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Celebrity Gods

New Religions, Media, and Authority in Occupied Japan

Benjamin Dorman

Publication Year: 2012

Celebrity Gods explores the interaction of new religions and the media in postwar Japan. It focuses on the leaders and founders (kyōsō) of Jiu and Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō, two new religions of Japan’s immediate postwar period that received substantial press attention. Jiu was linked to the popular prewar group Ōmotokyō, and its activities were based on the millennial visions of its leader, a woman called Jikōson. When Jiu attracted the legendary sumo champion Futabayama to its cause, Jikōson and her activities became a widely-covered cause célèbre in the press. Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō (labeled odoru shūkyō, “the dancing religion,” by the press) was led by a farmer’s wife, Kitamura Sayo. Her uncompromising vision and actions toward creating a new society—one that was far removed from what she described as the “maggot world” of postwar Japan—drew harsh and often mocking criticism from the print media.

Looking back for precursors to the postwar relationship of new religions and media, Benjamin Dorman explores the significant role that the Japanese media traditionally played in defining appropriate and acceptable social behavior, acting at times as mouthpieces for government and religious authorities. Using the cases of Renmonkyō in the Meiji era and Ōmotokyō in the Taishō and Shōwa eras, Dorman shows how accumulated images of new religions in pre-1945 Japan became absorbed into those of the immediate postwar period. Given the lack of formal religious education in Japan, the media played an important role in transmitting notions of acceptable behavior to the public. He goes on to characterize the leaders of these groups as “celebrity gods,” demonstrating that the media, which were generally untrained in religious history or ideas, chose to fashion them as “celebrities” whose antics deserved derision. While the prewar media had presented other kyōsō as the antithesis of decent, moral citizens who stood in opposition to the aims of the state, postwar media reports presented them primarily as unfit for democratic society.

Celebrity Gods delves into an under-studied era of religious history: the Allied Occupation and the postwar period up to the early 1950s. It is an important interdisciplinary work that considers relations between Japanese and Occupation bureaucracies and the groups in question, and uses primary source documents from Occupation archives and interviews with media workers and members of religious groups. For observers of postwar Japan, this research provides a roadmap to help understand issues relating to the Aum Shinrikyō affair of the 1990s.

10 illus.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book began with a discussion in 1997 at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture with Robert Kisala, who suggested an investigation of the Occupation period. Through him I was able to spend time at the University of Tokyo under the guidance of Shimazono ...

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pp. 1-23

In 1934, the journalist and critic Ōya Sōichi (1900–1970) wrote an article that depicted leaders of new religions that were active at that time as “star gods” (kamisama sutā).1 Ōya’s caustic wit runs throughout the piece, which focuses on groups like Ōmoto and Hito no Michi. Despite their popularity, he claimed, these new religions ...

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Chapter 1 Renmonkyō and the Meiji Press

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pp. 24-44

On 22 January 1947, poet and children’s story writer Satō Hachirō (1903–1973) wrote an article in his regular column in the newly established Tōkyō Taimuzu on the subject of the new religion Jiu, which had just become embroiled in what the media were calling the “Kanazawa incident.” Police involvement, arrests, and a shadowy ...

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Chapter 2 Deguchi Onisaburō as a Prewar Model

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pp. 45-65

In early 1949, freelance journalist Ōya Sōichi (1900–1970) contributed a series of articles to the Tōkyō Nichi Nichi Shinbun titled “An overview of newly arisen gods” (“Shinkō kamisama sōmakuri”). At this stage of his career, which spanned the prewar and postwar periods and eventually covered five decades, Ōya was concentrating ...

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Chapter 3 The Birth of Two Celebrity Gods

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pp. 66-89

While large new religions like Ōmoto and Hito no Michi made an impact on prewar Japanese society, there were many other smaller groups that were far removed from the public spotlight. Although they became nationally notorious in the immediate postwar years, the leaders of Jiu and Tenshō Kōtai Jingū Kyō, Nagaoka Nagako ...

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Chapter 4 Bureaucracy, Religion, and the Press under the Occupation

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pp. 90-119

At noon on 15 August 1945, the Japanese emperor, who had never before spoken directly to his subjects, made a radio broadcast to the nation bringing the news of Japan’s defeat. When the Allied Occupation (henceforth referred to as scap) took over control after Japan’s ...

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Chapter 5 Jikōson and Jiu Battling with Celebrity

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pp. 120-167

Jikōson, who had struggled together with her followers during the prewar years to fulfill her millennial visions that conflicted with official state policy, established herself as the undisputed leader of Jiu by the beginning of the Occupation. Within a few years, she would become notorious for a brief period due to intense national media coverage. The ...

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Chapter 6 Kitamura Sayo Celebrity in the Maggot World

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pp. 168-203

From the beginning of the Occupation, Kitamura Sayo, who was eventually labeled “the dancing god” in the press, was openly confrontational toward the Japanese authorities and those who opposed her. In her millennial vision, Japan’s surrender was merely a temporary pause in hostilities between the “maggot world,” which included the ...

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Chapter 7 New Religions and Critics in the Immediate Postwar Press

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pp. 204-233

The appearance of Jikōson and Kitamura Sayo in the press as “celebrity gods” coincided with the beginning of the so-called “rush hour of the gods.” As the new laws liberated religious groups and individuals and allowed them unprecedented freedoms, the staff of scap’s Religions Division and the Ministry of Education’s Religious ...

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pp. 234-242

In this book I have discussed the multiple ways in which new religions, media and media workers, and various authorities—including government bureaucrats, police, psychologists, and other scholars— interacted, focusing specifically on two cases during the immediate postwar period. In order to make sense of media representations of new ...


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pp. 243-268


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pp. 269-287


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pp. 288-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837198
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836214

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture