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Journal of Religion in Japan 1 (2012) 37-60

Japanese Secularities and the Decline of Temple Buddhism

John K. Nelson
University of San Francisco, San Francisco, USA

Abstract In many ways, Japan provides a predictable example of how historical, political, economic, and cultural factors in the postwar and late-modern periods influence the interactivity of religious afffiliations and secular forces. And yet, to grasp the complexity of the situation also requires a broader analytical perspective, one that can incorporate secularizing influences that are harder to identify because they are more globally difffuse. Based on extended fieldwork that has examined the boom and bust of contemporary Japanese temple Buddhism, I first discuss historical and political legacies unique to Japan that have shaped local secularities. Additionally, concepts of Japanese religiosity and secularity have been referenced in controversial court cases that are relevant to the practice of religion in the public sphere. Finally, the discussion surveys forces that are domestic and familiar as well as global and invasivenew information technologies, greater personal agency, hyper-consumerism, corporate and bureaucratic restructuring, and a growing tolerance for diversityimpacting traditional temple Buddhism. Each one of these factors is significant in understanding Japans secularities. The purpose here is to see them as a mutually-reinforcing and interactive web of relations and consequences for the Japanese people and the religious institutions in their midst. Keywords secularity, secularization, religiosity, Shint, Buddhist temple, globalization

Introduction Until very recently, a line from the 1942 movie Casablanca could be used to summarize the way many scholars and policymakers approached the topic of secularization in cultural contexts outside the West. In the film, a local police captain (played by Claude Rains) instructs a subordinate to round
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI: 10.1163/221183412X628389


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up the usual suspects after a murder has been committed. Although theres no crime to respond to in the academic study of secularization (save for that of complacency), explaining how a society negotiates the separation of religion and the state as well as ways of being secular has generally relied upon a predictable number of agents. First are those modes of thought identified as modern, rational, and scientificall with origins in the European enlightenment. For scholars working on secularization theory, this trinity has been seen as instrumental for distinguishing religious and non-religious worldviews, the social diffferentiation of religion, and the privatization of religious practice and belief. Next, accomplices to these primary agents would include institutional systems that have developed due to the gradual withdrawal of religious influences from governmental and corporate afffairs. An obvious lineup would include capitalism (in both principle and practice), democracies based on constitutional law, mainstream political parties, science and technology in both public and private sectors, mass information media, academic education, medicalized health systems and so on. However, as a number of authors have noted (Asad 2003; Jakobsen and Pellegrini 2008; Casanova 1994, 2011), there is considerable slippage when Eurocentric models of secularization are called upon in non-Western societies to assess the role of religion in the public sphere. In some cases where European colonization has been resisted, as in Thailand and Japan, alternative and marked forms of religion proved to be a response to the domination of Protestantism (Jakobsen and Pellegrini 2008: 23). These nations showed it was possible to relate to European values shaped by the Enlightenment but not be encompassed by them. While both societies adopted the trappings of European monarchies and parliamentary forms of government, they promoted novel arrangements of religious belief and practice (a kind of state Buddhism in Thailand and the invented tradition of imperial Shint in Japan) that were distinctly their own. For a number of other countries in Asia from the 1960s to 2001, issues of secularization and secularity were volatile public issues exacerbated by ideological conflict (Demerath 2001: 2484). China, Mongolia, Korea, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and India all experienced major political tensions and often outright conflicts about the role of religion in emerging social and political orders. This paper argues that conventional views of secularization and religiosity are only partially helpful in understanding the role of religion in

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contemporary Japanese society. Because we now understand that secularization takes on local expressions and forms, the discussion will highlight cultural norms and social practices that have shaped Japanese society, law, and politics in ways that have decisively curtailed the role of religion in the public sphere. In particular, historical and political legacies coupled with a culturally-specific form of religiosity will be addressed. The discussion will also survey forces that are simultaneously familiar (the usual suspects) and globally invasive, all of which are shaping the relationship between contemporary Japanese society and its religious institutions. My focus will be on contemporary Buddhist temples and priests where the efffects of domestic and global trends afffecting religious afffiliation are already pronounced.1

Historical Contingencies Shaping Japanese Secularity Japanese leaders learned early on that religion could be instrumentally useful as well as openly disruptive in trying to maintain a stable social order. First introduced by their counterparts in the Korean peninsula in the sixth century CE, early Buddhism in Japan was promoted as a wish-fulfilling jewel of great benefit to both rulers and their subjects. By the eighth century, after three hundred years of growing power and influence by Buddhist monks and their temples, the Imperial Court imposed strict regulations for their ordination and conduct, and restricted their mobility to leave the monastery and circulate in society. Despite these rules, monks continued to serve regularly as political advisors and confidants due to their literacy, education, and purported skills to summon sacred power from bodhisattvas and buddhas. Others, such as the famous Gyki (668-749), circulated widely among commoners where he and his followers not only spread Buddhist teachings but also built temples, clinics, irrigation improvements, and assisted the poor and outcaste in numerous ways. Several regimes and five and a half centuries later, new religious movements and their followers openly resisted the power of military rulers intent

This paper was prepared originally for the 2011 Multiple Secularities Conference held at the University of Leipzig, Germany. I would like to thank the conference organizers and, in particular, Philip Clart for providing an opportunity to think about these issues in the context of Asia and contemporary societies worldwide.


