What of the






Part 1


24 Parallels between Old Japan and Ancient Israel:

Based on the work of Oyabe Zenichirou

by Mark A. Riddle 

The purpose of this essay is to review twenty-four parallels, points of similarity, between ancient Japan and ancient Israel.

From Oyabe Zenichirou, Nihon oyobi Nihon Kokumin no Kigen: Kodai Nihonjin wa Heburaijin Nari (Tokyo: Honoo Shobou, reprint, 1982; first published by Kouseikaku in 1929) [i] 

1.  MisogiRitual Ablutions: Purification of the Ritual Impurities of the Body (kegare) by Washing in Water

In official Japanese mythology (of the Kojiki, redacted 712 AD), Izanagi, the male of the Japanese Primal Couple, ascends from Yomi, the nether-world, and bathes in a river in order to cleanse his body from the pollution he has brought on himself by his descent into the realm of the dead.  For centuries the practice of Shinto priests has been to emulate Izanagi by performing misogi, ritual ablutions, often in a river, before engaging in ritual service.  And the practice is memorialized in place names—for example, another name for the Miyagawa at the Ise Grand Shrine is Misogigawa (river of purification). 

Requirements for abstinence and purification prior to engaging in shrine services include observation of special restrictions for periods of one day, three days, or a month. 

Oyabe compares these Japanese customs to the regulations for ritual cleansing found in Numbers 19 (vv.7-8, 12, 19). 

2.  Origin of the Torii, the Gate at the Entrance to Shinto Shrines

There are many styles of torii in Japan, but one primitive form is the Jinmei style—two perpendicular round pillars joined by a rounded straight cross-piece parallel with the ground.  The oldest form is the Waraza style of torii, with a thick straw rope, shimenawa, joining the tops of two pillars.  This original form of the torii could still be seen in older shrines in Oyabefs day, a century ago, and he cites examples.  (The author has observed many examples of modifications of this original form—a straw rope running along with the cross-piece joining the two pillars—see, e.g., Kyotofs Matsuo Shrine.) 

Oyabe compares the original form of the torii to the twin pillars, Jachin and Boaz, at the entry to Solomonfs Temple (II Chron 3:17; I Kings 7:15-22; the latter passage refers to a gcordh [KJV glineh], meaning and configuration uncertain, in connection with the pillars)

3.  Temple and Shrine Structure

Like Solomonfs Temple, the Shinto shrine has both an outer area for general worship and an inner sanctum, into which only the highest priest may enter.  In the inner sanctum lie the shrinefs sacred relics. 

Near the entrance to the outer worship area is a fountain of running water where priests and worshippers purify their hands and mouths.  The shrine precinct is surrounded by a mizugaki, a fence made out of wood.[ii] 

4.  Lions and the Lion Dance 

Oyabe points out the fact that whereas lions are not and have never been native to Japan, every Shinto shrine in Japan has a pair of (stylized) lion sculptures at its entrance.  Lions appear as a motif in Shinto art, and lion dances performed using lion masks have long been an important part of Shinto performing art (he sites the Echigo Jishi, for example, an ancient folk dance [satokagura] of the old Echigo Province). 

This Oyabe compares these to the use of the lion to symbolize Judah (apparently based on Gen 49:9) and the use of sculptured lions in the temple (I Kings 7:29, 36) and at Solomonfs throne (I Kings 10:19-20 and II Chron 9:18-19; the lions evidently were arrayed in pairs on either side of Solomonfs throne and its approaching stairway). 

5.  Sakaki  

A Shinto priest purifies spaces and things by sprinkling water on them using a branch of a masakaki, one of 23 varieties of the sakaki shrub (Camellia or Thea japonica) extant in Japan.  Oyabe compares this to the branch of the hyssop used to paint the blood of the Passover lamb upon the lintel and doorposts (Ex 12:22), used for general purification (Ps 51:7), for cleansing from leprosy (Lev  14:6).  Numbers 19:18 describes the use of the hyssop branch just as the sakaki is used in Japan—gtake hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the...h 

6.  Shimenawa 

The Japanese shimenawa is a rope (nawa) used to demarcate (shime) a sacred area.  It is always braided counter-clockwise of three, five, or seven strands.  Oyabe compares the shimenawa to the gcordsh or glinesh possibly demarcating sacred space in Solomonfs temple (see I Kings 7:15, 23).  Japanese OT has enawaf in both passages, but the parallel is uncertain.  What is clear is the appearance in both Israel and Japan of rope at the entranceway—the cord on the templefs two pillars (v.15) and the use of the shimenawa as an accessory to the shrinefs torii.

7.  Construction of Altars of Unhewn Stones

Though admitting a failure to find in Shinto texts a written prohibition against the use of hewn stone, Oyabe recognizes an actual practice of using only whole stones in Shinto shrine construction.  This he compares to the explicit injunctions of Exodus 20:25, Deut 27:5-6 and Joshua 8:31.

Early Japanese worhip of the Shinto gods, before the era of shrine buildings, followed the pattern set by the first emperor of the divine lineage, Jimmu, who built a stone altar at the foot of Mount Tomi soon after he arrived in the Yamato area.  Oyabe says a nusa (ea liturgical object,f ea ritual purification wandf) set up on stone at the foot of, or upon, a mountain is the earliest Shinto worship site and compares this to the ghigh placesh (Heb. bamah) of Israel (I Kings 3:2) which both preceded the building of the temple (II Chron 1:1-13) and continued thereafter (II Chron 33:17).



[i]  Oyabe Zenichirou (1867-1941) studied in the US 1888-1898; received the doctorate (DD) atYale U. in 1898; and lectured in the Institute of Japanese Classics, Kokugakuin University. For additional biographical details see Goodman and Miyazawa, Jews in the Japanese Mind (2000) pp.167ff.


The author can recommend only Chapter 8 of Oyabefs work; other chapters are tainted by his ultra-nationalism, and there are errors in Ch.8—for example, his incorrect etymology for the word eJordan,f his equation of Shiloh with Japanese shiro (fortress), his acceptance of hinoki for gcedarh in passages such as II Samuel 5:11 (more recent Japanese OT translations have kouka, a gfragrant oakh) and so forth.  And the author judged one suggested parallel (the clapping of hands as a part of Japanese worship) to be not supported by the evidence Oyabe presented.  Otherwise, his list of Shinto-Old Testament parallels is very useful and his attestation of various old Japanese customs and traditions is a valuable contribution.


OT quotes are from the RSV wherever the KJV is not specifically cited.  Definitions of Japanese terms are taken from a standard reference, the Koujien (1955), which is also cited, as eK.f


[ii]For more on temple structure, see my gTemple Patterns in Ancient Japanh (2008), available from the author.