Ceremony and Ritual in Japan: Religious Practices in an Industrialized Society

Ceremony and Ritual in Japan: Religious Practices in an Industrialized Society

Ceremony and Ritual in Japan: Religious Practices in an Industrialized Society

Ceremony and Ritual in Japan: Religious Practices in an Industrialized Society

Synopsis

Contributors: Jane Bachnik, Jan van Bremen, Jane Cobbi, Sylvie Guichard-Anguis, Joy Hendry, A. Kalland, Sepp Linhart, Lola Martinez, Hirochika Nakamaki, Ian Reader, Robert J. Smith, H. Stefansson.

Excerpt

It remains unfortunately true, halfway through the 1990s, that Japan is an underreported country. Despite significant increases in the amount of information available, it is still the case that few aspects of Japan and its people are discussed in comparable depth, or with similar assumptions about familiarity, to discussion of the United States, Britain or other major countries. Differences of language and culture of course constitute a barrier, though less so than in the past. As the patterns of our post-Cold War world gradually consolidate, it is more than ever clear that the regional and global importance of Japan is increasing, often in ways more subtle than blatant. To borrow a phrase from Ronald Dore, we really should start ‘taking Japan seriously’.

The Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series seeks to foster an informed and balanced, but not uncritical, understanding of Japan. One aim of the series is to show the depth and variety of Japanese institutions, practices and ideas. Another is, by using comparison, to see what lessons, positive and negative, can be drawn for other countries. The tendency in commentary on Japan to resort to outdated, ill-informed or sensational stereotypes still remains, and needs to be combated.

Japan has one of the most advanced economies in the world, and the bulk of her population enjoy a high standard of living. Contemporary Japanese civilization is materialistic and people’s attitudes highly pragmatic. Scientific thinking is the predominate paradigm. The Japanese are a modern, or ‘postmodern’ people. By no stretch of the imagination can Japan be regarded as a theocracy, nor are the Japanese particularly religious, in the most commonly accepted senses of the word. Yet ceremony and ritual flourish, to the point, it might seem, of addiction. Is this just a peculiar Japanese trait, of the kind that inspired Western books ninety years ago with titles like More Queer Things about Japan? Or is it a culturally conditioned set of responses to the

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