I guess it would be appropriate for me to introduce myself before I start this blog. I’m not exactly an exciting person, so this should be a relatively short introduction. This blogger’s name is Travis Evan Trosper, and he is a third year Religious Studies Major at Ball State University. I was born and raised in Muncie and graduated from Wapahani High School. My interests include drawing, video games, movies, anime, and exercising. The concept of religion fascinates me, so that is one reason I am taking this course. I’ve learned mostly about Western religions, so this was a good opportunity to learn more about Eastern religion. I’m a quiet and shy guy who keeps most of his thoughts to himself. However, this medium should prove useful in expressing my ideas and reflecting over what I learn throughout this semester. I have very little experience with Japanese religion (I can’t really judge based off of the many Japanese films I’ve seen in my life), but my twin brother is in his second year of learning Japanese at Ball State University. He may become a good source of help for me this semester.
Today is the last day of class. It’s surprising to look back and see how fast this semester has gone by. The work on the website has been nothing less than…troublesome on many accounts. I guess things can’t always work out smoothly, huh? It has definitely been a learning experience though. I think all of the groups have had some kinks to work out along the way, so we’ve all learned about Japanese religion in various ways. The readings and class discussions have paved the way to this ending point, but did everything turn out the way we wanted to?
So…What did I learn while taking this immersive learning course at Ball State University? I have definitely learned more about Japanese religiousness, but it still remains an enigma. However, I find this enigmatic veil of Japanese religiousness to be very appealing. The majority of the population’s way of orthopraxy over orthodoxy is really interesting. I discovered that a good chunk of Japanese today is rather suspicious of religious institutions in general, no thanks to groups like Aum Shinrikyō and the institution of State Shinto. Aum Shinrikyō was a very interesting subject matter that I wished I would have written more about. Maybe I could have even written an official paper over it! It’s too late now though. It was interesting to see clips from the subways attack in my criminal justice class though.
This exercise is tasking me to recall what I’ve learned throughout the semester without having to look back through my books, but I know everything from Dr. Roemer, the Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions, Religion in Contemporary Japan, and the various sources I have listed in my Christianity paper and various other blogs. Writing in the blogs, writing the papers, and attending events has aided me in retaining the knowledge. That reminds me of the meticulous actions of the woman we witnessed performing the chadō ceremony at the beginning of the semester. It was such an awe-inspiring event, but it was hard to channel out the smell of exhaust and the sight of large concrete buildings when trying to picture a beautiful Japanese garden outside!
One of my main focuses in the class was learning about Christianity in Japan. Although I’m not Christian, I just found the concept of this Western religion in Japan to be rather interesting! For more information, you should definitely check out my paper about it on the Christianity page of the website. Without going into too much detail, it’s very interesting to see how Christianity would go up and down in the popularity scale throughout its history in the nation. It still has a Western stigma to it today, so it’s understandable how it isn’t very popular.
The syncretism of Buddhism and Shinto really threw me through a loop sometimes, but it’s interesting how many things compose the religiousness of Japan! I’ll admit, many of the Japanese terms and names made it rather difficult for me to understand some of the stuff that we have discussed in class and read in the books. I plan on attending an Asian history course next semester, so hopefully it will aid me in learning more about Japanese society and culture along with other Asian countries. This has been an…interesting experience. The website isn’t necessarily finished in the state that it is in now, but I’m sure classes of Dr. Roemer’s will work on it in the future. Religion doesn’t just stand still, so there will always be new content to add. Dr. Roemer and the rest of the class were enjoyable to work with, and I wish them the best. This is Travis Trosper signing out!
Whoa, things are getting a little hectic as the semester comes to a close. My classmates in the presentation portion of our immersive project have finished lecturing to the various high schools that they were assigned to, so it is all up to the website group and Second Life group to finish off the semester. I have been in charge of select portions of the website, and it’s been a little difficult to decide what stuff to put on the website. Weebly appears to be a very simple way of making a website, and I think that the summer trip group has made it look very slick thus far. I’ve added a ton of pictures to the Yasaka and Yoshida shrines, and I wrote the page on Christianity in Japan. Many words in the glossary were also added by me, and you can point mine out if you find a particular flaw in several of the words….but that eventually should be gone.
Anyway, we watched a rather interesting video in class last week about Aum Shinrikyō. I’m pretty sure I blogged about Aum Shinrikyō in one of my first blogs, but this group really fascinates me. As a recap, this group (created by Asahara) led a gas attack in a Japanese subway station in 1995. Some people were killed and a lot were injured. This was labeled as the biggest attack on Japanese soil since World War II and caused many Japanese to think negatively towards the word, “religion”. This event gave the group members a bad rep in the media and the public. A legal battle went on for years due to Asahara’s reluctancy to arrive in court on his due dates. However, this documentary was not focused entirely on Asahara and the gas attacks, but on the members of the group who had nothing to do with the attack. It was a very honest portrayal of the group members that showed that they’re all just humans.