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on centralizing and stabilizing political control. After suppressing political insurrections by religiously-inspired militias (ikk-ikki ) based on Jdo Shinsh Buddhism in the mid-1500s, obliterating resistance to the entering the capital by warrior monks on Mt. Hiei in 1571, and ending Christian-inspired armed resistance at Shimabara in the southwest in 1637, the military state consistently monitored the rapid expansion of all religious organizations for the next 250 years.2 Only certain expressions of religion in publicvisiting temples and pilgrimage in particularwere permitted and tolerated. An exception to this general trend began in the mid-nineteenth century following a decisive revolution and brief civil war ending in 1868. A fairly consistent theme emerged among Japans new leaders, one that was to remain at the heart of modernizing and colonizing effforts into the twentieth century: religious expansion (including Christianity) would be allowed, but all religious activity would remain subject to the emperors sacred authority, now extended to the policies of the nation (and its military). Because the state now dictated which religious organizations and activities were considered to be in the best interests of the nation, both civic law and educational curricula justified a coerced participation in state-sponsored religious afffairs as well as a political ideology that privileged Japans superiority over all other Asian nations. This critical juncture came at a moment when the structural conditions of society and a growing emphasis on individuals-as-citizens served as resources for systematic change within a highly condensed historical period (see Kuru 2007: 585). In contemporary Japan as in Europe and North America, secularism (sezoku ) generally refers to an ideological position (backed by political principles) that there should be a negotiated separation of religion from the state. In Japan, the concept first gained traction during the rapid modernization of the country in the late nineteenth century. It was not until Japans defeat in the Pacific War and the advent of a new constitution

I am referring here to three celebrated examples. The first is Oda Nobunagas 1571 attack on Tendai Buddhisms vast complex of temples, libraries, prayer halls and residences on Mt. Hiei (near Kyoto) in which over 3,000 monks, servants, concubines, and retainers were killed. Next is Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshis suppression of the Shin Buddhist militias and their huge temple in Osaka. Finally, the Tokugawa regime had to quell an uprising of over 20,000 masterless samurai and peasants at Shimabara, Kysh in 1638.

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written largely by the Allied Occupation that secularism became a social and political policy of secularization, intended to curtail government patronage of select religious organizations. In particular, the imperial cult and State Shint were the most obvious culprits held responsible for the wartime ideology of sacrifice and submission. But Buddhism and even mainstream Christian denominations were also involved. Their reluctant adaptation to a new kind of social and political system entailed the necessity of support for national policies of military expansion, colonialism, and even war.3 As a result of postwar constitutional law, the secularization (sezokuka ) of Japanese societythat is, both the functional diffferentiation and privatization of religionpicked up momentum. The new constitution guaranteed religious freedom to all citizens for the first time in Japanese history and imposed strict guidelines that curtailed state sponsorship of religious activities and organizations.4 Article 20 states that, No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious acts, celebration, rite or practice. The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity (OBrien 1996: 60). Despite the uncompromising language, Article 20 did not unleash an aggressive secularization but rather a more passive type which is a pragmatic political principle that tries to maintain state neutrality toward various religions (Kuru 2007: 571). Due in part to this offficial attitude, the postwar period saw a proliferation of growth and expansion among a wide variety of new religious organizations, such as Ska Gakkai or
When faced with modernizing and centralizing forces unleashed by a new regime that ended feudalism in the late 1800s, Japanese Buddhists had little choice but to adapt rapidly or face persecution and possible extinction. According to James Ketelaar, Buddhism had been judged by Japans new leaders as heretical...and as socially exterior to the nation and thus deserving censure (Ketelaar 1990: 173). As a result, a cooperation among Buddhist leaders resulted in a trans-sectarian cooperative (Bukky Kakush Kykai ) that helped to transform Buddhism into a modern, cosmopolitan, and socially effficacious institution by adapting elements of Christianity and even social Darwinism (Ketelaar 1990: 214). 4 Some might argue that the 1868 constitution allowed freedom of religious afffiliation. While true up to a point, citizens were instructed in Article 28 that their religious freedom was guaranteed, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects which included upholding the constitution in which the Emperor was named sovereign because of his divine ancestry, unbroken for ages eternal (Ito n.d.).


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Rissh Kseikai . Traditional temple Buddhism likewise expanded significantly into the mortuary industry, as a booming economy created more flexible income to spend on elaborate funerals and graves, outward expressions of a familys rising economic status. It was only in 1995 with the attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinriky religious sect that the government once again tightened existing regulations (implemented in 1952) monitoring the legitimacy, finances, and organizational principles of all religious corporations.

