Conference on Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions

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On March 20 and 21, 2014, the Numata Conference in Buddhist Studies took place at the East-West Center’s Keoni Auditorium, within the Hawaii Imin International Conference Center. It focused on the theme “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions: Past, Present, and Future.” For two days, twenty-one presenters engaged the local and the scholarly community in lively discussions, followed by the screening of two exceptional movies related to this topic. This event was cosponsored by the Department of Religion at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and by the Buddhist Study Center (Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai‘i).

The primary objective of this conference was to shed new light on the role played by religions throughout Japanese history, Buddhism in particular, by providing a balanced account of how it addressed the issue of violence in specific contexts. The general public tends to be more familiar with romantic ideas about Buddhism being exclusively a religion of peace, whereas historical records and advances in recent scholarship show that there is no way to dismiss all the examples in which the Buddhist clergy, or sometimes Buddhist texts, seem to have condoned violence. Such intertwinement with violence seems to contradict the fundamental emphasis on abstaining from harming and killing, the famous principle of ahiṃsā, which predates the emergence of Buddhism as an organized tradition. Yet, as highlighted by one of the presenters, there was no umbrella term for “violence” in premodern Japan, and the current word bōryoku 暴力 was coined in the nineteenth century to translate its Western equivalent.

Regardless of the labels attached to specific instances of violent behavior or, in the contrary, ideas or attempts aimed at curbing violent behavior, reliable studies focusing on Japanese occurrences are surprisingly scarce. One obvious reason why the issue of religion and violence still remains largely taboo in Japan results from the Pacific War’s stigma. Thus, all indicators were showing that time was ripe for expanding this type of conversation to Japanese religions. Hawai‘i, with its large community of Japanese descent, constituted an ideal location for launching this event. Given this conference’s unique feature as a world premiere, we received numerous requests to make some of the papers available at an early stage before they appear in the form of an edited volume.

This collection in ScholarSpace is a response to such requests. The papers are provided as they were submitted, in the hope they will serve as appetizers for a forthcoming publication. Thus, we ask for the readers’ indulgence regarding their unpolished character. These papers are made available according to the Creative Commons provisions. Please carefully review the terms of the following license before downloading any of the papers:

Thank you for your interest!


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
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    One Village, One Mind? Eto Tekirei, Tolstoy, and the Structure of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan
    ( 2014-03-21) Shields, James Mark
    Modern Japan provides numerous examples of experiments in mixing Buddhist teachings with progressive and radical socio-political ideals. The final two decades of the Meiji period witnessed the incursion of various forms of radicalism from the West—and from Russia in particular. The writings of novelist, religious writer and social critic Count Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), especially, had a significant impact among both liberals and those radicals inclined towards religious and agrarian visions of a transformed society. Progressivism in Japan was severely curtailed, however, by the High Treason Incident of 1910–11, leading to nearly a decade-long “winter,” ending only in the wake of the First World War. The following decade, 1919–31, which might be considered a “spring” for progressive thought and practice, witnessed the growth of several utopian communities that fused Buddhist and Tolstoyan principles, such as Itō Shōshin's Muga-en, Nishida Tenkō's Ittōen and Mushanokōji Saneatsu’s Atarashikimura. Somewhat less well known is the Hyakushō Aidōjō (Farmer’s Training Ground of Love) of Eto Tekirei (1880–1944), one of the so-called narodniki of the late Meiji and Taisho Taishō period, who developed a comprehensive agrarian utopian vision rooted in Tolstoyan, anarchist and (Zen) Buddhist ideals. This paper analyzes the work of Tekirei as an example of “progressive” agrarian-Buddhist utopianism, concluding with some remarks on the legacy of such movements for Buddhism today and in the future.
