For some time now it has been said that traditional Japanese festivals (matsuri) were experiencing an urban revival following a period of decline at the end of World War II. And several years ago, my own field research on the annual festival (September 11-15) of the shrine Fujisaki Hachimangû in Kumamoto provided some degree of quantitative substantiation to that general claim.
The climax of this particular festival is the divine procession (shinkôshiki) held on the final day. The onlookers pressing on the parade are recently said to number over two-hundred thousand, and their biggest aim is to witness the event called "horse-driving" (umaoi) composed of the dozens of "decorated horses" (kazariuma) dedicated to the procession, together with the nearly twenty thousand ordinary parishioners or devotees (called seiko) who surround the horses.
The "decorated horses" are actual living horses which have been adorned with unique decorations, and which are led behind the divine procession. The seiko in turn, follow the horses and display a unique chant and dance in rhythm with the drums, trumpets, and gongs sounded by the instrumental groups accompanying the parade. But when one looks at the actual scale of this "horse-driving" observance, it is clear that the festival experienced an unbelievably depressed period following World War II, evidence of the great vicissitudes through which the festival has passed.
During the war years, the number of groups offering decorated horses in the festival dropped to less than ten, but with the end of hostilities, that number rebounded rapidly, reaching fifty-seven by 1948. That momentary increase was reversed thereafter, however, decreasing steadily until it reached a nadir in the years between 1955 to the mid-1970s; in fact, the number of groups offering horses actually dropped at one point to no more than five. Since 1974, however, the year following the first so-called global "oil crisis," the number has once again increased, and it has continued on a nearly continuous rising trend since then. In 1987, the number rose to 64 groups, the largest in the postwar period. Since that year, the numbers have stayed at the same generally high level. The number of groups has declined somewhat in the most recent years, but this decline is primarily the result of a policy by the shrine Fujisaki Hachimangû to limit the number of participating groups.
It should also be noted that the resurgence of vitality at large-scale urban festivals in recent years is not merely the result of a spontaneous increase in the number of participants as seen in the case of the Fujisaki Shrine. For example, another observance in the same city of Kumamoto is the "Land of Fire Festival" (Hi no kuni matsuri) observed in mid-August each year. Since 1978, this festival has been carried out under the aegis of the city of Kumamoto, which in turn has utilized a variety of media and advertising tactics to promote participation by a wider segment of the urban population, while also undertaking large-scale advertising campaigns outside the city as a means of attracting tourist interest in what has effectively become a "citizens' festival" or a "tourists' festival."
But here, too, the number of participants in festive dancing groups exceeds the number of seiko in the Fujisaki umaoi, and huge crowds of sightseers fill the central city streets. As exemplified by the "Land of Fire Festival," large-scale festive observances with planning, performance and mobilization all undertaken in accordance with a firmly organized policy orientation, are a spectacle visible in most cities throughout today's Japan.
Furthermore, this resurgence is not limited to the larger urban locales. Many local villages and towns are also experiencing a reevaluation and resurrection of rites and folk performances which had lain dormant for long years. Similarly, newly founded suburban housing communities and bedroom towns are initiating new summer festivals and bon dances, complete with processions featuring small portable shrines (mikoshi). Not only this, but a myriad of other "events" with characteristics resembling matsuri can be found in virtually every area of Japan.
It would seem that the entire nation of Japan has adopted features of a "festival archipelago," but what must be remembered here is that this "festival boom" originated and began its development around the same period as that signaled by the so-called third or fourth "religious boom"II and the "oil crisis" of the early 1970s.
For some years, these two "booms" have drawn substantial interest from researchers, although it remains true that research into the phenomena of these two boom periods has not always proceeded with sufficient attention paid to both the "resurgence of festivals" and the "return of religion." In general, essays which deal with the "festival boom" frequently leave the impression that they are deliberately avoiding the phenomenon of the revival of religion. On the other hand, studies dealing with the religious boom exhibit the tendency to trivialize the festival boom, as though it were no more than a single incidental episode in the broader trend toward a religious revival.
But whether in terms of their unique differences or the ways in which they are alike, I feel these two "booms" are certainly deserving of further study. My primary purpose in this tentative essay will therefore be to consider the significance of the "festival boom" in its relationship to the "religion boom," in that way establishing the socio-economic background of the two, while also attempting to thereby illustrate the dominant socio-psychological trends in modern Japan.
A precise definition of matsuri and its essential nature involves a number of troublesome issues, issues which go beyond the scope and limits of this essay. In any event, a list of the optimum adjectives for demarcating relatively circumspect contours of the diversity of festival phenomena possible would likely include such terms as "non-everyday," "community-oriented," "sacred," and "calendrical." In any event, I wish to understand matsuri in the Durkheimian way as a social-cultural construct involving the periodic assembling of the members of a social group, who observe non-everyday behavior focusing on a sacred symbol, thereby (re)-confirming a sensation of community (the intuitive sensation that "we" are all part of the same in-group) which has grown weak in the vicissitudes of everyday life. In this essay, however, I want to narrow the focus of my remarks to the "communal" and "non-everyday" characteristics of matsuri.