Japans Secularities This brief although cursory history brings us to the first of Japans multiple secularities. Before discussing these examples, it seems prudent to establish some clarity about the use of terms. In the 1960s and early 1970s, secularization was thought to be a universal process shared by all modernizing societies. As science, reason, and market economies grew in influence, the ability of religion to permeate social life with explanatory causes and transcendent purposes diminished proportionally. While this trend has been pronounced in some societies like Europe and North America, scholars now emphasize the diverse and complex nature of secular expressions in society, which are always contingent in how they form and are maintained through social, political, and legal structures. As we pluralize secularization and secularism we must identify what models are already in place in diffferent local and national configurations (Jakobsen and Pellegrini 2008: 25). Any analysis of the relationship between the public role of religion and secular society should be sensitive to the following three features. First, secularity is culturally specific to the historical and political conditions of a particular society and is thus shaped decisively by locality and region. Second, thinking of secularity as locally determined (though certainly not isolated from larger networks of information and power) helps to accommodate wide variations in how religion is conceived in the first place, a particularly important issue for understanding the Japanese situation.5
5 Too often in studies of secularization, religion appears as a received, unambiguous, and unproblematized category, and for the most part is treated as synonymous with certain types of belief (Seth 2009: 307). Anyone studying or observing religious activity in Japan

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Finally, secularities within a society respond to and are reconfigured by changing circumstances brought about through public controversies, debates in the media or in educational settings, and legal cases. To keep the following discussion within manageable limits, I will survey three examples specific to Japan that represent some of the features of secularity just described. The first case is the lingering shadow of empire and the Pacific War. This legacy continues to obscure the separation of state and religion, evidenced in rulings from Japans high and supreme courts. The second example is a uniquely configured sense of religiosity in Japan that surfaces frequently in scholarly literature via opinion surveys. While individual belief and opinions are important in assessing religion in any society, we will see how overemphasizing these aspects ignore social conditions and cultural trends afffecting existing institutions and religious afffiliations. My last example will show how a convergence of unprecedented global forces are accelerating the diminution of religion in the public sphere and are contributing to the decline and possible demise of numerous Buddhist temples. Taken together, these three situationsthe legacy of the Pacific war, diverse religiosity, and newly intrusive social trendsindicate that conventional understandings of secularity and religious practice should be reframed in a dialectical oscillation in which each is contingent on and responsive to the other (Demerath 2000: 2488).

Multiple Secularities via State and Empire The concept of secularism in the West originated as a response to the ways in which powerful and largely autonomous religious organizations (such as the Vatican or Church of England) had become integrated with the political and legal policies of monarchies. According to Ian Ward, secularism is analyzed most fruitfully as a discourse of displacement that fixes citizens reasonable anxieties...on religion, constructed as an anomalous and unstable object in the secular field of public life (Ward 2010: 34). In Japan, however, during the nations rapid modernization from 1868 to 1945, religion as a vital part of secular public life was not considered unstable. It

quickly realizes that using belief rather than practice as a measure of religiosity is highly problematic.


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was the state, and not a dominant religious organization (as in Europe), that appropriated religious legitimacy for itself while at the same time promoting the sovereignty of the Emperor and a dogma of sacred heritage for the nation-state. Japans first constitution after the feudal period, promulgated in 1889, established a political system centered on concepts Westerners usually think of as contradictory: a sacred monarchy with real coercive power, and a representative democracy that was almost entirely secular (Skya 2009: 131). State policies to enhance imperial power via religious institutions and ritualssuch as State Shint (kokka shint ) and Yasukuni Shrine (Yasukuni jinja , the controversial shrine at the heart of the State Shint system), the niinamesai imperial harvest festival, or pacifying the spirits of the military deadreached their apex in 1945. With Japans defeat, the separation of religion and the state came about not through popular demand but via the Allied Occupation. To the common person, their first experience with secularization was less as a policy restricting religion and more as one of a dizzying cluster of changes linked to Japans defeat and subsequent democratization. Japans postwar rebuilding is a prime example of rapid modernization and industrialization taking place without a systematic policy of aggressive secularization eliminating the institutions responsible for wartime ideologies. The period can also be characterized as a time of venture religious activity where it became privatized and diffferentiated, one subsystem among many in a society being restructured (Shiobara 1994: 4). Due in part to constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, some of the pre-war and wartime political and religious alliances promoting imperial rule and a sacred nation-state have persisted long into the postwar period.6 From the 1960s to 2006, a number of groups and individuals have attempted to subvert and reinterpret the postwar constitutions separation clause. There is a wealth of examples where common citizens have sued state agencies and religious organizations over their patronage and favoritism of particular religious expressions linked to nationalism. With cases ranging from taxpayer-funded groundbreaking rituals (jichinsai , see fig. 1) and war memorials, to the states enshrinement of a soldier killed
See Mark Mullins excellent analysis, How Yasukuni Shrine Survived the Occupation: A Critical Examination of Popular Claims (Mullins 2010).

