“Superiority” is measured by true modesty in Japan

There is a famous old saying in Japanese, “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  This means “the greater you become as a person,  the more modest you become.”  The origin of this phrase is not known.  However, this concept still holds true in Japan.  The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito, who is the highest in rank in Japan is considered the most humble person in Japan.  This video footage was taken when he visited the earthquake victims in Kumamoto in 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also kneeling down when he met with the earthquake victims. This kind of “modest attitude” is somewhat expected of a great leader in Japan.

In Bible, a very similar concept of a “great” person is stated.

42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.…

New Testament, Mark 10:42-44

The famous Japanese company called MINOLTA also lives by this motto.  The corporation’s website explains the origin of the company name.  They took the first letters from “Machinery and instruments Optical by Tashima.”  It also comes from the Japanese word, “Minoru (crop bearing) ta (rice field).”  It is explained that they wanted to remember the founder’s mother’s word to always be modest as in “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  The concept of modesty is valued even in the business world in Japan.

There has been no known written religious dogma or rules to make people modest in Japan but this tradition has been cherished for millennia.

In the first Japanese formal history document edited by the government of that time called “Nihonshoki” which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.


Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

From the ancient time, it has been known in Japan that the leader (the Emperor) existed to serve the people.  This may be closely related to the fact that modesty is still highly valued in the Japanese society.

Emperor Nintoku and the People’s Cooking Stoves


Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor who is said to have lived around the 4th Century was one of the most respected Emperors in the history of Japan who embodied the concept of the Japanese style “democracy.”  His grave is considered to be the largest in the world which is about 113 acres and approximately 111 feet in height. In the first Japanese formal historical document called “Nihonshoki”  which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.

Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

There is a famous story of Emperor Nintoku called “People’s Cooking Stoves” (Tami no Kamado) which is still passed down in Japan.

Emperor Nintoku made the town of Naniwa to be the new Capital.  However, he saw the town from Takatsu Palace and saw the people’s chimneys were not generating enough smokes from their cooking stoves.

He said, “the reason why there is not much smoke coming out of the town must be because they are too poor to cook anything. If the city is like this, the country side should be worse.”

So he has made an official statement to stop collecting tax for the next 3 years.  The Emperor did not make any new clothes since then. The palace walls and the roof deteriorated but he refrained from repairing.  He even saw the starlights in between the cracks.

Three years have passed.  The Emperor went to a hill top and he saw a lot of smoke coming out of the people’s cooking stoves.  He said to the Empress,  “I am rich already.”  She said, “You say strange things. How can you say you are rich when the palace wall and the roof is broken?”

He said to the Empress,”Listen carefully. The business of governing must be based on people.  If the people are rich, I can say that I am also rich.”  The Emperor smiled.

At that time, lots of people from different places told the Emperor, “the palace is broken but the people got rich. If someone forgot something on the road, no one picks it up these days.  If we do not pay tax and also not volunteer to repair the palace, we will be punished by heaven.”

However, the Emperor still did not accept tax for the next 3 years.  After 6 years, he finally approved and resumed collecting tax and allowed to repair the palace.

In Nihonshoki, it is noted as the following:

Without being directed, people voluntarily started bringing in the building materials and carried things to the Palace.  The people worked day and night and they even competed with each other in their work.  The Palace was finished completely in no time.  That is why he is called “Saint Emperor.” After his passing,  he was buried in Mozuno Misasagi in the country of Izumi.

In “Kojiki” it is also noted that his grave is in Mozuno Mimihara. “Nihonshoki” also wrote that his grave was a “Jyuryo” which means that the construction of the site was already finished while he was alive.  During the Emperor’s reign, it is known that a lot of agricultural construction work such as building waterways in the rice field took place.  A large amount of soil had to be removed and piled up somewhere and many mounds were created as a result.  It is only natural to assume that the largest mound in the area was selected to bury the respected Emperor.

To this day, the story of Emperor Nintoku and “the People’s Cooking Stoves” is shared by many Japanese people. The story is also embedded in the lyrics of the City of Osaka song.

Since the ancient time of the Takatsu Palace
After generations of prosperity
Smokes still coming out of the people’s cooking stoves
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka

The Osaka City Song

The Japanese Emperor’s New Year’s Ceremony and the ultimate self-sacrifice

The Japanese Emperor have been called “the Great One” or “the Heavenly Child” by the people of Japan and they are known to be the descendants of divine figures in the ancient Japanese myth. One of the reasons why the Japanese people always respected the Japanese Emperor is the constant prayer he offered on behalf of the people.

There is the most important ceremony conducted by the Japanese Emperor called “Shihouhai” or “Yohouhai” on January 1st.  It means “the prayer to the four directions” or “the prayer for the world (yo).”  Other ceremonies at the Imperial Palace can be conducted by others but this particular one can be only conducted by the Emperor himself. The contents of this prayer have been a well kept secret for a long time.  However, in the recent years, the words used during this ceremony have been revealed to the public.

Before dawn on the New Year’s day out in the cold, the Emperor calls in the divinities and pray for the people.

Please have all threats go through my body first.
Please have all poisonous evil through my body first.
Please have all poisonous energies and negative intentions go through my body first.
Please have all suffering and calamities go through my body first.
Please have all natural disasters go through my body first.
Please have all conflicts go through my body first.
Please have all the wars go through my body first.
Please have all the curses go through my body first.

