Brie’s blog

To all that care to read this, I’m Brie. I am a psychology major and a religious studies and psychology of child development minor. The reason I have two minors is because the latter minor had most of the classes I took for my major, so I was done with it at the end of my sophomore year. That’s when I decided to choose something else. Religious Studies was LITERALLY the only other thing I could find to take that didn’t sound boring. That’s not to say I am particularly religious because I have no official affiliation with any religion. I think they all do and don’t make sense from some point of view. However it interests me because it has a very large impact on human behavior, and it fascinates me what some people will or will not due because of their religion. Anyway, in case all of this has bored you up until now ill give the basics really quick:

Sex: female

Birthday: March 13

Hometown: Cincinnati Ohio

Marital Status: Engaged

Children: Never, yes really, never

Pets: Two cats, Cholee (I’m a phonetic speller!) and Zoey

Siblings: Technically, the oldest of six (five boys), although I have never actually lived in the same residence as any of them

Residence: House off of Wheeling, Muncie IN

Car: Ford Taurus

Favorite food: pasta

Favorite place: Italy (I went there the summer after I graduated high school

Favorite time of day: Night

Favorite Season: Fall/Winter

Facebook: Yes

Twitter: Yes

Myspace: Nooooo

Other blogs: On facebook

Anything else random?: No 


The topic of worldviews struck me as interesting as soon as I read it. At first I was very confused on how the four worldviews were or were not connected. But after some creative flow charting I believe I’ve got it! To all that are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, I am referring to the four worldview from ancient Japan, Vertical, Horizontal, Temporal, and the Other World.

At the top of my chart is This (Real) World, a division of the Other World. This was divided into the Other World Above Ground and the Other World Below ground. This relates to the vertical worldview that states that world is split into three layers, the upper, middle and lower world. This is the first point that required extra brain power. The lower world, or the world below ground was a new concept to me in the context of Japanese religion. Is there a hell for those who subscribe to Japanese religions? As I would soon find out, the answer is kind of.  Many people head toward the reincarnation topic. A person, when they die is reincarnated, this could be in on Earth or in hell, depending on if you followed the rules of being a good person. You keep being reincarnated until you reach enlightenment and go to Nirvana which I assume to be a heaven type of deal. Yet, some believe in addition to reincarnation, their dead ancestors are still around in spirit. Which leads to another topic. Movement in between the worlds. Apparently this is no problem because kami or the deceased are free to roam where they please. This leads to my connection to the third worldview, the temporal. This worldview says there are three worlds, the past life, the present and life after death. This brings us back to reincarnation. This is probably why this is the standard view held by many people. It fits.

 Finally, the Horizontal worldview. This worldview focuses on the revolutions of the sun from east to west. This connects to the Other world viewpoint that there is the Other World in the Mountains and the Other World Above the Seas. I am not exactly sure how this fits with the other viewpoints. I do get the mountain part though. Mountains are believed to be the place where kami were said to have descended onto earth. Buddhist deities are believed to manifest themselves in the mountain peaks. Also I know that the sea has a connection to the divine. But the sun part I’m not entirely sure about. I can make an educated guess, that perhaps the revolutions of the sun because it is what gives us life essentially. Perhaps it is another connection with the divine.

 So now the chart is done, so back to my original question. Do they connect? I believe that one worldview can not give me a sense of life. I would need at least three, the Vertical, Temporal, and Other world. This encompasses what I feel is the essence of life. You have a past life, your present life, and your future life. A person maybe be living any of these lives in either the upper, middle, or lower worlds. Assuming we take to reincarnation track, the ultimate goal in life is to reach enlightenment.


As the semester is coming to its final weeks I have realized how much I have learned about Japanese religions. I think by far the most interesting thing I have thing I have learned pertains to the Japanese approach to religion. I have been told (because I have not been to Japan and several of my classmates and professor have been) that if you were to ask someone any questions pertaining to religion, they would claim they have no involvement or system of belief.

