in one under the special patronage of their divine ancestors. Due to its divine origin, only the imperial family enjoyed specific sacred bonds with them and lead its country according to the Way of the Gods or Shinto, Japan’s most ancient religion. This concept is the foundation of the prevailing Japanese mindset up to this day.
According to Shinto, the gods created the world from chaos, endowing it with order and harmony. This separate, independent, and perfect world is Japan; all other nations and peoples are not the Japanese gods’ creation. This foundational mythology profoundly influenced Japanese history by making it unique, honorable, and powerful yet vulnerable at the same time. For despite their magnanimous identity and geographical isolation, the Japanese were not immune to the influence of other cultures, which they absorbed like a sponge.
One of these was the Chinese civilization. Sown on Japanese soil, its seeds were eventually transformed and yielded different fruit. Long before the foundation of the Japanese state in 660 BCE, Chinese civilization was synthesizing with and altering local traditions which often led to harsh clashes between various factions of the court’s nobility. The fact that all high nobles were blood relatives of the imperial family made continuous controversies, intrigues, and conspiracies inevitable.
In 587 CE at Mount Shigi, the Soga clan who descended from noble Korean immigrants fought and defeated the powerful Mononobe clan of local origin which supplied bodyguards to the emperor. After taking power, the Soga clan started an active campaign to break down the tribal system and establish a society according to the Confucian model of a well-organized, consolidated, and centrally ruled state. Buddhism, previously only practiced among a small sect of court nobility, became the basis of the new leadership.....
Read further in Samurai: Ascension
This is a chapter from Samurai I: Ascension