Former life in villages and towns meant the virtually closed world of a self-sufficient local society or community. From the perspective of the longevity of the social group, festivals in that earlier period were indispensable as a means of provoking the confirmation of residents' totalistic mutual relationship, thus enhancing their sense of membership in the in-group of "us."
In the modern period, however, the responsibility for the support and development of social life as a whole has been borne by a plethora of groups functionally and professionally specialized and differentiated in accordance with the function which they fulfill. Together with that advanced division of labor, individuals have become relatively independent from the specific social groups on which they formerly depended for their entire livelihood, thus gaining the ability to selectively participate in a multiplicity of groups in accordance with their own respective purposes.
Between the period of postwar recovery into the era of high-level economic growth, festivals quickly declined in many local areas, and that decline was intimately related to the great changes in lifestyle remarked on above. Within agricultural villages, many residents--including the young men who formerly served as the effective driving force in local festivals--have left their villages and moved to cities.
For their part, the cities have continued with the trend toward a dissociation of places of "employment" from "residence," leading to the progressive dissolution of the traditional autonomous life of local town districts (machi). And the people living in those urban areas have come to increasingly aim for high incomes and comfortable lifestyles based on their own individualistic concerns. These trends have made local festivals not only more difficult to maintain, but virtually unnecessary, in that sense liberating the residents from the onerous "duty" of continuing those festivals.
But while people have been released from the duty of maintaining the traditional festivals, it is also logical that people should want to preserve the "entertainment" features characteristic of festivals. Here, too, however, unfavorable conditions are aligned against the observance of modern festivals. For most people, the foremost attraction of festival participation is the "non-everyday" experience which, against a façade of sacred legitimacy, liberates them from the bondage and restrictions of everyday life.
Modern society, however, does not permit a suspension of the standards of everyday order, even for reason of a "festival." For example, in the divine presentation of the Fujisaki Shrine introduced earlier, the parade with its gallant "horse-driving" must proceed in subjection to traffic rules and signal lights, under the guidance from watchful police. And the representatives of the groups donating "decorated horses" are pressed to take special care to assure that none of the horses becomes wild, that there be no outbreak of quarrels or violence, and that there be no indecent clothes or behavior exhibited by members of their groups. In short, while this festival was originally meant to be non-everyday in nature, anything considered disgraceful by everyday standards will serve as pretext to ban a group from participating in the next year's festival.
On the other hand, modern society provides for a kind of "festival condition" within everyday life. We moderns do not require non-everyday festivals to have a pretext for wearing fine clothes, consuming fine foods and alcoholic beverages, and for singing and dancing. Any of these things can be experienced on an everyday basis if desired. In addition, cities and their environs provide the potential for a plethora of stimulation. As exhibited by certain parts of the "sex industry,"III certain geographical districts of cities have even been set aside as perpetual "sexual liberation zones."
Under such modern conditions, festivals are being increasingly "normalized," or transformed from non-everyday into everyday phenomena, in two senses. First, the original festival is unable to entirely escape the everyday routine, thus bearing that everyday mentality along with it; and second, particularly in urban cases, certain kinds of "festivals" are provided for on an everyday, routine basis, making unnecessary an escape into a special realm of the non-everyday. As a result of this dual normalization, it is only natural that people lose interest in the festivals of their own local regions.
With the end of the postwar period of high-level economic growth, however, festivals began to experience a resurgence of popularity. How should we understand this phenomenon?
The relentless expansion of the consumer economy in modern society is a fundamental factor, not only in the obvious dissolution of the traditional Japanese community, but also in the transformation or routinization of festivals from non-everyday to everyday affairs as noted earlier. First, in relation to the production and distribution of goods, the demand for efficiency leads to a high level of standardization in processes and related activities. The modern mechanisms of production and distribution attempt to eliminate, so far as possible, the effects of different geographical conditions, seasonal cycles, changes between night and day, fluctuations in weather, and individual characteristics of workers. Its fundamental orientation is thus toward allowing continuous, uninterrupted operation in any place and at any time. And that is simply because the economic rationality supporting the consumer economy is established by its ability to make calculations and predictions; in order to achieve such predictability, it must eliminate factors of chance and indeterminacy so far as possible.
Under such conditions, to completely stop the processes of production and distribution, even if only temporarily or in a single locale, would be to cause great disruption to economic and social life. While impressive, large-scale urban festivals are now making their resurgence, the suspension of everyday order during festivals--to whatever degree it occurs--is limited to an extremely small proportion of the time, space and population of an much larger urban nexus.
In the background, however, an immense region of everyday life totally unrelated to festivals continues to operate without interruption. Modern festivals are fundamentally not permitted to interfere with this everyday routine, and on the contrary, they are continuously monitored from the perspective of everyday order. I touched earlier on the restrictions placed on the numbers of "decorated horses" and the clothing and behavior of the seiko participants at the festival of the Fujisaki Shrine's festival. The greatest reason for such restrictions is concern for citizens' and police complaints regarding traffic congestion and other interruptions to everyday mundane routine, and the possibility of disruption to everyday morals represented by violent and obscene behavior.
