BY THE REV. DR. STUART D.B. PICKEN
Books seldom convey the whole reality of the subject they discuss and this is very true of the biography. Nevertheless, in the case of people who are truly unique, something of their originality as well as their vitality can be felt even through the medium of the printed page. This is most certainly true of Yukitaka Yamamoto.
His words will speak for themselves, but there are so many things that might be said to expand the context in addition to the meaning of what he writes that this book could well have been three or four times its present length. Insofar as brevity can help to convey immediacy, necessary explanations have been kept to the minimum.
This brief introduction is designed to offer a few points of background that might be helpful to readers unfamiliar with either Japan in general or Shinto in particular. The man speaks best for himself, but in his original Japanese text, he speaks to an audience familiar with things Japanese and therefore much is left unsaid. In the translation, compiling and editing some of the missing links are identified in ways that it is hoped will be helpful.
The difference in Japanese and American perceptions of the same phenomenon alone can be quite startling for anyone encountering Japan for the first time. Deeper cultural perceptions can frequently prove perplexing if not totally confusing. While never attempting to minimize these, I have tried not to let them detract from the universality of the message which Yukitaka Yamamoto from the depth of his heart and the breadth of his experience is profoundly concerned to express to his readers.
Let me conclude these remarks with three further points about the man and his times:
He must be understood as a man born during what the Japanese themselves call the Taisho Democracy. Japan between the years 1912 and 1926 was as close as it ever was in its history to being a liberal democracy. The era contrasts sharply with the early years of Showa when the Japanese military took full control of the society with such finally devastating consequences.
Taisho was a time of broad thinking, and those born then seem somehow to have inherited its spirit. The hearts of those born then are bigger and their visions correspondingly broader than those who became enmeshed in narrow and fanatical nationalism. Yamamoto writes of his inclination to go abroad a feeling that belongs to that more liberal hour.
Japanese who went to live in Manchuria or who sought wider spheres of self-expression constituted the basis of the post-war
international awareness that contributed so much to the reconstruction of the nation's shattered industrial base , its badly damaged morale and its vanished self-esteem.
The role of men like Yukitaka Yamamoto at a critical point in Japanese history is at the one time pivotal, being an agent of change, as well as decisive, being also the conscience of the present evaluating the past in the light of the future.
Yukitaka Yamamoto is a religious leader who is possessed of not only religious charisma but also of what those of a Celtic background in spirituality would call "the second sight". His religious qualities as a person enhanced by his lifetime experiences have contributed towards this along with his remarkable grasp of the fundamental principles of the ancient cosmological wisdom of the Orient. I have watched hard- nosed business men sit with mouths gaping wide as he has told them about themselves with astonishing accuracy and read the signs of the times with an uncanny sense of what is important and influential.
His New Year addresses to shrine supporters tend to be as good an analysis of the previous year in terms of everything from international politics to exchange rates as anything you could pick up in the Wall Street Journal. Unlike many of the religious cultic figures that people follow to their own destruction, here is a man who speaks from experience and sees the meaning of the integration of the horizontal and the vertical dimensions of life -- the hortizontal of the everyday world and the vertical of the spiritual -- in a way that helps people to understand both themselves and the events in which their lives are caught up.
It is no small talent and it is no form of good luck. It is the gift of a man whose spirituality is grounded in the life of the world and whose life is grounded in the spirituality of the universe.
The story of his life is a kind of parable of the rebuilding of Japan . Names that are now household names in Japan and round the world are linked to the shrine. His story in many ways expresses the heartfelt longings of the entire Japanese people as he tried in his capacity as one of their spiritual leaders to express in his own life the positive qualities that Japanese religion can offer not only to them but also to all mankind.
But above all, his life is a story of what Americans more than most enjoy reading about - success. He reaped the rewards of living and believing in the intrinsic value of what he was doing. He struggled against adversity and the sheer massiveness of the task - but he triumphed and that is what this book is about.
If people ask how Japan became so successful in modern times, at least one line of answer must be to say "Take a look at the life of a man like Yukitaka Yamamoto and you will find at least one set of reasons."
In the language of Shinto, there is a term nakaima which means quite literally "in the middle of now". Restated in terms of Western philosophical thought it might be titled the doctrine of the "Ultimate Reality of Presentness".
While both Heraclitus in the West and the Buddha in the East have pointed out that the present in some ways does not really exist, from another point of view it may be spoken of as the only authentic reality. In Shinto nakaima is the way of thinking that sees every moment and its activities as having intrinsic value. They should not be looked upon as peremptory moments , as perhaps necessary but nevertheless irksome stepping stones to the future, but rather as the future while it is coming into being and happening. Therefore every act and every moment is possessed of its own unique properties and qualities - those features which constitute its intrinsic value, and if each is given full worth , the cumuilative results will justify all the effort that has been put into them.
These inadequate comments should perhaps make the entry into the main text a little less mystifying. May I hope that your meeting with the Reverend Yukitaka Yamamoto,. 96th High Priest of Japan's oldest Shrine will point you to a pathway of inspiration and assist in your own search for the deep truths upon which humankind's best hopes for survival and development must be based.
Stuart D. B. Picken
Tokyo, Japan and Stirling, Scotland