Historically, the Emperors of Japan felt personally responsible for what happened in the country including natural disasters.  The 56th Emperor Seiwa (AD 850-881) has stated that “Disasters do not occur by coincidence. It is all because of the lack of virtue in myself” after a flood occurred in Kumamoto.

Even when someone was planning to kill the Emperor, he still thought it was his responsibility.  The Emperor Meiji has created the following poem after Kotoku Shusui (1871-1911) , a socialist and an anarchist was arrested for planning to assassinate the Emperor himself.

If there was a sin committed by him,  Amatsu God of Heaven,  please punish myself.  What my people did is my fault since he is one of my own children.  – Emperor Meiji

罪あらば  我を咎めよ天津神  民はおのれの 生みし子なれば  – 明治天皇 御製

Although these stories did not usually make newspaper headlines,  it has been a common knowledge of the Japanese people that the Emperor’s traditional role is to pray for the peace and happiness of the people.

The Equality before the “Words” in Japanese Culture


Yaegaki Shrine, the place the first Japanese poem was composed.

There has been a sense of “equality” before the “words” in the Japanese culture.  In the ancient Japan, the Japanese poems were fairly appreciated and valued regardless of the poet’s rank and social standing.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Genesis 1:1

It was almost as if the ancient Japanese also regarded the “words” to be divine as stated in the old testament. This deep reverence for spoken words is called “kotodama” in Japanese language. “Koto” means “things,” “words,” or “phenomena” and “tama” means “soul/spirit” or “treasure.”  This word signifies the concept that the “Word” in Japanese culture has spiritual essence and is something very precious.

The ancient Japanese believed that if one speaks of something, they will literally manifest what they said.  So people in the old times were extremely careful not to say bad words. This is called “Kotoage sezu” (Not say what you don’t want).  Even now, the Japanese people have tendency to be vague and not say much when they are not sure about something.

In the famous anthology of Japanese poems, “Manyoshu,” which is said to have been completed around AD 759, the poems composed by the Emperors were published side by side to the poems composed by people without ranks.  The poems composed by the Emperors, aristocrats, government officials, farmers, soldiers, traveling female dancers, hunters and fishermen were included.  Some of the poems were composed in regional dialects.

The following poem was composed by a famous poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro to bid farewell to someone who was going far away.

This wonderful county of Yamato (Japan) is the country that the words have power to help us. So I say to you, “Good luck!”

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

The fact that someone such as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro whose rank was quite low was considered a legendary poet means that the poems were valued for their power to influence the reality and to move people’s hearts.

This tradition still exists in modern Japan. At the beginning of the year, the event called “Utakai hajime” (First Poetry Reading) is held at the Japanese Imperial Palace. The Emperor would give the yearly “theme” to the general public and anyone can enter. The poems are judged by professional poets.  If your poem is selected, you will be invited to the event at the Imperial Palace to discuss the poem with the Emperor.

Imperial Household Agency of Japan

A sign of the ancient civilization in Japan: 9000 years old Lacquer Accessories

The Oldest Lacquer in the World Found in Japan

In the recent years, the new archaeological findings uncovered the fact the Japanese lacquer art had much older history than previously believed. It used to be believed by many that Japan did not have much sophisticated “culture” and most of the advanced technologies had come from China in Yayoi era around (BC 300 t0 AD300).

However, the Japanese lacquer art turned out to be as old as the Japanese language itself. The word lacquer in Japanese language is “Urushi.” It is said that the origin of this word is related to  “uruwashi” (beautiful) and “uruoshi” (to make rich, to saturate) .

Six lacquer accessories found in the ancient archaeological site called “Kakinoshima Iseki” in Minamikayabe-cho in Hakodate City, Hokkaido, Japan turned out to be approximately 9000 years old based on the radiocarbon dating.

Moreover, a branch of the Japanese poison oak (Urushi)  found at the site named “Torihama Kaizuka” in Fukui Prefecture, Japan turned out to be approximately 12600 years old which is the oldest in the world. This plant was also confirmed to be endemic to Japan. According to a NPO called Reijunkan in Japan, it takes at least 10 years of rigorous care to be able to harvest lacquer from the Japanese poison oak trees.  This suggests that the ancient Japanese people were already growing the poison oak trees for the next generation to use.

Ancient Japanese Women Were Respected

The comb found in Torihama Kaizuka which shown on the cover of the book below. Numerous combs painted with red or black lacquer were found from the archaeological sites in Japan. The fact that the ancient Japanese people were making “fashion accessories” which are considered non-essential items to one’s survival show that these people were abundant enough to do so.  It also means that the owners of these combs who were probably females were respected and well taken care of. It is also possible that women themselves made these items. At any rate, it is clear that the society allowed women to have fashion items. This is a clear sign of a civilization.

The Japanese lacquer art is still the integral part of the Japanese culture. Essential Japanese utensils such as chopsticks and soup bowls are made using traditional technique. Different techniques are passed down to different areas in Japan with each one having unique characteristics.  In Fukui Prefecture where the 12600 year old lacquer art pieces were discovered,  the type of lacquer art called “Wakasa-nuri” is still being made and it is loved by people all over Japan.