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Representations of Otherworlds in Japanese and Western Literature

Panel Chair: Kazuo Matsumura | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Literary authors who shape our notions of the Otherworld often write stories that seem to contradict the views of the dominant religions of their society. Their aim is often to compose a secular or a syncretic text that fulfills the religious desires of potential readers who long for afterlife and the Otherworld, and by doing so, they also add an alternative religious dimension to their own lives. In this panel we shall address several different genres of literature in Japan and the West and attempt a comparison of the idea of the otherworld as an alternative religious world, and the related concepts of death and life. More concretely, we shall examine the formation of intellectually constructed worlds that contain a variety of religious motives in the following genres: dialogues, comedy, essay, fairy tale and animated cartoon.

Yutaka Kitazawa

Otherworld Stories and Death: An Examination of Contemporary Japanese Situation of Death

Dante's "Divina Commedia" is famous as a masterpiece depicting the otherworld after life, but even before that, about 60 visions of afterlife had already existed in Europe. They were written between the 6th and 13th century. These show us how eagerly people in the Medieval age searched for the meaning of death. I think, however, people’s attitude toward death hasn’t changed since then. Gothic novels, romantic literature, fantasy novels and science fictions are on this literary tradition. The mystery of death and terra incognita are the main concern of this literary genre. Otherworld stories were written in various cultures to overcome the sadness and fear of death, but today this sadness is not well acknowledged. In modern medical treatment, death seems to be acceptable and we tend to ignore this sadness. In this paper I will consider the history of modern Japanese otherworld stories and contemporary situation of death.

Chieko Osawa

Religious Views of Hayao Miyazaki in His Fantastic Stories for Children

Hayao Miyazaki is a famous Japanese cartoon director whose masterpiece Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea was strongly inspired by Hans Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Andersen in his fantasy created a mystic eternal world different from the concept of the Christian Paradise and refused to believe that little innocent souls go to hell in case of premature death because of the inherited sin. Miyazaki’s creation too is infused with spirituality and has been influenced by children's literature. Both stories contain symbols that function as a connection between the real and the other world. Suggesting that one can live in this world while also living in eternity is a special feature of children’s literature and may be regarded as the basic matrix of contemporary fantastic stories. This paper will analyze religious motifs in Miyazaki’s work and show that it is a quest for a new view of death and life that motivated the two authors to create fantastic stories for children.

Hiroto Doi

Plato and the Other World

In Plato’s works, as is often said, much mention is made of the other world. For example, “the Myth of Er” in his Republic (Book X) and the myth in Phaedo are well known for the story about the after death. Though such myths are interesting from the viewpoint of religious studies, we must also consider the philosophical aspects of Plato’s myth. In order to inquire the subject, his Timaeus that is famous as ancient cosmology and cosmogony should be important because both religious aspect and philosophical aspect are treated. In this paper I discuss the Plato’s view on stars and planets(including the sun and the moon) as the intellectual residents of the other world for human beings.

Ilja Musulin

Rethinking Death, Transitoriness and Old Age in Yoshida Kenko’s Essays in Idleness

This paper seeks to achieve a more accurate understanding of the medieval Japanese author Yoshida Kenko’s attitude towards death. In literature and Buddhist studies in Japan Kenko has traditionally been viewed as a revolutionary figure who offered a more accepting and positive view of life’s transitoriness than other religious thinkers and writers of his and previous ages, who seem to have been preoccupied with death and held the view that human existence was not only fleeting but profane, unsightly and meaningless. However, Japanese scholars have had problems squaring that positive attitude toward life with Kenko’s purported wish to die before reaching old age. This paper will examine Kenko’s concept of death and transitoriness and the way it has been perceived by Japanese scholars, and offer a critique of previous scholarship by using a theoretical framework derived from psychology which views anxiety towards old age as a manifestation of death anxiety.


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