Religion and politics in modern Japan: continuity and change in the clothing of Shinto deities Weekly seminar of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP) taking place at the St Mary's College Hall
Consciously or unconsciously, what we wear and what we put on others are culturally, socially and politically constructed. This talk studies the way in which the clothing of Kami (Shinto deities) is depicted in order to examine a close connection between political decisions and religious manifestations in modern Japan, as the dress of Kami reveals the idea of Kami the author and/or the time.
To set the scene, the talk first explains the dilemma of definitions of religion in Japan, and complex pictures of Shinto, which is usually considered to be the Japanese ancient, indigenous religion, as well as Kami. It goes on to compare the depiction of Kami clothes in two key turning points in Japanese modern history: the Meiji era (1868 to 1912) and post-war period. The imperial rule was restored in 1868 after nearly 700 years of samurai-governed periods to deal with the immediate threat represented by the Western colonial powers. Shinto became an ideological tool for modernisation through emphasising the divine origin of the Emperor. In doing so, Kami in Meiji are often put in Japanese ancient costumes underlining the royal-divine connection.
The discussion will then analyse the way in which the clothing of Kami is depicted in manga (Japanese comics) in the post-war period. Following the defeat of Japan in WWII, the GHQ of the Allied Forces forbade teaching Shinto at state schools in 1945 and requested Showa Emperor Hirohito to issue the Humanity Declaration in 1946 to deny his divinity. Manga authors, usually without any systematic background in Shinto, often depict Kami as beings similar to humankind. Many Kami in manga appear in a human shape and are dressed in a wide range of clothes from Japanese ancient costumes and kimono, to Western clothes and school uniforms.
Through an examination of continuity and change in depiction of Kami dress against the backdrop of rapid social and political change, this talk attempts to analyse the relationship between politics and religion in modern Japan.