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In Session: Marginal Japan: Rethinking 20th Century Japanese Literature and Culture
3: Bringing the Earthbound Dead Back from the Margins in 21st Century Japanese Religious Non-Fiction
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Florida State University, United States
This paper examines how a concept from Western Spiritualism has found common expression in popular non-fiction books on religious and spiritual themes after the disasters of 2011. “Jibakurei,” literally “earthbound spirit,” is a direct translation of a concept found as far back as the Victorian Period in Western Spiritualism that was translated into and established in Japanese Spiritualist publications by the early 1950s. These spirits of the human dead, trapped on the earthly plane as opposed to able to move on to the spiritual one, were both tormented and tormentors, both pitiful creatures and dangerous ones for those unprepared for such an encounter. Originally a term found in marginalized subcultures focused on the occult, the term started appearing in popular discourse in the 1990s, finally flourishing after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in the writings of psychics, popularizers of Shinto shrine pilgrimage, and newspaper reporters, among others. In this paper, I will briefly trace the history of jibakurei in Japanese discourse, before describing the ways in which the concept of jibakurei has become normalized within parts of Japanese religious discourse, even as it is resisted and dismissed by other Japanese religious authorities. By doing so, I will show how the border between popular consciousness and traditional religion is more porous than often assumed. This paper thus opens new possibilities toward understanding changes in religious worldview in contemporary Japan.