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    The Missing Link: Bridging the Gap Between Meiji Universalism, Postwar Pacifism, and Future Transreligious Developments
    ( 2014-03-21) Mohr, Michel
    This paper scrutinizes past attempts to embrace universalism in Japan and extrapolates from them that some ideas conceived in religious circles have the potential to overcome their own boundaries, opening avenues for future transreligious endeavors. In postwar Japan, lessons learned from past failures triggered the acute awareness that universalist claims made by the religious traditions could sometimes be recast in a humanistic garb, thus leading to cross-pollination with pacifism and nondenominational approaches. Yet some of the postwar peace building organizations that rely on Japanese support have lost their appeal and gone stale. The historical section of this paper first retraces the trajectory of Imaoka Shin’ichirō (1881–1988), the Japanese Unitarian Association’s former secretary. It shows Imaoka’s role as one of the missing links between Meiji and postwar movements, while repositioning his encounter with Nishida Tenkō (1872–1968). This paper’s second half focuses on tendencies identified in the postwar period and on their implications for the future of transreligious developments. Examining areas of continuity and discontinuity since the 1900 foundation of the International Association for Religious Freedom to the present will lead us to consider conceptual frameworks that could withstand jingoistic onslaughts and yield concrete educational benefits.
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    Visualizing the Past, Envisioning the Future: Utilizing Atomic Bomb Memorials, Fukushima, and the ‘Fourth Space’ of Comparative Informatics to Construct a Peaceful Future
    ( 2014-03-21) Miller, Mara
    The triple disaster of March 11, 2011 raises questions about how to commemorate its events and people. The twentieth century witnessed massive shifts in our expectations of memorials. Since World War II, memorials have been recognized as disseminating complex information and constructing collective memory. They also play another role that is equally important but under-recognized: strengthening, creating, redefining, and/or changing six kinds of human relationships, including those with future generations. Two sets of issues will be outlined. First, can we learn from Hiroshima Peace Park, which has addressed these issues for fifty years, particularly from the contributions of religions? How should we address questions about peaceful as well as wartime usages of nuclear power, or about the interplays of natural disaster and unintentional industrial violence? Second, new memorials will be created in the digital age, adding dimensions, speed, reach and connection. The field of comparative informatics addresses questions about informatics cross-culturally and across different kinds of arenas, particularly insofar as it takes place in the “fourth space” of digital and on-line shared experience. How can comparative informatics facilitate the new tasks to be borne by the 3/11 memorials?
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    Transforming Visions for the Future: Ifa Fuyū’s Search of Okinawan-Japanese Identity
    ( 2014-03-21) Ishida, Masato
    Ifa Fuyū (1879-–1947), widely acknowledged today as the father of Okinawan studies, was the first modern linguist to study Omoro Sōshi, a collection of ancient Ryukyuan poems and songs. He was also a social reformist who struggled with the problem of Okinawan-Japanese identity. In At an early yearsstage, Ifa grounded his argument for Ryukyuan-Japanese identity on the linguistic fact that the Japanese and Ryukyuan language were historically “sister languages.” He was also influenced by James George Frazer in viewing the religious unity of people—Ryukyuan Shinto in this case—as an evolutionary stage that was to rise to the establishment of modern identity framed within the concept of “nation state.” After his encounter with Yanagita Kunio and Orikuchi Shinobu, however, a subtle turn emerged in his thinking. Ifa saw that sharing religion and a common linguistic root was not enough for the claimed Okinawan-Japanese identity. Accordingly, Ifa set himself in search of a much deeper sense of identity, where ‘history’ was no longer his goal but rather a springboard for constructing visions for the future. This paper considers questions of religion and modernization through the works and struggles of Ifa Fuyū so as to invite discussions for our own future.