When one focuses, however, on those aspects of economic activity having to do with "desires and consumption," the situation takes on an entirely different perspective. While the manufacture and distribution of products demand a routinized, uniform environment, it is, on the contrary, a wide spectrum of "differentiations" that produce people's desires, and stimulate their consumption. As one minor example, without the annual cycle and its seasonal distinctions, there would probably be little demand for products associated with those seasonal features.
Of particular note is the fact that the distinctions between individuals, and the "desires" produced by those distinctions play an extremely important role within the "high-level consumer society." Manufacturers produce a continuous welter of "new" and "unusual" goods, and consumers vie in the pursuit of those goods. The "threat to differentiation" from the side of manufacturers, and the "compulsion for differentiation" from consumers together form the harmony and the lunacy which have whipped up the everyday festival condition.
However, the era of the era of low--or "stable"--growth following the so-called "oil shock" of 1973 was accompanied by two new features. On the one hand, it accentuated the modern orientation toward individual "differentiation," while on the other hand bringing with it the renewed awareness that people could not live fully with mere "money" or "possessions," or with the physical satisfaction produced by such things. It is such changes that form the background to the resurgence of festivals seen everywhere in Japan today. These facts suggest the intriguing possibility that people's consciousness has experienced a shift away from its preoccupation with material "things," to a sense of values that also places importance on non-material "events" (periodic social observances) such as traditional festivals. In other words, in this trend one can sense a shift in the center of gravity away from people's desire for "possessions" to their desire for "belonging" (or desire for "identity").
In short, in order for a person to live well, he or she continues to need the direct and amiable concourse of the "heart" [kokoro] with fellow beings. But at the same time, this does not mean that the longing for material possessions has been eliminated. The reality is likely closer to a new desire for material and non-material things, or as expressed above, for "possessions" and "belonging."
In any event, the possession of things tends inexorably toward private ownership, namely, monopolization by a single individual. The value of physical objects, in particular, has become relatively freed in the modern period from the objects' intrinsic function and deeply suffused with the symbolism of externally imputed significance and value, with the effect of further heightening the desire for private possession. This trend is apparent in marketing strategies for automobiles and other products which emphasize the product's role as symbol of status and individuality, rather than conveying the sheer functionality of the product itself. When one considers the fact that a given object carries an affirmative, positive "significance" and "value" for its owner precisely because it creates a differentiation or distinction between the one "with" and those "without" the object in question, it is only natural to assume a preference for private possession and its inherent distinguishing capability, over joint possession, which lacks that ability to create distinctions.
In contrast, festivals and other such "events" are inherently characterized by the powerful effect of forcing the participation of individuals in communal activities, producing communal possession of one and the same common experience, thus heightening the consciousness of membership in an in-group.
In 1985 I undertook a survey of the festival of the Fujisaki Shrine together with students from Kumamoto University. The next paragraph has been taken from a report written by one student member of the project who participated in the "divine procession" (horse-driving) as a musician for one of the groups dedicating "decorated horses" in the festival that year. The paragraph describes the emotional state of the group at the time it disbanded following the festival procession. The paragraph expresses well the raised spirits of those people who experienced a unity surpassing private gain and loss, produced as the result of their common participation in and experience of one "event." At the same time, since members of the project were obliged to be "participant-observers" in the festival, the report also displays the writer's sense of perplexity at being at once a member and non-member of the "in-group."
We gave three "hurrahs" in unison and things finally came to an end. Hurrah for the end! Everyone was crying. Kiyonaga, Kurotani, and Takeda were all in tears, too. Miyoshi sobbed with reddened eyes, "I'm so glad I could be here together with such wonderful people." Then he embraced with Kiyonaga. Everybody went around, shaking hands with everyone else. I shook hands, too. Of course, it was with my left hand, since, as I told them, "I've been beating the drum all day with my right hand, and the skin's all blistered and swollen." I didn't have any tears, though.
As we were leaving the parking lot, Takopii was crying beside his girlfriend. "Why on earth is he crying?" I wondered. . . . He certainly didn't work that hard [in the festival preparations]. His expenses admittedly may have been a bit high, but it wasn't that hard. Probably, he just felt the need, somehow, to cry. I watched the others crying, and wondered why I didn't have any tears. And I was so mad I couldn't cry, that I almost wanted to cry myself.
The fact that festivals experienced a resurgence throughout Japan around the end of the period of high-rate economic growth likely resulted from the fact that people began to feel their lives demanded something other than money and "things," namely the emotional human element of "heart." And through participation in festivals, the longing for that human element has generally followed two trajectories. One is the direct personal creation and participation in festivals, thus (re)discovering, and (re)confirming the element of "human heart" in relations between oneself and one's fellows. This trend can be observed in the spontaneous and aggressive participation of individuals in local festivals, as well as in the actions of local governing bodies as they attempt to foster "local consciousness" and "hometown spirit."
