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 Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note

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PostSubject: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptySat Jan 14, 2012 11:06 am

VISIONS OF POWER: Imaging Medieval Japanese Buddhism by Bernard Faure –

Bernard Faure's previous works are well known as guides to some of the more elusive aspects of the Chinese tradition of Chan Buddhism and its outgrowth, Japanese Zen. Continuing his efforts to look at Chan/Zen with a full array of postmodernist critical techniques, Faure now probes the imaginaire, or mental universe, of the Buddhist Soto Zen master Keizan Jokin (1268-1325). Although Faure's new book may be read at one level as an intellectual biography, Keizan is portrayed here less as an original thinker than as a representative of his culture and an example of the paradoxes of the Soto school. The Chan/Zen doctrine that he avowed was allegedly reasonable and de-mythologizing, but he lived in a psychological world that was just as imbued with the marvelous as was that of his contemporary Dante Alighieri.

Drawing on his own dreams to demonstrate that he possessed the magical authority that he felt to reside also in icons and relics, Keizan strove to use these "visions of power" to buttress his influence as a patriarch. To reveal the historical, institutional, ritual, and visionary elements in Keizan's life and thought and to compare these to Soto doctrine, Faure draws on largely neglected texts, particularly the Record of Tokoku (a chronicle that begins with Keizan's account of the origins of the first of the monasteries that he established)

In Visions of Power, Faure once again demonstrates his superb command of original sources as well as an innovative methodology that constantly probes uncharted territory and boldly overturns the prevailing assumptions of the orthodox view of a 'pure' iconoclastic Zen tradition.... [This book] is eminently successful in carving out a distinct yet complementary agenda in content, method, and approach. -- Steven Heine, Monumenta Nipponica

[Faure's] account of Keizan is a convincing conquest of historical vision, and opens up the exciting prospect of similar treatment for a whole gallery of figures from the Buddhist past. -- Joseph S. O'Leary, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

RELIGIONS OF JAPAN IN PRACTICE – edited by George J. Tanabe –

This anthology reflects a range of Japanese religions in their complex, sometimes conflicting, diversity. In the tradition of the Princeton Readings in Religions series, the collection presents documents (legends and miracle tales, hagiographies, ritual prayers and ceremonies, sermons, reform treatises, doctrinal tracts, historical and ethnographic writings), most of which have been translated for the first time here, that serve to illuminate the mosaic of Japanese religions in practice.

George Tanabe provides a lucid introduction to the "patterned confusion" of Japan's religious practices. He has ordered the anthology's forty-five readings under the categories of "Ethical Practices," "Ritual Practices," and "Institutional Practices," moving beyond the traditional classifications of chronology, religious traditions (Shinto, Confucianism, Buddhism, etc.), and sects, and illuminating the actual orientation of people who engage in religious practices. Within the anthology's three broad categories, subdivisions address the topics of social values, clerical and lay precepts, gods, spirits, rituals of realization, faith, court and emperor, sectarian founders, wizards, and heroes, orthopraxis and orthodoxy, and special places. Dating from the eighth through the twentieth centuries, the documents are revealed to be open to various and evolving interpretations, their meanings dependent not only on how they are placed in context but also on how individual researchers read them. Each text is preceded by an introductory explanation of the text's essence, written by its translator. Instructors and students will find these explications useful starting points for their encounters with the varied worlds of practice within which the texts interact with readers and changing contexts.

Religions of Japan in Practice is a compendium of relationships between great minds and ordinary people, abstruse theories and mundane acts, natural and supernatural powers, altruism and self-interest, disappointment and hope, quiescence and war. It is an indispensable sourcebook for scholars, students, and general readers seeking engagement with the fertile "ordered disorder" of religious practice in Japan.

From Amazon.com review: It seems to be almost a required rhetorical given nowadays for books published by academic presses to claim usefulness to students, specialists, and general readers alike. Few live up to this admittedly implausible promise, but "Religions of Japan in Practice" comes pretty darn close. Clearly it's principally intended as a source book of primary readings for college students, and in that capacity provides an extremely good grasp of the incredibly rich array and variety of Japanese religiosity. Each of the forty-five selections is carefully translated and accessibly introduced by an expert in the field specializing in that subject, so that overall the work makes for a trustworthy and reliable textbook. Speaking as someone who has avidly studied Japanese religions for many years now, though, I can vouch that specialists and other old hands at this topic will or at least should themselves find the selections herein immensely interesting and, yes, even informative as well.

Though surely there must have been heartbreaking omissions the editors had to insist upon so that the book didn't grow to unwieldy proportions (it's a hefty volume as it is), the range of selections is pretty comprehensive, with at least something representing most Japanese religious traditions and subdivisions thereof present and accounted for from the earliest records to contemporary articles--with the sole exception of 20th-century "New Religions" which seem conspicuously absent. More to the point of this book, each selection is in its own way uncommonly vital, a living breathing sample of vibrant religiosity actually known and practiced by real people--no dusty doctrinal tracts long forgotten in monastic libraries here (though I sometimes enjoy these, too). Indeed, this is a refreshingly down-to-earth anthology. A majority of the translations appear only here, while some have been adapted from relatively obscure sources available only in major university libraries; only a small handful can be found in other readily available publications, and their absence in this source book would've been regrettable in any case.

Obviously with such an embarrassment of riches, different folks will find different aspects of the book appealing for different reasons. Personally I found the texts included from Japan's Zen (Rinzai and Soto) traditions here especially intriguing and noteworthy for the manner in which they--by the way, as it were--happen to deconstruct and undercut certain all-too-common idealized and essentialized stereotypes, and the quantity of Pure Land tracts does justice to the pervasive nature of this form of Buddhism in Japan while not submerging the equally important (and, to me I must say, more engaging) types of Buddhism such as Shingon and Tendai. The example of an actual Shugendo apocryphal sutra is a particular standout for me since translations of these are so unimaginably rare despite their ubiquity in certain regions of Japan such as (for example) the one where I lived for several years, while the child's guide to Yasukuni Jinja offers an unsettling but preciously unprecedented glimpse into the self-presentation of this controversial shrine that still tends to make the news from time to time. In general too the many hagiographies and miracle tales, in addition to their value as religious documents and the way in which they tend to muddle our cut & dry sectarian categories, give a certain level of homely literary enjoyment or else movingly testify to deeply human concerns entrusted to the divine. Well, I could go on and on, but in short, there's a lot going on in this book, and, for once, pretty much something for everyone.


"Bodiford overcomes the ideological shortcomings of the traditional dichotomy between `pure' Zen and `popular' religion. . . . At the end of the book, a totally different historical and cultural landscape emerges." -- Journal of Asian Studies "Carefully researched and set forth with finesse, Bodiford's study advances dramatically our understanding of the introduction and development of Zen in Japan. . . . [This] is the most important English work on Soto Zen to date; it is a `must' for any student, scholar, or practitioner interested in the genesis and early development of this important strand of Japanese Buddhism." -- Journal of Japanese Studies "Rich and stimulating . . . highly recommended reading for anyone interested not only in Soto Zen but also in Japanese Buddhism, religion, or medieval history." -- Monumenta Nipponica

THE OTHER SIDE OF ZEN: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan by Duncan Ryuken Williams

Popular understanding of Zen Buddhism typically involves a stereotyped image of isolated individuals in meditation, contemplating nothingness. This book presents the "other side of Zen," by examining the movement's explosive growth during the Tokugawa period (1600-1867) in Japan and by shedding light on the broader Japanese religious landscape during the era. Using newly-discovered manuscripts, Duncan Ryuken Williams argues that the success of Soto Zen was due neither to what is most often associated with the sect, Zen meditation, nor to the teachings of its medieval founder Dogen, but rather to the social benefits it conveyed.

Zen Buddhism promised followers many tangible and attractive rewards, including the bestowal of such perquisites as healing, rain-making, and fire protection, as well as "funerary Zen" rites that assured salvation in the next world. Zen temples also provided for the orderly registration of the entire Japanese populace, as ordered by the Tokugawa government, which led to stable parish membership.

Williams investigates both the sect's distinctive religious and ritual practices and its nonsectarian participation in broader currents of Japanese life. While much previous work on the subject has consisted of passages on great medieval Zen masters and their thoughts strung together and then published as "the history of Zen," Williams' work is based on care ul examination of archival sources including temple logbooks, prayer and funerary manuals, death registries, miracle tales of popular Buddhist deities, secret initiation papers, villagers' diaries, and fund-raising donor lists.

Review from amazon.com: This book was a fine example of scholarship in many ways, especially in the way it brings Soto Zen Buddhism down to earth and helps fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Tokugawa Period Buddhism (usually ignored as "decadent"--an ahistorical slur that sheds no light on the issues). In some ways it reminded me of the fine work Gregory Schopen has done with Indian Buddhism, or with what Bernard Faure might achieve if he would learn to write and stop dropping names of French Postmodernists. Sometimes the author gets a bit too dismissive of the "great Zen masters" style of history. Granted he's trying to make a point and balance the distorted emphasis on the latter, still I don't think one needs to disparage other styles and approaches to do so. I highly recommend this book to anyone going to Japan who is interested in Buddhism, especially Zen. Years ago when I went to Japan I had already avidly read some stuff about Dogen (the founder of Soto Zen) and was really excited that there were several Soto Zen Temples near where I lived. Of course I was immediately thrown for a loop because what was going on at these temples was like 1% related to what I had read. If I had read this book beforehand, I would have had a much better idea what to expect and been able to make more of the experience.

DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE IN JAPANESE BUDDHISM by Jacqueline Ilyse Stone and Mariko Namba Walter

For more than a thousand years, Buddhism has dominated Japanese death rituals and concepts of the afterlife. The nine essays in this volume, ranging chronologically from the tenth century to the present, bring to light both continuity and change in death practices over time. They also explore the interrelated issues of how Buddhist death rites have addressed individual concerns about the afterlife while also filling social and institutional needs and how Buddhist death-related practices have assimilated and refigured elements from other traditions, bringing together disparate, even conflicting, ideas about the dead, their postmortem fate, and what constitutes normative Buddhist practice.

