I am Eric Alcorn, one student in the Fall 2010 Immersive Learning in Japanese Religions course. How did I end up in the course? Well, duh, I signed up for it. But before that I guess you could say it started with my desire to understand first the workings and draws of religions to the masses, this then coupled with my lifelong interest in Japan and a fairly good sales-pitch from an enthusiastic professor and here I am.
I wish I’d began blogging earlier in the semester but I am a recovering procrastinator and am sadly unable to communicate to you the full panorama of my educational journey but I will be able to guide you on my explorations of some specific topics that were brought up until this point in the course and what my individual or group exploration of them brings.
09 November 2010, 6:03 P.M.
So I’m sitting in the library trying to conceptualize a topic for my next in class essay and I’m going over our recent class discussions over the Buddhism, Shinto, and Folk Religions chapters in our Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions and all they keep pointing me to is an impossible topic that would probably take me a year just to research and then writing it would be an ordeal too but I figure I might as well feed you an overview of what’s been bouncing ’round my head the past couple weeks.
Shinto and Japanese Buddhism only exist esoterically. Exoterically there is only the Japanese religious practice which Reader would label “common religion”. For most Japanese the source of the rituals performed, supernatural beings honored, suttras chanted and even the actual meanings of those suttras are not as important as the foreseen results of those practices. Who defines what a religion is the people practicing it or the people who are “in charge” of it? Both occur. Shinto became Shinto because the “in charge” decided they needed a divine reason for being so that would also serve to unite the people. When Buddhism came to Japan it began assimilating folk rituals and beliefs eventually becoming what is distinctly Japanese Buddhism. Ideas like Honji Suijaku and Shinbutsu Shugo equate or identify Kamis with and as Buddhas and Boddhisattvas. Religions in Japan have crosspollinated for centuries so much so that most laypeople and practitioners could not tell you what esoterically identified religion would claim the ritual taking place or the entity being honored.
Its rough and would really need to be summed into a clearer statement and then it would take a library of citations to flesh it out properly and get it worded right but that’s where my head is right now.
19 November 2010 10:25 A.M.
Ages ago toward the beginning of the semester Yasukuni shrine had been brought up in one of our readings and as such turned up in our in class discussion. There was some controversy caused by the Prime Minister visiting the shrine in an official capacity and that bringing up issues of how a shrine visit could be non-religious as it would need to be if it were done in an official capacity. What really caught my attention was the criticism of the visits from the Chinese and Korean peoples which had suffered atrocities from imperialistic Japan. When we talk about wars in American schools, up through high school at least anyway, you only ever hear about the parts of the war that America had its hands on; World War II is always covered almost thoroughly on the European Front(Normandy, The Battle of Brittain, Patton)and then the war in the Pacific is usually boiled down to Naval Battles, Iwo Jima, and the Atom Bombs. What transpired before American involvement never really enters the discussion. Going back to our in class discussion, I became acquainted with an incident which is sometimes referred to as The Rape of Nanking. What this entailed was the Japanese occupied the Chinese city of Nanking and laid waste to its population. Rapes and murders were happening on a daily basis to the population which had surrendered and been assured that they would not be hurt. I ended up renting and watching a video about this incident because I wanted to gather a better understanding of what happened there and again because I’ve never gotten non-American centered views of the war and I’ve always had a passive interest in the war(I would cite it as my favorite war and that is largely because of the combination of having a Grandfather on each front and then also because the programs on assorted documentarian styled television stations would always have maps on them and at a young age I had an odd love/fascination with maps); that was a very depressing afternoon. You might be asking yourself what all this has to do with Japanese religion. That is what this blog is supposed to be about, right? Looking at inhumanities perpetrated under the banner of State Shinto can help to give us a perspective on why many Japanese are mistrusting of organized, dictated religions.