Katie’s blog

Bonjour World!!


Or I guess more accurately… Hello VIRTUAL World!!!

Since you have clicked on Katie’s blog, you can now safely assume that you are reading Katie’s thoughts, inquiries, musings, and experiences…

Well… I guess I should share a little about myself so you can get a better model of who I am in your head.

I am a junior at Ball State University (Muncie, IN, USA) majoring in Pre-Grad History with minors in Art History and Religious Studies. I don’t know where I plan on going to graduate school yet, but I am fairly certain that my near, and semi-distant, future is going to be consumed with classes… 8 to 10 more years…  I’m looking forward to it!! 🙂

As for past times and hobbies… My first love is painting; oil on canvas or miniature game figures. My second love is learning! I love to learn!! I also enjoy cooking; real food, baking cookies and cup cakes and the like. I listen to classical music and like to curl-up with a good book on rainy afternoons.

As for this blog, or more appropriately, this class, I have always been fascinated with world religions, and world cultures. To have them both together in one class, and an immersive learning class at that… how could I pass it up! Actually, when I signed up for this class, I did not realize that it was an immersive learning class… So imagine my surprise to find out that I can actually do something useful with what I learn. Not 20 years from now, but today!

I have noticed that I am at a disadvantage though… It seems that everyone in the class but me has some experience with Japan, as a culture or a language, or has actually been there to visit. I have never done more than read about Japan in history class, and watch Godzilla with my brother when I was little (which is quite frightening when you’re four). For many of the readings I am having to Google certain terms and people. I have even gone out and bought a Japanese/English dictionary. But that is why we are expanding our class website! To help those who are in the same boat as me! So make sure to check it out!

So welcome aboard and I look forward to hearing for my fellow classmates and passionate readers!!

Japanese Life and Practice

Today I was sick and unable to make it to class, so I figured instead I can write up a blog. So here I go!

When going through the chapter reading “Born Shinto…” in Reader’s Religion in Contemporary Japan, I found the bits about everyday life in Japan exceedingly interesting. I know very little about life in Japan, and to read that many families hold religion in little regard but continue to go through the movements and practices surprises me. Why do they go through the moves if they don’t believe?

I also found it especially interesting on page 58 that because Japanese religions are more of a social structure than anything; it has shaped the family structure over the years. When the religions in Japan change, the family structures change. The example given is: Many Japanese have moved to the city due to farming conditions in the early 20th cent. And because of city life, many have stopped going to the shines/temples in the rural villages. They switch to one in the city. This is slightly contradicting seeing that in class we discussed that a family will probably stay with the same shrine, or temple their entire lives.

My question is then, if a family switches shines/temples, because of convenience, do they try to find one in the city that has the same kami? What about their ancestors? Is there a way to move the ancestors to another shine? Or do the Japanese not even think about it in the same way that I do…?

Japanese Religiousness

I have taken it upon myself to write up the front page on the website for Japanese Religion… I don’t know what possessed me to take it. I am half buried under a pile of homework… but never fear!

Going through readings and class notes, I think the website should encompass/include a brief blurb about syncretism and how that affects almost every aspect of Japanese Religion. There should also be a brief introduction to Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity. That way readers can have a small understanding before going into the more in-depth pages on those religions.

I have found that it is difficult to define Japanese Religions because so many factors go into the makeup of the Japanese religiousness. Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity are the three main religions in Japan, but if you are to say that, where does Folk Religions and New Religions come into play? These two groups have just as much influence on the Japanese religious culture as any other…

One of the reasons it is so difficult to separate out a dominate religion in Japan is because of syncretism.  Syncretism in Japan is primarily thought of as Shinto and Buddhist practices done together, mixed up, and sometimes completely switched around. Throughout history though, other religions such as Christianity were also practiced side by side with other Japanese traditions, such as Folk or New Religions. And then they all got together and had a party, so it is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends…

So how does one explain Japanese Religions to someone that has no previous knowledge? The answer: I have no idea. We keep trying in class, and many scholars have also tried, but it sometimes seems that it is easier to explain Japanese Religiousness in what it is not! An interesting concept when you think about it…

Japanese Art History

As an art history minor I figured this would be a great subject to add to the website and give a bit of background to the Japanese culture. Japanese art, like so many other aspects of Japanese culture, is rich and complex and a fascinating study. There is a wide range of style and mediums used; in its ancient history and in today’s manga’s. (I can honestly say that I have never read a manga or watched anime!)

Dr. Roemer gave me a book a couple weeks into class, P Mason’s Japanese Art History, which I absolutely loved! Sadly I was not able to read through all of it, but I did get a good portion of it!! I was able to learn more about the significance of the Shinto shrine structure, why certain mediums and subjects were popular at the time, and how it has all affected the Japanese culture today!

So here is a bit of what I was thinking about for the website:
There are works of pottery, sculpture, wood and ink that date back to the 10th millennium BCE (Mason 1993: 13). The Japanese’s unique history has influenced the art of the people for many centuries. Each invasion or conquest of the Japanese people was recorded in their works of art. Over time the Japanese took different elements from foreign culture and mixed it with their style of art to make ascetically pleasing results still seen today (Mason 1993: 39).

