Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

By Jeremy Stolow | Go to book overview

An Empowered World
Buddhist Medicine and the
Potency of Prayer in Japan

Jason Ānanda Josephson

If you were to travel to the small town of Kotohira on the Japanese island of Shikoku, you might, after strolling past one of the country’s oldest Kabuki theaters and partaking of the region’s famous Sanuki udon noodles, find yourself at an ancient shrine, the town’s central attraction for tourists and pilgrims. There, on the grounds of this old religious site, you would find a dedicatory plaque sporting a very modern image: that of Japan’s first cosmonaut, Akiyama Toyohiro, clad in a spacesuit standing next to his craft. Despite its space-age content, however, the plaque gives thanks to Kompira, the so-called god of sailors, for Akiyama’s safe voyage through interplanetary space.1 This confluence of technological hypermodernity and public religiosity is by no means unique to the Kompira Shrine. Analogous examples dot the Japanese landscape, from nineteenth-century mechanical models of the Buddhist cosmos, to websites devoted to prayers to the god Hachiman, to the Buddhist stupa at Hōrinji temple dedicated to Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz as the “Patriarchs of Electricity and Electro-Magnetic Waves.”2

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