Japanese Religions in and beyond the Japanese Diaspora

Article excerpt

Ronan Alves Pereira and Hideaki Matsuoka, Japanese Religions in and beyond the Japanese Diaspora Berkeley, California: Institute for East Asian Studies, University of California Press, 2007. ix + 251 pp. $22.00 paper, isbn 1-55729-087-3.

THIS BOOK contains academic papers based on an international conference that was also titled "Japanese Religions in and beyond the Japanese Diaspora." The conference was held at the University of California, Berkeley, on 21 September 2001. As mentioned in the foreword, the meeting occurred in the aftermath of the attacks of September 2001, confronting the participants with the urgent need to understand the nature of religious conflict, religious mobilization, and identity in the transnational world. This book is a rich anthology of articles representing a reference for scholars and students who are interested in the diffusion of Japanese religions in the West. It deals with a varied range of questions-the socio-political and cultural context of receiving societies, and the process of adaptation and negotiation in a new environment; issues on ethnic identity; and reasons and motivations to become a member of an alien faith. Moreover, the articles in this book emphasize the intrinsic characteristics of Japanese new religions, which may or may not facilitate diffusion abroad.

In recent decades many academic essays on Japanese religion overseas have been published for English readers (see Mullins and Young 1991, Clarke 2000). The unique contribution of this volume is its focus on the international expansion of Japanese religions in and beyond Japanese ethnic communities while emphasizing the role of Brazil in this process. As the editors stress in the introduction, Brazil has about 1.5 million ethnic Japanese and is the country with the largest number of missionary branches of Japanese religions outside Japan. Despite this fact, the existing publications on this topic have not yet reflected on the importance of Brazil in the process of the globalization of Japanese religions. In addition, this book presents some valuable comments and insights about this topic, provided by Andrew Barshay in the foreword, and by Robert Bellah in the afterward.

The articles in the first section deal with the diffusion of Japanese religious groups in different countries. Chapter one is an updated version of an article published by Shimazono Susumu (1991) in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. Shimazono discusses the expansion of Japanese new religions overseas, with an emphasis on the postwar period. As in the previous version, Shimazono points out sociopolitical factors, practical ethics, and the systematic statements that facilitated this expansion. Additionally, in this new version, Shimazono considers the place of Japan's new religions in the history of religions of the world, proposing a more multidirectional way (not only from Western traditions) to evaluate the transmission of religions. At the end, the author adds his reflections on how the Sarin gas attack has negatively affected the image of Japanese new religions abroad, and how Japanese new religious groups are becoming independent abroad and facing competition with other local new religions.

Both chapters two and three seem to be the development of a work that the authors have previously published (Bouma, Smith, and Vasi 2000). In chapter two, Bouma presents Zen, in a more detailed way, as part of a growing and vital spirituality in multicultural Australia. He discusses the transformation of the Australian religious landscape since World War II, examining the recent rise of Buddhism and the motivations for Australians to become followers of Zen. The Buddhist boom in Australia is a result of the presence of South Asian boat people and Asian migrants. Zen groups, however, came from the US and Japan, and their followers are Caucasians who are in search of an alternative type of spirituality. Buddhism in Australia is depicted as being a high culture, spiritual element of Asia; in this context, Zen Buddhism offers a genuine spiritual alternative, appearing low in hierarchy, quietly welcoming, and less demanding compared to other (such as Christian) groups. …