Many of their ideas and rituals were very interesting. In one part of the video, the narrator of the film discussed superpowers with a member of Aum Shinrikyō. Some of the beliefs consisted of members achieving super powers and believing that they could survive a nuclear holocaust! My notes are a little sketchy, so they might not be 100% accurate. Multiple scenes showed members binding their legs into a very uncomfortable position! Apparently, this act was used to get rid of karma for hell and to overcome pain. I was astonished when the film focused on a man who was a member of Aum Shinrikyō, left Aum Shinrikyō, and then came back to Aum Shinrikyō. His outlook on love was very pessimistic. The man mentioned how Aum Shinrikyō helped him transcend romance, because romance eventually leads to death and unhappiness (especially if one lover dies before the other). It was a very cold way of looking on love, but I couldn’t help but agree with him a little. Losing a loved one creates a big hole in your heart, and maybe avoiding love all together would help you avoid that inevitable pain.
As I mentioned earlier, the public and media had a very negative view on Aum Shinrikyō. An undercover cop blatantly harassed an Aum Shinrikyō member in the video. The cop pushed the member to the ground and caused the member to hit his head pretty hard. Of course, the cop feigns an injury of his own and tries to pin it on the Aum Shinrikyō member. It was a very ridiculous sight. Asahara taught that America led the world to corruption and Japan followed. His extreme views on the world even garnered some followers in Russia.
Anyway, it was a rather interesting documentary. I cannot recall the name of it off the top of my head, so anyone interested would have to ask Dr. Roemer for details. The website team is supposed to present their rough draft of the website tomorrow. I’m really nervous about it…
Wow, it’s been so long since I made a blog entry. I shouldn’t slack so much…Anyway, a lot of things have happened since my infamous last entry. For starters, the class went on a small field trip to a small, Japanese building on campus to witness a chadō or tea ceremony. The wife of an architecture professor on campus was kind enough to give us a demonstration. It was very…surreal to enter the miniscule building through a small door while removing my shoes. I had always seen the practice done in the foreign movies I’ve seen, but I never realized that I would experience another culture’s tradition like that. I guess it proves how sheltered I really am.
I took a few pictures of the ritual with my phone, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to transfer them to the internet. That would probably spice up my blog a little bit….Oh well. All I could do was stare in awe as the frail woman moved methodically and deliberately to serve Ryan (the class volunteer) his tea.
Besides that event, we’ve also switched to reading Religion in Contemporary Japan by Ian Reader. The book is slightly more understandable than the Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions, since he interjects his own voice and stories to further elaborate on certain points. As I sift through my notes over Reader, I come across the idea of “zen” (Reader, p. 81-83). The word itself means, “meditation,” but Reader delves deeper into the word than just its definition. While being the generic name for a branch of Buddhism in China, zen is also explained as having to deal with letting go of one’s duality between mind and body. The concept of zen is just one area of many that we have focused on this semester.
Recently, we looked an article called “The Living and the Dead in Japanese Popular Religion” by Robert J. Smith. The class discussion heavily centered around the reasons behind ancestor veneration in Japanese culture. The main reason why the living venerates the dead (according to Smith) is to seek help and support from the dead (p. 256). The living can harm the dead through neglect, so that causes the dead to be dependent on the living. It’s a mutual and reciprocal relationship. My classmates and I discovered appeasement, gratitude, fulfillment of obligations, and many others as reasons for ancestor veneration. It’s interesting to think about. Could our ancestors be helping us out? This concept is more focused on our dead family members opposed to God. I can understand that, since we tend to know our family more than God…
To briefly sum up the recent events of our class, I have to mention that Professor Roemer gave a lecture over ancestor veneration and habitus almost a week ago. It was an interesting lecture, and I felt so cool to have had the privilege to see some of the information beforehand in class. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of habitus, but the statistics Roemer gave were quite enlightening. I would recommend checking out his article when it gets published. Anyway, we’re finally getting into detail with our projects. I’m scared, because I’m not necessarily sure what I am doing. Our first, official group meeting on Friday got me a little at ease though. We’ve gotten assigned tasks for each other, and we discussed how to build upon the website. I just hope that I don’t mess it up. I’m doing some research about school in Japan in relation to religion, but one of the few articles I could find said something about religion not being allowed in grade school…I also need to completely rewrite my essay over kami and oni. Heh…This is going to be a busy week for Japanese Religion 390! I hope I can make it and keep my sanity. Goodbye for now!
Yikes! It appears as if I read the wrong page numbers of Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions prior to class on September 1st! No wonder I was a little lost during Dr. Roemer’s lecture that day! However, I flipped back and read the assigned reading (p. 131-143) like a good student…even if I was a little late to the party. Despite not knowing what the lecture was going to cover, I found Dr. Roemer’s lecture very interesting (more so than the interest I could muster for the section I accidentally read). We covered the various different creation myths and worldviews of ancient Japan. Besides that, we also discussed interesting points of history throughout ancient Japan.