The other orientation this longing takes is in the act of participating as sightseer at other people's festivals, thereby directing one's thoughts toward the fond "human heart" relationality which has been forgotten in one's own and in others' hometowns. This trend is indicated by the growth of large numbers of festival tourists. When people come to long for contact with the diverse variety of "human heart" relationality embodied in festivals, government and the tourist industry react sensitively, and unite to organize festivals and events which are fundamentally oriented to the commercial spirit, and this trend also adds stimulus to the festival boom.
This kind of situation may appear at first glance to be sign of a rehabilitated "communalism" and "non-everyday" dimension. But while the local festivals so popular in earlier times certainly represented the community's cyclical or intermittent self-reaffirmation, the festivals currently so popular, and which now appear at the final dissolution of the enduring community, are no more than an expression of the almost fatalistic nostalgia of us moderns toward a community which has already faded to little more than an apparition, combined with an interminable show of counterfeited "communal spirit" staged in response.
The same can be said for the dimension of the "non-everyday." The high popularity of the festivals and events being observed at present appears at first to signal a rehabilitation of genuine festival spirit, in opposition to the ways in which I earlier noted that festivals have been "normalized."
But unless one ignores the fact that "festivals" deeply imbued with the everyday are available, literally, at any time and any place, then it is clear that today's "festival boom" itself composes an important element of the everyday normalization of festivals. The highly developed market economy, which should have eliminated the human elements of "community" and "non-everydayness" as mere obstacles in a certain stage of its own evolution, has transformed those elements--now tamed and defanged--into mere commodities, and even incorporated them into itself. In other words, although festivals declined for a time due to their being estranged from economic rationality, they have now been given new life by being incorporated into the market economy itself.
The highly commodified modern society, however, attempts to reduce any human relationship to a "good" which can then be measured and traded in monetary terms, and so long as modern festivals are unable to escape the "iron cage" of that economic rationality, it will be impossible for them to recover in their fullest sense. But even so, and even if it is the mere fact that one has shared a common experience by participating in a single "event" with one's fellows, it is unnecessary to deprecate the tears shed, or to doubt the instant of truth expressed in the words, "I'm so glad I could be here together with such wonderful people."
The village of Namino has a population of some two-thousand, distributed among over five-hundred households which are in turn spread throughout a high plain along the eastern foothills of Mount Aso, in Kumamoto Prefecture. In May of 1990, this small mountain hamlet was the site of early construction for the rural center of a new religious group called Aum Shinrikyô (Aumkyô),A which had for some time been the subject of news as the result of its possible relation to the disappearance a Yokohoma attorney and his family in November of the preceding year.
As of May 1991, the period since construction began on the center has witnessed a high level of discord between local residents and members of the religious group, including clashes leading to physical injuries and police arrests. In October of 1990, suspicions were aroused regarding the group's acquisition of land for the center, eventuating in a large-scale police search of the group's facilities, but no substantial changes in the situation have occurred.B
At first glance, the village of Namino and the religious group Aum Shinrikyô would appear to be completely heterogeneous, unrelated entities, but in fact, I think the two can be shown to display a surprisingly intimate linkage. In fact, I think the meeting between the two presents an excellent key to understanding the relationship between the current "festival boom" and "religion boom" in Japan.
Ever since Aumkyô made its first entry to the village of Namino, the response of the village has been both speedy and unbending, and at least superficially, the village has taken a staunch attitude of united opposition to the presence of the new religious group. Village authorities have resolutely refused to accept the residential registration forms submitted by more than four-hundred members of the religious group, and the village council has passed a resolution stating that "the members of any new religion which contravenes public order and morals cannot be recognized as legitimate residents of Namino Village."
Ordinary villagers were likewise quick to establish an "Association for the Protection of Namino Village" with the purpose of preventing further inroads by Aumkyô. Virtually all households in the village have become members of the "Association," and they have even built a small "solidarity post" along the road leading to the Aum center, from which members take turns each day monitoring the activities of the religious group. While the village has not avoided all internal disharmony over its attempts to expel the religious group, one can say that the village continues to display, on the whole, a remarkably adamant attitude toward the issue.
Interestingly, the Aumkyô case was not the first time the entire village of Namino Village had united in this way. One morning at the end of January 1990, more than three months before it would become known that the Aumkyô group would make its headquarters in the village, the Kumamoto Prefectural Theater was wild with excitement. It was the concluding instant for the performance of the thirty-third and final act of the traditional sacred dance form known as Iwado Kagura, transmitted by the Nakae district of Namino Village, and which had begun the afternoon of the previous day.
Officially released figures estimated the audience at some six-thousand persons, and they had all persevered to watch the dance performances as they continued throughout the night and into morning. Now, this packed, standing-room-only crowd raised a tumultuous wave of applause which seemed to carry on forever. Rivulets of tears ran down the cheeks of the performers who gathered shoulder to shoulder on the stage for their curtain calls.
