Intensive Course at Kwansei Gakuin University 関西学院大学の集中講義

I have just completed an intensive course at Kwansei Gakuin University’s Graduate School of Sociology (Folklore and Anthropology Department) from February 24th thru the 28th. Over the course of fifteen lectures, the graduate students and I explored various topics under the broad themes of Japanese shamanism, Japanese rural society, Rites of passage, and Anime pilgrimages. My gratitude goes out to Prof. Shimamura Takanori for his kind invitation for me to lecture, as well as the graduate students who untiringly engaged with me throughout the 6 hour lecture days.

2月24日から28日までの関西学院大学社会学研究科(民俗学と人類学)での集中講義が無事に終わりました。 講義の中で日本のシャーマニズム、日本の農村社会、通過儀礼、アニメ聖地巡礼、ディジタル・フォークロアなどの幅広いトピックに関して講義をしました。 関西学院大学島村恭則先生、そして大学院生の皆さまに大変感謝しております。



Book Review 書評 Imai Nobuharu’s “The Threshold between Otaku Culture and Religion: Information, Consumption, and Place”

I had the honor of reviewing for the Imai Nobuharu’s 今井信治 book titled “Otaku bunka to shūkyō no rinkai: Jōhō, shōhi, basho o meguru shūkyō shakaigakuteki kenkyū” 『オタク文化と宗教の臨界—情報・消費・場所をめぐる宗教社会学的研究』(“The Threshold between Otaku Culture and Religion: Information, Consumption, and Place,” 2018. Kyoto: Kōyōshobō) for the Journal of Religion in Japan.

Review: Journal of Religion in Japan 8 (2019), 179-224. Journal link

Imai Nobuharu


Public Lecture 公開講座 「心のケアの多様性―東北地方の巫女(シャマニズム)をめぐって」


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Repose for Tea Whisks 茶筅供養

Bamboo tea whisks, known as chasen 茶筅, are delicately crafted tools which produce many a fine cup of tea. On occasion, memorial services are given to those whisks who have retired from service.  In Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture on June 4, 2010,  I witnessed as a small group of devotees to the art of making tea bid farewell to their whisks which were sent off through a ritual burning.

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A sign announces the memorial service for tea whisks.

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Numerous tea whisks are set upon a temporary altar.

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Fresh fruits and vegetables as well as sake are given as memorial offerings.

Kanazawa kuyo

Prayers are given to the tea whisks.

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Tea whisks are placed into the brazier.

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The altar lies bare as the last of the smoldering whisks receive a final prayer.

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An offering of tea and sweets lies in front of the stone memorial for departed tea whisks.

Translation 翻訳: Prof. Mutsuhiko Matsuda’s “Occupational and Environmental Folklore”

The word seigyō 生業 translates as occupation, work, or living in English. I had the privilege of translating Prof. Mutsuhiko Matsuda’s paper based on his research into occupational folklore. The translated paper titled “Occupational and Environmental Folklore” has been published in the Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology (Volume 19, Issue 2, 2018,  pp. 35-62).  Released September 4, 2019, it is now available online. PDF link


Fishmonger selling in Himi, Toyama Prefecture. (Photo unrelated to article)

cattle breeder

Cattle breeders in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture. (Photo unrelated to article)

Yamanokami Shrine 山神社

yamanokami shrine

The mountain goddess enshrined at Yamanokami Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture’s Misato Town is known far and wide for her efficacy in relation to childbirth. Women have long come to the shrine to borrow a tiny pillow which they take home to ensure an easy and uneventful, that is safe, delivery of their baby. They return the pillow after their child has been born. Many believe that the color of the pillow (red, white, and blue) correlates to the sex of the child, but the priest explained that from the perspective of the shrine the color has no such meaning. The display of phallic offerings in the anterior of the main building attests to the shrine’s strong connection to fertility. Alongside those is another point of interest, a stuffed bear, which is a curious but amusing artifact. During the summer, many visitors come to take a stroll through the multicolored hydrangea in the garden.


Tiny pillows are dedicated on top of the offertory box.

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Conference presentation 学会発表

I presented at the 61th Annual Meeting of the Association for Indology and the Study of Religion on June 9, 2019 at Tenri University. The translated title of my presentation is as follows: “The People Searching for Happiness: A Case Study of the ‘Natsume Yujincho’ Anime Pilgrimage.

私は2019年6月9日に第61回印度学宗教学会学術大会(於 天理大学)にて「幸せを求める人たちー『夏目友人帳』の聖地巡礼を事例にー」というタイトルで発表しました。

20190609 presentation top


New Article: Votive Prayer Tablets 小絵馬

I have written an article offering a detailed analysis of one shrine’s koema 小絵馬,  small wooden prayer tablets. The article additionally provides a history of the research on koema that have focused not on illustrated prayers (as was traditional), but rather on written prayers, which is the form that predominates today. The article can be found in the Journal of Human Informatics which is published annually by The Institute for Research in Human Informatics at Tohoku Gakuin University. PDF link

Article: “A Comprehensive Survey of Small Votive Prayer Tablets” Journal of Human Informatics (人間情報学研究), Vol. 24, 2019, 15-34.

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Miho Shrine in Shimane 美保神社

Definitely worth visiting, Miho Shrine located in Shimane Prefecture is the main shrine for Ebisu, one of the Seven Gods of  Fortune. Ebisu, who is often pictured with a fishing rod in hand, brings luck to fishermen. The connection is strongly felt at Miho Shrine. The shrine was historically a stopping point for boats passing out to sea.

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Votive prayer tablets. Many with wishes for a good catch or success in business.

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Ritual blessing.

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An offering of a three dimensional replication of a ship for an abundant catch.

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Lost at sea 失せ物

Anchors, knives, and other tools, having fallen into the depths of the ocean water, present a problem for fisherman. It breaks the taboo against dropping metal objects into the sea, something that is likely to enrage Ryujinsama, the serpent like water deity. Laying on the bottom, reflecting light, these lost articles known as usemono 失せ物 could scare of the fisherman’s catch. So what to do? Renderings of the lost articles are drawn and offered at the local shrine in order to appease the protectorate deities of the sea.

Usemono shrine

Shrine building.


Hand drawn prayer offerings for a lost knife and hook are posted on the walls.


Commonly lost objects are anchors. We also see that more than one object may be lost.  Note that the name of the ship is always written, but the dedicator’s name or the date are optional.