The Eternal Triangle of a City,
an Infectious Disease and Religion
   Yoshinobu Miyake
President, RELNET Corp.
April 17, 2003

1) Urban Civilization created Established Religion

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is raging in the People's Republic of China and some Chinese majority countries or areas in the spring of 2003. SARS mainly hits metropolises such as Beijing and Hong Kong. I mentioned about the relationship between the ancient urban civilization and the creation of 'established religion' in "What the city brought the human being?" in July 2001. 'Established religion', such as Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, came to existence based on this urban civilization. Probably, the 'primitive' animism religion existed at the very beginning stage of human beings. However, the religions such as Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, which was called established religion later was based on the urban civilization and it started when how men should be there was questioned. Therefore, we, living in the modern world, cannot think about the phenomenon called 'religion' without the ancient urban civilization.'

I had an opportunity to ask Dr. Fumihiko Katayama who teaches public health study at Tokyo Women's Medical University. He is also the Chief Priest of Hanazono Shinto Shrine in Shinjuku. I said to him with a certain belief, 'The ancient city-state brought us civilization including established religion that we currently possess. For example, those systems relating with the civilization of human beings such as letters, the law, social classes.' Dr Katayama said, 'Probably infectious diseases are added to it.' And my belief, the relationship between an infectious disease and religion, was made clear.

2) Infectious Disease is an Important Theme for the Urban Civilization

In Japan, Kyoto had been a big city for a long time, which had been prospered for 1,200 years since the capital was transferred there in AD794. And the biggest festival in Kyoto is Gion Matsuri where the whole town takes part in. In June 1998, I mentioned about "Shinto and Pillars 2: What is Soshimori?" that 'according to "the order of qualify Shinto and Buddhism" in the first year of Meiji Restoration (1867), the deities of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto is Susano-no-Mikoto and his spouse Kushiinada-Hime strained by myths, and not their children, Hachi-Oji (eight princes), but Taoist deities Gozu-tenno and his wife, Harisainyo, and their eight princes.' I proved that among the eight princes, those Konjin gods of the direction of when and where the god is changeable, who closely related with 'the Lunar Calendar', are included such as Daishogun, Saiha and Hyobi. (Note: Hachioji city in west Tokyo was named after these eight princes.)
Moreover, at Gion Matsuri, Chimaki (the rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves) for talismans are scattered from floats and on the dumpling it is written that 'I am a descendant of Somin-shorai. (This means that the illness avoid the person who has this dumpling.)' And this suggests the story of 'Somin-shorai and Kotan-shorai' of "Hoki-Naiden" which is written in "Bingo-no-kuni-Fudoki (a local history book written in 8th century)" or "Gunsho-Ruijyu (an Encyclopaedia for book published in 1803)." (Note: It is similar to the story of the Passover in "Exodus' in the Old Testament.) That means, in a word, the Gion Matsuri was a festival of how people could avoid the infectious diseases that supposed to be happened so often in July, when its closeness and hotness reached the peak and in Kyoto, where the most densely populated in Japan. Needless to say, nowadays, the environment of living are fully equipped by the spread of waterworks and preventive inoculations vaccines or the isolation of the patients are done for that kind of disease. But, in the ancient or the medieval society where people did not have such a scientific knowledge, the festival was held as an event of enclosing epidemics.

Most of the summer festivals in Japan have a character of those events of enclosing epidemics or holding services for the departed souls. It means that before the human being lived in the city, spoken language was enough to communicate each other and there was no need to record on the clay board. Even if a man had died of a disease, there was less possibility for the people to be infected with a virus because of its sparse population. (Note: If they were afraid to be infected, they could move to another place.) Therefore, in the 'primitive' society, the people put stress on the resurrection of the dead soul than the avoidance of the dead body. If the deceased was a powerful man or spiritual shaman, it was often seen that there bodies were not kept away as the dead, but rather in order to succeed its power they ate them, what is called cannibalism, or put on its mammies and skulls. As it were, they tried to destroy and build a close relationship with the dead.

3) Nature Dislikes 'Monopoly'
However, as I already mentioned, the city-state started in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago on brought the human society to various changes and progresses as well as the epidemics which was annoying and very dangerous. Further before the city-state established in Orient, the present human being, Homo Sapiens, spread to the world from East Africa and at that time, this 'wise man' already had reached the peak of food chain by using weapons and fire invented by their intelligence. Therefore, to reach the peak of food chain means that they ate the other plants and animals, and that they were hardly eaten by the other beast of prey. This helped to spread the species of human race to the whole world only in a few ten thousand years but at the same time brought the result that a specific species of human race increased too much.
Nature has the character that the nature itself rejects the prosperity of a specific species exceeding its limitation. Therefore, the diversity of animals and plants brought the continuation of life on the earth over 3.8 billions years. So it is an important matter of life or death for all the other creatures that a specific species prosper over the limitation, even it is human race, 'the lord of all creation'. As a result, nature became to adjust the human race who was on the top of food chain by virus and bacteria, the most 'primitive' life. Since then, it became a big issue for human beings how to explain and how to avoid the infectious disease as the existence of an invisible monster who spread to an area suddenly and took the half of population by force. However, the people at that time had no scientific knowledge as nowadays and looked for the explanation of this phenomenon to religion, and religion was expected to be played its role as a means of enclosing the epidemics.
As I already mentioned the Passover in "Exodus", it is obvious that there were so many stories about the epidemics in the Synoptic Gospels in the New Testament. In other words, the construction of a city brought the infectious disease and the disease brought the worth of the existence of religion. It was not as an extension of animism which might had existed constantly in every society since the beginning of the human being, but established religion, which was formed by the request of the city, spread over the world beyond the difference of climate and culture. In this sense, it can be said that there is an eternal triangle between a city and infectious disease and religion.