The significance and changing patterns of Jizô worship in contemporary Japan: socio-cultural study

Kampmark, Karl-J. (2008) The significance and changing patterns of Jizô worship in contemporary Japan: socio-cultural study. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Japan is currently experiencing a widespread religious revival. Specialist publications about the Japanese have devoted much space to the phenomenon of 'New Religions' (shinkô shûkyô), but they have yet to highlight in the same way the postwar changes which centre on the worship of the bodhisattva Jizô.

This thesis leads into several areas of controversy in scholarship, including the well entrenched opinion that religion ceased to be sociologically significant for the Japanese during the second half of the 20th century.

In questioning this view, I collate observations concerning the contrasting place of Jizô in Japanese Buddhism before and after World War II. I emphasize the responsiveness of religious belief to popular practice rather than sacerdotal documents whose study has long monopolized enquiry into Japanese cosmology and characterized such investigation as a philological discipline rather than as an ethnographic enterprise.

My starting point of my enquiry is the cult of mizuko kuyô whose origins date from no earlier than the late 1960s. This bears on the debate relating the upsurge in the popularity of Jizô to the frequency of abortion in Japan during the postwar period. It also provides an Asian corrective to support the argument that religious studies need to accommodate the impact of the computer on religious practice today.

Discussion of the new cult requires acknowledgment of its condemnation by Japanese and foreign commentators, including militant feminists and several scholars. Their assertion is that mizuko kuyô is the product of recent distortions of theology by Buddhist institutions seeking profits through the commercialization of their services by means of the printed media and the internet.

I challenge this criticism by enquiries that reveal the cultural breath, historical antiquity and demographic scope with which notions about Jizô are imbedded in popular Japanese religion. The deity should be interpreted as a multivalent metaphor whose meaning can be adapted to the changing needs of his believers. In this way Jizô resembles a formula with fluid parameters where the individual aspects that make up the sum-total of Jizô worship are defined by devotees in their dealings with him.

This analysis pays special attention to the pilgrimages in which I have participated, visual representations of Japanese notions of eschatology, ancestral and equinoctial celebrations, and especially to children's festivities. All these events serve to illustrate the need to understand that the nature of Jizô is contextually determined. Jizô is a potentiality, waiting to be shaped by the projections of his worshippers who ultimately create and recreate him every time they approach him.

Item ID: 34869
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: bodhisattva; Buddhism; Buddists; deities; deity; fetus; God; Gods; Japan; Japanese; Jizô; memorial services; mizuko kuyô; religion; religious belief; religious practices; theology; worship
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2014 02:09
FoR Codes: 22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220407 Studies in Religious Traditions (excl Eastern, Jewish, Christian and Islamic Traditions) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society @ 70%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950406 Religious Traditions (excl. Structures and Rituals) @ 30%
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