Becky’s blog

Hello everyone.

My name is Becky. I am part of Doc Roemer’s Japanese Religions class. I have been to Japan on a trip not related to the one this summer but I had some great opportunities to see and visit Shinto and Buddhist Shrines and Temples while there. A little about me: I am a senior in the Religious Studies department at Ball State University. I also have a minor in Women and Gender Studies that I wish to pursue more fully after graduation. My knowledge of Japan is only that that I witnessed in the week that I visited and my brief education in the language. I have had classes about Buddhism previous to this course as well as Hinduism, which Buddhism grew out of. I absolutely love learning all that there is to learn of any and all the religions that I can. I hope that you can learn as I learn in this course of all that Japanese Religions have to offer.



So far in the semester, we have been reading from the Nanzan Guide – an incredibly dense read that throughly explores the history of Japanese religions.  Going through in recnet chapters the modern period including: Meiji(1868-1912), Taisho(1912-1926), and Showa(1926-1989).  New religions and organized religions in general are rejected as “religions”. In our new read, Religion in Contemporary Japan, we delve more so into the fact that even though people are outspoken about their rejection of “religions” they (Japanese citizens) do participate in rituals and festivals.  This aspect of participating in but not “belonging” to historical/spiritual/family traditions as an idea that more people should incorporate into their lives.  It sounds like my recent encouter with French religiouness – getting baptized but not actually going to mass. But in Japan they indulge more readily in two religions – “born Shinto, die Buddhist”.  France just – usually the birth ceremony and possibly wedding but other than that religious acts are rare with native persons.  The practices/rituals done at wrong places, wrong time is acceptable as the proper way is not what is always done but is acceptable with the right intention.  Buddhism is a family religion but not necessarily a personal religion.  Not claiming a personal religions is a constant and more often seen claim in Japan.  This next is from Reader’s chapter “Turning to the Gods”, “Encapsulating the themes of both stories in the response made by one of my Japanese students to my question about her religious affiliations:
‘I am not religious. My family belongs to the Zen sect but we did not know this until my grandfather died last year. We thought we were Jodoshu [Pure Land Buddhist].'”
Other than where family members are buried and the occasional festival, the Japanese do not usually have much interaction with Buddhism. Funeral Buddhism though the most common aspect that is encountered for the average Tanaka-san, other interaction may be through work related meditation retreats to give workers structure and work ethic to follow in their everyday activities there after, but rather the whole experience gets annoying for the employees and just want it to end.
An interesting fact found in the chaper “…Die Buddhist” from Reader’s book: “It was the apparent spiritual and magical powers accumulated by those who trained in the Buddhist tradition, aligned to the powers possessed by Buddhism in the form of its Buddha figures, statues, prayers, incantations and rituals, that were responsible for convincing the Japanese that Buddhism had the ability to transform the spirits of the dead and lead them to enlightenment after death, thereby eradicating the impurities and pollutions associated with death” (84).


We have started working on the website more so this month. It has been intense getting into all of this especially because a lot of the what is covered on the website is from the summer trip and I do not have the same experience of Japan as those travelers did. What I have been doing so far has been going through picture CDs, there LOTS of picture CDs. Currently working on Gion Festival. I am not sure of what to put up but I hope the things that I have put up are appropriate and  are expressing the experience of the festival. Also this is Doc Roemer’s baby, so I do not want to do anything that would be against how to properly present it to the world.

Some questions we were to ponder this month:

What does a butsudan look like?
Every butsudan is different. It is traditionally looked after by head of household, man, but contemporarily it has moved to the “wife in charge of all that goes on inside the home, it is she who is most likely to take care of the butsudan and the ancestors” (Reader: 95). It’s purpose is to show respect to ALL past generations even though only the immediate deceased are represented. There have been laws at different periods of history in which each house HAD to own a butsudan.
What do haka look like?
They are where the family name is written on.  The posthumous names are written on slats of wood.

If it has not been obvious already, my main focus has been Buddhism. It has been a “religion” that has always interested me and have been grateful to have this semester to further divulge in the subject matter. The paper that I am working on is covering women’s involvement in temple rituals and their allowance to enter temples at all.




So this semester has been full of trying to understand the Japanese culture and society without actually being in the country and sharing ones personal experience.  Having been there I do have some knowledge of what the Japanese culture is like, but unlike the group that travelled there this summer, I did not experience shrines and temples nor such an extent of shrines and temples and festivals as they did.  The papers and blurbs that I have been writing for the website revolve around ideas and concepts that I do not have any firsthand knowledge about. But the readings that I have found have been most informative.  There have been many helpful articles on Japanese Journal of Religious Studies as well as books found in our university library.  Articles about women and feminist views have been the main concept that I have been trying to write papers about.  Kawahasi Noriko has had the most informative articles related to women and gender concerns with Japanese Buddhism.

I have also been writing about the concept of mizuko kuyo – dead children ceremonial rites.  This is a relatively new concept that was brought more so to public knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s when more Jizo statues started popping up around temples and shrines.  There have been critics of the ceremonial rite, people (and by people I mean men) feel as though there has been a movement to brainwash women into thinking that these were necessary ceremonies.  These ceremonies were a response that women in communities felt were needed.  Because some are miscarriages and early childhood deaths, these are not necessarily means that can be stopped.  The process for “unnatural” abortions has been made safer for the women, these ceremonies had been something that women were to keep to themselves.  It was not something that is paraded about with.  Though women do not talk about it, it is obvious because of the growing number of Jizo statues that more women are having the ceremony performed.  The ceremony gives the unborn child a name and a form.  Parents can then offer Jizo – the protector of children – gifts of food and toys to keep their child safe.




Well this semester is coming to an end and so will be my participation in this blog as well as the Japanese Religions website. I hope all of you have been able to find what has been discussed in the blogs as well as what has been overviewed on the website as helpful to what ever subject matter in Japanese Religions you are pursuing. I know how it can be trying to find resources for project especially for a subject that is not quite as common as others are in the study of religion. The Japanese Journal of Religious Studies has been most helpful in my quest to find sources that can help me cover the topic of Buddhism in a various of senses. It is part of the Nanzan Guide in that they are both found on the website though any reference made to the Nanzan in most of these blogs will probably be towards the book edited by Chilson and Swanson, a good source for getting a start on a variety of topics.

In a class discussion that we had recently, it covered more about how the Japanese choose to identify. The fact that people identify with the concept of respecting ancestors and not the idea of life after death but rather an Afterlife of sorts.  There is more of an acceptance of the connection between the dead and living as is played out through rituals made at the death of a family member as well as any rituals said and performed before a butsudan. Doc Roemer gave a mini presentations on how people must not assume that just because people claim to not have a “religion” that there is no other worldly influence over their lives. And thus when one is surveying people of different countries and thus different cultures that there is to be first an understanding of the customs before one then proceeds to questioning the populations’ practices. In the East Asian Values Survey more than average/average responded that it is important to respect ancestors – 88.8%.  This can then be made note of while understanding how people then respond to surveys that do not cover ancestors at all. There needs to be a change.


1 Response to Becky’s blog

  1. Doc Roemer says:

    You make some valuable comments here. Glad to ‘hear’ your voice!

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