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    Japanese Buddhist Youths and Their Struggle with Violence in the Military Before and During WWII: The Case of Hirose Akira (1919–1946)
    ( 2014-03-21) Terasawa, Kunihiko
    Previous research has already contributed to expose the extent of Japanese Buddhist leaders’ ethical responsibility in collaborating with the state’s war effort. This paper rather examines the struggles of ordinary lay Buddhist youths who had to deal with war and militarism during WWII. I will focus on the case of an unknown young Shinshū Buddhist soldier, Hirose Akira. Hirose was born as the son of a priest belonging to the Ōtani Branch of Shinshū. Shortly after graduating from Ōtani University in 1942, Hirose was drafted into the military at the age of 23 and when he came back in January 1945 he became a priest in his hometown and created a Buddhist youth group. As a result of his critical examination of Buddhism throughout his war experience he also cultivated land for a community farm in order to supporter the farmers’ lives. Yet, due to his physical weakness and to the exhaustion resulting from time spent in the army, Hirose died in 1947 at the age of 28. While on military duty, Hirose kept writing diaries about his inner journey. I will explore his diaries showing how—despite of the Shinshū leaders’ pro-war stance and its prominent preacher Akegarasu Haya’s war propaganda—one young Shinshū Buddhist struggled for his faith, denunciated military violence, and reached a point where his own understanding of Shinshū and Buddhism as a whole underwent a complete transformation.
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    Millennialism with and without the Violence: An Examination of Late Twentieth-century Japanese New Religions
    ( 2014-03-21) Reader, Ian
    Millennialism has long been a feature of the Japanese religious landscape, especially with the rise of new religions that, from the mid-nineteenth century, presented stark critiques of modern society and preached the immanence of a new spiritual realm in which the existing order would be overturned and materialism destroyed. Such themes were widely articulated in the 1980s and early 1990s by movements such as Agonshū, Kōfuku no Kagaku and Aum Shinrikyō that either argued that spiritual transformation was needed in order to avert chaos in the run-up to the year 2000 or that welcomed global catastrophe as a pre-requisite to world salvation. Despite the recurrence of violent language and imagery within such millennialism, however, only one new religion, Aum, actually espoused violence as a concomitant element in the advent of a new spiritual dawn. In this paper I will examine why different modes of millennialism in the Japanese new religions produced different (violent or non-violent) results, while drawing attention also to other cases of late twentieth century millennial violence in new religions beyond Japan, to suggest how the Japanese case might contribute to wider studies of this topic.
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    Vergangenheitsbewältigung vs. Amnesia: How Germany and Japan processed their Records of Macro-Crimes
    ( 2014-03-21) Henningsen, Manfred
    Why has the Japanese political class as a whole been unable or unwilling to follow the German example of coming to terms with the record of terror it perpetrated on the people and countries it conquered? Why are the members of the Japanese political class regularly visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo that is dedicated to the memory of the war dead of imperial Japan since the Meiji restoration, the seven hanged leaders that were sentenced at the Tokyo Trial, 1946–48? Why do members of the political class still question the casualty and rape numbers of the Nanjing carnage in December 1937? Did the American refusal to put Emperor Hirohito on trial contribute to the prevailing unwillingness of engaging in believable acts of contrition? Did the firestorm of Tokyo, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki create a sense of Japanese victimhood, absolving Japan of recognizing guilt? What role does did state Shintoism play in the amnesia of official Japan? Was the German process of overcoming a similar syndrome of amnesia in the first two decades after WWII enabled by the Christian teachings of accepting guilt, requesting repentance and expecting forgiveness? Did the collaboration of the German Catholic and Lutheran churches with Hitler’s regime undermine their moral authority and therefore prevent such impact? Why did the state-centered process in the early 1950s in (West-) Germany of reaching apology agreements, first with Israel and the Jewish World Congress and then with France and other neighboring states, turn in the 1970s into a process that slowly began to involve all areas of German civil society? Why didn’t a comparable trajectory emerge in Japan? Could Japan still extract itself from this self-inflicted moral amnesia in East Asia that will continue to have a negative impact on its standing in the area?