However this is untrue for many people of Japan. Currently, the average Japanese person participates in rituals and festivals that have a distinct religious connection daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or some combination of these. But why should a person deny a religion but still participate? Well the answer to this, as many things do, have a historical connection. In interest of not boring the current reader (you) I will keep it brief.              

It all started in 1613 when it became clear that Christianity had become a force to be reckoned with. It wasn’t so much the Biblical teaching that the Tokugawa government didn’t approve of, it was that Christianity posed a threat to the government’s secular authority. In 1614 Christianity was banned. As part of ‘state religion’  and to ensure there were no Christians left, Japanese were forced to register with their local temple. This forced people to provide financial support, ritually attend their local temple, and report their comings and goings.

So in a nut shell people were not pleased with the Buddhist religion as a whole. This leads to a concept called shukyo. The definition of shukyo, is the concept of religion being instructive an intrusive. The lack of identification with any religion is a direct result from state religion where religion inhibits your life. By saying you are not religious frees oneself from the idea that they are some how inhibited by a system.

 However, one aspect of the old state religion that people still take part in is funerary practices and festivals. Ancestors are very important to the Japanese. By building a butsudan in the home, members of the family will be remembered through offerings and prayers.  Also visiting the grave of where an ancestors ashes are is a way for the Japanese to reconnect and celebrate their lives (the Japanese are cremated because it helps lead to enlightenment after death). A specific time of year where people remember their ancestors is during the festival of Obon. During this time, souls come back from the dead to be with their kin. How do they find their way back you may ask? The living relatives light lanterns and small fires at their gravesides to light the path for the dead. The festival also includes music and dancing to entertain the dead, along with the living. At the end of the festival small boats are cast off into the water for the souls to ride back to the after life.

But not to worry, the deities of Japanese religion get their time too.  From this comes the phrase “turning to the gods” in times of trouble. Turning to the gods is a concept that can be applied to many religions. My theory for why the Japanese turn to the gods in times of trouble (although they are not religious) is because anyone, whether they claim a religious affiliation or not, turns to the gods for help in a time of need. The thought that someone is out there that can help you is a comforting thought to many people. So even though the Japanese do not want the label of a religion, they still like to have the comfort in knowing there is always someone there to go to with your worries and problems.


New religion, what is a new religion? Shinshūkyō (新宗教) is a term used by Japanese to describe new religious movements. These movements can be also known as Shinkō shūkyō (新興宗教). So if we have a definition for New Religion (don’t work I’ll say more about it), then what is the definition of religion to the Japanese? It all comes down to one powerful word shūkyō .But as a have discussed before there may be some problems with coming up for a term to mean religion or religiousness. The average Japanese person does not believe in being they are religious even though they participate in religious rituals yearly, if not more often. This creates the problem. If the Japanese do not even know what makes them religious or not, how can they come up with a word for it? Well despite the many feuds between scholars, I guess we are just going to have to wait for that one.

 Back to New Religions, in the US, specifically here in Muncie we just call it Japanese New Religions, although we have had our own ‘shūkyō’ debate. The title is applied to all religious organizations founded since the middle of the 19th century. Many of these New Religions are heavily influenced by older traditional religions including Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The rise of New Religions is often stimulated by social factors, mainly: the transitional period from the Tokugawa to Meiji governing regimes, economic depression in the 1920’s, and the period after World War II where Japan was defeated and occupied.

Many people associate New Religions with cults (the bad kind) and warn others to not associate with them. Because of the groups like Aum Shinrikyo (see below), whom released a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, these false beliefs continue to be held.  Although I was only five when that happened I can see how this myth can prevail. Specifically, the negative attitudes toward new religions. Even here in the US many people look down on recently popular and relatively new (compared to Christianity, Islam, Judaism) religions such as Scientologists. Actually people are still not to pleased with Muslim people because of its recent large scale emergence in the US. Then when one group of people got a little carried away, Islam has a dark cloud over its head. So in defense, just because  Aum Shinrikyo had an overzealous group does not mean all religions are cults (the bad kind) or harmful.