The idea that death, ritually managed, can mediate an escape from deluded rebirth is treated in the first two essays. Sarah Horton traces the development in Heian Japan (794-1185) of images depicting the Buddha Amida descending to welcome devotees at the moment of death, while Jacqueline Stone analyzes the crucial role of monks who attended the dying as religious guides. Even while stressing themes of impermanence and non-attachment, Buddhist death rites worked to encourage the maintenance of emotional bonds with the deceased and, in so doing, helped structure the social world of the living. This theme is explored in the next four essays. Brian Ruppert examines the roles of relic worship in strengthening family lineage and political power; Mark Blum investigates the controversial issue of religious suicide to rejoin one's teacher in the Pure Land; and Hank Glassman analyzes how late medieval rites for women who died in pregnancy and childbirth both reflected and helped shape changing gender norms.

The rise of standardized funerals in Japan's early modern period forms the subject of the chapter by Duncan Williams, who shows how the Soto Zen sect took the lead in establishing itself in rural communities by incorporating local religious culture into its death rites. The final three chapters deal with contemporary funerary and mortuary practices and the controversies surrounding them. Mariko Walter uncovers a "deep structure" informing Japanese Buddhist funerals across sectarian lines--a structure whose meaning, she argues, persists despite competition from a thriving secular funeral industry. Stephen Covell examines debates over the practice of conferring posthumous Buddhist names on the deceased and the threat posed to traditional Buddhist temples by changing ideas about funerals and the afterlife. Finally, George Tanabe shows how contemporary Buddhist sectarian intellectuals attempt to resolve conflicts between normative doctrine and on-the-ground funerary practice, and concludes that human affection for the deceased will always win out over the demands of orthodoxy.

Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism constitutes a major step toward understanding how Buddhism in Japan has forged and retained its hold on death-related thought and practice, providing one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of the topic to date.

From Amazon.com: Perhaps because it's a religious tradition that emphasizes impermanence, Buddhism often gets saddled with handling funerals. In Japan this holds especially true, and generally for the average person there Buddhism is primarily if not exclusively associated with funerary rites (to the point that a wide-eyed 20-something's interest in the religion can strike them as mildly morbid). These rites clearly make for Buddhism's most prominent role in society and are thus the economic backbone maintaining its institutional presence, about which a multitude of key doctrinal and ritual phenomena cluster as well. And yet scholarly studies of Japanese Buddhism tend to avoid this subject like the plague.

Well, except for this fine collection of articles with a deceptively dull title. "Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism" rushes in where other studies fear to tread, exploring this key aspect of Buddhism as it has developed in Japan with exemplary depth and breadth. The assorted articles range in time from the early Heian to the contemporary present and cover a good variety of schools and disparate Buddhist traditions. Some articles are extremely specific, focusing for example on one apocryphal sutra and the beliefs and practices surrounding it, while others step back and consider the larger issues and ramifications of, say, the disconnect between certain Buddhist teachings and certain Buddhist funerary practices. Each article is of high scholarly caliber and yet eminently readable, and each is interesting, informative, or thought-provoking in its own manner. If I had to pick one, though, Mariko Walter's article unearthing the underlying pan-sectarian structure of Buddhist funerals is in particular a priceless resource repaying repeated reference. But the collection as a whole is a dead-on indispensable addition to the library of anyone seriously interested in Japanese Buddhism.


What role does religion play in contemporary Japanese society and in the lives of Japanese people today? This text examines the major areas in which the Japanese participate in religious events, the role of religion in the social system and the underlying views within the Japanese religious world. Through a series of case studies of religion in action - at crowded temples and festivals, in austere Zen meditation halls, at home and at work, at dramatic fire rituals - it illustrates the immense variety, energy and colour inherent in Japanese religion. It also discusses the continued relevance and responses of religion in a rapidly modernizing and changing society.
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptySun Apr 15, 2012 11:44 pm

From the NY Times - three years ago:
July 14, 2008
In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out

OGA, Japan — The Japanese have long taken an easygoing, buffetlike approach to religion, ringing out the old year at Buddhist temples and welcoming the new year, several hours later, at Shinto shrines. Weddings hew to Shinto rituals or, just as easily, to Christian ones.

When it comes to funerals, though, the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist — so much so that Buddhism in Japan is often called “funeral Buddhism,” a reference to the religion’s former near-monopoly on the elaborate, and lucrative, ceremonies surrounding deaths and memorial services.

But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.

“That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. “In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that.”

Mr. Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd.

“If Japanese Buddhism doesn’t act now, it will die out,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait. We have to do something.”

Across Japan, Buddhism faces a confluence of problems, some familiar to religions in other wealthy nations, others unique to the faith here.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

Over the next generation, many temples in the countryside are expected to close, taking centuries of local history with them and adding to the demographic upheaval under way in rural Japan.

Here in Oga, on a peninsula of the same name that faces the Sea of Japan in Akita Prefecture, Buddhist priests are looking at the cold math of a population and local fishing industry in decline.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the population is about half of what it was at its peak and that all businesses have also been reduced by half,” said Giju Sakamoto, 74, the 91st head priest of Akita’s oldest temple, Chorakuji, which was founded around the year 860. “Given that reality, simply insisting that we’re a religion and have a long history — Akita’s longest, in fact — sounds like a fairy tale. It’s meaningless.

“That’s why I think this place is beyond hope,” Mr. Sakamoto said at his temple, which sits atop a promontory overlooking a seaside village.

To survive, Mr. Sakamoto has put his energies into managing a nursing home and a new temple in a growing suburb of Akita City. That temple, however, has drawn only 60 households as members since it opened a couple of years ago, far short of the 300 said to be necessary for a temple to remain financially viable.

For centuries, the average Buddhist temple, whose stewardship was handed down from father to eldest son, served a fixed membership, rarely, if ever, proselytizing. With some 300 households to cater to, the temple’s chief priest and his wife were kept fully occupied.

Not only has the number of temples in Japan been dipping — to 85,994 in 2006, from 86,586 in 2000, according to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs — but membership at many temples has fallen.

“We have to find other jobs because the temple alone is not enough,” said Kyo Kon, 73, the head priest’s wife at Kogakuin, a temple here with 170 members. She used to work at a day care center while her husband was employed at a local land planning office.

Not far away at Doshoji, a temple whose membership has fallen to 85 elderly households, the chief priest, Jokan Takahashi, 59, was facing a problem familiar to most small family-run businesses in Japan: finding a successor.

His eldest son had undergone the training to become a Buddhist priest, but Mr. Takahashi was ambivalent about asking him to take over the temple.

“My son grew up knowing nothing but this world of the temple, and he told me he did not feel free,” he said, explaining that his son, now 28, was working at a company in a nearby city. “He asked me to let him be free as long as I was working, and said that he would come back and take over by the time he turned 35.

“But considering the future, pressuring a young person to take over a temple like this might be cruel,” Mr. Takahashi said, after giving visitors a tour of his temple’s most important room, an inner chamber with wooden, lockerlike cabinets where, it is said, the spirits of his members’ ancestors are kept.

On a recent morning, Mr. Mori, the priest of the 700-year-old temple, began the day with a visit to a rice farming household marking the 33rd anniversary of a grandfather’s death. Bowing before the home altar, Mr. Mori prayed and chanted sutras. Later, he repeated the rituals at another household, which was commemorating the seventh anniversary of a grandfather’s death.

Increasingly, many Japanese, especially those in urban areas, have eschewed those traditions. Many no longer belong to temples and rely instead on funeral homes when their relatives die. The funeral homes provide Buddhist priests for funerals. According to a 2007 report by the Japan Consumers’ Association, the average cost of a funeral, excluding the cemetery plot, was $21,500, of which $5,100 covered services performed by a Buddhist priest.

As recently as the mid-1980s, almost all Japanese held funerals at home or in temples, with the local Buddhist priest playing a prominent role.

But the move to funeral homes has sharply accelerated in the last decade. In 1999, 62 percent still held funerals at home or in temples, while 30 percent chose funeral homes, according to the Consumers’ Association. But in 2007, the preferences were reversed, with 28 percent selecting funerals at home or in temples, and 61 percent opting for funeral homes.

In addition, an increasing number of Japanese are deciding to have their loved ones cremated without any funeral at all, said Noriyuki Ueda, an anthropologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert on Buddhism.

“Because of that, Buddhist priests and temples will no longer be involved in funerals,” Mr. Ueda said.

He said Japanese Buddhism had been sapped of its spiritual side in great part because it had compromised itself during World War II through its close ties with Japan’s military. After Buddhist priests had glorified fallen soldiers and given them special posthumous Buddhist names, talk of pacifism sounded hollow.

Mr. Mori, the priest here, said that after the war there was a desire for increasingly lavish funerals with prestigious Buddhist names. These names — with the highest ranks traditionally given to those who have led honorable lives — are routinely purchased now, regardless of a dead person’s conduct in life.

“Soldiers, who gave their lives for the country, were given special posthumous Buddhist names, so everybody wanted one after that, and prices went up dramatically,” Mr. Mori said. “Everyone was getting richer, so everyone wanted one.

“But that gave us a bad image,” he said, adding that the price of the top name in Akita was about $3,000 — though that was a small fraction of the price in Tokyo.

Indeed, that image is reinforced by the way the business of funerals and memorial services is conducted. Fees are not stated and are left to the family’s discretion, and the relatives generally feel an unspoken pressure to be quite generous. Money is handed over in envelopes, and receipts are not given. Temples, with their status as religious organizations, pay no taxes.

It was partly to dispel this bad image that Kazuma Hayashi, 41, a Buddhist priest without a temple of his own, said he founded a company, Obohsan.com (obohsan means priest), three years ago in a Tokyo suburb. The company dispatches freelance Buddhist priests to funerals and other services, cutting out funeral homes and other middlemen.

Prices, which are at least a third lower than the average, are listed clearly on the company’s Web site. A 10 percent discount is available for members.

“We even give out receipts,” Mr. Hayashi said.

Mr. Hayashi argued that instead of divorcing Japanese Buddhism further from its spiritual roots, his business attracted more people with its lower prices. The highest-ranking posthumous name went for about $1,500, a rock-bottom price.

“I know that, originally, that’s not what Buddhism was about,” Mr. Hayashi said of the top name. “But it’s a brand that our customers choose. Some really want it, so that means there’s a strong desire there, and we have to respond to it.”

After apologizing for straying from Buddhism’s ideals, Mr. Hayashi said he offered his customers the highest-ranking name, albeit with a warning: “In short, that this is different from going to a shop in town and buying a handbag, you know, a Gucci bag.”
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptySun Apr 15, 2012 11:50 pm

Buddhism forced to turn trendy to attract a new generation in Japan

Priests visit bars to reach out to young sceptics amid dramatic decline

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Guardian, Wednesday 9 January 2008

Buddhist monks take to the catwalk at the Tsukiji Honganji temple in Tokyo last month. The event opened with the recital of a prayer set to a hip-hop beat.