The successful realization of this heroic, twenty-plus-hour performance, was in large measure the result of herculean efforts by former NHK announcer Suzuki Kenji, now Director of the Kumamoto theater. The performance itself was transmitted, virtually in its entirety, throughout Japan via live satellite broadcast. And at its conclusion the entire village, indeed, was drunk on the bliss of having seen their colossal undertaking to its end. The happiness of solidarity was everywhere, from the seventeen performers who had dedicated themselves to fifteen months of grueling practice, to the two-hundred members of the women's group who had used the theater's underground cafeteria to prepare four-thousand meals of noodles and rice balls during the marathon performance.
Now, just as Namino Village had used this tremendous excitement as a springboard to launch itself--as the "home of kagura dance"--into a program of village revitalization, the unsavory religion of Aum Shinrikyô had acquired an expansive meadow within the village and was attempting to establish religious facilities there. From the very beginning, one could hear the lament of village leaders, "And just as we were trying to prevent population loss and revitalize our village as the 'home of kagura'. . ." It was as though they had been dashed with cold water at the height of their fervor.
One can easily sympathize with the vexation felt by villagers forced into having to greet an uninvited "stranger." But the anticipation and apprehension of Namino Village over the issue of creating a "home of kagura" is clearly an accurate reflection of the paradoxical and ironic nature of the current festival boom. In the background to the modern reevaluation of regional festivals and rural arts, one can see the expectation that these events will stimulate and exalt regional consciousness and hometown loyalty, and enhance residential solidarity and community morals.
But at the same time, there are also great expectations that these same events will have the indirect economic effect of raising public awareness and improving the image of the local area (sometimes referred to as giving the local area a unique "brand"), in addition to direct economic benefits such as attracting tourists. Plastered against the backdrop of idealism seen in expressions like "age of the heart" is the recurring motif of realism that says, "You can talk all you want about the 'heart' and 'people,' but in the end you've got to have (or 'make') money."
And this truth applies equally to the aim of Namino's "village renewal" project focused on Iwado kagura. Climaxing in the mythological story of the goddess Amaterasu's concealment in the "Heavenly Cave," Namino kagura tradition is composed of mythic material taken from Japan's two oldest chronicles, the Kojiki and Nihon shoki. The tradition originated in divine performances of dance transmitted through the divine rites of the Hagi Shrine, the tutelary of the Nakae district and its small population of twenty or so homes. Today, the dance continues to be performed at the Hagi Shrine's two seasonal festivals in April and September, and several episodes are also dedicated at the major festival of the Aso Shrine (the provincial shrine, or "Ichinomiya," for former Higo Province, and classified as an Imperial Shrine (kanpei taisha) of the "large" category under the prewar system of shrine rankings).
The kagura tradition of Namino Village is said to have originally developed from Bungo kagura which began in the middle or late Edo period (1600-1867), and thus represents just one of the several forms of kagura dancing found passed on by the regions (or shrines) between the prefectures of Oita and Kumamoto. This kagura tradition was designated by the Japanese government in 1975 as an ethnic intangible cultural property, but it went largely unnoticed outside the ranks of professional ethnologists.
For example, the village published a "Namino Beautification Plan" in 1989 with the aim of confirming its own unique local identity, but the images oriented at the center of the "village image strategy" were described with expressions like "beautiful scenery, fresh meadow breezes, verdant gardens of vegetables," and "a village where field lilies bloom, and high-altitude vegetables are grown."
Similarly, typical responses to a questionnaire survey of residents' attitudes toward pride in the village likewise showed typical responses like "abundant natural surroundings," "fresh vegetables and mountain delicacies," and "cool summers." In short, the tradition of kagura dancing was virtually non-existent in these villagers' self-consciousness and self-assessment.
The event that drew sudden attention to that tradition, and prompted the villagers own reassessment of its value was the great success of the full performance of all thirty-three episodes at the Kumamoto Prefectural Theater. This achievement led to the prompt elevation of the "home of kagura" concept to the center of attention, and construction is currently progressing on a "Kagura Theater" incorporating both a kagura museum and dance exhibition hall. But the location selected for the construction is along the national highway No. 57 from Kumamoto to Oita, north of the village and considerably removed both from the village's Nakae district--which transmits the kagura tradition--and the village center as well.
Needless to say, the choice of this specific location was a result of prime consideration given to ease of access and the effect of drawing tourists. The choice did not go unchallenged by residents of the Nakae district, who expressed deep dissatisfaction that the selection had no merit from the perspective of the residents themselves, but the disagreement was eventually resolved by the construction of a "hall of sacred dance" (kaguraden) inside the grounds of the Hagi Shrine.
At any rate, it is likely that the establishment of the "Namino identity" will proceed along the lines of the "image strategy" centering on the tradition of Iwado kagura. But as pointed out already, the linking of the kagura of the Nakae district to the self-image of Namino Village was not the result of any internal inevitability. Fortunately (or even, perhaps, unfortunately), the village's kagura tradition came to the attention of the powerful "outsider" Suzuki Kenji, thus becoming one link within the contemporary "festival boom"; that good fortune does not, however, automatically guarantee the resurgence of the village's traditional festivals nor the revitalization of the local area. As suggested by the conflict over the location for construction of the "Kagura Theater," there is not even any guarantee that this "festival"--which may well become uprooted from the tiny community of Nakae--will become rerooted in the larger "community" represented by the village of Namino as a whole.
