Holy Ghosts

Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction

Rebecca Suter
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 208
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    Holy Ghosts
    Book Description:

    Christians are a tiny minority in Japan, less than one percent of the total population. Yet Christianity is ubiquitous in Japanese popular culture. From the giant mutant "angels" of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise to the Jesus-themed cocktails enjoyed by customers in Tokyo's Christon café, Japanese popular culture appropriates Christianity in both humorous and unsettling ways. By treating the Western religion as an exotic cultural practice, Japanese demonstrate the reversibility of cultural stereotypes and force reconsideration of global cultural flows and East-West relations.

    Of particular interest is the repeated reappearance in modern fiction of the so-called "Christian century" of Japan (1549-1638), the period between the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries and the last Christian revolt before the final ban on the foreign religion. Literary authors as different as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Endō Shūsaku, Yamada Fūtarō, and Takemoto Novala, as well as film directors, manga and anime authors, and videogame producers have all expressed their fascination with the lives and works of Catholic missionaries and Japanese converts and produced imaginative reinterpretations of the period. InHoly Ghosts, Rebecca Suter examines the popularity of the Christian century in modern Japanese fiction and reflects on the role of cross-cultural representations. Since the opening of the ports in the Meiji period, Japan's relationship with Euro-American culture has oscillated between a drive towards Westernization and an antithetical urge to "return to Asia." Exploring the twentieth-century's fascination with the Christian century enables Suter to reflect on modern Japan's complex combination of Orientalism, self-Orientalism, and Occidentalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5500-0
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Modern Japan is arguably the country with the smallest proportion of Christian believers in the First World; the number of Japanese citizens affiliated with a Christian church of any denomination today is estimated at less than 1 percent of the entire population. However, Christianity is ubiquitous in popular culture and often subject to highly creative interpretations, from the giant mutant “angels” of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise to Tokyo’s Christon Cafe, where customers can enjoy Jesus-themed cocktails surrounded by religious paraphernalia; from Miuchi Suzue’s occult comics of the 1970s to Fujiki Rin’s light novel series Vatican Miracle Examiner (2011, ongoing)....

  5. CHAPTER 1 Contexts
    (pp. 8-38)

    To position the creative use that modern authors made of Kirishitan culture within the broader context of what I describe as the “Japanization of Christianity,” it is useful to begin with a survey of the social and political developments of the period as well as of some significant scholarly analyses of their ideological implications.

    Japan’s first encounter with Christianity happened at a time that was highly charged in both European and Japanese history. In Europe, the departure of the missionaries for Japan was the result of two defining events in modern history: the inauguration of the so-called age of great...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A Poetic Religion Full of Paradoxes
    (pp. 39-71)

    The most famous appearance of the Christian century within modern Japanese literature is arguably in the works of Catholic author Endō Shūsaku, notably his novelChinmoku(Silence, 1966), which depicts the hardship of persecutions and the resultant moral dilemmas of both Japanese and European Christians. In particular, Endō’s portrayal of missionary and apostate Christovão Ferreira played an important role in bringing the image of the early Kirishitan to the attention of the Japanese public in the postwar period. His works also exerted considerable influence on later representations by non-Christian authors, as we will see.

    The early twentieth century, however, had...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Martyrs, Apostates, and the Modern Japanese Subject
    (pp. 72-107)

    In “Saihō no hito,” revisiting the trajectory of his interaction with the Christian religion, Akutagawa famously stated that after an initial attraction to Christian art, he developed an interest in Christian martyrs because “their psychology, or for that matter the psychology of all sorts of fanatics,” aroused in him “a morbid interest” (ARZ15: 246). Curiously, however, very few of his Kirishitan stories deal with actual martyrs, and none with renowned ones such as the “twenty-six of Nagasaki.” While some of the texts describe the death of Kirishitan converts, they deal with figures that are difficult, if not impossible, to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Resurrection as Zombie Revolution
    (pp. 108-137)

    The dynamics of cultural negotiation and self-representation at play in Japanese public discourse and media of the postwar years show both continuities and discontinuities with prewar ones. An element that emerged in the 1950s and acquired great significance in the 1970s and 1980s was the tendency on the part of both local and foreign media to characterize Japanese culture as exceptional/exceptionalist. The idea that Japanese culture was inherently particularistic was first popularized by works of North American cultural anthropology and historiography of the early postwar years, such as Ruth Benedict’sThe Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which presents particularism as one...

  9. CHAPTER 5 From Counter-Orientalism to Queer Spirituality
    (pp. 138-168)

    Whereas the works examined in chapter 4 were aimed primarily at a male audience, beginning in the 1990s and even more so in the new millennium the character of Amakusa Shirō was appropriated by the world of girls’ culture, including but not limited toshōjomanga, comics aimed at a young female audience. This shift was affected by, and affected in turn, Japanese social and political transformations and concurrent public perceptions of gender, culture, and religion. If the economic boom of the 1970s and 1980s had benefited unevenly the Japanese people, the economic recession following the burst of the financial...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-174)

    In the 1990s, Marilyn Ivy famously remarked that in Japan contemporary discourse on national identity invariably focuses on the country’s relationship with the West, and that therefore “Japan is literally unimaginable outside its positioningvis-à-visthe West” (Ivy 1995, 4). Ivy examined the development of the field of Japanese ethnology in this perspective, arguing that while in the nineteenth century folklore studies were popular in many countries, what makes the case of Japan peculiar is that nativism “was concerned with preserving the traces of a folkic world not only as a representation of the unwritten essence of ethnic Japaneseness, but...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 175-182)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 183-190)
  13. Index
    (pp. 191-194)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-199)