Dressed in dark cotton robes, a bracelet of prayer beads hanging from his wrist, Gugan Taguchi certainly looks the part. But as he kneels to chant a sutra before an altar in the corner of the room, the people around him continue to chat, and his rhythmic prayers can only just be heard above a Blue Note jazz track.

Minutes later Taguchi is back in his seat, glass in hand. A bottle of rum sits on the bar in front of him, next to a half-filled ashtray as his tobacco smoke mingles with the aroma of incense.

Some of his peers may disapprove of his methods, but amid a dramatic decline in interest in Buddhism among young Japanese, Taguchi is prepared to go almost anywhere to reach out to the sceptics, including to the Bozu [monks] bar in Tokyo.

"I can understand why younger people aren't attracted to Buddhism," says Taguchi, 46, a former salaryman from Hokkaido who turned to the priesthood after his sight became impaired in his late 20s. "Most priests are getting on, and I'm not sure young people want their advice. I'm happy to come here and listen to people talk about anything they like. It's up to them if they decide whether to heed my advice."

In the days ahead, millions of Japanese will visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to mark the arrival of the Year of the Rat. For many, this will be the only contact they have with their spiritual roots for the entire year.

More than 1,200 years after its arrival in Japan from mainland Asia, Buddhism is in crisis. About 75% of Japan's 127 million people describe themselves as Buddhists, but new year apart, many see the inside of a temple only when a local head priest is asked to arrange a traditional (and expensive) funeral for a dead relative.

As a result, public donations are drying up and many of the country's 75,000 temples are in financial trouble. Applications to Buddhist universities have fallen so dramatically that several schools have dropped the religious association from their titles.

Bozu's owner, Yoshinobu Fujioka, a Buddhist priest who can also mix a decent cocktail for those in search of a quicker path to nirvana, says that Japan's mainstream sects must shed their conservative image to broaden their appeal. "There was a time when people would go to their local temple for advice on all sorts of problems, not just spiritual matters," said Fujioka, 31, who belongs to the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) sect. "This bar is just the same, a place where people can come and talk freely about their problems."

Being served sake by a priest is just one of the novel ways in which sceptical Japanese are being encouraged to get in touch with their spiritual roots. Baijozan Komyoji temple in Tokyo has opened an outdoor cafe in front of its main hall, and in Kyoto, Zendoji temple operates a beauty salon. At Club Chippie, a jazz lounge in Tokyo, the saxophone makes way for Sanskrit once a month as three shaven-headed monks wearing robes chant sutras and encourage bemused customers to join in.

And recently, dozens of Buddhist monks and nuns took to the catwalk in colourful silk robes as part of a public relations exercise at Tsukiji Honganji temple in Tokyo. The event, called Tokyo Bouz Collection, opened with the recital of a Buddhist prayer to a hip-hop beat and ended in a blur of confetti shaped like lotus petals.

"Many priests share the sense of crisis and the need to do something to reach out to people," said Kosuke Kikkawa, a 37-year-old priest who helped organise the event. "We won't change Buddha's teachings, but perhaps we need to present things differently so that they touch the feelings of people today."

Taguchi believes that the pressures of modern life mean Buddhism's message is as relevant as it ever was. "These days there is constant pressure to appear happy, and to keep fulfilling your desires to stay that way," he said. "You could easily get the impression that people don't need advice from priests, but that's not the case. Everyone experiences times when they're not at their best, when things don't go according to plan."

Explainer: How faith spread

Buddhism found its way to Japan via China and Korea in the sixth century, according to early historical records.

In its earliest forms Japanese Buddhism was considered the preserve of learned priests, who spent their days praying for the health of the imperial household from their lairs in the great temples of the ancient capital of Nara.

The forerunner of the Jodo Shinshu - True Pure Land - sect was founded in 1175 and promoted the idea of gaining salvation through belief in the Buddha Amida. Jodo Shinshu continues to have millions of followers today.

Zen Buddhism, which reached Japan at about the same time, proved popular among members of the military elite, who were attracted by its message of enlightenment through meditation and discipline. Another influential sect, Nichiren, revelled in opposing other Buddhist schools and remains popular, providing the basis for many of Japan's "new religions".

They include Soka Gakkai, which was founded in 1930 and whose members went on to form the political party Komeito, now the junior partner in Japan's ruling coalition.

Japan's Buddhists have survived several political struggles, notably with the Meiji government of the late 19th century, which promoted Shinto as the new state religion.

About 90 million Japanese say they are Buddhist, compared with only about 1% of the country's 127m-strong population, who consider themselves Christian.
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptySun Apr 15, 2012 11:55 pm

buddhism is in decline in japan
Dalai Lama visits Tokyo: but did anybody notice?
01 May - not sure what year, maybe last year?

by Jay Walker - from the BLOG: Modern Tokyo Times

The Dalai Lama visited Tokyo and issued statements that Japan must look to the future and he offered his condolences. However, in mainly un-Buddhist Japan then did many people notice?

Yes, his condolences are well meaning and he will have brought comfort to a minority of people and the media will build him up like usual. Yet did anybody listen to what he stated about the earthquake and tsunami; apart from a very small minority of individuals?

In the mass media you often read comments that Japan is mainly Buddhist but it is not factual. In truth, most Japanese people are not devoutly Buddhist in Tokyo or in Japan in general

Yes, you get pockets where the faith may be strong (Kyoto, Koyasan, Nara, and so forth) but in most major cities and especially amongst the younger generation then Buddhism is very weak. In truth, Buddhism is very distant for the majority of people and often it appears to be a religion which gets rich by charging vast sums for a new name after death.

The media in the West make it sound oh so nice. This applies to praying on the 49th day but the reality is very different.

Therefore, since the Buddhist priesthood is mainly inactive and it was stripped from its power base after the war. Then funerals and tourism is big business but not sincerity; after all, it must be hard for poor people to meet the astronomical costs of a Buddhist funeral in Japan

In truth, nearly all funerals are expensive in Japan but the Buddhists appear to be canny in modern Japan because in old Japan the Buddhists clearly did not concern themselves so much with making profits from funerals. However, after Buddhist monks were stripped from their land holdings then funerals were a way to survive.

On average around $7,000 dollars (much depends on the dollar and yen exchange rate) is paid to the Buddhist temple and this applies to cremation. Much of this cost is because the Buddhist clergy give a new name to the deceased and families have to pay high costs for dinners, presents, and prayers on the seventh day, 49th day, one year anniversary and two year anniversary after death.

Buddhism, apart from temples looking pleasing on the eye and charging high costs and inventing new names after death; appears to be much better at capitalism rather than anything ethical.

I dare say that in the countryside it may be very different but in Tokyo the Buddhist clergy appear to care little about anything; if they do, then I haven’t noticed and just like the Dalai Lama’s visit everything appears be kept hidden.

When it comes to helping the marginalized, campaigning about reducing the high suicide rate or tackling the booming sex trade in Tokyo, then I await to see any real action from the vast majority of Buddhist clergy.

This is not to rebuke Buddhism becasue Buddhist clergy in other nations, like Myanmar, are political and the same applies to other nations. However, Japanese Buddhism is very weak and distant from most people.

I was in Tokyo when the Dalai Lama visited and if I had not read about his visit on the internet, then I, like nearly all Tokyoites, would never had known.

I understand that 3,000 individuals turned up to either pray with the Dalai Lama or to welcome him. However, with around 30 million people in Greater Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures, then I think it speaks volume about what the majority of Tokyoites think.

More alarming is the hypocrisy of the media which would chide Christian or Muslim leaders for stating what the Dalai Lama stated. For the Dalai Lama issued a statement about the Heart Sutra and he commented that “Such recitation may not only be helpful for those who have lost their precious lives; but may also help prevent further disasters in the future.”

It is therefore being reported that the Heart Sutra is going to be recited 100,000 times in Dharamsala.

I am sure that if the Roman Catholic Pope stated that these prayers “…may also help prevent further disasters in the future” by reciting something 100,000 times then the Pope would come under heavy scrutiny.

Firstly, the Buddha did not believe in God therefore it is lost on many people why Buddhists pray. Secondly, prayers of any faith will never help to prevent further disasters because earthquakes and tsunamis are natural. Finally, why recite something 100,000 times when Buddha rejected God and why does any particular number matter?

The Dalai Lama is revered by many Tibetan Buddhists and his CIA sponsorship in the past is brushed under the carpet. However, in the political correct world of many media outlets it would be nice if the Dalai Lama was scrutinized like Christian and Muslim leaders are.

Therefore, his visit to Tokyo will not have been noticed by the vast majority of Tokyoites and this is no disrespect to the Dalai Lama. The same would happen if the Roman Catholic Pope visited Tokyo or the main Muslim leader from Al-Azhar in Egypt.

Tokyo is mainly “a city of no God” and in the real Buddhist sense this is not so bad; however, it is also a city of little Buddhism and religion overall is not important in Tokyo.

Yes, it was good that the Dalai Lama visited Tokyo because he will have brought “inner joy” to his supporters and offering prayers for “the fallen” will mean something to a lot of devout Buddhists in Japan.

However, did his visit have meaning in a nation which is mainly secular and in a city which is mainly godless?

http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=604&catid=18 -Costs of a funeral

http://moderntokyotimes.com (please visit)
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptyMon Apr 16, 2012 12:08 am

A View of Religion in Japan

by John McQuaid
U.S.-Japan Foundation Media Fellows Program

A visitor in Japan for even a short time feels caught in a tug of war between crisis and complacency. The list of crises is familiar: Economic instability is eroding Japan’s hard-won wealth and threatening the entire global marketplace. The old political system has grown brittle to the point of cracking, spawning widespread cynicism. Globalization has raised material expectations, but eroded traditions that people relied upon to give them a sense of identity and purpose. Young people are the heirs to all these problems, and everyone over 30 ritually laments their lack of direction and their taste in hair color. Every week, it seems, the media report the latest atrocious youth crime, which is then invoked as a symptom of the national malaise.

But stroll around in any Japanese city or chat with people in the street, and there’s at best a fitful sense of urgency about all this; people seem generally well-fed and content. Shoppers jam malls, construction sites buzz and, of course, trains run on time.

