AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 369

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Session 369: Sacred Governance and Popular Culture in Tokyo Religious Sites

Organizer: Steven Heine, Florida International University, USA

Chair: Jim Heisig, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Japan

Discussants: Theodore C. Bestor, Harvard University, USA; Michaela Mross, University of California, Berkeley, USA

This panel explores the way prominent religious sites in Tokyo are driven by close ties with the affairs of state governance, including the roles of shogunal or imperial authority as well as postwar electoral politics, in addition to associations with popular cultural representations of historical events that played a key role in the formation of power structures as well as sacred rituals that promise material rewards to practitioners. The papers will be posted online in advance, and presenters will give highlights for 15 minutes each, with comments invited from discussants and the audience. The presenters include John Breen of the School of Oriental and African Studies, who examines a cluster of shrines in the heart of the imperial palace that are “re-energized” by their intimate connection to Ise; Steven Heine of Florida International University, who discusses the role of Sanno Hie Jinja and Nogi Jinja, two shrines with political associations and rituals for worldly benefits in Akasaka; and John Tucker of East Carolina University, who explores spiritual and cultural dimensions of Sengakuji, a Zen temple where the 47 ronin are buried and have been valorized in modern Japan. The panel will be chaired by Jim Heisig of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, a leading expert on Japanese religion and culture, and the two discussants are Theodore Bestor of Harvard University, an anthropologist who focuses on the cultural geography of Tokyo, and Michaela Mross of Komazawa University in Tokyo who is writing a dissertation on Buddhist rituals.

The Kyuchu Sanden: The Tokyo Palace, the Ise Shrines and the Energizing of the Imperial Institution
John Breen, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan

This presentation explores the form and function of the kyuchu sanden, the three shrines that constitute the main site of imperial ritual practice in the heart of the Tokyo palace. The kyuchu sanden was created in 1872 as a key component in the process of centralizing power in the Tokyo capital, but it survived the war and continues to function in the present day. Drawing on comparisons with the Momijiyama site in Edo castle and its function in linking the Tokugawa shogun to Nikko and other sacred sites of the early modern polity, I investigate the kyuchu sanden in its dynamic relations with Ise, the imperial mausolea and the modern Japanese shrine network. The kyuchu sanden, it will be argued, summoned the numinous power of these remote sites to `energize` the emperor and the imperial institution. The approach taken here is spatial but not uniquely so. A temporal dimension demands attention too for it becomes clear that the kyuchu sanden served the dynamic role of lifting the emperor out of the everyday, and locating and relocating him in mythical time. Today, the kyuchu sanden become the object of contestation, and this presentation reflects on the diverse meanings of the shrines for the emperor, the capital and Japan at the start of the 21st century.

Sanno Hie Jinja and Nogi Jinja: A Tale of Two Akasaka Shrines
Steven Heine, Florida International University, USA

In the high-rise, hi-tech Tokyo neighborhood of Akasaka stand two shrines which have strong ties to state politics and governance, and also draw followers because they offer practical worldly benefits (genze riyaku) through popular religious ritualism. The gateway to this neighborhood is Akasaka-mistsuke Station, which in the Edo period was one of the lookouts (mitsuke) that helped protect the shogun’s castle, and more recently has been at the heart of ryotei politics. A block south is Sanno Hie Jinja with its steep stairways and forested area surrounding the main hall, which is adjacent to the Diet and other ministry buildings at Kasumigaseki. Claiming origins from medieval times, the shrine has long been considered a guardian of ruling powers, and today is the only religious site whose major procession parades into the grounds of the imperial palace. Its monkey and fox deities also provide rites for healing, prosperity, and safety in travels. The second shrine is Nogi Jinja, about one kilometer southwest leading toward Roppongi, which is dedicated to the memory of war hero Gen. Nogi Marusuke, who committed ritual suicide upon learning of the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912. The shrine displays the blood-stained clothes of the general, and it also features a prominent wedding shrine that serves as a source of revenue for maintenance of the site. An examination of these two shrines reveals an emphasis on national heritage and patriotism interwoven with the pursuit of material gain in sacred sites of the Yamanote district.

Sacralizing Sengakuji Temple in the Age of Hello Kitty
John A Tucker, East Carolina University, USA

For those who revere the 47 ronin of Ako domain, Tokyo's Sengakuji remains among the most sacred spaces in Japan. Throughout the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the 20th century, this Soto Zen temple was the national center for revering these “loyal and righteous samurai” buried there along with their master, Asano Naganori (1667-1701). Yet during the Tokugawa (1600-1868), the Sengakuji hardly had such high spiritual status; instead, it was infamous as the site where Lord Kira Yoshinaka’s (1641-1703) severed head was taken, washed, and presented before the grave of Asano Naganori, by the 47 ronin in completing their vendetta. This paper examines, historically, the spiritual and political transformation of the Sengakuji from infamy to national renown, which occurred with the transition from the Tokugawa to the Meiji. It explores the same transformation as evident in three sets of illustrations from popular culture, (i) late-Tokugawa woodblock prints; (ii) an illustrated souvenir book, The Righteous Forty-Seven Samurai: A Souvenir Picture Book from Takanawa Sengakuji (Takanawa Sengakuji Sanpai kinen Gishi shijushichi gajo), published in 1922; and, (iii) a children's book drawing on the Hello Kitty motif, Masami Maekawa's The 47Black Cats “Samurai Clash!, published in 2003. The paper addresses the extent to which spaces attain sacralization through historic events, political ties, and/or literary and artistic representations. Finally, it explores the way ethical dimensions of sacred spaces are defined, in part or in whole, positively and negatively, through illustrated works of popular culture claiming to depict their spiritual contexts.