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Figure 1.Shint priest before a groundbreaking ceremony (jichinsai) altar (photo courtesy of Hachiman Shrine, Yokohama, Japan).

in an accident (over the opposition of his Christian wife), to offficial visits by the nations prime minister (and members of his cabinet) to Yasukuni Shrine, each court ruling has been significant in articulating the role of religion in the public sphere. In the groundbreaking ceremony case, the Nagoya High Court ruled in 1972 that an event in the city of Tsu conducted by ordained Shint priests in front of an altar dedicated to a specific deity of the land upon which was to be constructed a municipal gymnasiumwas really not religious but was a traditional folkway and thus a secular (sezokuteki ) activity. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, it ruled in 1977


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that the ritual was not a folkway but was still a secular activity, noting that because of Japans unique religious history, it was impossible to separate what was religious from what was considered secular. The ruling acknowledged that Shint priests were involved, but since they did not preach or proselytize, they were considered to have not engaged in a religious activity (see OBrien 1996; Hardacre 1989). Following the courts logic, Japans Shint shrines nationwide could thus be considered as secular rather than religious institutions in which people participate voluntarily.7 A possible result of this ruling (and one long desired by neo-nationalists) would be a government sponsored centralization of and patronage for shrine Shint, including Yasukuni Shrine and other regional nation-protecting shrines. However, disagreement over the nature of shrines as religious or secular between the nations Shint priests and their central policy board (Jinja Honch , Association of Shint Shrines) in Tokyo efffectively hamstrung any initiative that might have advanced shrines as secular institutions. Although the nations Shint priests disagreed over the possible outcomes of this ruling, conservative and nationalistic politicians within the Liberal Democratic Party saw an opportunity and acted upon it. The Supreme Court ruling was a critical juncture where circumstances and highly motivated actors coincided to produce a series of political moves, all designed to either enhance or restore the political and sacred power of the emperor. (This is probably not what Max Weber had in mind when discussing the reenchantment of the world). A bill had already been introduced in 1969 to reestablish Yasukuni Shrine as nonreligious foundation. Grand ceremonies celebrating emperor Hirohitos fifty years on the throne were held in 1976, paid for with federal funds over the objections of opposition forces both within and outside the government. In 1977, the prewar anthem, Kimigayo (which extols imperial rule lasting forever and says nothing about the actual nation of Japan), was reinstated for offficial occasions (although not passed into law until 1999). In 1979, the government was complicit in the enshrinement of fourteen convicted class-A war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine, while the following year the nation reverted offficially to
7 Elisabetta Porcus work on neighborhood organizations in Kyoto (this issue) indicates that a legally-sanctioned organization, the chnaikai , exerts coercive pressure on residents to contribute financially to Shint festivals.

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counting years according to the reign of an emperor. In 1984, a government committee of lawmakers and legal experts concluded that offficial visits to Yasukuni Shrine could be considered constitutional based in part on the 1977 Supreme Court ruling in the groundbreaking ceremony case. The very next year, then prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro made an offficial visit to Yasukuni, setting offf a firestorm of controversy from Asian nations once occupied by Japanese imperial forces. The 1984 committee report may have also provided Koizumi Junichir , Japans prime minister from 2001-2006, a legal framework for justifying the five offficial and highly controversial visits he made to Yasukuni.

Multiple Secularities and Japanese Religiosity Since the religiosity of the Japanese people has been a key factor in both the High and Supreme Courts rulings, it is worth investigating further how this legacy plays into debates about secularity. The courts logic of how an average Japanese person would regard a groundbreaking ceremony cited both a widespread religious indiffference as well a pluralistic religious consciousness contributing to this unique sense of the secular (OBrien 1996: 92). Scholars of secularization in the West might assume these descriptions apply to the postwar period of religious freedom and rapid modernization. They refer, however, to a centuries-old general tendency in Japan for individuals to seek spiritual and religious benefits (riyaku ) from a variety of traditions, depending on the setting, circumstances, and timing of a persons need. Awareness of and loyalty to the doctrine of a particular religious tradition has been the exception rather than the norm in Japan, except during that period of late nineteenth and early twentieth century imperial rule when the State actively promoted and enforced ideologies about the sacred quality of the emperor.8 For many scholars, the idea of religion as a discrete category of belief and individual practice outside Europe predates the modern period and is tied to global efffects of colonialization (Miyajima 2010). Since arriving in Japan from Europe in the nineteenth century, the concept of religion
8 Both Weber and Foucault have noted that the all-encompassing nature of Christianity meant it did not need to be enforced in any highly-regulated manner or even practiced in a daily way before the Reformation (Jakobsen and Pellegrini 2000: 15).