In addition, even if Namino and its Nakae district come to the center of attention due to the success of the kagura image and attraction of outside tourists, that success may not necessarily be relevant to the salvation of other villages in similar situations. Other regions have also diligently preserved and passed on festivals and kagura traditions similar to those of Namino's Nakae district, but without the latter's success. From the perspective of villages such as these, the powerful spotlight focused on Nakae and Namino, rather than serving as a beacon leading through the wilderness, may produce, on the contrary, a sense of deprivation due to the apparently vast difference in circumstances.
If festivals represent the true self-awareness of their respective communities, it should be possible for each festival to coexist with the others, and for each locale to possess a sense of pride incomparable to the others. But when a festival or folk art becomes a local "brand" or tourist resource, it has no choice but to enter the competitive relationship represented by the narrow "marketplace of regional culture." And in such cases, the value of festivals is uniformly measured by the amount of sales and the number of tourists, with the natural result that one's success must mean another's (relative) failure. Admittedly, a single village may achieve a phenomenal success with promoting some kind of local event, but the question is, does that kind of success mean anything for the revitalization of villages as a whole? It can only to be hoped that the plan to resurrect Namino Village as the "home of kagura" does not end as merely one more episode in the tale of how the continuing expansion of the consumer economy alienates village life.
The "religion boom" motivating the advance of Aum Shinrikyô into Namino Village is likewise based on conditions analogous to the "village revitalization" and "festival boom" noted above. The current boom in religion can be characterized by the large place given to so-called "new new-religious groups" and "minor deities."IV These two characteristics differ both from the previous conventional religion that was linked to the traditional family (ie) and village life, and from earlier "new religions" which were oriented strongly toward "this-worldly benefits" like elimination of the evils of "poverty, illness, and conflict."
On the contrary, in these newest of religious groups, consummate emphasis is given to the experience of "mysticism" and "miracles" themselves, or to the "spiritualistic" and "supernatural" power which produces such miracles. Further, these new religious trends can also be characterized by their orientation toward a relatively younger clientele.
In the same way, young people make up a striking proportion of Aumkyô's members, and while the religion's final aims are said to be individual liberation and world salvation, more popular attention is given to claimed "supernatural" abilities to resist gravity and hold one's breath for long periods underwater. Older generations with more mature discrimination find it difficult to understand the attraction of young people to such new new-religious groups, a difficulty probably resulting from the "non-utilitarian" nature of group practices and faith, and the resulting appearance of "deceit." But in fact, the success of the new new-religious groups is most likely an accurate indicator of the state of the heart hidden within all moderns, not merely the young.
All people long to validate their existence as significant, whether that be in the sense of their individual existence itself, or in the relationships they have with others and the world. But the self-validation based on money and possessions within the modern "affluent society" is of its very nature indirect, and an ephemeral thing. In particular, for younger generations, to whom "affluence" has become a matter of course, the spiritual deficiency and insecurity resulting from a lack of confidence in one's existence is frequently the more serious issue. As a result, it is not difficult to understand why moderns--and youngsters in particular--who think they want to directly experience the real sense of living, go to (new new-) religious groups.
But the adroit intricacy--and irony--of modern society lies in built-in mechanism whereby the very effort to conquer the emptiness produced by the social system and its highly advanced level of commercialization contributes to the maintenance and reproduction of the system itself. The "age of the heart" is merely a broader appellation for the "age of religion," but rather than signifying an age in which the heart is emphasized in place of money and things, this expression should mean the modern age in which the heart has been merely added to the increasing list of "things" forming the subject of monetary transaction. And the religious orientation which seeks spiritual things in this way is likewise frequently drawn into the commercial economy whose business it is to engage in "buying and selling the heart."
In this context, Aumkyô has likewise been made the object of investigation for alleged "fraudulent sales practices" involving the distribution of products like "heavenly dew" and "pure cultured DNA of the Master." In addition, another of the grounds for criticism of Aumkyô has been the large financial donations to the group required at the time one "leaves home" (shukke) to enter the life of a devotee, and aside from the appropriateness of the sums involved, the group itself does not deny the reality of "donations."
But on the contrary, it is more difficult to become entrapped in the commercial economic system when one has almost entirely dropped out of the conventional social system, as have the devotees of this group. In fact, given the talk of its "profit-making structure," there are grounds for thinking the economic base of the Aumkyô group is extremely fragile. For example, the anti-Aumkyô strategy of Namino Village has been to undermine the financial basis of the group by broadly attacking its "anti-social" nature, thereby affixing the group with a negative social image and preventing the attraction of new adherents and their donations, which are believed to represent the group's chief source of revenue. After that, the village only needs to wait for the group to self-destruct, it is believed.
Accordingly, the commercialization of religion tends to occur around the intersection of the ordinary and extraordinary, or rationality and mysticism. While many young people feel unable to rest easily within the world of everyday rationality, they likewise feel unable to step fully into the supra-ordinary world of mysticism, and wish to experience a glance at, or to dabble a bit in, the world of the supra-ordinary and mysticism, while remaining firmly within the everyday world of ordinary rationality.
