Sunday, April 03, 2011

The AAS Conference - Religion Goes Pop

I and others of the Samurai Archives community have been attending the Joint AAS-ICAS (The Association for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars) conference currently being held in Honolulu. I have been to many, many lectures over the past four days, and only really now have time to start sorting through my notes to report on what I've seen.  So while the conference is still on, and after, I'll try to update everyone.  LtDomer will also be posting here, so keep an eye out for posts from both of us over the next few days.  I'll start off, well, at the start.  After getting up at an ungodly hour and grabbing a bus to the convention center and meeting up with LtDomer, we went our seperate ways for the first seminar.  I opted for Session 32: Religion Goes Pop: Manga and Religion in Post-1995 Japan to start things off, and it was an interesting subject. Not my regular area of interest, but it was interesting nonetheless.

It started off with Rebecca Suter of the University of Sydney presenting Creative Misreadings of Christianity in contemporary shojo manga. This lecture studied manga that take place during the late 16th and early 17th century, which is a timeframe that I am definitely interested in.  The main subject was portrayals of Amakusa Shiro, both of Makai Tensho fame and as the leader of the Shimabara Rebellion, in shojo manga. Sort of a young, feminized girlie version of what most people know as the demonic resurrector  of Miyamoto Musashi and other historical figures to take on Yagyu Jubei. Amakusa Shiro was apparently considered magical, and among other things could make doves appear from his hands - obviously a useful skill for an undead demon.  The manga in particular that became the subject of this lecture was Amakusa 1637, about a girl who, during the Kobe earthquake of 1995, somehow slips back in time to the Shimabara rebellion, and gets mistaken for Amakusa Shiro (I must have missed what happened to the real Amakusa Shiro in the manga - was he squashed by the girl's farmhouse?) - and uses her skills with a katana, a cellphone and as a Christian to save the day and prevent the violence of the rebellion.  All in all a whacked out concept, but fitting for manga I guess.  Suter's thesis (and I'm going purely by memory and notes here) is that these manga show a few things - 1. that the Japanese sort of idealize a strange unrealistic hybridized pseudo-American version of reality, and 2. that the Japanese have no real concept of Christianity as a religion, but maybe more as a kewl foreign thingy (case in point, "exotic" Japanese weddings done in a church with gaijin priests).  All in all an interesting lecture.

The second lecture was done by Mark MacWilliams, who spoke on Healing Humor—Nakamura Hikaru’s Seinto oniisan (Saint Youngmen).  Another interesting subject, this one tackled the use of Jesus and the Buddha in a lighthearted, non-religious capacity in manga.  I had never heard of this manga, but apparently Jesus and the Buddha are roomates in a suburb of Tokyo, and just hang out doing regular stuff, and good-natured hijinx ensues (did I just hear someone say WTF?).  Now, these manga apparently don't actually have any religious over or undertones, but still portray the sort of morality that Jesus or the Buddha stands for, and people read this manga, and feel better about themselves and life.  I guess the point here is that spiritual healing can be done via these religious figures outside of any actual religious context - in other words, watching Jesus and the Buddha navigate day to day life like any other regular Joe (Taro?) can be an inspirational thing.

Moving along to the third lecture done by Erica Baffelli, University of Otago, New Zealand, it was titled New Religions in/and manga, and this one was fascinating.  It detailed the use of manga to help explain and introduce "new religions" (read: cults).  Among others, Aum Shinrikyo (I  believe they also went by "The Light of Truth) used these manga, and I was treated to images of the stringy bearded, greasy haired cult leader Asahara Shoko on the cover of these manga.  I was in Japan during the Sarin gas attacks, and remember well the news images of this chubby blind guy who looked homeless bouncing up and down trying to fly, and to see him on a manga is pretty humorous (The only humor to be found in an otherwise bad situation).  My first immediate thought was that I bet you could pull in a ton for these Asahara Shoko manga on eBay- my second thought was to find myself a copy, but sadly, no cult manga on eBay today.  That aside, there was also mention of an Aum Shinrikyo cartoon that was comedically remixed with the Evangelion theme song, which I was able to find on YouTube, but admittedly I enjoyed the Doraemon version way more.

And, lastly, a very interesting lecture by John A. Shultz of Kansai Gaidai University titled Squiggly Seichi: Pilgrimage Rendered in Manga and Manga Pilgrimage, (I apparently missed what a squiggly seichi is) which essentially compared religious pilgrimage in Japan (typified by the pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku originally undertaken by Kobo Daishi), to the pilgrimages that crazy otaku manga fans undertake to visit places that show up in their favorite manga.  Basically, otaku spend a lot of time pinpointing real-world locations they find in manga, then they dress up as the character depicted in said manga, and proceed to make a pilgrimage to all of the places that they were able to find in the manga that have real-world counterparts.  I guess they then take pics flashing the peace sign, and go home.  This is apparently similar to people who dress as Kobo Daishi and travel the 88 temples (not sure if they dress "as" Kobo Daishi, or just wear religious garb.  And presumably some do neither, but anyway).  All in all, for this first seminar, I essentially just needed something to fill space since nothing particularly jumped out at me, and it was worth it.

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