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(shky or the teachings [ky ] of a sect [sh ]) has been closely connected with political power, organized religions, and religious doctrine. Ono Makoto reminds us that, in the case of Japan, what one calls religion prior to the period of modernization depends almost entirely on the historical period in which the term is to apply (Ono 2011: 1). For example, prior to the Meiji revolution ending in 1868, religious afffiliation as a Buddhist was a social necessity, decreed by the Tokugawa shogunate as a way to control religious activity and monitor beliefs (such as Christianity) deemed subversive to the state. Today, by contrast, religious belief in Japan as in many western countries is a social contingency with secular society as the norm (Gordon 2008: 654). The concept of contemporary religion remains colored by social stigmas derived from religious institutions associations with political power, money-making, excessive recruitment strategies, or even violent or exploitative practices. As a result, the average Japanese tends to view religion in a pejorative sense, thus forming an historical bond with Europeans who envisioned a public sphere free of the entanglements of religious institutions and their power. Scholars relying on surveys for relevant data about the religious beliefs of the Japanese people run a high risk of overstating the role of religion in contemporary society. Michael Roemer has looked at Japanese religiosity as reported in eight, multi-year surveys including the Asian Barometer, the Japanese General Social Surveys, and the World Values Survey. He states that religiosity is used in these surveys as a broad term to encompass a number of rites, beliefs, opinions, and attitudes, and is not exclusively tied to organized religions (Roemer forthcoming). Although the Agency for Cultural Afffairs has for decades been cited by journalists for information related to religious afffiliation, and many scholars have pointed out the inflated nature of these statistics, Roemer argues convincingly that the Agencys data is neither accurate, reliable, nor credible. There is no verification for membership numbers reported by religious organizations, nor is there a single definition of what constitutes membership in one of these groups. Somewhat comically, the Agency reports 108 million believers of Shint, 87 million for Buddhism, 2 million for Christianity, and over 8 million for everything else, totaling 207 million believers in a nation whose population is listed by the World Bank as totaling around 127.5 million (Agency of Cultural Afffairs 2008). In contrast, the Japanese General Social Survey (JGSS) is unique in the sense that, alongside familiar questions about belief and practice, it asks

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whether individuals have a personal or household religious afffiliation as well as the reasons for these afffiliations. Those who reported a personal religion indicated they joined for the purpose of gaining some sort of benefit, such as psychological well-being. A household religion is more of a custom or obligation and is carried out for the benefit of ones ancestors and family heritage. Association with this type of religious practice is likely to be less voluntary than a religion one chooses to join. Out of the JGSS pool of 12,471 respondents drawn from a strategic, multistage probability sample of all 47 prefectures administered in 2005, only 1,317 (10.56%) answered that they have a religion in which they personally believe. In other words, the JGSS finds that less than 11% of the Japanese population identifies personally with a religion. A follow-up question in the JGSS survey inquired about a respondents devotion to a religion, and only 2.5% of the respondents maintained that they were devoted (nesshin ), 8% said they were somewhat devoted, 18.5% said they were not devoted, and the remaining 71% claimed no afffiliation at all (data adapted from Roemer forthcoming). A typical opinion survey assesses religiosity based almost entirely on individual beliefs and practices, an emphasis similar to those found in many polls originating in the West (such as the World Values Survey, considered to be the standard for large surveys, or the Global Barometer Survey). Questions developed for Western respondents are incorporated in many surveys in Japan and Asia in order to have comparatively valid data sets.9 Asking about religious beliefs, periodic but not regular participation at religious institutions (with no mention of membership or regular patronage/visitation), or opinions about the characteristics of religion in a society in which such tendencies have never been the norm thus misrepresent the religiosity of most Japanese. For example, the widely-cited NHK Broadcasting Corporations 2008 survey, conducted once every five years with 3,103 respondents, is a typical example of questions focusing on individual belief and opinion, with no

9 For example, the Asian Barometer Survey requires all country teams (13 from East Asia and 5 from south Asian countries) to comply with the research protocols which Global Barometer network has developed, tested, and proved practical for conducting comparative survey research on public attitudes. Their survey samples are based on 1,200 respondents. (accessed 20 November 2011).


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questions on long-term religious afffiliations.10 Similarly, a 2007 survey on individual religiosity bases its findings on religious behavior, belief in deities, souls, and reincarnation, general religious beliefs and attitudes, and the respondents opinion on the characteristics of religion. Not a single question to 882 respondents deals with institutions, organizations, life-cycle rituals and ceremonies, or membership in a religious tradition. Thus, the author concludes with confidence that his data supports an argument demonstrating the vitality of religion in Japan and that secularization is not occurring in a way detrimental to established religious traditions (Manabe 2007: 17). While there are many ways to interpret survey results, Oddbjorn Knutsen (2004) argues that the most reliable measure of secularization in a society is the percentage of the population who answer the question concerning religious afffiliation with none. According to the Asian Barometer survey of 2005-2006, almost 70% of all Japanese report no religious afffiliation, yet 51.5% believe in an unseen spirit world (Reed 2007). These figures are very close to the JGSS survey which reports that of the roughly 30% of the population afffirming some personal connection with an organized religious tradition, about 22% are Buddhist and less than 1% are afffiliated with either Shint (0.40%), New Religions (0.65%), or Christianity (0.21%) (Tanioka et al. 2005). If we can agree that secularization in a society means the diminished capacity of religious doctrine and leaders to influence social and political institutions, and that the ensuing legal and social institutions of society gradually encode the privatization of religious belief and practice, then the above statistics about religious afffiliation are evidence that Japan has one of the worlds most secular societies. Jos Casanova, one of the leading theorists on secularization and secularity, believes that we have to look beyond the patterns of modernity to assess whether or not a society will develop a predominantly secular orientation to institutions and general worldview. Otherwise, how can one explain the extremes of two Christian-influenced

10 The NHK survey covers a wide range of topics but has only two questions on religiosity out of a total of fifty questions. pdf/090401.pdf (accessed 20 November 2011). See also Ian Readers discussion of the Yomiuri and Asahi newspaper surveys (in this issue).