So it is with religion too. The changes of the last decade have ratcheted up unsustainable stresses on religious institutions that their members don’t seem willing or able to address. Religious worship no longer provides the sense of community it once did. Politics and the Internet are scrambling the role of spirituality in Japanese life. Religions have not kept pace with people’s problems or expectations. The "old religions" are increasingly marginal in the lives of most people. Many are overseen by insular priesthoods preoccupied with making money and passing it on to the next generation. "New Religions" that prospered in the postwar period have hit a slump. And many "New New Religions" are viewed with suspicion, as potential Aum Shinrikyos.

"Japan is becoming more and more secularized, and young people are interested in survival and earthly values. … they need their friends, not support from institutions. I believe the influence of organized religions is likely to continue to decline," said Yoshiya Abe, the president of Kokugakuin University in Tokyo.

The religious scene, always complex, has become a pastiche of contradictions. This is a summary from a recent report on world religions:

"Traditional Buddhism represents 55 percent of the population, compared with 80 percent in 1900. New religions that are sects of or schisms, from Buddhism and Shintoism have grown since 1945. The biggest: Soka Gakkai (Value Creation). 'State Shinto' was once a national cult that all citizens belonged to, but today most attending Shinto shrines are Buddhists, and there are more Christians (3.6 percent of the population) than Shintoists. Half of Japanese homes have a Bible. Government religious statistics, based on family heritage, claim 85 percent of the population is religious, but polls show two-thirds profess no religion."

There are two big forces at work here. One is the well-known flexibility Japanese display toward religious faith – a more pragmatic, less absolutistic notion of faith than you find in the West and especially the United States. The other is the legacy of the last 50 years. For hundreds of years, Japanese lived under systems that fused politics, power, and religion. Now they live in an American-style system in which church and state are formally separated – and no one is quite sure what religious freedom, with its Western idea of individual choice, really means.

Toshimaro Ama, a former journalist who now teaches at Meiji Gakuin University and wrote a book called "Why the Japanese Consider Themselves Irreligious," traces the problem to the Meiji Restoration. When Meiji rulers elevated Shinto at the expense of Buddhism and associated it with the emperor worship, he said, the result was the political corruption of traditional spirituality.

"Japanese would turn to Shintoism for specific things, but they looked for salvation in Buddhism," Ama said. "So without Buddhism there was a decline in religious sentiment…Meiji policy created a spiritual void. People no longer tried to seek this transcendent, universal state. This situation endures to this day." The latter-day result of this, he said, is that there was nowhere to turn after World War II. The emperor system was officially discredited, and traditional forms of worship were antiquated, out of tune with the modern world. "The Japanese people still have not found the answer to the question – what is true religious freedom, independent of the state," he said.

To narrow this complex topic, I looked at some old and new forms of Japanese Buddhism and their followers’ attempts to cultivate an ancient tradition in shifting circumstances. Buddhism has proved very adaptable through its long history, judging by the varied forms of it found around the world. But some Japanese Buddhist sects are inspiring more interest abroad than at home.

Zen Buddhism, for example, is everywhere in Japanese culture, and its fusion of philosophy, spirituality, esthetics and temporal power is one of the world’s great cultural achievements. At Ryoan-ji and other Zen temples in Kyoto, starkly plain elements – wood, stone, tile, trees, grass – are arranged with great economy and beauty. The gardens and buildings are also an enigmatic and playful form of abstract art that still reaches out tweaks visitors hundreds of years after its conception. At Eihei-ji, the head monastery of the Soto Zen sect, the monks aim to faithfully recreate the practices of founder Dogen, who lived 800 years ago and espoused a philosophy of single-minded concentration in all activities. Even the smallest and most mundane tasks are treated as an opportunity for enlightenment. Practice is obsessively fine-tuned, from the choreographed formal meals to the procedure for climbing onto the cushion for meditation.

For someone who had seen many Western knockoffs of Japanese Zen centers, these places were a powerful affirmation of the strength and roots of the tradition. But they were also essentially living museums; it felt like nothing much had changed in the past couple of centuries. Today, Zen is neither popular or influential in Japan. But it is steadily growing in popularity in the West. That has created new tensions – between past and present, East and West – and a kind of koan for Japanese and foreign Zen practitioners alike.

What happens when a traditional religion, tempered by one culture, crosses boundaries and takes hold somewhere else? Is there some characteristically "Japanese" quality to Japanese Buddhism, especially Zen, that’s inseparable from the more universal philosophy it espouses, something that would be lost crossing an international boundary? What are the conflicts between preservation of exquisite cultural forms, the hunger for something new and the pressure to evolve? And if Zen must evolve, as everyone says it must, what will it look and feel like?

There are flaws and compromises on both sides of this cultural divide, and no one has a monopoly on tradition. "American Zen practice is creative," said Taiun Matsunami, a Rinzai Zen priest who runs Ryosen-an, a temple in the large complex Daitoku-ji in Kyoto. "They don’t have meditation halls, traditions. They have to create everything. They have to sew cushions, (the ceremonial garments) kesa and rakusu, and they have to turn the cowhouse into a zendo." But at the same time, he noted, American Zen has been plagued by scandal, partly because it lacks the hierarchies and checks on priestly power found in Japanese Zen. And the Japanese system has its own problems. "Here, everything is established, we have good facilities. But here they also accept not pure, not real Buddhist monks’ practice. In other countries, priests don’t marry, they don’t drink. Drinking is a Shinto thing that has been accepted in Buddhism."

Traditionally the practice of elites in Japan, Zen now attracts little new blood to the priesthood. Loosening the rules a century ago and allowing monks to marry created a dynastic structure in temples, with sons following in their fathers’ footsteps. Few lay people practice Zen meditation. Often no one shows up for a daily zazen meditation service Matsunami offers. The old monastic structures are outmoded, and shrinking. Religious life is no longer viewed as a viable vocation for outsiders. If your family is not in the Zen business, choosing to become a monk may be viewed as a sign of mental imbalance. And maybe it is – the requirements and hardships of the priesthood – which in a premodern world seemed like a reasonable tradeoff – today present almost insurmountable obstacles.

"There are 39 Rinzai monasteries and 50 roshi who can give the whole transmission of the teachings. So there’s just about one per monastery," said Michel Mohr, a professor at the Center for the Study of Zen Buddhism at Hanazono University in Kyoto. "It takes 15 to 20 years to go through the whole koan system. So if you start in your 30s, you won’t get there till your 50s."

Japanese Zen practitioners feel deeply ambiguous about this state of affairs. Many look to the West as the best hope for carrying on the tradition and celebrate cultural differences. "The basic principle in Zen is the same everywhere. Like Mt. Fuji, there are different paths to the summit," said Kusho Itabashi, the abbot of the Soji-ji monastery and the current head of the Soto sect. "Americans don’t have to go through the medium of Japanese culture or language, and that can be a purer practice of Zen."

But they also have a certain propietary interest in Japanese traditions. "The problem comes when the Japanese leave and the community is left with only Americans or Europeans," said Tetsuo Otani, the vice president of the Soto Zen sect’s Komazawa University. "It’s become very confusing. The sects have become very jumbled. Many people ask me questions. They said they’re not sure they’re getting guidance from the Rinzai or Soto sect. That kind of thing never happens in Japan."

Kosen Nishiyama, a Soto Zen priest in Sendai who oversees some groups in Europe and the United States, is both expansive and protective about the Zen tradition. He touts Zen’s potential as a world religion in an era of science and postmodernism. But he feels that specific cultural traditions that link the present with the past are integral to practice, noting that Zen emerged from Japan’s "sitting culture."

He has tried to restore a clear line of religious authority by giving the shiho, or teaching seal, to priests abroad. At first one group of Westerners, followers of the late expatriate Zen teacher Taisen Deshimaru, didn’t want it. "After Deshimaru died, I went to talk with his disciples about ceremonies. They said we have the teaching, we don’t need shiho," Nishiyama said. "But you need to have this, I explained, to be a Zen teacher." They eventually agreed.

Nishiyama disdained the tinkering that the groups had done on various rituals – for example, a drum roll that they had added to the end of a service in the Soto sect’s liturgy. He also admitted to some chauvinistic feelings, saying it’s always a little strange to see Westerners practicing. He recalled that the Jesuits tossed out of Japan by the shogun were called barbarians, and also namba-jin, or red pepper people. "When I see them in the dojo," he said, "I think a little of this."

Westernern Zen practitioners in Japan live on a fault line. Since they typically lack a connection to a family temple, Japanese may question their motivation – or sanity. They must wrestle with the idea of what "authentic" Zen practice really is. Jeff Shore, an American professor at the Rinzai Zen sect’s Hanazono University in Kyoto, has lived in Japan 20 years, most of them while practicing first as a monk and later a lay person at the Tofuku–ji monastery. It is an unusual arrangement that has made a deep mark on his life. "I feel like the frog in the well here. It’s very deep but very narrow, full of rocks, old," he said. "Then when I go to Europe or the United States, it’s like being thrown into the ocean."

Shore says that Japanese Zen is so entwined with culture, history, and geography that transplanting a particular set of customs wholesale would be folly. If Zen, or any religious tradition, moves into new territory it must reinvent itself – usually bit by bit. That does not automatically make the altered tradition less of a useful as a path for its followers (though it may). It also does mean losing something of the original – and being able to let go is, indeed, a central idea in Buddhism.

This process of change is essentially very practical and often improvisational. "The Zen scene here is a worn out record, but what they have is wisdom, old teachings, years of laboratory mistakes," said Patricia Daichi Storandt, the American vice abbot of Sogen-ji, a 300-year-old Rinzai Zen monastery on the outskirts of Okayama. "In the West, though, we have the raw materials."

Compare Sogen-ji with Eihei-ji (or most other Japanese Zen monasteries), and you can see the work of reinvention in progress. Abbot Shodo Harada is one of the few Japanese there. The monastery lacks the authority to serve as a practice center for monks seeking the priesthood – in part because it invites women and men to practice together. So monks following the traditional career path steer clear of the place. In their place, a mixture of foreigners from the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, Mexico, and a dozen other countries has taken up residence. Some of the strict monastic routines, such as formal seated meals, have been relaxed or otherwise altered. Chanting is done in English and Japanese. Sogen-ji has an energy and vitality that you don’t see at other Japanese monasteries. Part of this is the residents’ expressiveness, a contrast to the intense restraint of Japanese in similar surroundings. But the more significant difference may be that the participants were there not out of obligation, but a conscious choice.

