Identity at the Crossroads of अवतार and Avatar: What’s Real about Hatsune Miku?

Hatsune MikuAs a young lad in the 1984, I listened to the song by Rez Band that asked “Who’s Real Anymore?” Wendy Kaiser’s answer implicitly raises Holden Caulfield’s indictment of “phony” against the evangelists of her time. According to Kaiser, their televised personalities were not really Christian because their bottom line was money rather than real evangelism.

Intellectual discussions about real versus not-real begin long before the 1980s. These discussions track along different lines, too. Questions concerning claims about reality have been topics in the histories of philosophy from around the world. Debates about realism and non-realism are debated among the sciences, social sciences and humanities. Philosophers of religion concern themselves with this issue, as well as critical theorists who variously engage arguments such as Carl G. Hempel’s Theoretician’s Dilemma.

An interesting example arose in my class, “Survey of Asian Religions,” where many students met the pop star Hatsune Miku for their first time. Miku is perhaps the most successful and prolific pop artist in human history. Already famous in Japan, Miku’s introduction to many North American fans tour was as the opening act for Lady Gaga’s ARRTPOP Ball in 2014, where she appeared just as Tupac Shakur did in 2012 at Coachella. She has hundreds of songs in English now available on Bandcamp as well as full albums on on iTunes and Amazon. She has over 4,000 commercially available songs as well as thousands more available non-commercially.

Continue reading

Why Do They Touch the Phallus? Or, Diverging Theories of Ritual

One night during my fieldwork among Brazilian migrant communities in Japan, I was invited to a dinner at Daniel’s apartment. He and his girlfriend frequented a local Brazilian evangelical church that I was studying. After the dinner, they started talking about the “strange festival” in Komaki, a city one-hour drive away from where they lived. The festival took place the previous week (on March 15 2014) and they came across its footage online. The Hōnen Festival at Tagata Shrine is best known for its 280 kg (620 pound), 2.5 meter (96 inch)-long wooden phallus, which is carried around on the streets during the celebration. The object is supposedly the embodiment of prosperity, bountiful harvest, and fertility. The youtube video above can give you some idea of what Daniel and Sachi saw.

“Nossa (Wow)! These women flock to the phallus and try real hard to touch it! They think they can get pregnant that way!” They exclaimed in a critical tone. Laughing hard at the whole comicalness of this festival, I responded, “Ah, c’mon, it’s just fun, that’s why most people try to touch it! Do you really think these Japanese women believe in it?”

Yes!” They answered.

Continue reading

Backstory: Prof. Suma Ikeuchi

Suma Blog

Backstory” is a series that asks the REL Faculty to tell us a little bit about themselves, to explore how they became interested in the academic study of religion and their own specialty, elaborating on their current work both within and outside the University. Continue reading

Prof. Ikeuchi to Screen Her Research

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.39.28 AM

Our newest addition to the REL faculty, Prof. Suma Ikeuchi will screen her ethnographic film “In Leila’s Room” at the 2016 Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival. Here’s a brief description of the film:

A young Brazilian migrant woman, Leila, runs a small make-up salon in her apartment in Toyota City, Japan. Most of her clients are, like herself, Brazilians of Japanese descent who have return migrated to the land of their ancestors. Her small salon is also a social hub of evangelical women in the local Brazilian migrant community who come in for good make-up and conversations. In this intimate space, Leila, her fellow migrants, and the filmmaker speak about and act out their complex identities.
Shot almost entirely in one room, the film captures migrants’ sense of identity and belonging by witnessing the interactions between Leila, the filmmaker, her family and friends, and the clients. What defines being Japanese, Brazilian, or Japanese-Brazilian? How does generational identity shape transnational belonging? How can one rely on God in the face of ethnic discrimination and social alienation? The scenes and dialogues speak to these issues that migrants constantly grapple with.

The film will be screened at the festival in Minneapolis, MN this November. Congratulations, Prof. Ikeuchi!

SVAFF_2016-Call-for-Entries1

New Hire in REL

ikeuchi

We’re extremely pleased to announce that, as of August 2016, we will have another new colleague in REL.

Suma Ikeuchi is currently a doctoral candidate at Emory University, where she will receive her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology in May 2016. She also has an M.A. in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a B.A. in both History and Anthropology from Hokkaido University, Japan. Continue reading

An Interview with Dr. Jolyon Thomas Part 2

Drawing-on-Tradition-cover-big

The conclusion to our interview with Dr. Jolyon Thomas, our third Day Lecturer, is now ready! Don’t miss this final installment, where he discusses his current projects and gives insight on where he feels the field of religious studies in pop. culture is going.

A Few Moments with Jolyon Thomas Part 2 from UA Religious Studies.

If you missed the first part of the interview, you can catch it here.

Stay tuned for Dr. Thomas’ Day Lecture, coming soon!

An Interview with Dr. Jolyon Thomas Part 1

ThomasJ

Last month the REL film crew met up for a quick chat with Dr. Jolyon Thomas, the third speaker in our annual Day Lecture. The video from this interview is now up and ready to go, so be sure to check it out and learn more about Dr. Thomas’s background, his career, and how his interest in Japanese pop culture began!

A Few Moments with Jolyon Thomas from UA Religious Studies.

Ready for Part 2? You can find it here. Stay tuned for the Day Lecture, coming soon!

Immediate Relativism

Rorschachby Hannah Etchison

Hannah Etchison, a graduating senior majoring in Religious Studies with a minor in Asian Studies, spent six weeks of this fall in India, staying primarily at a monastery where she learned from the women staying there and helped them with their English. Don’t miss her previous posts about her experiences (Hannah Goes to India 1, Hannah Goes to India 2, iPhones, Monks and the Images We Construct)

Indian food is way better than Japanese food.

This Buddhist temple smells exactly like the temples in Japan. Continue reading

Please (Don’t) Take One

tokyomissionaryIn 2005 I had the good fortune to attend a conference in Japan. Out exploring a little corner of the city one afternoon, I crossed one of those stereotypically busy Tokyo intersections that you sometimes see in the movies — me, my friend Willi, and hundreds of other people — and, on the side we were all heading toward, I spied two clean-cut, blond-haired young white guys in white shirts, black pants, and conservative ties, standing side-by-side and handing out something to everyone who walked by.

You guessed it: American Mormon missionaries. Continue reading