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societies like the United States (which is modern but still resolutely religious) and Europe (modern but highly secular)? For Casanova, the key feature shaping the degree of secularity within a society is whether its citizens have some historical consciousness that they are progressing from an unhappy past (where religion contributed to oppressive systems of control) towards a sophisticated and liberated future (where religion is securely bracketed by laws that guarantee freedom of choice as a key feature of a democratic government). Casanova argues that a secularist historical...consciousness explains when and where processes of modernization are accompanied by radical secularization (Casanova 2011: 67). Although this perspective is relatively new and untested, it would seem to apply to Japan in ways similar to Europe. With constitutional guarantees that religion and the state should be separated, and that the rights of citizens include the freedom of (as well as from) religion, Japans postwar drive to recover from past missteps point towards a similar type of secularization, evidenced by extremely low levels of individual religious afffiliation.

Multiple Secularities, Globalization, and Japanese Temple Buddhism The visible evidence of the efffects of secularities upon temple Buddhism in Japan is becoming increasingly obvious. Except for prestigious Buddhist temples (supported by revenue derived from tourism) and head temples of a denomination (supported by membership fees from afffiliated branch temples across the nation), regional rural and urban neighborhood temples struggle to cope with a dwindling number of parishioners due to a falling birthrate and an aging population. These are significant domestic causes for the decline of Buddhism nationwide but there are others as well (to be discussed in the next section) which impact the overall dynamic of religious afffiliation in Japanese society in significant ways. Religious institutions of all sizes and in both rural and urban locations, many originating in the feudal period (or before) and survivors of the war and postwar periods, now have to adapt to a society influenced by a transnational economic order, as well as the consequences of trying to domesticate that order (layofffs, temporary workers, outsourcing, and so on). Local conditions such as declining birthrates are still critically important for religious afffiliation but locality itself is constantly informed, interfered with,


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and shaped by regional or global forces (Appadurai 1996: 196). The 1980s in particular marked the beginning of an age of free markets, speed stock trading, instantaneous data transfer, junk bonds, and so onall features that accelerated the economic dimensions of what has come to be called globalization. For many Japanese, globalization as a force originates outside Japan, acting like another version of the kurofune or black ships of Commodore Perry that, in 1853, began pressuring Japanese society to make fundamental changes in how it operates (Iyotani 2002: 49). One scholar noted that the current version of globalization has greatly complicated the study of religion in Japan because it has introduced new notions of spirituality, new cult afffiliations reaching beyond national borders, and broadened the reach of local religious leaders (and opportunists) far beyond their traditional limitations (Sakurai et al. 2011: 101). With over 74,000 temples and 220,000 Buddhist priests nationwide, Japanese temple Buddhismor those Buddhist denominations in existence since at least the sixteenth centuryhas been a significant social and religious presence for the past 500 years. As domestic and global forces afffect the viability of these temples and the livelihoods of their priests, there are few guidelines to follow within Japans traditional Buddhist denominations in dealing with these social and economic complexities. Local priests may reference the doctrines, hierarchies, and religious networks of their denominations, but their institutional autonomy means they will succeed or fail largely on their own initiatives applied to the social context within which their temple is embedded. Sakurai Yoshihide examined data in the 2005 Comprehensive Research Report of Religious Activities for the St Zen denomination. He notes that temples earning less than one million yen annually (or U.S. $13,300) account for 25% of all temples in the denomination. Looking at the breakdown of revenue for a majority of St Zen temples, 85% consists of income derived primarily from funerals and memorial services, with a meager 8% as donations from member households. Sakurai notes anecdotally that a temple with annual revenue of five million yen or less (U.S. $65,000) cannot provide a decent living for a priest and his family, due in large part to the expense required to maintain the temple and living quarters. He calls priests at this level the working poor (Sakurai 2009). As a result, many priests must assume positions in other temples that may also

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not be able to affford a full-time resident priest, or seek work as a teacher or employee of a municipal government. In the recent past, scholars might have called forth a predictable set of secularizing forces to explain the problems facing temples: demographic shifts from rural to urban settings, higher education, individualization and consumer culture, increased rationalization, legal restrictions on religion, and so on.11 While these factors are still important, we must include other dynamics afffecting the viability of religious institutions if we are to pluralize secularity and ground it in specific settings. Many of these influences are harder to identify because they are more culturally and globally difffused. Local factors contributing to a culturally specific type of secularity must therefore be contextualized within larger frameworks having breadth and unpredictability. Our analysis cannot over-privilege the local as a correction to the traditional narratives of secularization theory because, by doing so, we miss key interdependencies that thicken the plot about the diminishing role of religion in the public sphere. After extended interviews with forty-five Buddhist priests from all major denominations, as well as numerous conversations with individuals representing a wide spectrum of religious afffiliation (or lack of it), the following four dynamics now seem obvious to me for their impact on Japanese society, the religious traditions embedded therein, and individual religiosity: a greater tolerance for pluralism, radically new communication technologies, the restructuring of corporate and decision-making processes, and a greater personal agency to chart ones life course. Each one of these dynamics is significant and could be discussed at length for their impact on Japanese society. My purpose is here is to see them as a mutually reinforcing and interactive web of relations and consequences both for the Japanese people and the secular and religious institutions in their midst. The reasons behind a greater social and political tolerance for pluralism and diversity are complex, encompassing fallout from the long projects of multiple modernities, two world wars, colonial agendas, the Cold War, and increased immigration (to name only a few important influences). There is

11 See, for example, the 1979 special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies devoted to secularization and modernity where all these themes appear.


