Successive waves of culture that have washed across Japan from the mainland of Asia have strongly influenced but never significantly changed the basic Japanese racial character which seems to have crystallized some three thousand years ago. At that time, nature was the primary factor of existence for the Japanese and, in general, remained so until Japan was opened to the West about one hundred years ago. From the first coming of Buddhism in the sixth century A.D. until that time, the cultural evolvement of the Japanese had been a synthesis of their own ideals with the manifold cultural and religious forms of India, China, and Korea. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese can withstand or somehow divert the self-consuming materialism or the propensities for self-analysis characteristic of the "Westernization" process. The word "I" is a comparatively new one in Japan, still used with some discomfort.
The landscape of Japan harbors a concentration of nature at its most exotic: bubbling and steaming volcanic slopes, torrential streams and waterfalls, wild rock formations along the coasts, steep mountains inland, and great forests. During the past millennia Japan has had more than its share of earthquakes, typhoons, and tidal waves--again manifestations of nature whose effects were seemingly magnified because of the country's small size. Yet with a natural pleasure at the idea of being alive, a kind of gratitude tempered with elements of stoicism, the Japanese fitted themselves into the geologic faults--around the mountains and along the streams--considering themselves an intrinsic part of the total environment. It did not occur to them to do otherwise.
The early inhabitants assigned gods to all natural phenomena, life processes, and physical objects. The paramount deity was Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, the source of life. She is worshiped at the Ise Inner Shrine, the holiest Place in Japan. Second only to the Sun Goddess and worshiped a short distance away at an almost identical Outer Shrine, is Toyo-uke-bime, the Goddess of Food, for whom the early Japanese devised an offering, not of rich or elaborate gifts, but of what was really important: a sublimely nutritious diet consisting of four cups of water . . .