Enchanting modernity : religion and the supernatural in contemporary Japanese popular culture



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This thesis examines the ways in which popular culture reveals, and shapes, religious thinking in contemporary Japan. Through an investigation of popular culture including animated films (anime) and graphic novels (manga), and the cultural processes related to their production and consumption, it explores how and why popular culture in Japan is acting as a repository for ideas and images relating to religion, the supernatural, and the human and non-human agents who mediate them.

Popular culture is important not only for the ways it discloses contemporaneous cultural trends, but because it acts in dialogic tension with them. In Japan, where society has grown increasingly secularized since at least the middle of the twentieth century, an overwhelming majority of citizens consider themselves non-religious. Surveys have consistently indicated that only a small percentage of respondents identify as actively Shintō, Buddhist, Christian or some other religious affiliation. At the same time, depictions of religious images and themes have grown exponentially in popular culture such that a recent internet search on “anime” plus “kami” (a Shintō deity) produced an astounding 20,100,000 hits. Clearly, religion continues to play a crucial role in the popular imagination.

This juncture of popular culture and personal religious identity in contemporary Japan raises a number of questions discussed in the following chapters. What benefits do consumers derive from the treatment of religious themes in anime and manga? What do depictions of religion in popular media indicate about the construction of religious identity in Japan? Why the disparity between religious identification survey results and cultural consumption of religious themes and images? In short, what are the ways in which popular culture in Japan reveals ideas about religion and the supernatural, and in what ways does popular culture actively shape those conceptions?