At the same time, however, Japanese tend to approach Zen practice with a more matter-of-fact attitude. I attended Eihei-ji’s program that exposes visitors to the monastic schedule along with six Japanese and one Hungarian. The Japanese viewed it less as a potentially transcendental experience and more as just … practice, a brief interlude to clarify things. After years of experience with the sometimes self-conscious attitudes of Americans trying to practice Zen, the lack of drama was quite refreshing.
In contrast to Zen, many "New Religions" in Japan are a modern phenomenon: mass movements that took Buddhist ideas and addressed them to the pressing needs of a country trying to recover from war. Groups such as Soka Gakkai emphasized satisfying material and physical needs, and helped members survive. Soka Gakkai and Rissho Kosei Kai, another large (and less controversial) Buddhist organization also based on the teachings of Nichiren, aim to be accessible. Their chanting practices and general philosophies, based on the Lotus Sutra, emphasize pragmatism and appeal to a broad, generally middle class audience.

But now these groups face the same demographic shifts all Japanese institutions are confronting. Their members are getting older, priorities have shifted, and their relevance to young people and society in general is declining. Their charismatic leaders are in some cases dying, in others embroiled in controversy. Soka Gakkai has balanced some of these trends by expanding abroad, and has followers in the United States, Korea, and elsewhere.

Rissho Kosei Kai, a large Buddhist organization that follows the teachings of Nichiren, is "skewing older" as the years go by. At an RKK neighborhood meeting in the Itabashi ward of Tokyo, I attended, several hundred people showed up, mostly middle-aged and older, with many retirees. Members complained that their emphasis on traditional family life and the demands of their tight-knit, highly bureaucratic organization were in some ways liabilities. "How do we appeal to the third and fourth generations?" asked RKK official Yukimasa Hagiwara.
The advent of prosperity, and recent social and economic uncertainty, have shifted the goal of these religious groups away from survival and toward psychological well-being. I attended a local meeting of Soka Gakkai in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo. At SG meetings, people confess their problems and anxieties, then describe how they overcame them with the group’s help. The sessions employ some of the same therapeutic language used by AA and many Christian churches in the United States.

After chanting and some presentations, several people gave talks about their lives. One woman said she felt besieged, that values had changed and her neighbors tended to be selfish, they didn’t know how to serve others. Helping others is an essential homily of Buddhism, and SG presents it in modern, self-help terms. "The final objective is for you to be happy, and to find your own inner revolution," the local group leader said. "But it’s also to help others find happiness. We tend to forget that we are also practicing for the happiness of other people."

Members said the group had helped them come to terms with disappointments, competitiveness, and impersonality of modern life. "When I was in elementary school, a relative gave ma a small Buddha statue," said Kinue Watanabe, a college student. "I prayed, but none of them were answered. I was often bullied by my friends at the time. To tell the truth, my prayers were rather passive. I would pray for nothing bad to happen. …. When I was a junior I wanted to take a civil service exam. So I studied hard, but failed and started to doubt all my efforts. My friend taking the same exam seemed not to make much effort, but passed. I came to realize there are certain things you can’t control, no matter how much you study, you may not win."

The notion that Soka Gakkai is a kind of friendly shelter in a hostile world was common. "Most people who join don’t do it with a full understanding of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonen," said Bunkyo member Katsumi Fujinawa. "What attracts them is the warmth of the people. They so earnestly care about you and want you to be happy. That’s what moves you at the beginning. Then once you do it, you come to understand."

But membership also comes at a price. Soka Gakkai, of course, is very controversial in Japan because of its cult-like qualities – its history of aggressive proselytizing, its all-powerful leader Daisaku Ikeda, and its involvement in politics. Ask almost any Japanese about Soka Gakkai and the response will be, "watch out!" The controversy over the group reflects the current tensions over religion in Japan – the role of religious groups in public life and more generally, the limits of group fealty in a society that prizes conformity.

One common complaint is Soka Gakkai has isolated itself, violated conventions of how Japanese groups ought to behave.

"We think they have a belief in their original tenet that there are the only or absolute answer, and their education is the only right way," said Kenji Saito, a vice president at Shinshuren, the Federation of New Religious Organizations. "So they have engaged in recriminations, severely criticizing other organizations. They have a closed-door attitude, and have been reluctant to have a dialogue with other religions."

The group’s excommunication a decade ago by the Nichiren school left it a lay organization with no official ties to a clergy. Some ex-members have formed a Soka Gakkai Victims Association that has besieged the group with lawsuits. I spoke with a couple of members, who complained that Ikeda had strayed from the values of the group’s founding by meddling in politics and, more generally, cultivating power for himself. They said that people trying to leave the group were harrassed, had garbage dumped in their front yards and dirt left in their cars. SG officials dismissed this assertion, though it seems somewhat credible; even if such tactics don’t come from the top, it’s easy to see how the siege mentality and earnest zeal of some members could lead to such behavior.

The group has also sparked popular suspicion with its hierarchical, pseudopolitical structure, a block-by-block organization tightly controlled from the top, and its forceful proselytizing – though that has slackened in recent years. There may be reasons for suspecting Soka Gakkai, but the Japanese tendency for group-think is also at work. The prevailing attitude of mistrust toward the group has cultivated a sense of grievance and victimization among SG members.

Disapproval is rarely voiced directly, creating a chill rather than open hostility. So members turn inward, and associate primarily with other members. "It’s very difficult for people to voice their doubts directly to us," said Fujinawa. "If they can tell us there are negative things, then we can correct them. Because of this problem, it’s hard to generate a mutual relationship."

The group’s cohesiveness is a powerful political force. "In our institutions we have differing opinions and we fight them out. But in Soka Gakkai, if someone disagrees they are cut out. They are a bloc vote," said Yoshiya Abe, the president of Kokugakuin University.

My first inclination was to compare Soka Gakkai’s closely aligned political party, New Komeito, with the religious right in the United States. Christian groups have a narrowly focused political agenda they want to pass. New Komeito has pet causes – religious freedom, nuclear non-proliferation, giving the vote to ethnic Koreans – but none has the moral imperative that, say, banning abortion inspires in the United States. New Komeito seems, if anything, eager to compromise on its issues. The compromise of the moment, of course, is the party’s role with the ruling coalition.

The most common fear is that SG aims to establish a quasi-religious state headed by Ikeda. SG officials vehemently deny this, noting a long history of persecution by the state – of Nichiren in the 13th century, and SG founders in the 20th, who were jailed for thought crimes during the war after criticizing the government’s policies on religion. "Our movement is rooted in a philosophy of individual empowerment; our mentor died due to freedom of conscience. If we ever tried to found a state religion, everything we stand for would be contradicted," said Toshinori Iwazumi, a Soka Gakkai vice president.

The hoarding of political power seems to be done not to accomplish something specifically, or even for its own sake, as much as it is for self-protection. "Their platform is very clear: Stay in power," Abe said. "To stay in power means not to be suppressed. And the history of Nichiren Shoshu has a long history of being suppressed."

New Komeito officials said their aim is to bring Buddhist values into politics. Buddhism is an infinitely flexible philosophy, a useful thing in politics. In their view, postwar freedoms have opened up new opportunities for personal and political transformation that only Soka Gakkai and Komeito have recognized.

"Soka Gakkai is a very new phenomenon in Japanese society," said Motohiko Endo, the chairman of New Komeito’s International Affairs Committee. "It can be compared with a kind of Reformation: Trying to link to God directly without the state, and the establishment of the primacy of the individual – which laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment, market capitalism, etc. In Japanese society, people are not used to this idea because there never was a Reformation. It’s a natural thing to link spirituality with politics. Mahayana Buddhism is not confined to inside yourself – it’s about action in society. So the idea of religious organizations getting involved in politics has a very strong basis in natural life. It’s not compromise, but application. Sometimes it seems like compromise, but Buddhist principles are very flexible."

But the big compromise with the LDP crossed a line that even many members thought shouldn’t be crossed, and has further isolated the group in some ways. "Because Soka Gakkai got involved in politics, we got bashed, which has been extremely damaging," Iwazumi said. And Komeito’s alliance with the LDP has lost it some of its credibility even among SG members. "It was easier for Soka Gakkai to support Komeito when it was in the opposition," he said. "Anti-establishment has been our identity since Nichiren."

As older groups struggled, newer religions sprang up that take Buddhism one step beyond the self-help of the big lay groups. Like Scientology in the West, some are self-consciously non-traditional – and controversial. Kofuku No Kagaku, or the Science of Happiness, blends Buddhist ideas with New Age notions, science fiction, and apocalyptic imagery. Aum Shinrikyo borrowed from Buddhism, biology and anime, among other sources. Nobutaka Inoue, a professor of religion at Kokogakuin University, coined the term "hyper-religion" to refer to groups that borrow different elements from traditional religions, pop culture, science, and politics, in much the same way that the Internet’s hypertext creates links to many different texts and sites.

"Traditional religions don’t function anymore in Japan, so people need an interpretation of the world and hope for the future," he said. "So they look around. Invent a product. The inventor is very important. I borrowed the word 'hyper' from the computer world. We used to read books. Chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. But today we collect data from many sources and mix it together as one product."

Polls show young people are the least likely to profess religious belief, but some of these groups have attracted many young members by offering something different. Some promise an escape from the pressures of society and from emotional pain through tantric techniques, magic, or even godlike space aliens.

Tatsuya Nagaoka, an ex-Aum member, said he was often sick as a child, stuttered, and was bullied by fellow students. He embarked on a search for a religion that could address his problems and insecurities and provide a kind of perfect shelter. He became fascinated with the idea of cultivating his own personal spiritual power, and got interested in spoon-bending paranormal artist Yuri Geller, Agon Shu, a new Buddhist group that emphasizes tantric techniques, and more generally in philosophy. Eventually, as a university student he was drawn to Aum, which charged him a hefty fee to join and put him immediately to work folding and distributing flyers. At the time, leader Shoko Asahara was trying to enter politics. He described his experience there as a bad dream – deprived of sleep, food, and warm clothing, he worked almost round the clock and fainted several times. Eventually, his father contacted him and arranged his escape from the group – several years before its nerve gas attack – and founded a network of Aum family members.

Now a real estate broker who practices Tibetan Buddhism, Nagaoka disagrees with those who view Aum as an aberration. He says the group distilled many problems with Japanese society. Asahara "derived good feeling by controlling and destroying other people, like a bully. He saw humans as material. In Japan, people are recognized as parts of a big machine. Each person was a piece of the organization – one part of the organization produced gas, another mind control. Everything was black and white, there was no place for opinions of your own. Japanese society is like that."