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    Hostile Natives: Violence in the History of American and Japanese Nativism
    ( 2014-03-20) McNally, Mark
    This paper addresses the critical role of violence in the classification of anti-foreign practices as nativism in Japanese history. The connection with violence was vital to the emergence of nativism’s conceptual birth during the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. The Americanist, John Higham, has famously argued that the critical distinction between simple anti-foreignism and nativism inheres in their respective levels of hostility, with cases of the latter exceeding a certain threshold that was inclusive of violent acts. Another prominent theorist of nativism, Ralph Linton, de-emphasized this connection between violence and nativism; in fact, Linton broadened the concept of nativism to include the acceptance of foreigner arrivals as well as aspects of their culture, effectively severing the connection between nativism and hostility itself, even its non-violent forms. Japanologists began applying the concept of nativism to their own work by the end of the 1960s, crafting a category of Japanese nativism using a nearly exclusive focus on Kokugaku. The result is a concept of nativism that resembles the work of neither Higham nor Linton, despite the fact that it does emphasize hostility and anti-foreignism but without either notions of cultural borrowing or of violence per se. This paper will reconcile the two major conceptualizations of nativism dominant outside of Japanese studies, arguing that extreme levels of hostility, including violence, should be critical to the ways in which nativism is used and understood by Japanologists. By doing so, their critical gaze will shift away from Kokugaku toward historical episodes that are more befitting of nativism, such as the sonnō-jō’i (revere the emperor, expel the foreigners) movement of late Tokugawa Japan.
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    Shinran’s Treatment of Violence
    ( 2014-03-20) Hirota, Dennis
    This paper explores Shinran’s use of narrative as a mode of reflection and a means for recognizing and coming to terms with violence—including violence suffered, but in particular the violence one has inflicted on others. The most prominent among such narratives in Shinran’s writings stems from what is often referred to as the “tragedy of RājagṛhaRajāgṛha”—the story of Ajātaśatru’s murder of his father, King Bimbisāra, and imprisonment of his mother, Vaidehī, in order to seize the throne of the kingdom of Magadha. For Shinran, this sutra narrative is a crucial element of the Buddhist teaching, a drama enacted precisely to occasion Śākyamuni’s expounding of the Pure Land path historically and to communicate the self-aware hermeneutical stance that embodies genuine engagement with it. In Shinran, narrative broadly defined as an ordered account of events, however brief, plays a significant role in the articulation of the nature of religious awareness and historical consciousness as it pervades everyday life. Here, violence signifies not primarily the overt acts of coercion or callous injury inflicted through authoritarian power or martial force, but the roots of afflicting passion scarcely beneath of surface of social life that hold the potential of moving oneself and others to irreconcilable conflict. His use of narrative to contextualize personal existence as an occurrence of Buddhist truth within the flux of temporal events may be have seen resulted from histo share characteristics of the endeavor to deal with the intense emotions resulting from violence suffered and inflicted, as depicted seen in some types of medieval tale literature and noh drama.
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    Discourses on Religious Violence in Premodern Japan
    ( 2014-03-20) Adolphson, Mikael S.
    Seemingly at odds with the Buddhist precepts, many monastic members and shrine servants in premodern Japan took up arms to solve disputes. Modern observers have frequently condemned such activities, but contemporary sources offer a different picture. While there were cases where the use of arms by clerics was criticized, there were also times when the very same members were either praised for their violent acts, or when they were recruited by members of the imperial court. This ambiguity in part derived from Buddhism itself, since there was also a notion that allowed members of temples and shrines to legitimately take up arms in defense of Buddhism, or in its extension of to the state itself. These cases indicate that the rhetoric about the use of arms by clerics was less based on legal or moral principles regarding violence than on a general desire for order in society. If monks and their retainers were criticized for violent behavior, it was because they were on the wrong side of the imperial order, and conversely, if they were praised, it was because they had sided with the winning side in court factionalism. It would seem, then, that the notion of religious violence was foreign to both nobles and commoners of the medieval age, and that the concept itself belongs more to the modern world than the times preceding it.