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: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

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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.