One of the religions Nagaoka joined briefly was Agon Shu, a religion founded in the 1970s that rejects traditional Japanese forms of Buddhism and instead borrows the non-Japanese Theravadan and Tibetan esoteric traditions. Asahara was also an Agon Shu member before founding Aum, and the group emphasizes reincarnation and the cultivation of clairvoyant powers.

I interviewed founder Seiyu Kiriyama in a cluttered meeting room at his Tokyo headquarters. He described a spiritual journey he undertook after being diagnosed with tuberculosis as a young man – at the time, a virtual death sentence. After studying religion, philosophy, and literature, he said he came upon the Agon sutra, a little-known writing dating to the early days of Buddhism that he said contained the secret of enlightenment. "No matter how bad the fate or destiny you were born with, you can change it," he said. "That was a turning point for me and I came to know how to change bad fate, and liberate myself from karma."

Kiriyama’s fire ceremonies blend ancient ritual with 21st-century showmanship, and seemed designed for mass appeal. His group has 350,000 members, and is growing. The esoteric, 'magical' elements of his practice also have a particular appeal especially among young people. Is this the future? Though his approach is controversial, Kiriyama says it is consciously aimed some of the faults in Japanese Buddhism – such as the large gap between monastic and lay practice.

"I think Japanese religious organizations need structural reform," he said. "I feel sympathetic with some (Buddhist) religions in Japan because they are trying to believe in and protect 500 to 1000-year-old sutras. There might be very insightful monks and priests, but if they stay in this old-fashioned form, they can’t have a voice in society."
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptyMon Apr 16, 2012 11:58 am

Fascinating reads on the state of religion in Japan. I am reading a book currently, entitled Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass. She cites data showing the young are abandoning institutional religion in the U.S. This may be a world wide phenomenon as global internet culture erode the underpinnings of tribal and corporate institutional (bricks and mortar) religion. This may bode well for progressive values in American culture, but she does say that there is a spiritual hunger that seeks an avenue of expression that may take form in informal networks. I am always the optimist and perhaps what we are moving toward is something I have long spoken of in this forum, egalitarian non-institutional expressions of spiritual practice and community, following a model perhaps of something like 12 step recovery groups. And as an observer I would say that in the world of American Buddhism that is best represented by the Vipassana model. I would say that in the Christian world the networks of the World Community of Christian Meditation and Contemplative Outreach could be seen as similar expressions of such a model. Small group supported meditation or other authentic spiritual practice for me seems a welcome development.
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PostSubject: Re: Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note   Soto Zen and Japanese Buddhist History -- beyond mythology - books of note EmptyTue Apr 17, 2012 7:02 am

Before the Americans won the war and established freedom of religion, there was no official religious freedom in Japan. I think only 20+ official traditions were recognized. There were some non-official religions, but i think they were mostly practiced in secret or off the grid. As we know, from the 1700s, an official system was created where all Japanese were assigned to a local temple and that was their family temple for life. The Imperial system took control of all religion.

As you can see from these numbers, there has been a huge proliferation of new religions, breakaways groups, gurus, healing cults, groups that combine new age, Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity, various guru cults, and so on. Traditional religion in Japanese is in serious decline.


Panawave vehicle There are 183,000 officially registered religions in Japan—and perhaps thousands more unregister ones. The vast majority of these are “new religions” or cults, with about 2,000 of them having sizable following. By some estimates 10 to 20 percent of Japanese population has some connection with one of these groups. Many of the cults are linked with Buddhism and to a lesser extent Shintoism. Some feature charismatic leaders, ecstatic behavior, end of the world doctrines and beliefs in magic.

Registered religions religious corporations) are granted tax-free status and are examined by the government when they apply for official status but after that are rarely checked again.

In 2008, 13,4000 religious corporation did not submit the reports that they are legally required to submit, double the number from five years earlier.

Some religious corporations are covers for organized crimes schemes and other shams. One Osaka-based religious organization, for example, said ir was based in temple but when investigators checked out the address given, the only thing there was a factory. The right to represent the temple was bought by a salesman who formally worked for a company accused of defrauding 29,000 people. After obtaining the right to the temple name the amn hired foreigners to dress up as begging monks and collect donations in the name of the temple in busy shopping districts. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Good Websites and Sources: Apologetics Index apologeticsindex.org ; History of Religious Cults in Japan .hartford-hwp.com ; Cults in Japan , a Dangerous Epidemic associatedcontent.com ; Academic Work on New Religions in Japan (1991) kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc ; Shinshuren, Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan shinshuren.or.jp ; Religion News Blog religionnewsblog.com ; Soka Gakkai www.sgi.org ; Fortean Times on Panawave Laboratory forteantimes.com

Links in this Website: AUM SHINROKYO CULT AND THE TOKYO SUBWAY SARIN GAS ATTACK Factsanddetails.com/Japan

History of Cults in Japan

Groups like Tenrikyo and Konkokyo emerged in the 19th century and have roots in the 17th century. Tenrikyo means religion of Divine Wisdom. Regarded as a Shinto sect with many Buddhist elements, it was founded in 1839 by one Miki Nakayama who claimed to have received a revelation that mankind was created by kamis and their bodies are on loan from them with only the heart and mind having free will. One "new religion" that emerged after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 revolved around a new dance with a magic formula called ee ia naika (“it's good isn't it?”).

The appearance of a large number of new religions after World War II has been attributed to a spiritual vacuum created by the end of emperor worship and the creation of legal system that granted tax-free status to registered religious movements. Many new religion and gurus sprung up during the boom years in the 1970s and 80s, when it was said many Japanese became alienated with materialist society.

While attendance at traditional places of worship has declined in recent years, the number of new members to non-traditional religions has increased. Before the subway sarin gas attack by the cult Aum Shinrokyo that left 12 people dead new religions were regarded by most ordinary Japanese as harmless. But these days many Japanese regard them as “scary” or at least “dubious.” After the subway gas attack, the Japanese government decided to put religious groups under stricter control and strengthened regulations concerning financial statements and other disclosures to the government.

Book: From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan by Susumu Shimazono (Trans Pacific Press, 2004).

Japanese Who are Attracted to Cults

Many of the new members to religious sects are between 25 and 40. Explaining the attraction of cults, one Buddhist monk told the Boston Globe, young people "feel very empty and lonely in their hearts. That is one reason some people go into cults...Not having any other place, some go to organizations like Aum."

Explaining why cults find fertile ground in Japan, Japanese cult expert Shoko Egawa told the Times of London, “When something is going on in a closed space where group psychology and religious belief work together, people’s behavior will eventually stop being led by rational thought.”

Many of those attracted to religious cults are described by Japanese as otaku (anti-social nerds) and majime (people searching for meaning but incapable of seeing it). A former member of Soka Gakkai, one of Japan's largest sects, told Time, "As Japan entered an era of high economic growth, people moved from rural areas to industrial centers. They were lonely, poor and cut off. Soka Gakkai offered companionship, easy loans and an ideology to fill the gap."

Nobutake Inoue, a professor of religious studies at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, told the Japan Times that new religions have found particularly fertile ground in urban areas, where people have been deprived of their spiritual base provided by community shrines and temples. “Traditional religions served exclusively the members of geographical communities. New religious groups provide a community based on spirituality to city dwellers, who are far away from their hometowns.”

Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult

See Separate Article

Soka Gakkai

One of the largest religious sects in Japan is the Soka Gakkai (Value-creating Society) school of Buddhism. Between 1951 and 1980 it grew from 51,000 to 16 million members. It now has around 8 million members. Tina Turner is one of the 300,000 Soka Gakkai members in the United States.

Soka Gakkai, also known as Hito no Michi, is a form of Mahayana Buddhism and has links to the Nicherien sect of Buddhism. It followers believe that salvation and good luck can be attained by repeatedly chanting, "I take my refuge in the Lotus Sutra."

The Lotus Sutra is an ancient Mahayana Buddhist text. It asserts that all beings can attain the state of Buddha and enlightenment through simple devotion.

A typical Soka Gakkai housewife wakes up at dawn, places rice and water on the family altar and chants the same sutras over and over for around 25 minutes while kneeling and clasping her hands together around prayer beads. After she makes breakfast and gets her husband and children out the door she spends another 45 minutes chanting. "I feel so good afterwards," a 40-year-old housewife told Time," refreshed and ready for the day." [Source: Edward Desmond, Time, November 20, 1995]

Soka Gakkai Leaders

Soka Gakkai was founded un 1930 as a branch of Nicherien Shoshi, one of 38 Japan Nichiren Buddhist sects, by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a follower of Nichirien Buddhism who was jailed for his beliefs and died in prison in 1943. After World War II, the religion was headed by Josei Toda, who believed that political power was the best want to protect Soka Gakkai from persecution. Two years after Toda's death in 1958, the religion was taken over by Daisaku Ikeda.

The mastermind behind the groups's financial and political activities, Ikeda is regarded as a monarch by his followers, who routinely burst into tears of happiness when they listen to him speak at rallies. While followers have called him a "wonderful and brilliant" master, former close associates say that he is temperamental, power hungry and not very religious.

Soka Gakkai Members and Money

Many Soka Gakkai members send their children to Soka Gakkai schools and devote much of their time to rasing money, winning converts, canvassing and performing political chores such as calling neighbors to get out the vote before elections. Members are encouraged to turn over a large percentage of their income to their Soka Gakkai and taught that giving money to the sect will earn them merit in their next life.

Soka Gakkai is organized like a cooperation and it is believed to control assets worth $100 billion. Activities that fall under a broad definition of religion are not taxed and its extensive business holding are taxed at a much lower ate that businesses held by non-religions. Annual fund raising drives pull in around $2 billion.

Ex-members are reportedly followed, harassed and intimidated. One former member received death threats and his wife was called by the Soka Gakkai Housewives Association and encouraged to divorce him. Another former member, who set up of a competing temple, had 300 Soka Gakkai members burst into his temple during a religious service. Some of them grabbed him and beat him until he passed out. "I thought I was going to die," he told Time. He spent three months in the hospital recovering from injuries to his lungs and other internal organs.

Soka Gakkai and Politics

Soka Gakkai founded Komeito (Clean Government Party), a political organization that has been a major force in Japanese politics for three decades. Founded in 1964, it was the third largest party in Japan in 1980, with 49 members. In 1995, it had 52 seats in the 511-member lower house of the Diet. (The lower house wields more power than the rubber-stamp upper house).

In 1995, Komeito merged with Shinshinto (New Frontier Party), the main opposition party. In a July 1995 election, Soka Gakkai accounted for half of Shinshinto's 12.5 million votes. Before the alliance with Shinshinto, Soka Gakkai maintained links with a corrupt faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LPD).