So now you are dying for an example. Well firstly there are five examples on that I have provided. But I will give you a highlight of one.

Tenrikyo (天理教 Tenrikyō) originated from in revelations to a 19th-century Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki, known as Oyasama by followers. Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God, known by several names including Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, expressed divine will through Nakayama’s role as the Shrine of God, and to a lesser extent the roles of other leaders. Tenrikyo’s worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life, which is achieved through acts of charity and mindfulness .

Tenrikyo, today include 16,833 locally managed churches in Japan. It has 1.75 million followers in Japan, and is estimated to have over 2 million worldwide. Tenrikyo is the largest current religion to have a female foundress.


A week, maybe more ago in class we were to read a section in the Nazan Guide to Japanese Religions (Noriko, Kawahshi. 2006. Nazan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.). Among this section, there was an interesting quote that I think best describes Japanese Religiousness. “The diversity and complexity of religious life in Japan historically derives from the elaborate relationship formed between Japanese Buddhism, Shinto practices, Confucian thought, the native folk religion tradition, and other elements borrowed from Continental Asia or from the West” (p. 92).

The first part of the quote about the relationship between Buddhism and Shinto is called  shinbustu shūgō 神仏習合. When  Buddhism appeared in Japan in 6 CE,  the practice of building Shinto and Buddhist shrines near each other was the first step in their syncretism. But in in 1868, the government commanded that ordering Buddhist priests connected with Shinto shrines either to be reordained as Shinto priests or to return to original life. The state also got rid Buddhist ceremonies in the imperial household, making the Imperial Line official Shinto.

However, today many Japanese incorporate elements of both religions in their lives such as ancestor worship, participating in yearly festivals, and shrine and temple visits. According Ian Reader, “….but as in all matter concerning the relationship of Shinto and Buddhism, the centuries of constant interpenetration have led to some fusion in styles that it is not always possible to differentiate (between the two)” (Reader, 139). Also, the manner of ancestor worship, although specific to Buddhism through the use of a butsudan, many Shinto followers believe in keeping the ancestors happy or serious consequences will follow. Finally when festivals arrive yearly such as Obon and Gion Matsuri it is a cultural instead of religious practice to attend.

If we move onto Confucian thought we can find nearly all Confucian themes can relate directly back to Japanese religion. These are humanity (think of the Golden Rule), ritual practice, loyalty to the imperial family (think State religion), filial piety (respect to parents, children, spouse etc.), and valuing relationships with others.

                Finally, the “the native folk religion tradition, and other elements borrowed from Continental Asia or from the West” also applies directly to Japanese religion. Native folk religion can directly influence the characteristics of practice of religion making religious practices differ in southern Japan from Northern or Eastern Japan. Also influences from the West can be especially found in the term “marry Christian”. This term comes from the practice of many Japanese having a traditions Christian wedding with a someone like a minister conducting the ceremony, the white wedding dress, the wedding cake, gifts, honeymoon, etc.

            So I hope I didn’t lose anyone but my argument is that the quote that Japanese religion “…historically derives from the elaborate relationship formed between Japanese Buddhism, Shinto practices, Confucian thought, the native folk religion tradition, and other elements borrowed from Continental Asia or from the West” is the ost accurate description I have heard so far.