They hope in that way to experience some degree of soul-shaking liberation, personal fulfillment, and differentiation from others, and in that sense, the religious orientation at this level retains some utilitarian, functionalistic characteristics. In response to this demand, bookstores expand the shelf space dedicated to books on the paranormal world, television programs feature reports virtually every day on spiritualistic phenomena, and the stalls of fortune-tellers fill the street corners.C
Similarly, the charges made for the current crop of popular "courses in spiritual development," or "self-enlightenment seminars" which promise the discovery of one's "real self" and "latent potential" are certainly not cheap.D Established religious groups have likewise prepared a variety of simplified courses in religious practice--offered for a fee, while simultaneously marketing a variety of occult products including "spiritual stones" and "spirit water."
As a result, while the current religious orientation is frequently transformed into a "commercialization of the soul," and thereby reincorporated within the modern socio-economic system, there remains at the origin of that stream a longing for release or escape from that same commercialization.
Freelance journalist Murô Tadashi has said that those modern young people who turn to religion for respite from powerlessness, irritability, and isolation within today's consumer society are like "modern refugees" who have "lost their rightful place to be." If we change this expression to "refugees from the affluent society," the image fits even better. The allusion to "refugees" admittedly has associations with "evasion," and is thus likely unacceptable to the serious religious seeker. At the same time, it seems entirely fitting that "refugees from the affluent society" should, after drifting aimlessly across a sea of money, things, and people, drop their anchor in a religious harbor that assures (or so it is thought) internal, absolute liberation and salvation.
If the young people drifting onto the shores of (new new-) religious groups are "refugees from the affluent society," then those villages that hunker down, desperately clinging to the land in isolated parts of the country should be called "castaways from the affluent society," or their reserve forces. The environment surrounding primary industries is steadily worsening, and most young people have discarded the villages in new search of money, things, and relationships. But even so, ill-boding designations like "castaway" are likely to rub any particular village the wrong way, and are not likely to be accepted for that reason. But the barren shells of village communities that have been, literally, discarded are scattered throughout Japan, and their miserable appearance is exposed to all, making it impossible to disguise the "castaway" nature of the modern regional village.
Residents of local villages frequently make smug descriptions of their localities such as that they are blessed with "luxuriant natural surroundings" and "warm human relationships." But the fact that they simultaneously feel compelled to busy themselves with "rural renewal" projects is clear evidence of their fear of being discarded by the modern commercial economic system.
And most ironically, the desperate participation in "inter-regional competition" on which they have staked their "survival" in fact strengthens the economic system which originally produced the village's impoverishment. There is a parallel structure here with many of the urban young who seek for the heart and end up being captured within the economic system that makes its living dealing commercially in the soul.
In this way, the conflict between Aum Shinrikyô and Namino Village appears clearly as the unfortunate encounter which it is. On the one hand are the young people (and others) who, as "refugees from the affluent society" have attempted to escape the modern social system. While remaining potentially entangled in the system, they have at any rate continued their drifting life of practice toward the "promised land." On the other hand are the regional villagers, "castaways from the affluent society" who, in spite of their desperate efforts to revitalize their village and avoid dropping out of the social system, nonetheless cannot expunge their real fear of being discarded. That relationship is also the common thread running through the back-to-back issues of the recent booms in festivals and religion.
So long as the two parties remain back-to-back, facing in opposite directions, it will be difficult for either of them to notice their commonality, no matter how close they are pressed together. But if they boldly turn to face each other, they can see the common socio-economic system which has alienated them both. And that fact should suggest new possibilities and orientations for a true rehabilitation of both festivals and religion.
(In this essay I have discussed a wide range of topics in a limited space; in principle, the paper should have been accompanied by detailed references to my sources. But for the same reason, I felt that footnoting each reference individually would prove excessively cumbersome in a paper of this length. As a result, I have limited the scholarly apparatus to a listing of those works and materials which I feel to have been of particular significance in the writing of this paper.)
"Oumu Shinrikyô no kyôki" [The lunacy of Aum Shinrikyô], Sandei Mainichi (seven-part series, October 15 to November 26, 1990). I also consulted a number of articles from other common Japanese weekly magazines.
"Yureru yamazato: Rupo, Oumu Shinrikyô" [The shaking of a mountain hamlet: reportage on Aum Shinrikyô], Kumamoto hibi shinbun (intermittent fifty-five part series from November 21, 1990 to May 29, 1991).
Egawa Shôko, Kyûseishu no yabô: Oumu Shinrikyô o otte [Sinister ambitions of a messiah: on the trail of Aum Shinrikyô], (Tokyo: Kyôiku Shiryô Shuppankai, 1991).
Oumu Shinrikyô, "Shoseki insatsu hanbai-tô kari shobun shinseisho (fukusha)" [Application for provisional injunction against the sale of books and other printed materials (copy)] (This is a copy of the 1991 application submitted to the Tokyo District Court requesting an injunction against the sale of Egawa Shôko's book noted above). I have also used a number of other Aumkyô documents and publications.