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also, of course, the pluralistic heritage of Japanese religiosity from the Edo period (and before), during which time Japans populace saw Buddhist temples and kami-oriented shrines as complementary. Returning to the contemporary moment, however, in this period of late modernity Charles Taylor (among others) believes we have ended up with historically unprecedented networks of new practices and institutional forms (Taylor 2002: 91).12 Both pluralism and diversity are essential to the democratic principles of human rights and freedom of religion, where (try as they might) no single religious or political organization has a monopoly on religious truths. As we saw earlier, the Japanese state attempted to centralize and monopolize control over religious meanings about the sacredness of the emperor and nation, but the project was relatively short-lived and ended disastrously. The second global trend shaping local secularities in unpredictable ways are new communication technologies. Religious teachings, appeals, and activities can now reach a global audience on the world wide web, but they must compete in a noisy forum of diverse approaches, as well as challenges, to religious belief and practice. Additionally, the rise of digital publishing and social networking has helped to de-centralize traditional centers of authority and control over information. Major denominations still have doctrinal authority, of course, but the world has flattened so that any person or organization with rudimentary computer skills can make their religious and political views heard, and sometimes subvert mainstream agendas.13 Some Buddhist denominations in the Nichiren tradition were
While some scholars insist on using the term postmodern to characterize this new era, we have not left modernity behind as the prefix post would suggest. Just as Eisenstadt argues for multiple modernities (2000), there also appear to be as many continuities as there are disruptions between the earlier periods of certainty and todays increasingly globalized world. James Beckford (2003: 201) has pointed out that many of the fastestgrowing and most dynamic areas of religion are those where clear doctrines, conservative ethics, tradition-centered lifestyles, and authoritative patterns of leadership are dominant. We must remember these conservative movements shape their doctrines, ideologies, and institutions as a form of resistance to the relativism of cherished truths required when living in a multi-ethnic and pluralistic society. 13 We should not assume that internet access to temple services magically creates new members and financial solvency. Websites and blogs such as Higan Net (http://www.higan .net) are conscientious and fun to read, but the founder of the website said his actual temple membership has not increased as a result. Several other young priests I spoke with in the

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hesitant to develop websites for fear of inter-denominational attacks from groups and individuals hostile to their goals (see Bafffelli et al. 2011). Since data, money, and communications now move more seamlessly and at speeds never before imagined, the third global trend contributing to secularization in Japan is corporate restructuring and its efffect on local economies and communities. Financial, manufacturing, service-related (especially NPO and NGOs), and distribution systems have all been afffected. Workers in Japan and elsewhere have been laid offf or seen their positions made into jobs filled by temporary hires ( furt ), a trend exacerbated by a struggling economy and high unemployment. With greater class divisions and less money in circulation, the dynamics of an economic trend of this magnitude have a direct causal efffect upon the finances of smaller temples nationwide. Innovation within corporate spheres has also led to direct competition with temple priests in providing mortuary services, as seen in the giant chain-retailer Aeon developing several categories of funeral services and even graves (see Nelson forthcoming). The last global trend is perhaps the most consequential for Buddhism and secularity in Japan: the idea of a greater personal agency to determine an individuals unique life course. Although it is important to acknowledge that concepts of the self in Japan are ambivalent about influences stemming from western modernity, it is modernity itself that provides both the ground and background for thinking about the self in any culture (Morita 2010: 29). In both western societies and Japan, the grip of class, gender, religion, and local culture has loosened and thus transformed the consciousness of contemporary individuals into an ongoing struggle with the questions of who am I? and what do I want? This type of endless selfexamination is one of the defining characteristics of the modern period (Fujiwara 1998: 38). Popular culture and a variety of media (music, video gaming, social networking, even books and magazines) increasingly influence the range of options considered viable. Many traditional identities once oriented around family, community, and occupation have wilted in

greater metropolitan area of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto said they had tried but then discontinued on-line counseling, prayers, or other virtual temple services. The greatest success for online community building has been in suicide prevention counseling. See Jonathan Watts chapter in Nelson and Prohl (forthcoming).


