Charlene Humpherys and Greg Wilkinson, Department of Political Science
Japan is known worldwide for its rich and complex history and culture as well as its rankings as a global frontrunner in the fields of economics, globalization, education, technology, entrepreneurship, quality of life, and cultural influence.1 Fascinating to many political theorists is how socioeconomic prosperity within thriving countries changes their societal principles and policies. Renowned political scientist Dr. Ronald Inglehart crafted the economic theory of postmaterialism, which states that because of their increased physical and financial security, Western states adapted to social values that emphasized autonomy and individualism.2 In my Orca proposal I outlined my plan to study how this theory translates to modern Japan. There are notable differences in how post-materialism is interpreted in Japan when compared to Western ideals; for instance, Japanese feminist movements focus less on the individual and more so on collective wellbeing.3 Taking into account my own Western perspective, I wanted to travel to Japan to study firsthand how the deeply embedded ancient religions of Japan have impacted feminism and post-materialist standards in Japanese culture today.
The funding provided by my ORCA grant was spent on travel, living, and tuition expenses for an eight-week academic program organized and carried out by Professors Jack Stoneman and Van Gessel in the Japanese department. The program consisted of six weeks in Kyoto, the cultural cornerstone of Japan, as well as two weeks of travel, from the northwest coast of Nagasaki to the far Eastern capital of Tokyo. Much of the budget was also spent in providing entrance into some of Japan’s most prominent temples, museums, gardens, shrines, and other sites of major historical and religious importance, including Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji, Todai-ji, Kotoku-in, Horyu-ji, Ryoan-ji, Inari jinja, and Sanjusangen-do. When not exploring, we studied with our faculty representatives and live-in sensei, Travis Huntsman, who graduated from BYU with a degree in Japanese, and his wife Asuka, a native-born Japanese citizen. I was able to receive oneon- one assistance on my research and writing while simultaneously being taught the language, customs, mythology, traditions, and even a look into Japanese gender studies.
The mentoring environment in question was ideal for the completion of my proposed project and the formation of my paper. I was fortunate to also receive assistance from several returned missionaries from different parts of the world who served in Japan or were of Japanese heritage. One of my fellow study abroad students, Liddy Nelson, directed me to an interesting current event regarding a feminist artist who had been arrested for indecency after using 3D scanning to create a kayak inspired by her genitalia in a cheeky attempt to “demystify” taboos about female sexual organs in Japan.4 This standard contrasts greatly from the sanctioned and exuberant Kanamara and Honen Matsuri festivals, which both use the phallus to an extreme in their celebration of fertility, sexual health, and marital prosperity.5 This type of double standard regarding religion and womanhood helped me set the stage for further analysis of religion and women’s issues.
On the other hand, I was also able to see how Japanese religions went hand-in-hand with postmaterialist values. One of the significant sites I was able to visit was The Tale of Genji Museum, which provided a fascinating glance into the Heian period. It was during this era that Chinese Buddhism reached its peak in Japan.6 This period is also noted for its poetry and literature, most of which was produced by women aristocrats. Ichiyo Higuchi, author of The Tale of Genji, is featured on the 5000-yen banknote, a feat America has yet to achieve. I was also able to witness religious rites performed by shrine maidens, or Miko, priestesses that have a fundamental and sacred duty pertaining to shrine rituals. They are entrusted with the revered Kagura dance, a tribute to Ame no Uzume and Amaterasu, goddesses of mirth and the sun respectively.7 During my study of the Otani sect of Shin Buddhism, I discovered that the Buddha had ordained his stepmother, Mahapajapati, and opened his teachings to women, which went against every cultural norm at the time.8 Also included in my paper are the very different policies, norms, and histories in Japan regarding language, reproductive rights, motherhood, employment, suffrage, and ordainment, and how they are and have been influenced by religion, and how they compare to social paradigms in the West. One thing I have learned from my travels is the importance of not viewing foreign cultures as incorrect but simply different when they behave or believe differently than I do. It is my hope that I have emulated that sentiment in my writing.
The prime objective of my proposal was to better understand the relationship between ancient religious traditions and modern policies not only in Japan, but also in my own Western upbringing. Secondly, I hoped that my experiences would lead to a well-developed academic paper that I would prepare for presentation and eventual publication. Many aspects of my paper were perfected in Julie Radle’s writing class with her personal guidance as well as additional assistance from a number of peer readers and Dr. Hozapfel in the Religion Department. Though not yet complete, I plan to submit my final paper for publishing in 2017.
The link between religious traditions and current policies regarding women’s issues has essential implications for understanding not only other countries but also our own homeland and this university. We must continue to increase our awareness of how our native religions shape culture and politics. I am extremely grateful, not only for the opportunity I had to apply for and receive this grant, but for the experience abroad it provided and the guidance of the BYU Study Abroad Program and its excellent professors. I have high hopes for the continued success of this project and my future research in the fields of religion and policy.
1 US News. 2016. Best Countries Report. http://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/japan#ranking-details.
2 Inglehart, Ronald. 1997. “Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies.” Vol. 19. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
3 Buckley, Sandra. 1997. Broken Silences: Voices of Japanese Feminism. University of California Press. (February):63-70.
4 Louella-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith. 2016. “Megumi Igarashi Found Guilty of Obscenity Over ‘Vagina Kayak’
5 ABC. 2001. “The World Today Archive: Japan’s Festival of the Steel Phallus.” ABC.net.au.
6 Kitagawa, J. 1966. Religion in Japanese History (New York: Columbia University Press.)
7 Aston, William George. 1972. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earleist Timesto A.D. 697 1: 44. North Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.
8 Tsomo, Karma Lekshe. 2000. Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Vol. 15. Psychology