AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 752

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Session 752: Religion in Japan

From the Other Side of the Genkan: The Ethics of Door-to-Door Proselytizing in Urban Japan
Isaac T. Gagne, Waseda University, USA

Door-to-door solicitations by members of religious and social organizations are a common experience in communities around the world. However, what happens to such practices when human relations become increasingly urbanized and tenuous, as in urban Japan and other post industrial societies? Door-to-door visits are a distinctly marginal(izing) practice that highlight contemporary tensions and desires among urban residents; the specific dynamics of Japanese organizations, neighborhood relations, and household structures mark door-to-door activities in Tokyo with particular challenges and results. For those being solicited, door-to-door visits are met with fears of urban crime, extortion attempts, and being sucked into unwanted webs of neighborhood interactions. For those soliciting, the desire to meet sympathetic individuals and to create interpersonal connections is balanced against fears of unknown neighbors, of being misperceived as dangerous cultists or overbearing salespersons, and most of all of intruding upon others’ private space and time. Below these overt social exchanges, however, door-to-door proselytizing serves a deeper disciplinary and even spiritual purpose for solicitors themselves and for the groups of members who conduct visits together. This paper explores the dynamics, ethics, and social implications of door-to-door solicitation in Japan through ethnographic research and anthropological analysis of members of a social/spiritual organization that promotes “practical ethics” in daily life through door-to-door proselytizing. I focus on the protocols of door-to-door visits in a middle-class Tokyo neighborhood, the spatial and social dimensions of the “doorway,” the kinds of individuals encountered and the ways of approaching them, and the dynamics and interpretations among the members themselves.

Oda Nobunaga in the Anti-Christian Narratives of the Edo Period
Oleksandr Kovalenko, Hiroshima University, Japan

Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582) is one of the most important persons in the history of Japan. He started the process of political, social, and economic unification of the country, which determined the form and structure of the Japanese society in the Edo period (1603 – 1868). This paper explores the perception of Nobunaga in the anti-Christian literature of that period. It clarifies the Nobunaga’s role in the historical memory of early modern Japan, and reveals the level of anti-Christian rhetoric of the time. The main sources for this study are anti-Christian records and anthologies, compiled during the 17th – 19th centuries: “Kirishitan shūmon yuraiki”, “Kirishitan shūmon raichō jikki”, “Nanbanji kōhaiki”, “Sokkyōhen” and others. The narratives of the 17th century describe Nobunaga as a tyrant, a hater of “deities and buddhas”, who was responsible for spreading Christianity in Japan. The myth that Nobunaga had realized the “danger” of the foreign religion, but did not prohibit it due to political expediency, can be found in the sources from the 1630-s. Anti-Christian works of the 18th century develop this vision, trying to avoid mentioning Nobunaga’s hostility towards Buddhism. The Mitogaku scholars of the 19th century, the leaders of the anti-Christian movement in the late Edo period, refine the myth by turning Nobunaga into national hero whose policy of persecuting Christians was inherited by the Tokugawa shogunate. I will argue that the transformation of Nobunaga’s image from a villain to a hero was followed by increasing fabrications and historical misinterpretations in the anti-Christian narratives.

A Yamato Network – Aspects of the Life of a Semi-Recluse Monk in 13th-Century Japan, Shôgetsubô Keisei
Carina Roth, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Shôgetsubô Keisei (1189-1268) is a Tendai monk who is best known for having been Kôben Myôe's friend. Like him, he retired from official temple affiliation and lived a life of semi-reclusion in Kyôto's Western hills. However, despite (or thanks to) his secluded status, he engaged in many activities that belonged to the world: he was deeply involved in the restauration of various temples and founded one himself; poems by him figure in several imperial anthologies, and he was close to the highest ranks of court through his family, being the grandson of Kujô no Kanezane and the elder brother of Kujô no Michiie. The Imperial Household Agency holds most of the manuscripts linked to Keisei, and published them in 1970. Based mainly on these sources, this paper aims at exploring both how an individual monk would create and maintain a complex social network over a specific geographical area –here the Yamato– and how his status as a semi-recluse might help him achieve his goals. Although one would expect such monks to keep to themselves, far from political and worldly affairs, in Keisei's time, examples abound of "pseudo-anchorites" who, like him, are deeply involved with their surroundings. Among the most well known are Kamo no Chômei and Myôe, and also the Hossô monk Jôkei, famous for his petition against Hônen. Jôkei and Keisei's paths might well have crossed each other, and, though there is not yet any concrete proof for it, this paper intends to show how their trajectories might have intersected.

Urine Trouble: Magic, Materialism, and the Power of Bodily Effluvia in the Tales of Ikkyu Sojun
Melissa Anne-Marie Curley, University of Iowa, USA

One of the ways in which the popular Zen of the Tokugawa period finds vibrant creative expression is in the generation of a body of stories about the Muromachi Zen priest Ikkyu Sojun. Taken together, these stories give us an Ikkyu continually at odds with institutional authorities, roundly on the side of the people, and able to use his wit to gain the upper hand in any situation; as James Sanford notes, this Tokugawa Ikkyu, if not exactly a faithful representation of the Muromachi original, does vividly represent an early modern vision of self-possessed individuality. This paper focuses on a motif in the Tokugawa tales of which Sanford has—quite understandably—not taken note, namely Ikkyu’s tendency to settle certain kinds of arguments by urinating on the object of the dispute. It proposes that beyond simply reproducing the ritual vulgarity that is characteristic of the Zen discursive style, references to Ikkyu’s urine and other bodily effluvia in these narratives function as part of a larger effort to critique medieval understandings of the world as enchanted, and that they further reveal a concomitant anxiety around the charismatic body of the saint. The paper concludes with a consideration of how the retelling—and judicious editing—of one of these tales in a contemporary series of Buddhist manga aimed at children speaks to the gulf between early modern and late modern understandings of the relationship between pollution and power.

Searching for Sensei: The Invention of “Traditional Japanese Reiki”
Justin Stein, University of Toronto, Canada

Authorities in spiritual traditions often use stories of their founders’ lives and works to establish the authenticity of their lineages, teachings, and practices to both adherents and outsiders. Instructors of the healing methods called Reiki trace their diverse beliefs and practices to a single Japanese founder, Usui Mikao (1865-1926) and, accordingly, many contradictory stories persist about this figure, about whom little concrete biographical information exists. For more than a half-century, the Reiki world in Japan and that outside of Japan were each dominated by a hegemonic founder narrative that upheld the authority of a particular lineage and a particular set of practices; the lack of communication between Japanese and non-Japanese Reiki practitioners helped ensure the continuation of these two distinct spiritual traditions. In the 1980s and 1990s, as Japanese and non-Japanese Reiki instructors began to communicate, they discovered conspicuous discrepancies in their belief systems, their healing practices, and the founder narratives they used to validate these systems. This paper describes three contemporary waves of Reiki instructors, both Japanese and non-Japanese, who use historical research to claim that their practices were originally taught by Usui, thus establishing the authority and authenticity of their lineages, their practices, and themselves. These illustrations of the contentious negotiation of “traditional Japanese Reiki” resulting from transnational dialogue constitute a case study of the roles that imagination, exoticism, history, place, and authenticity play in the translocal movement of Asian spiritualities across borders and their “reverse flow” back to their nations of origin.