Namino Mura o Mamoru Kai [Association to Protect Namino Village], "Oumu Shinrikyô kankei shiryô" [Documents relating to Aum Shinrikyô], 1990. In addition, I have also used a number of other documents prepared and distributed by the Namino Mura o Mamoru Kai.
Namino Mura, 1988 Sonsei yôran [1988 yearbook of village statistics].
Idem, Hairando patorooru no katsuyaku! Namino "Utsushika" keikaku: Utsukushii hairando raifu / Namino burando no kakuritsu o mezashite [An active highland patrol! The Namino 'beautification' plan: toward a beautiful highland life and the establishment of a Namino 'brand' identity], 1989.
Namino Mura Kyôiku Iinkai [Namino Village Board of Education], Nakae Iwado Kagura [The Iwado Kagura of the Nakae district], 1990.
Ashida Tetsurô, "Matsuri to gendai shakai, josetsu" [Festivals and modern society: a prologue], Kumamoto Daigaku Kyôyôbu kiyô: Jinbun-shakai kagakuhen , No. 25 (Kumamoto Daigaku Kyôyôbu, 1989).
Idem, "Namino mura no marebito: Oumu Shinrikyô ni utsuru gendai" [The 'strange visitor' to Namino Village: contemporary times reflected in Aum Shinrikyô], Nishi Nihon shinbun (ten-part series, November 3-14, 1990).
Ueno Chizuko, "Matsuri to kyôdôtai" [Festivals and the community], Inoue Shun, ed., Chiiki bunka no shakaigaku [The sociology of regional culture] (Sekai Shisôsha, 1984).
Sonoda Minoru, Matsuri no genshôgaku [The phenomenology of festivals] (Kôbundô, 1990).
Tsurumi Shunsuke and Kobayashi Kazuo, eds., Matsuri to ibento no tsukurikata [How to construct festivals and events] (Shôbunsha, 1988).
Matsudaira Makoto, Toshi shukusai no shakaigaku [The sociology of urban festivals] (Yûhikaku, 1990).
Yanagawa Keiichi, Matsuri to girei no shûkyôgaku [A Religious Studies approach to festivals and ritual] (Chikuma Shobô, 1987).
Asahi Shinbun Shakaibu, ed., Gendai no chiisana kamigami [Little deities for modern times] (Asahi Shinbunsha, 1984).
Ômura Eishô and Nishiyama Shigeru, eds., Gendaijin no shûkyô [Religion for moderns] (Yûhikaku, 1988).
Shimazono Susumu, "Gendai shûkyô to animizumu: Minzoku shûkyô no fukkô o megutte" [Modern religion and animism: the debate regarding "the resurgence of popular religion] Chûgai nippô (five-part series, May 19-26, 1989).
Numata Ken'ya, Gendai Nihon no shinshûkyô [The new religions of modern Japan] (Sôgensha, 1988).
Futazawa Masayoshi, and Shimada Hiromi, Sennô taiken [The experience of brain-washing] (JICC, 1991).
(Bessatsu) Takarajima, Imadoki no kamisama [Gods for today] (JICC, 1990).
Murô Tadashi, Shinjinrui to shûkyô [The "new generation" and religion] (San'ichi Shobô, 1986).
Yamamoto Haruyoshi, Gendai Nihon no shûkyô [Modern Japanese religion] (Shinsensha, 1985).
I. Originally published as "Matsuri, shûkyô buumu: 'Kokoro no jidai' no ironii", Shûkyô Shakaigaku Kenkyûkai, eds., Ima, shûkyô o dô toraeru ka [How should we understand religion now?] (Tokyo, 1992).
II. For a brief introduction to the most recent religious "booms" in modern Japan, see Inoue Nobutaka, "Recent Trends in the Study of Japanese New Religions," in Inoue Nobutaka, ed., and Norman Havens, trans., New Religions (Tokyo: Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, 1991), 16.
III. Ashida is here referring to the geographic concentration of "soaplands" or "massage parlors" in certain "red-light" districts of Japanese cities.
IV. For a discussion of the concept of "new new-religions" see Inoue Nobutaka, Op.cit.
A. For a discussion of Aum Shinrikyô, see Shimazono Susumu's article, "In the Wake of Aum: The Formation and Transformation of a Universe of Belief," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (Fall 1995) 22/3-4: p. 381-414.
B. On March 24, 1997 in Tokyo District Court Aum Shinrikyô's spokesman Jôyû Fumihiro was found guilty on perjury and forgery charges related to the illegal purchase of land in Namino Village in Kumamoto. He was given a three year sentence for his role in the cover up.
C. For more on fortune-telling, see Suzuki Kentarô's article, "Divination in Contemporary Japan," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (Fall 1995) 22/3-4: p. 249-66.
D. For more on spiritual development and self-enlightenment seminars, see Haga Manabu's article "Self-Development Seminars in Japan," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (Fall 1995) 22/3-4: p. 283-99.
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