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Ye Magick Mirrour of Old Japan

118 pages
Library of Alexandria
IN old Japan the mirror occupies a peculiarly important place. Travellers in that land of strange arts and quaint customs tell us of mirror-worship as one of its forms of primitive religion. In old Japan the mirror is not, as in our Western civilization, a mere article of furniture, an accessory of the toilet, or a means for covering up the otherwise indecorate breadth of wall above a mantel-piece. One finds the mirror in Japan surrounded with pomp and circumstance on every hand. It is prominent amongst the symbolic objects that constitute the imperial regalia of the Shogun. One sees it depicted in Japanese pictures of the infernal regions. In the temples of the old Shinto religion, precious old mirrors are enshrined in costly arks, only to be exhibited on the occasion of some great ceremony. Innumerable mirrors, some of them of old date, but mostly of modern manufacture, are to be found hung upon the walls of the Shinto temples. There they have been deposited as votive offerings by women who had perhaps nought else so precious to offer. As the Japanese warrior offers as a votive gift to the temple his cherished sword, so the Japanese lady bestows her treasured mirror. There they hang in thousands, swords and mirrors, side by side, thank-offerings to the gods. In the scant furniture of the Japanese ménage, the mirror, reposing in its place upon the lady’s toilet-table, forms the one significant object; the central feature to suit which all the rest is subordinated. The mirror enters into the myths of the Japanese race: it is the emblem of light, or the sun, and of the divine right of the dynasty. In the trousseau of the bride the mirror is the most precious object—her one cherished possession. The first-made mirror—or the one held to be such in the estimation of the Japanese, and venerated accordingly—is enshrined in the great sacred twin-palace at Isé, the holy spot to which pious pilgrims turn their steps with devoted zeal. Its origin is related in the famous myth of the sun-goddess, Amaterasu oho-mi-kami, who, on one occasion, withdrew offended to a rocky cavern, leaving the world in darkness. From this retreat she was enticed by the other gods, after many curious artifices had been tried, by their successful making of a mirror, in which seeing her face reflected, she was impelled by jealousy and curiosity to venture forth. This mirror was fashioned by the Vulcan of the Shinto Olympus to imitate the sun, being in shape a disk with eight rays. In modern Japanese heraldry the sun, as blazoned upon the national flag, is a red orb with sixteen red rays, not pointed as in European heraldry, but widening out to the margin of the flag. Some hold that the Japanese imperial crest, the kiku, which resembles a flower with sixteen petals joined and rounded at the outer extremities, and issuing from a small central disk, is also a blazon of the sun; others hold it to represent the chrysanthemum. In Japanese pictures of the sun-goddess myth, the mirror is always represented as of the eight-point form. Tradition states that the flaw still to be seen in its surface was caused by a blow it received when the gods thrust it into the half-opened doorway of the rocky cavern as the sun-goddess peeped out. The standard version of the entire myth is to be found in a memoir on the Shinto Temples of Isé by Mr. Ernest Satow, in the second volume of the “Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan” (1873-74). In the British Museum, in Dr. Anderson’s collection of Japanese drawings, No. 1905, there is a silk roll painted in colours, depicting the scene outside the cavern. It is without signature or seal, and the artist is unknown.