Celebrity Gods

Celebrity Gods: New Religions, Media, and Authority in Occupied Japan

Benjamin Dorman
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    Celebrity Gods
    Book Description:

    Celebrity Godsexplores the interaction of new religions and the media in postwar Japan. It focuses on the leaders and founders(kyōsō)of Jiu and Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō, two new religions of Japan's immediate postwar period that received substantial press attention. Jiu was linked to the popular prewar group Ōmotokyō, and its activities were based on the millennial visions of its leader, a woman called Jikōson. When Jiu attracted the legendary sumo champion Futabayama to its cause, Jikōson and her activities became a widely-covered cause célèbre in the press. Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō (labeledodoru shūkyō,"the dancing religion," by the press) was led by a farmer's wife, Kitamura Sayo. Her uncompromising vision and actions toward creating a new society-one that was far removed from what she described as the "maggot world" of postwar Japan-drew harsh and often mocking criticism from the print media.Looking back for precursors to the postwar relationship of new religions and media, Benjamin Dorman explores the significant role that the Japanese media traditionally played in defining appropriate and acceptable social behavior, acting at times as mouthpieces for government and religious authorities. Using the cases of Renmonkyō in the Meiji era and Ōmotokyō in the Taishō and Shōwa eras, Dorman shows how accumulated images of new religions in pre-1945 Japan became absorbed into those of the immediate postwar period. Given the lack of formal religious education in Japan, the media played an important role in transmitting notions of acceptable behavior to the public. He goes on to characterize the leaders of these groups as "celebrity gods," demonstrating that the media, which were generally untrained in religious history or ideas, chose to fashion them as "celebrities" whose antics deserved derision. While the prewar media had presented otherkyōsōas the antithesis of decent, moral citizens who stood in opposition to the aims of the state, postwar media reports presented them primarily as unfit for democratic society.Celebrity Godsdelves into an under-studied era of religious history: the Allied Occupation and the postwar period up to the early 1950s. It is an important interdisciplinary work that considers relations between Japanese and Occupation bureaucracies and the groups in question, and uses primary source documents from Occupation archives and interviews with media workers and members of religious groups. For observers of postwar Japan, this research provides a roadmap to help understand issues relating to the Aum Shinrikyō affair of the 1990s.10 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3719-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    In 1934, the journalist and critic Ōya Sōichi (1900–1970) wrote an article that depicted leaders of new religions that were active at that time as “star gods” (kamisama sutā).¹ Ōya’s caustic wit runs throughout the piece, which focuses on groups like Ōmoto and Hito no Michi. Despite their popularity, he claimed, these new religions were mere flashes in the pan of modern Japanese society. They looked to their predecessors, the new religions of the Meiji period, to gain their inspiration while promising the public something new. Their leaders enjoyed mass adulation at the time, and were soon to experience...

  5. 1 Renmonkyō and the Meiji Press
    (pp. 24-44)

    On 22 January 1947, poet and children’s story writer Satō Hachirō (1903–1973) wrote an article in his regular column in the newly establishedTōkyō Taimuzuon the subject of the new religion Jiu, which had just become embroiled in what the media were calling the “Kanazawa incident.” Police involvement, arrests, and a shadowy figurehead featured in media reports about Jiu. Rather than focusing on the incident itself, Satō traced a clear line that seemed to connect Jiu to new religions since the Meiji period. Satō wrote: “Since the Meiji period, how many new religions do you think have suddenly...

  6. 2 Deguchi Onisaburō as a Prewar Model
    (pp. 45-65)

    In early 1949, freelance journalist Ōya Sōichi (1900–1970) contributed a series of articles to theTōkyō Nichi Nichi Shinbuntitled “An overview of newly arisen gods” (“Shinkō kamisama sōmakuri”). At this stage of his career, which spanned the prewar and postwar periods and eventually covered five decades, Ōya was concentrating on rebuilding his portfolio after a hiatus from journalism for the first years of the Allied Occupation. He began writing about new religions in 1931, focusing on large groups like Ōmoto and Tenrikyō. In his lead article published on 7 January 1949 in theTokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun, he...

  7. 3 The Birth of Two Celebrity Gods
    (pp. 66-89)

    While large new religions like Ōmoto and Hito no Michi made an impact on prewar Japanese society, there were many other smaller groups that were far removed from the public spotlight. Although they became nationally notorious in the immediate postwar years, the leaders of Jiu and Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō, Nagaoka Nagako and Kitamura Sayo, were virtually unknown to the public during the prewar years. Both women were highly charismatic leaders who inspired intense devotion among their followers. The conditions of pre-1945 society had a significant effect on their identities in terms of their eventual relationships with the public, the...

  8. 4 Bureaucracy, Religion, and the Press under the Occupation
    (pp. 90-119)

    At noon on 15 August 1945, the Japanese emperor, who had never before spoken directly to his subjects, made a radio broadcast to the nation bringing the news of Japan’s defeat. When the Allied Occupation (henceforth referred to as SCAP) took over control after Japan’s surrender,¹ the new regime’s agenda was clear: demilitarization and democratization, which were enforced through a combination of hard-line controls and idealism. SCAP had originally intended to govern Japan directly through a military government, as occurred with Germany in the immediate postwar period. However, this plan changed quite suddenly just before the Occupation and SCAP decided...

  9. 5 Jikōson and Jiu: Battling with Celebrity
    (pp. 120-167)

    Jikōson, who had struggled together with her followers during the prewar years to fulfill her millennial visions that conflicted with official state policy, established herself as the undisputed leader of Jiu by the beginning of the Occupation. Within a few years, she would become notorious for a brief period due to intense national media coverage. The group’s appeals for the emperor to change direction and realize the importance of Jikōson’s message were not unlike the attempts by other individuals in the immediate postwar period to reach out to the imperial family. Yet its methods stood out for their sheer audacity....

  10. 6 Kitamura Sayo: Celebrity in the Maggot World
    (pp. 168-203)

    From the beginning of the Occupation, Kitamura Sayo, who was eventually labeled “the dancing god” in the press, was openly confrontational toward the Japanese authorities and those who opposed her. In her millennial vision, Japan’s surrender was merely a temporary pause in hostilities between the “maggot world,” which included the imperial line, the bureaucracy, intellectuals, and established religions. In contrast to Jiu’s refusal to accept Japan’s defeat and the Occupation, Kitamura welcomed the changes to Japanese society and declared MacArthur to be a divine messenger who dispensed harsh justice to the selfish leaders of the wartime government. The intensity of...

  11. 7 New Religions and Critics in the Immediate Postwar Press
    (pp. 204-233)

    The appearance of Jikōson and Kitamura Sayo in the press as “celebrity gods” coincided with the beginning of the so-called “rush hour of the gods.” As the new laws liberated religious groups and individuals and allowed them unprecedented freedoms, the staff of SCAP’s Religions Division and the Ministry of Education’s Religious Affairs Section attempted to deal with the impact of the new policies. Yet while the term “rush hour” developed from the media, it was not only journalists who focused on new religions. Academics and intellectual elites also contributed to media texts that became part of the reconstituted images of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 234-242)

    In this book I have discussed the multiple ways in which new religions, media and media workers, and various authorities—including government bureaucrats, police, psychologists, and other scholars—interacted, focusing specifically on two cases during the immediate postwar period. In order to make sense of media representations of new religions, I have insisted on taking a historical approach. This is because media, in reporting on new religions, often rely on stories related to groups of the past.

    Focusing on Jiu and Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō, I have argued that the print media of the Occupation and immediate postwar period portrayed...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 243-268)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-287)
  15. Index
    (pp. 288-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)