Religious Subjectification in Modern Japan: Translation, Transference and Mythical Others

Wed, Mar 14, 2018, 4:30 pm
202 Jones

Theories of “religion” appear to be reaching a dead end; recent debates on the concept have sunk to the point where the very subjectivity of researchers is itself assimilated into a banally “critical” discourse of religion. In this situation, “religious subjectification” emerges as a new theme for thinking about the ways in which religious subjectivity can be formed. Specifically, religious subjectification provides an analytical space for reconstructing individual subjectivity in relation to the gazes of “mystical others” (to borrow a term from Jacques Lacan), which in some religious traditions are known as God or gods.

As a concrete case, I will examine the history of the Futagawa Inari Shrine (also called Shinto Fushimi Inari Tōyō Daikyōkai) in Toyohashi city of Aichi prefecture. I focus on a roughly one-hundred-year period, from the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912) to the present, to comprehend the formation process of religious subjectivity at the shrine. The founder, Urano Katsuyasu, started this shrine as a form of sect Shinto, i.e., a Shinto religion unrelated to the state, in 1910 (Meiji 43), after inviting its deity, the Great Inari Kami, from the Great Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Katsuyasu represents a type of religious adept known as gyōja, an ascetic practitioner with extraordinary powers, and was believed to have used fox spirits, servants to the Great Inari Kami, to heal physical and mental illness and bring economic prosperity to his follower clients.

Katsuyasu’s successor Yoshiyasu, however, shifted the doctrinal focus of the shrine from Fushimi Inari Shinto to that of Miitsu-kai, a Shinto group founded by Kawazura Bonji (1862-1929). Starting his religious career as a practitioner of Shugendō, or mountain asceticism, Kawazura systematized the ritual practice of water purification, or misogi, by incorporating Ameno-minaka-nushi, a major deity in Japanese imperial mythology, thus theologically undergirding the water purification practice so as to reconstruct a religious subjectivity. At the same time, he criticized Fushimi Inari Shinto for being superstitious and pursuing only this-worldly benefit, or gensei riyaku. Here we see a case of a form of religious subjectivity (and subjectification), formulated at the Futagawa Inari Shrine by Kawazura through the Ameno-minaka-nushi-centered purification discourse, entering the 1930s public sphere authorized by State Shinto.

            After World War II, Yoshiyasu’s son, Tomoyasu, succeeded to the leadership of Futagawa Inari Shrine and set out to create a world religion outlook for the shrine transcending Japanese national boundaries. At first glance, this might seem similar to Kawazura’s concept of Shinto as a world religion, which in the postwar years was rejected even by Shinto circles as a doctrine of imperialism. Tomoyasu’s prescription of Shinto as a world religion, however, differs substantially from Kawazura’s discourse, as it denies Japanese exceptionalism based on Mircea Eliade’s theory of comparative religion. For Tomoyasu, Ameno-minakanushi is the central but void deity who is the space of commensurability for the incommensurable. Tomoyasu was searching for a new vison of religious subjectivity and integrated it into a Shinto discourse that could respond to the social conditions of postwar Japan.

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