I have always been in love with the ink on silk pieces of art, and even tried my hand at it once… It looked nothing like the ones seen in museums. No surprise there! 🙂 But painting and ink on silk and paper were the preferred artistic expressions in Japan. During the Edo period, it was woodblock prints call ukiyo-e that became the appreciated form. Woodblock printing was so popular and was refined so well that the Japanese used it to produce colorful prints in everyday life like newspapers and books (Mason 1993: 304).

I will continue my search for interesting tidbits about Japanese art, and will hopefully have more soon!!

Japanese Folk Religions

Folk Religion is great! I am endlessly fascinated with the individual nuances that goes into each of these “religions.” It kind of reminds me of the cults (in a good sense) and sects that were popular in ancient Ireland and Scotland (which is my favorite area of study)!!

Japanese Folk religions can usually be found in rural areas where modernization has not yet come to pass. Originally practiced by a dominantly agrarian society, “folk” practitioners could be looking for fertility, a good harvest, protection from disease, etc. They would look for these benefits from the kami Gods such as Tenjin, Hachiman, and Jizō were syncretistically taken from other religions, and then added to the folk traditions.

The study of folk religion has gone through several important changes in the past century. Folk religion used to be dismissed as just being the cultural practices of rural peoples and was not included with the doctrinal traditions (Buddhism, Shinto, etc.) but it was realized that this discrimination was due to the “concepts of high and low” (Reader 2006: 66) and that such small mindedness and judgment did not have a place in academia.

In class we discussed the change in terms and how the simple (or perhaps not so simple) translation of some words is the cause for much confusion. The term minkan shinkō, which was typically translated as either folk or popular religion, actually literally translates to “faith of the (ordinary) people” (Reader 2006: 66). But in recent times the term has changed again to help place Japanese Folk Religions in context with other Folk Religions around the world. It is now believed that the term minzoku shūkyō (“folk religion”) is more appropriate, but it runs into trouble in that (“religion”) is not what folk religions in Japan are all about. In Japan, there is more of an emphasize on shinkō (“faith”) (Reader 2006: 67). This shift in the usage of terms which occurred during the late 1970s to 1980s showed that scholars had discarded the elitist notions of prior scholarship and were taking Japanese folk religion seriously as a religious tradition. And it is still debated today if the translation is “good enough.”

In a way Japanese folk religion epitomizes Japanese religiousness at large. It comes from ancient traditions. It mixed with many of the traditions it coexisted with both lending to and borrowing from them rituals, beliefs, and even deities. It is difficult to define.


I have to say that RELST 390 has been one of my favorite classes by far this semester! I can’t say it was easy, because it wasn’t… but I have learned so much about Japan as a nation, the Japanese people, their culture and their “religiosness.” The immersive learning atmosphere that we had in this class is one that I had not experienced before, but LOVE!! I believe if all my classes were like this one I would be learning so much more instead of just cramming for a test and promptly forgetting I just learned the next week…

I have really enjoyed working on the website! At times I felt that my eyes were screaming for mercy having looked at a computer screen for so long, but hey, that’s what college is for!

My goals for this semester was to learn more (ie. something/anything) about Japanese religions and to learn how to build a website. I think job accomplished on both accounts!! 🙂

Main points of semester for those who just want a quick rundown…

  • Three “main religions” in Japan but that is debatable: Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity
  • Folk Religions and New Religions also play major roles in shaping everyday life
  • The Japanese do not worship their ancestors. Prayers are sent to guide lost souls and update the deceased on current happenings.
  • Kami does NOT equal God(s)
  • There is no definite answer to what is Japanese religion(s) and is still debated amongst scholars today… Which means jobs for us later down the road!! 🙂

I hope you have all enjoyed the journey!

Make sure to checkout the website!!   http://jpnreligions.weebly.com/

3 Responses to Katie’s blog

  1. Doc Roemer says:

    Katie, you are not alone (there are others who have very little experience with Japan–and even fewer who came into the class with any knowledge of Japanese religiousness). Trust me, we all have a lot to learn together! Welcome!

  2. Nancy P says:

    Enjoyed your blog…and it sounds like you will have a great year of learning!!! How do you remember so long ago, and the watching of Godzilla movies with your brother??
    Must have been an experience for you to remember!!! Does your brother remember?? It seems that he does not…..just the Godzilla…but not you sitting in the same room with him. O-well…..

  3. Doc Roemer says:

    In (brief) response to your first blog’s questions, many Japanese today are unlikely to worry so much about finding a temple within the same sect if they decide to move the ancestral grave. I don’t think it’s that common, though, because it’s very expensive, and I assume some are concerned about upsetting their ancestors with a move like that. In the end, what is most important is that ancestors be remembered through visits by the living–if that means graves need to be moved, they get moved.

    I like the way these blogs seemed to show your learning process. As you got more into the study of Japanese religiousness, you realized how complicated it can be. But, you did a nice job of thinking through some of these main ideas. Great to see learning happening!

    I also appreciated your pictures (did you take those?)

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