Our class began with Dr. Roemer describing a creation story involving a sword plunging into the ocean. It was amusing how one of my peers (I’m still trying to learn everyone’s name) pointed out the sexual innuendo involved with these creation myths. I was surprised when we learned that Izanagi and Izanami are not really that important in Japanese religion from Dr. Roemer. Those two created the lands and all of the kami (more on those later)! They started everything (p. 132)! It just seems weird that they don’t have elaborate shrines or are prayed to more often. It almost reminds me of Deism. Are they just a starter force in the universe that sets everything up and goes away? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m not thinking of this in the right way.
Next we came to these elaborate worldviews that the ancient Japanese possessed. The vertical view consists of upper, middle, and lower worlds, but it also possesses an axis that connects them all (p. 132). I distinctly remember learning about this axis mundi from my mythology class days as a freshman. It was at this axis that Izanagi and Izanami fornicated to produce the world. A classmate used a good example of Heaven and Hell as a vertical worldview. The horizontal view goes along with the vertical one, but focuses more on the sun revolving from east to west. The temporal view consists of the past life, the present life, and life after death. “It appears, however, that it was once thought to be possible to move from one life to another to some extent,” says Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions (p. 133). However, it seems as if this belief isn’t really prominent or clear in Shintoism.
In class, we discussed the differing time periods of ancient Japan, but we mostly focused on the main events in those eras. In the Jomon era, we talked about the clay figurines and how they were used in religious rites. It was interesting to read in the book how they would make these figurines, but then break them on purpose to symbolize the murder of a goddess to produce grains (p. 134). Next, we talked about Queen Himiko (Pimiko) in the Yayoi era and how she ruled for a very long time with her magical ways…Or at least the book talks of how she was able to rule seventy years due to her Shamanistic ways. We talked about how shamans would send souls to the Other World or would practice magic and sorcery. The tale of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, was very intriguing. Dr. Roemer said that her brother upset her, so she hid herself in a cave and took all of the sunlight with her. They eventually got her out, but it just made me think of the video game entitled Okami. In that game, you played as a wolf version of Amaterasu. I wonder if I managed to play that game, then maybe it could help me understand all of the Japanese terms and names better? Wishful thinking…
The last thing we talked about was the concept of “kami”. I’m still not sure if I understand them very well, but I’m willing to learn more about them. The Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions says, “Japan’s traditional concept of kami incorporates nature, living and dead humans, animals, and even the temporary condition of spiritual possession” (p. 140). This can included special animals, mountains, those who have abnormal minds, and more! It seems very complicated and difficult to judge. We are supposed to talk more about ancient Japan tomorrow and work our way through Second Life. I feel like such a nerd when I think of how I made a Second Life months ahead of time to prepare for this class. I’m a sucker for character creation, but I’m also intrigued on how we’ll use it as an educational tool.
Until next time….
After a week of being in Doctor Roemer’s Religious Studies 390 course, several interesting issues have been brought up. We read the first chapter of Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religion (p. 3-13) and discussed many of the assignments in class. In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religion, I was surprised to learn that many Japanese distrust organized religion. The survey conducted by the Religious Awareness Project of the Japanese Association for the Study of Religion and Society (p. 5) to college students really interested me. Saying that religious groups “are just out to make money”, “prey on people’s fears”, are “only for show”, and “too involved in politics” was a powerful statement to me. After we were tasked to read this, we all discussed many of the fallacies that we held towards Japanese religion before this class. I’m embarrassed to admit that I assumed that most (if not all) Japanese were religious somehow. When I discovered the negativity towards religion, I was completely surprised. I guess I shouldn’t assume things from Japanese movies, video games, and animation.
“It has become commonplace to say that Japanese are born Shinto, marry as Christians, and die Buddhists, a phrase that indicates both the high level of participation in religious rites as well as the eclectic nature of Japanese religiosity,” says Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religion (p. 3). I specifically wrote this down in my notes as we talked about “syncretism”. Dr. Roemer described this as the mixing of multiple religions. This idea is very interesting and a little perplexing. It almost reminds me of a metaphor someone made about religion once, but it unfortunately escaped my mind. Anyway, many Japanese terms began to spring up during lecture. Shukyo means religion (p.4) in Japanese. I’m a little scared that all of these Japanese terms will start to confuse me, since I am not knowledgeable of the language like some of my fellow classmates are. It will be good to keep good notes and refer to our website, http://jpnreligions.weebly.com/, for help. See what I did there?
I’ve only started blogging since February, so I’m still a little new at this. It seems like we’ve been having a lot of technical issues regarding blogging, but I suppose we’re all set to go now. I really wish I had joined the other students on the Japan trip over the summer. That would have been so cool! On a side note, the 1995 Aum Affair was a pretty interesting story. It’s one reason why Japanese see religion negatively. Instead of creating a poor summary of the event, I checked out http://artsci.wustl.edu/~copeland/aum1.html to get the whole story. Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religion didn’t really say much about it, so I looked it up. I’m not a religious person at all, but I’d like to learn more about the way people think about religion. Why do cults happen? Currently, I’m afraid of religion. I hope to change that over time.