Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Spirituality and Women in Japan

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Spirituality and Women in Japan

Article excerpt

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In the Japan of today, which is considered to be economically prosperous, why do so many women turn to spirituality rather than to traditional religions? Women are involved in many kinds of healing, including Reiki, hypnotherapy, energy work, past life therapy, lomilomi massage, card reading, Aura-Soma, poetry reading, energy art, aura reading, focusing, qi gong massage, tarot reading, and so on. Among them are women who use multiple healing methods in combinations that they devise for themselves, and who find in the ways of thought behind these methods origin stories that account for their purpose in life with world views that also extend to life after death.

I conducted interviews with women who have found ways to live outside established, organized religions. This article is based on interviews I conducted with twenty-two women who are involved with spirituality or healing1 in Japan, and through these interviews, I will examine the issue of spirituality for women in today's world.

Spirituality and the Condition of Women

Together with the terms "spiritual," "world of spirit" (seishin sekai), and "healing" (iyashi), in recent years we have witnessed the spread of a new spirituality that can be characterized as aiming for the awakening or transformation of consciousness of the individual. This emphasis on the individual has been cited as evidence of a decline in the influence of organized religion and, in conjunction with that, as a subjective turn (Heelas and Woodhead 2005) in which the individual gradually faces the sacred directly. There is also a notion that in a society becoming secular, religious values are being lost. On the other hand, there are those who say this only means that individuals today are capable of making interpretations for themselves so they no longer need an external authority, and individuals are maintaining their religiosity within themselves.

Studies of religion up to now have tended to focus on religious institutions, doctrines, or attendance rates and other such relatively tangible aspects that can be measured quantitatively. Consequently, when the concept of the secularization or individualization of religion arises from a view that centers religious behavior on belief systems or religious institutions, that concept appears to be out of touch with ordinary people's world views and their sense of what is religious. People may feel a need for answers from a greater power, or a desire to establish connections by means of prayer, but those feelings and desires do not necessarily have to be linked to institutions or doctrines. When women feel estranged from any religious organization, they may first experience their sense of the religious in immersive experiences in moments of ordinary everyday living, such as when preparing food or sitting alone in their rooms or cleaning up around a grave. This point is made by Meredith McGuire and Nancy Ammerman in terms of "lived religion" (McGuire 2008; Ammerman 2013), and it is a perspective that demands our attention.2

The expression "lived religion," however, must not be taken to indicate a lack of depth in religious feeling. There is a tendency to describe women as nothing but the consumers of a spiritual industry (Arimoto 2011), or to depict women as though they are caught in a flow of inarticulate ambivalence in which they decide nothing for themselves (Isomura 2007). And if women are distancing themselves from traditional religion for no more reason than that they are finding religion itself to be questionable (Kasai 2003; Horie 2011), then the question of what it is that women are pursuing when they involve themselves in spirituality becomes moot.

The Present Circumstances of Women

Japan passed the Act on Securing Equal Opportunity and Treatment of Men and Women in Employment in 1985, and enacted the Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society in 1999 and the Act on Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement in the Workplace in 2016. …

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