Since this will be my last blog and I have already talked about everything I know enough to talk about I will focus on my experience as a presenter. When we were given the task, ‘creation myths’, I was not sure what we were going to do. However, the group quickly decided we should first see what a creation myth was from a high schooler’s point of view was. We got answers that encompassed every aspect we wanted to cover plus some. What I was expecting were some random variations of the Adam and Eve story. This was not the case. Their myths that they created in groups on the spot fit exactly with the most common types of myth. These are, Ex nihilo (a creation from nothing by a creator through speech, breath, and/or dream), from chaos (a creation from a formless, shapeless expanse to bring order to the chaos), and world or parent (from the union of two deities the universe was created). Then after they got a grasp on what a creation myth was overall we presented the myth of Izanami and Izanagi. As, many things in religion are concerned, there are many different interpretations of stories. This is precisely what we presented to the class, interpretations. Specifically interpretations that we strongly agreed with. My interpretation was feminist. Without giving you my whole presentation, my main point was women in Abrahamic religions are the progenitors of sin (“daughters of Eve”) in the Christian religion, women in Islam are veiled and separated, and in general, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the divine male god is the supreme ruler (Nye 2008:80). In Japanese religion, the importance of women and women female kami (deities), goes against the patriarchal norm of Abrahamic religion. Specifically, Izanami who was essential in the creation of the earth, and Amaterasu who was charged with the task of making the sun shine making her the most important kami of all. Additionally, the imperial line of Japan (according to the Nihon Shoki) is directly descended from her. After this Chris gave his explanation on how this creation myth can be interpreted as maintaining social structure and Taylyn explainedhow incest is intertwined in the stories of kami. From this I think what the students were able to see how religious stories can be interpreted. One interpretation is not the best way to get the complete picture of what the story is saying. You must consider many interpretations, and from that you can make an educated decision on what to believe.  Although they might not agree with what we thought, I think we provided a great example on how to study not just Japanese religiousness, but religions themselves.

4 Responses to Brie’s blog

  1. Doc Roemer says:

    Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to your first blog on the readings.

  2. Doc Roemer says:

    (Worldviews entry) You’re thinking along the right track. Of course, reincarnation, reaching enlightenment, and Nirvana are more complicated than this. But, I think your main point that there seems to be this competing understanding of reincarnation (from a Buddhist doctrinal perspective) and the continued presence of ancestors among contemporary (and probably older) Japanese.
    Kami can refer to the “deceased”, as you say, but few Japanese admit to that belief (it is true according to Shinto doctrine).
    Yes, think about Amaterasu (the sun goddess) and her important role in Japan–as one example of the significance of the sun.
    I will note (for the readers) that what spurred this blog was our reading from the chapter in the Nanzan Guide on ancient Japanese religions (pp. 131-143)

  3. Doc Roemer says:

    You are correct to point out how the banning of Christianity and the rather forced affiliation with Buddhist temples gave organized religion a poor reputation in Japan. But, there were events prior to (and especially after that) which also contributed to this situation (e.g., wars between Buddhist sects, corrupt monks, State Shinto, etc.).
    You write, “The definition of shukyo, is the concept of religion being instructive and intrusive.” I don’t think religion is always seen as being “intrusive” in Japan. While you are correct to point out how forcing religion on people tends to have negative consequences (and may impede “sincere” belonging, belief, or practice), putting “intrusive” in the definition of shukyo is misleading, I think.
    Note: ashes are not always embalmed at the ancestral tombs. Often, these tombs simply act as markers or sacred spaces outside the home where ancestors can be visited and communicated with.
    Note: readers, see Ian Reader 1991 (Religion in contemporary Japan) for support for some of Brie’s claims about the dead and the afterlife. See our website for visuals of an Obon festival (
    Note: for studies on religion as a coping mechanism in the US, see Kenneth Pargament’s work (eg, 1996 The psychology of religion and coping)

  4. Doc Roemer says:

    11/30 entry
    Readers: support for Brie’s entry can be found in the Nanzan Guide (2006)

    I’m glad you clarify what you mean by, “these false beliefs continue to be held”. We should not judge all new religions based on violent acts of the few.

    Readers, see for more on this

    Note: it’s important to admit that the figures presented here are estimates (and I gather from Tenrikyo) and are likely to be inflated.

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