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Fluidity and Hybridity of Religious Innovation in the Contemporary Japan

Panel Chair: Takeshi Kimura | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

This panel proposes to examine the various contemporary expressions of religious creativity in modern Japanese society. While Japan is known for its secularity and its blurred divisions between sacred and profane, an innovative and socially adoptive religiousness has emerged from the deep dimension of historical traditions and beyond the limits of the institutional religions. In some cases, symbols laden with religious significance are created in secular form without acknowledgment of their religious aspects. Or, traditionally religious symbols are located not in the context of worship but in that of a different social concern. This panel also examines fluidity and hybridity of these on-going religious innovations by carrying out a comparative study of them in order to examine some specific features. Four papers will examine several aspects of such religious innovation in relation to traditional religion and to new forms.

Ayako Kimishima

The Maria Kannon of Modern Japan: Image of the Kannon and the Virgin Mary as war memorial

In the mid-17th century feudal Japan, Christianity was officially prohibited. The outlawed Christians had to hide their Christian identity, therefore created statues of the Virgin Mary disguised as the Buddhist deity Kannon Bodhisattva (Avalokiteśvara). It was their survival strategy. These images were called "Maria Kannon” after religious freedom was granted. Today, to commemorate deaths and sufferings of these victims during WWII, the bereaved family and comrades erected the statue of Kannon Bodhisattva as a form of Buddhist way of veneration. The statue is popularly called “Maria Kannon.” The statues are holding a child or standing in front of the cross as a symbol of Christianity. These statues were created from the Buddhist idea of "Onshinbyodo"(怨親平等 one's foe and friend is equal). A comparison of the Maria Kannon and Pieta, housed in the Neue Wache memorial facility of Berlin, Germany, will also be made.

Takeshi Kimura

Fluid Near-Death and Out-of-Body experiences as hybrid source of knowledge in place of traditional religion observing dying persons and death

Throughout religious history in Japan, Buddhism functioned in close relationship to medical and pharmaceutical practice and developed complicated ritual observance of dying persons and of sending them off to the other world. Yet since the introduction of Western medicine to Japanese society in the early modern era, the medical and nursing practice had become secular. Buddhist monks are no longer present at the scene of dying, and medical doctors and nurses are taking their roles at the scene of dying without religious function at hospitals. Yet through my work with hospital nurses, these medical nurses have begun to take into consideration religious or spiritual aspects of nursing by attending to patients’ religions. On the other hand, a number of reports of Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences increased, proclaiming it as the source of deep and spiritual knowledge as if they fulfill spiritual vacancy.

Emilia Chalandon

Spring Blossoms and Fire, Fuji-Climbing, and Religion

Worshiping of spring-blossoms finds little place in recorded mythology, yet related rituals (Japanese o-hana-mi, British May Day) have survived till our day. I will compare the symbolic meaning of the Japanese myth about Kono-hana-no-sakuya-bime, in the context of yama-iri (spring “entering in the mountain”), with the Roman Floralia and the British May Day myths and festivals. Japanese o-hana-mi of today is hardly related with ancient myth and religion in anyone’s mind, yet the development of cherry blossoms’ symbolic in later times shows features that can be associated with ancient mythological tradition. On the other hand, since Medieval times, Kono-hana-no-sakuya-bime is worshiped at the bottom of Mt. Fuji. Climbing that mountain has long been felt as a ritual rather than a sport. Reflecting on it ritualistic meaning, I would search for the point where death/purified rebirth associates with fire and flowers.

Kazuo Matsumura

Yuru-Kyara: Modern Manifestation of Japanese Religious Substratum

Although in modern day Japan not many people seem to be interested in religion, there are many yuru-kyaras (which literally means "loose characters,” representing places, events, or commodities today). In this paper I argue that in Japan a basic religious substratum has been persistent from the pre-agricultural period down to the present and its present manifestation could be yuru-kyaras. In the pre-agricultural Jomon period, supernatural beings were represented as various figurines. In the next Yayoi period when agriculture was introduced, we cannot find such figurines. Probably the figurines were made with perishable materials such as straw and leaves. With the introduction of agriculture, the deity or spirit might be imagined in vegetation forms. With the introduction of Buddhism in the Asuka period, the situation once again changed. Buddhism introduced statues and people started worshipping statues of Buddha, Amitabha, and Kannon. In modern day Japan, not many people are interested in religion. Yet, there are many local yuru- kyaras which could be regarded as a new manifestation of traditional local protective spirits.


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