Komeito is a well organized political machine supported by a massive army of volunteer canvassers. It legislators claim they are not followers of Soka Gakkai (Komeito and Soka Gakkai formally broke formal ties in 1970) but nearly all them were practitioners of the religion before they were elected.

In late 1990s Komeito morphed into the New Komeito Party, which has been a coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan for more than a decade. Prime Ministers Obuchi, Mori, Kouzimi, Abe, Fukuda and Aso all formed coalition governments with the New Komeito Party. See Government

Soka Gakkai isn't the only religion involved in politics. Other Buddhist sects have political wings and legislators who support their causes in return for financial support. The Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult reportedly decided to launch the sarin gas subway attack after it failed to do well in local elections.

Scandals Involving Soka Gakkai

In 1970, Komeito and Soka Gakkai formally separated after Komeito leaders were involved in a scandal in which bookstores were pressured not to sell a book critical of Soka Gakkai.

In the late 1980s, Soka Gakkai was allegedly involved in a multi-million art purchase scam that set up slush funds for political candidates they supported.

In 1992, Soka Gakkai helped the LPD pass a controversial law allowing Japanese troops abroad in return for government help in ending "tax cases against the sect."

In September 1995, a 50-year-old local assemblywoman fell to her death under suspicious circumstances from the 5th floor of the Tokyo office building where she worked. At the time of her death she had been investigating Komeito corruption and was trying to help harassed ex-Soka Gakkai members. Before her death, she had received a number of death threats. Police concluded that her death was a suicide. Family insisted "she was not the type to commit suicide."


Yamaguchi experimental communities have existed in Japan since 1953. Founded by Yamagishi Miyozo, the communities aim to create a utopian society by following a philosophy and set of principals that reject consumerism and materialism and advocates simple, communal living, the eating of simple, organic foods, and working when one feels like it rather than when one has to. The group is famous for selling organic food and is also known for its progressive ideas about childcare and education.

The are around 7,500 people (5,000 adults and 2,500 children) living in Yamaguchi communities. Members live in small rooms with virtually no possessions. Most labor in economic activity related to the raising and selling of organic food. Efforts are made to break the bonds between parents and children. After the age of five children live together in a large group, overseen in a loose, hands-off way by a group of adults. Learning is lead by children seeking help with assistance from adults.

Yamaguchi is not really a religion. Rather it aims to "change ways of thought with reliance on God or Buddha” and “to do so scientifically, utilizing the capabilities of the human mind alone." The group has been accused of behaving like a cult: requiring members to fork over their money to the group and hiring guards to keep grandparents from seeing their grandchildren.

Perfect Liberty Association

The Perfect Liberty Association (PL) is a cult that preaches a "life is art" creed and believes problems can be solved by mass pilgrimages. It puts on one the best fireworks shows in Osaka, owns a high school with one of Japan's best school baseball teams, and accrued massive debts after bubble economy collapsed.

PL was founded in 1924 by a Buddhist priest named Miki Tokuharu who was "cured" of chronic disease by spiritualist Kanada Tokumitsu. After recovering Miki turned away from Buddhism and began following Kanada. In its first decade PL attracted about a million members. The religion was persecuted during the World War II period, Miki and many members were imprisoned. Miki died in prison. After the war the PL carried on under the leadership of Miki's son, Miki Tokuchika.

The PL headquarters at Tondabayashi (near Osaka) contains a hospital, schools, a youth center, a golf course, baseball diamonds, a temple, a museum and a bizarre-looking 550-foot-tall tower. The group’s leader lives comfortably but is required to offer personal counsel to any member that has a problem.

Perfect Liberty Beliefs and Activities

PL beliefs are based on Shinto and Buddhism. Followers believe that every action in life is a form of self-expression and thus things like playing golf and baseball and producing art and poetry are regarded as forms of religion. This belief is summed in the slogan: "When work becomes worship, religion is truly lived. When art is expressed in all life, God is truly recognized."

"Liberty" in the religion's name refers to liberty from hostility and suffering. Hardships are regarded as warnings from God and illnesses are cured through spirituality after patients complete a computerized questionnaire.Golf is also a central part of PL. Fenced-in cult compounds have golf courses and encourage members to play. Some PL "churches” have driving ranges on their roofs.

Members are taught to eschew their ego, pursue individuality by following 21 principals that includes things like "no complaining about food," "getting up pleasantly in the morning," "living in harmony with your spouse," "not even thinking about cheating or being unfair" and "not being boisterous."

Upon joining, new converts are required to buy the Believer's Handbook, a badge and a six month subscription to the PL magazine. Members are also encouraged to put daily "love offerings" in "treasure bags" that are turned over in monthly "thanksgiving" services at the church. Each member is regarded as a missionary. Cells of members are expected to attract 80 new converts a year. The names of converts are inscribed on the walls of the churches that host daily 5:00am services in which members are encouraged and be active and artistic.

Panawave Laboratory

The Panawave Laboratory is religious cult that made headlines in May 2002 when members dressed in white clothes and took to the road in 15 white vans and stopped along highways and country roads and covered trees, guardrails and signs with huge white sheets. The windshields and windows of their vehicles were covered with white sheets and weird black and white stickers that made it near impossible to see in and out of the vehicles. The white sheets, white clothing and the weird stickers were intended to protect their members from dangerous electromagnetic waves.

The Panawave Laboratory has around 1,200 members who live in white geodesic domes in the mountains of western Fukui Prefecture. They only eat Instant noodles and don’t believe in bathing. The group was led by a woman named Yuko Chino who was suffering from cancer during the road trip and traveled in van full of cats.

Their road trip through central Japan was part of an effort by the group, it believed, to keep the world from ending due to cataclysmic earthquakes caused by the reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles. A spokesman for the group said the world would be saved if Tama-chan—a bearded seal that was in the news in Japan at that time—was rescued and placed in a swimming pool the group had specially built for her.

The road trip by the Panawave Laboratory drew a lot of media attention. In places where the group set up camp they were told by police to move along and remove white the covering and stickers from their windshields and windows of face arrest. At one point cult members became so freaked by the army of reporters following them they donned white shields, sabotaged a radio tower and summoned a white bulldozer to get rid of the reporters and paparazzi following them. In the end the cult returned quietly to their community and the media stopped covering them.

In December 2003, five members of the cult were arrested on suspicion of beating a university assistant professor who was later declared dead at a hospital. The beatings were done with a bamboo sword and a stick made or corrugated cardboard at the Panawave headquarters. The cult claimed the blows were intended to increase the victims mental powers not to injure him.


Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo is a cult whose leader, Hogen Fukunaga, was jailed on charges of fraud in connection with swindling five people out of $250,000 for "sole-of-the-foot" diagnosis. It is believed that he swindled people out of $500 million.

Fukunaga founded the cult in 1980 after a company he owned that produced electric foot massages went bankrupt and he heard a "vox die" ("voice of God"). The central act of the Ho-no-Hana cult is the "sole-of-the-foot" diagnoses in which a person’s health and fortunes are ascertained based on the condition of the soles of their feet and the length of their toes. Many people who underwent the procedure were told that their soles were dirty and there was a good chance they would develop a serious disease. They were then told they needed to pay large sums of money for training sessions and items sold by the cult that would make them better.

More than 30,000 people are thought to have undergone "sole-of-the-foot" ritual and participated in Ho-no-Hana training sessions, in which members were required to recite sutras and read Ho-no-Hana behavior and house management guides. Participants in the five-day training sessions were allowed to sleep only 10 hours total and eat five meals during the entire five days. On the final day, when their defenses were at their lowest, participants attended "judgments" in which they were verbally abused and then praised and encouraged to continue their treatments.

One man told the Yomiuri Simbun that is son wanted to take a Ho-no-Hana training session after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. The man underwent a "sole-of-the-foot" diagnose and was told he was "trampling on his son" and that participation in a five-day train session would make everything okay. The man paid about $50,000 for training sessions of himself, his wife and his son, who was taken out of a hospital against his doctor's orders, and was told there that his son would be saved if the man bought $100,000 worth of hanging scrolls and other items sold by the cult. After the sessions the son's conditioned worsened and he died two months later.

Life Space Cult

In November 1999, the Life-Space Cult made headlines in Japan when a dead body of a 66-year-old man was found in a room used by the cult in a hotel near Narita airport. An autopsy reveled that man had been dead for three weeks to four months. But leaders of cult denied this. They insisted the body was alive until it was killed by police during an autopsy. Members of the cult asserted that body was receiving treatments called "shakty pats."—a series of head massages and repeated body taps performed by the cult long haired and one-eyed leader, Koji Takahashi.

The victim had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in June 1999 and was placed in a hospital. Takahashi ordered the victim's family to take him out of the hospital, against doctors orders and bring him to the hotel. Takahashi was arrested. In February 2002, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of the 66-year-old man.

Kaedajuku Cult

A similar case involving the Kaedajuku Cult occurred around the same time. Two mummified bodies (of a 6-year-old boy and an infant) were found in the cult's headquarters in Miyazaki. Leaders of the cut said they were "channeling resurrection energy" into the children to bring them back to life.

The Kaedajuku Cult incorporats elements of Christianity, Taoism and Shintoism. The leader calls himself "the creator's proxy." Members wear yellow uniforms and use wooden boxes as "wave creators" and windmills to send spirits.

In a similar case a dead 20-month-old baby boy was kept for more than a month by his mother. The head, abdomen and chest of the boy were cut open with scissors because a "shaman" who worked at a health food store told the mother that "although the exterior shell of the body has died, the interior is still alive."


Mt. Asama Kigen-kai (Era-Socity”) is a Shinto-linked group based in Komoro, Nagano prefecture. Headquartered in an opulent facility situated on a hill, it is based in Shintoism and was founded in 1970 by Kensuke Matsui, a man who wore tattered military fatigues and claimed he was the reincarnation of a famous prince from the ancient Yamato clan. Today the cult is run by Yasuko Kubota, the 50-something daughter of the founder.

Believers call Matsui the “Great Diety” and regard him as a great exorcist and healer. His daughter is called the ‘second messiah” and like her father has lots of money and drives around in a Rolls Royce.

Members can only enter the group’s headquarters after making a series of bows and secret handshakes towards a pair of stone statues. They purchase special water, which they believe can cure every known ailment, for $600 a liter, and are punished if they seek help from real doctors. Rituals included dumping huge amounts of fish and fruit into a local river and digging holes in Mt. Asama, a neraby volcano, to make votive offerings of fried tofu to the fox god. Bad feelings grew within the group when it became clear the miraculous waters did not heal everyone and the Matsui himself died of pancreatic cancer in 2002.