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the seductive allure of opportunities offfered (as well as those thwarted or denied) by a globalizing world.14 When we assess the interactivity between secularization, the four global dynamics just mentioned, and temple Buddhism in contemporary Japan, we begin to see more clearly a number of causal relationships between local and global trends. Thanks to a greater tolerance for pluralism and diversity, and with increased access to information, higher education, travel, and new ideas generally, individuals have become empowered to explore a range of religious possibilities, opting perhaps for the latest trend in spirituality, or avoiding religion altogether. Japans discerning consumers of religious and spiritual services are now able to seek what they, not their parents or a temple priest, consider to be optimal benefits for investments of their time and money. This tendencyalong with demographic and occupational shiftshas destabilized the financial afffairs of many temples, as parishioners leave or pass away and are not replaced, leaving a more market-driven model for choosing (or opting out of) religious services. One of the most dramatic domestic challenges to Buddhism that surfaced continually in my interviews with priests around central Japan is what several termed their weak relationship with parishioners. Loss of member households is the single major force afffecting the future of temple Buddhism simply because fewer contributions, together with fewer funerals and memorial services, impacts a temples financial stability. The loss of parishioners is usually attributed to domestic factors already mentioned (demographics, changed economic circumstances, shrinking families, and the inertia of Buddhist institutions to keep pace with social change), yet they remain interactive with global economic and cultural trends influencing the privatization and decline of religious afffiliations. A number of priests whose temple membership was shrinking said they rarely knew the specific

This newly developed sense of individualism is not to be conflated with mere personal choice, which is a characteristic of consumers in a crowded marketplace influenced by advertising, status, and product availability. The trend to commodify religion is, of course, influenced by personal choice but it is part of a larger, more complex process at work. Personal religiosity is now negotiated directly with consumer culture and national identity, without a necessary connection to overtly or traditional religious institutions (Schweiker et al. 2010: 367).


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reason why a family ended up leaving their temple. They generally did not make any follow-up inquiries because they wanted to respect the confidentiality and privacy of the family, and because they feared any questioning would be interpreted in a negative way and, if circulated, further damage their bottom line. When I asked priests of modest means (which translates as having fewer than 200 member households at their temple) in both rural and urban areas how they might try to add new parishioners, many interpreted the question to imply proselytizing (fuky )something they felt they could not do because of the lingering repercussions of the Aum Shinriky incident in 1995, when poison sarin gas was released into the Tokyo subway system. Although sixteen years have passed since the subway attacks, religious leaders and institutions in Japan still face a general suspicion that remains high among the general public and mainstream media. A multi-year survey from 1995-2001 among university students nationwide indicated more than half found religion suspicious, with nearly 80% holding negative opinions about religion in general (Inoue 2007).15 A number of priests I spoke with said they felt like they could not advertise temple services or activities because they did not want to adopt tactics used by new religions and exclusive sects, nor did they feel existing temple members would look favorably on this type of activity. Even though their temples financial viability was at risk, several informants indicated they needed to find other sources of income not linked to the wavering conditions of temple membership or services. Most typically, they become employees of a local government or find a position as a full or part-time teacher.

Conclusion Like global warming, the emerging forces that are destabilizing Japanese temple Buddhism and thus diminishing further the role of religious institutions in the public sphere remain easy to dismiss by many elderly Buddhist leaders, with painful consequences for their denominations still a decade

Perhaps some of these attitudes can be attributed to the aftermath of the 1995 Aum incident as conveyed by the mass media and discussed endlessly on talk and news broadcasts.


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or more in the future. But as we have seen, the number of temples closing or merging continues to rise in all major denominations (see Reader in this issue), while generations both young and old shy away from long-term commitments to temple services for funerals and memorials. Temples still dependent for income on ritual services and the sale of graveyard plots recall a similar, rather tenacious dependency on fossil fuels, both with a shrinking time horizon for how long this reliance can be sustained. If ordinary Buddhist temples in Japan are to survive well into the twentyfirst century, their fate rests with individual priests charting a course towards more socially relevant, innovative, and activist forms of their traditions. For local religious leaders especially, diffficult and contentious decisions have to be made by individuals largely unfamiliar with trends of increasing pluralism, new information technologies, corporate restructuring, and greater personal agency among a more mobile population. All of these factors create an expanding climate of secularity in Japan for traditional religious afffiliations. Without a sustained efffort to understand the dynamics at work on religious institutions in Japan, the next two decades will force Buddhist priests into a much-too-close encounter with the fundamental truth of impermanence. Japans secularities challenge conventional understandings about the historical and legal role of religion in the public sphere as well as the very nature of religiosity, and thus extend understanding about the forces afffecting the relationship between religion and society generally. The legacy of Japanese nationalism still surfaces in court rulings about religious freedom and government patronagerulings that subvert the postwar constitutions separation clause but which have not yet been translated into a clear victory for loyalists advocating an imperial ideology. While the courts have issued rulings about what constitutes secular and religious behavior, public opinion polls have likewise advanced views on these topics. This paper has shown that assessing individual attitudes about belief and religious practice as a way to gauge the overall condition of religion in society (and, by default, the strength of secularizing forces) is less useful than observing closely what is actually happening to existing religious institutions, especially Buddhist temples that have been around for three or more centuries. Without this broad perspective, any analysis of religion and the public sphere remains burdened with ideas, paradigms, and concepts better suited for a previous historical period and a very diffferent kind of society.

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