In October 2007, police raided three Kigen-kai facilities and arrested 21 people after a 63-year-old female member was beaten and trampled to death by other cult members—most of them women—after she was criticized for have a “bad attitude” because her daughter jokingly presented a condom to the “Great Deity’s” granddaughter and told her it was an amulet that would protect her and bring her great fortune.

The victim, Motoko Okuno, was the owner of a Kyoto-style sushi shop where cult members often me,. She had belong the sect for some time. Her daughter was punished first. She was covered in a trash-bag covered with condoms and beaten. Okuno’s beating lasted more than hour and was carried about 50 woman following orders of the cult’s leader. During the beating she was knocked to the ground with a blow to the back and beaten, kicked and trampled while writhing n the floor. Her face was caked in chalk and a fake gun was shoved into her mouth. Special orders were given to stamp on her thighs to inflict maximum pain.

Many think that Okuna was singled out because she was close to the founding guru and criticized his daughter for twisting his teachings. The 21 were arrested on charges of causing injury leading to death. Among them were 15 women, including Kubita herself. The oldest was 81 and the youngest was 15.

Happy Science

Ryuho Okawa, founder and CEO of Happy Science, has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as writing the largest number of books—52—in one year as a single individual. He wrote and published the books between November 23, 2009 and November 10, 2010. All the books were newly written (none were reissues) and Okawa authored all of them himself. Okawa published his first book, Nichiren no Reigen (“The Spiritual Message of Nichiren”) in August 1985. As of early 2011 he had authored more than 700 books. For 20 years he has been a best-selling author and his books have been on Japan’s “Top 20 Bestselling Books List.”

Happy Science has members in about 80 countries. The group has a worldwide network of two shoja temples and 61 branch temples, branches and local units as of June 2010. In Japan there are regular “international retreats,” which centers around Happy Science teachings and aims to bring members closer together. The group is also involved in a number of foreign aid and charity activities.

Other Cults

Among Japan's "new religions" are the Power of the Pearl (led by a man reportedly with a pearl in his body that radiates bacteria-killing light); the Religion of Heavenly Wisdom (led by women possessed by the Miki the Moon and Hi the Sun); and the Neo-Nichiren Movement (composed mainly of married women interested in maintaining ties with their ancestors and led by a living Buddha that died in 1957). Many of these embrace elements of Buddhism. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Byakko Shinkokai is a pacifist organization that runs around putting up signs in English and Japanese that read "May Peace Prevail on Earth." Another is led by a man who claims he possesses superhuman powers that allow him to live without food or sleep. Others worship people’s feet and ring bells.

Kanshinji a religion based in Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture. Members are expected to spend $10,000 for 30-centimeter-high glass “objects of worship” that are said to contain DNA of the founder of the religion. The manufacturing cost for each object is around $450. Tax officials have slapped the group with a tax fine of $5 million.

Shinnyeon was founded by a priest of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in 1936 and claims to have 796,000 members today. Members admire Sakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism, and believe anyone can become a Buddha. A typical member visits the cult headquarters once a month, donates about $200 a year to the cult and follows the cult’s principals of acting kindly towards others. Uchu Shinri Gakkai (Cosmic Truth Society) is a religious group founded in 1983 that remained largely dormant until 1994. It earns much of its revenues from 23 love hotels its runs and was charged with hiding ¥1.4 billion in revenues by tax authorities in 2009.

Japan has hundreds of thousands of followers in Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification church. About 21,000 people in Japan were involved in a satellite-linked Unification Church mass wedding in the 1990s involving 363,000 couples.

Deadly Exorcisms

In 1995, police found the decomposing bodies of two men and four women stuffed into futons in the house of a 47-year-old faith healer named Sachiko Eto. The victims were followers of Eto who died during an exorcism intended to rid the victims of evil spirits, in which the participants beat each other with drum sticks and were beaten by Eto and two others. One other person who endured the beatings was seriously injured but survived.

Eto claimed to be god’s messengers and condemned the followers tod death and was able to carry out the death because of her absolute power over them The police investigated the house after a woman reported she was beaten there and she disappeared. Neighbors said that Eto appeared to be an ordinary housewife even though sometimes strange drumming noises, screams and odors emanated from her house.

In May 2002, Eto was sentenced to death for murder for killing four of the people and inflicting injuries that caused the death of two others. The court rejected her insanity plea. Three of Eto’s followers were given prison sentences for their role in the crime. In 2008 the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the death sentence.

Dad, Monk Arrested for Fatal Ablution of “Possessed” 13-Year-Old Girl

In September 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 50-year-old man and a monk were arrested for suffocating to death the man's 13-year-old daughter after they tied the girl to a chair and doused her with water on the pretext of "exorcising an evil spirit." The Kumamoto prefectural police arrested Atsushi Maishigi, the girl's father and a company employee in Kumamoto, and Kazuaki Kinoshita, a 56-year-old monk of Nagasumachi in the prefecture, on suspicion of causing bodily injury resulting in death of Maishigi's daughter Tomomi. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 28, 2011]

According to the police, the two had performed the practice on the girl more than 100 times since March 2011. The ritual was performed under a 3.5 square-meter concrete "waterfall" at a church of a religious group Nakayama-shingo-shoshu in Nagasumachi. The running water is pumped up from groundwater to a height of 2.5 meters. In late August the men strapped Tomomi to a chair and placed her faceup under the falling water for about five minutes.Tomomi fell unconscious, after which the men called an ambulance, but she died at 3:40 a.m. on Aug. 28 at a hospital from suffocation.

Tomomi's father reportedly told the police: "My daughter was possessed. So we performed the ritual on her to exorcise the demons so she could get well."But she resisted and became violent, so we tied her to a chair." The two men denied the charges, saying it was "not an assault." During the ritual, Maishigi held down his daughter while Kinoshita recited sutras, according to the police.

Tomomi reportedly had suffered from mental and physical illness since she was a senior-grade primary school student. Maishigi was introduced to the religious group through an acquaintance and started visiting the church with Tomomi in March. Kinoshita urged Maishigi to perform the ritual on Tomomi. According to the police, her parents even "practiced" it on her sometimes, according to the police. The Kumamoto municipal school board said Tomomi had not attended school since April.

According to the Cultural Affairs Agency, Nakayama-shingo-shoshu was recognized as a religious corporation in 1952. It had about 350 temples and churches nationwide with 305,555 believers as of the end of December 2008.

Members of the Unification Church were arrested in 2009 on extortion charges for allegedly selling expensive personal seals to people by telling them they would suffer bad fortune if they didn’t buy them.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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By Jason Ananda Josephson

Publication Date: October 3, 2012

Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of what we call "religion." There was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning. But when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea. In this book, Jason Ānanda Josephson reveals how Japanese officials invented religion in Japan and traces the sweeping intellectual, legal, and cultural changes that followed.

More than a tale of oppression or hegemony, Josephson's account demonstrates that the process of articulating religion offered the Japanese state a valuable opportunity. In addition to carving out space for belief in Christianity and certain forms of Buddhism, Japanese officials excluded Shinto from the category. Instead, they enshrined it as a national ideology while relegating the popular practices of indigenous shamans and female mediums to the category of "superstitions"--and thus beyond the sphere of tolerance. Josephson argues that the invention of religion in Japan was a politically charged, boundary-drawing exercise that not only extensively reclassified the inherited materials of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto to lasting effect, but also reshaped, in subtle but significant ways, our own formulation of the concept of religion today. This ambitious and wide-ranging book contributes an important perspective to broader debates on the nature of religion, the secular, science, and superstition.


"The Invention of Religion in Japan is truly revolutionary. Original, well researched, and engrossing, it overturns basic assumptions in the study of Japanese thought, religion, science, and history.... This book will absolutely reshape the field."--Sarah Thal, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Jason Ananda Josephson astutely analyzes how Japanese definitions of religion sought to contain Christian missionary agendas and to position Japan advantageously vis-à-vis Western nations while at the same time radically reconfiguring inherited traditions and articulating new ideological norms for Japanese citizens. His broad erudition allows him to place the case of Japan in transnational perspective and to offer persuasive theoretical insights into the mutually constitutive nature of religion, superstition, and the secular. This study is illuminating reading for anyone interested, not only in modern Japan, but in the complex interconnections of religion, modernity, and the politics of nation states.” -- Jacqueline Stone, Princeton University

About the Author

Jason Ānanda Josephson is assistant professor of religion at Williams College.
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Edited by David McMahan

Publication Date: January 13, 2012 | Series: Religions in the Modern World

Buddhism in the Modern World explores the challenges faced by Buddhism today, the distinctive forms that it has taken and the individuals and movements that have shaped it. Part One discusses the modern history of Buddhism in different geographical regions, from Southeast Asia to North America. Part Two examines key themes including globalization, gender issues, and the ways in which Buddhism has confronted modernity, science, popular culture and national politics. Each chapter is written by a distinguished scholar in the field and includes photographs, summaries, discussion points and suggestions for further reading. The book provides a lively and up-to-date overview that is indispensable for both students and scholars of Buddhism.


"Buddhism now appears in new places: advertisements, pain clinics, brain labs and ‘meditation centers.’ This emerging globalized Buddhism stands in complex relation to Asian traditions on the ground. Highly useful for teachers and researchers alike, this volume uniquely combines the Asian, Western and global contexts with crucial themes - such as politics, science and gender - in our late modern world." - John D. Dunne, Associate Professor of Religion, Emory University, USA

"This book is very much to be welcomed for those who, in a reflective and critical way, want to go beyond a basic understanding of Buddhist doctrines and Buddhism in history to see the ways in which Buddhist doctrine and practice are responding to, adapting to, and adopting the modern world even as they are adopted and adapted by those within it." - Paul Williams, Emeritus Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy, University of Bristol, UK

‘Edited by David L. McMahan, a scholar of Buddhism and modernity, the volume has contributions from a range of well-known and emerging scholars from a variety of fields... The volume offers a kind of refracted lens for a diverse and plural web of communities and practitioners, shining a light on multiple and often contentious social histories and intellectual, economic and political forces.’ -- Annabella Pitkin, Barnard College, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (fall 2012)
About the Author

David L. McMahan is Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College, USA. He is the author of The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford, 2008) and Empty Vision: Metaphor and Visionary Imagery in Mahāyāna Buddhism (Routledge, 2002).
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