Friday, January 05, 2007

Information Gaps in Interviews

My interviews with local Jodo priests thus far largely fall into two somewhat opposing categories. Fujioka san (October 20, 2006 post) has done much of his own research on religious involvement during the war and offers the dismal position that nearly all Jodo priests in Kumamoto heavily espoused the war from the pulpit (so to speak) as well as through congregational donations to the military. However, several other priests who grew up or participated in the war were not even aware if their fathers (the priests at the time) supported the war or not. One priest could not recall his father ever taking a position on the war, but clearly remembered his family struggling after their temple was decimated in an American air raid.

While these interviews do not directly contradict Fujioka san's claim, they add a more nuanced perspective. On either side, several factors cloud the picture. While the literature Fujioka san is citing documents widespread support from local temples, this research is published from Kyoto and more relevant to nationwide trends. Furthermore, sermons were rarely recorded or pre-written so it remains difficult to determine the extent to which Jodo priests in the Kumamoto area openly supported the war.

However, one cannot easily dismiss Fujioka's assertion. Hearing from other priests who know little of their fathers' personal attitudes to the war, it remains unclear to me whether or not their fathers may have supported the war despite their children being aware of it. Often personal feelings are not talked about openly in Japanese culture, even within families. Therefore, it is possible that priests may have been endorsing the war without their children knowing. Another insight revealed through these interviews is that the war was seldom discussed once it ended. Either due to shame or simply defeat, Japanese know very little of their war history, even from their own family members who lived through it. That being the case, little information has been passed down orally concerning the war.

With more interviews in the spring, I hope to clarify some of these points of information.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Visuals from the Pacific War

These photographs from the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper 熊本日新聞 display the utter destruction downtown Kumamoto underwent from US air raids in the summer of 1945. The headline in the first photo reads that sixty B 29 bombers attacked the city, leaving at least 482 civilians dead.
Downtown Kumamoto, 1945 (Kumanichi)

The picture below (taken from a book published by Honganji - Looking at War Photos from Our Sect [Honganji]: Prayers for Peace写真に見る戦争と私たちの教団~平和を願って) shows two bomber planes donated to the Japanese military by the Buddhist sect, Nishi Hongangi 西本願寺 (Western Japanese Pure Land Buddhism), in 1943. The Kumamoto branch alone donated two of these bombers to the military with donations raised by their temples, a feat for a southern prefecture straddled in poverty at the time.
Honganji donates planes to the military

Friday, October 20, 2006

Accounts from a Pure Land Buddhist priest/activist.

My friend, Jason (who helps translate), and I went for a second visit to Shingyou 真行寺 temple to meet with Takanobu Fujioka, a Jodo shinshu priest who has done his own research with the Jodo sect during WWII. He was seven years old when the war ended and recalled seeing at his elementary school field villagers being trained to stab US soldiers with the sharpened end of a bamboo pole as they floated down parachutes. His point was that everyone, civilians and soldiers alike, were fully committed to the war effort. As the government established State Shinto endorsed the emperor as the direct descendent of the gods, Japan felt fully entitled to impose its power over the rest of the world.

Under this auspices according to Fujioka san, local Jodo priests praised the war in sermons and gave their dead soldiers posthumous names that demarcated high honor and gratitude. Parishes in Kumamoto alone raised enough money to buy two airplanes and give them as donations to the Japanese air force.

This disturbing photograph was sent from one of his [father's] parishioners to the temple from China as evidence of his efforts in the war. It suggests that the soldier was responding to an endorsement the temple had given him in going to war.


A piece of information I'm still seeking out is to what extent specific temples in the prefecture were actively propagandizing the war. Unfortunately, according to Fujioka san, records of sermons from that period do not exist. As a result, there is little evidence to verify what temples were more supportive than others. I'm hoping that over the course of this year, I can collect more first-hand accounts from local priests or parishioners who lived through the war. Given that priests who questioned the war were jailed (and in a few cases executed), its little surprise that there are no accounts of war protests in Kumamoto during WWII (according to Fujioka san's findings). However, given the near obligatory support expected from temples at the time, an absence of support from any temple during that time might reflect resistance to endorse the war.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Recently I've been interviewing more Pure Land Buddhist priests around Kumamoto in order to collect more personal stories and archives concerning the war period. Because my language skills are not fluent yet and my interviewies speak little to no English, I typed up a short introduction about my project that I give at the beginning of the interview. It provides a little picture into what I'm doing. It's written here first in English, then in Japanese for Japanese readers.

"I am currently researching the Pure Land Buddist sect in Kumamoto during the Pacific war period. In the past decade, books in English and Japanese have been published revealing the ways Buddhist sects heavily supported the war effort. While most of the findings concern the institutional level, little information has been provided about local level activity during the war.
Japan was not only invaded other countries during the Pacific war, but it too was heavily attacked in retaliation by US forces, culminating in the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Kumamoto as well suffered great loss especially towards the end of the war. Under these conditions, I am interested in exploring what role local temples played throughout the war. Did they openly endorse it? Was there resistance? Did they simply follow suit unquestioningly?
The information I am collecting is mainly through documents that the Kumamoto Pure Land branch has published itself, through interviews with priests and parishioners, and through newspaper archives.
I hope to eventually publish a paper based on my findings in a scholarly journal."



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Books in my war chest.

Recent readings on Japan Buddhism and WWII
Here are a few books that have been really helpful lately in my understanding of Japanese Buddhist involvement during WWII.

Brian Daizen Victoria exposes institutional Buddhism's unconditional support of the war-time government in great depth in Zen at War (Second Edition, 2006). It's a fascinating look at how heads of all sects fully endorsed the totalitarian regime, giving soldiers and generals alike religious justification in going to war.

The second book, Sengo goju nen: Nenbutsusha no Heiwa he no Koe (Fifty years after the War: The voices of prayers for peace)(1995), is a collection of recounts from the war by Pure Land Buddhist priests from Kumamoto. Unlike Victoria's focus on institutional Buddhism, this book provides narrative to ordinary priests living through a devastating situation back home. I'm hoping to combine these stories with interviews of priests in Kumamoto alive during that period as the foundation for my paper.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Field work in Kumamoto

Lately I've been gathering information on the Jodo shinshu sect 浄土真宗, or Pure Land Buddhism, in Kumamoto for a paper I'm working on. Kumamoto has a rich history of Pure Land Buddhism, presently holding 470 temples throughout the prefecture (compared to a handful of Zen temples).

Like other Japanese Buddhist sects during the Pacific war period, Jodo shinshu was a strong advocator of the war. Some of this war-time support can be attributed to its subordinate position to Shinto, the state religion at the time. Looking back a bit farther in history, Buddhist priests across the country were persecuted and temples levelled at the beginning of the Meiji era (late 1860's) in a wave of anti-Buddhist sentiment. Then in 1911 amidst escalating nationalism, a number of Buddhist priests who were outspoken war critics were given executions and life sentences by the government. The official position was clear: go against the war and serious consequences will follow.

In that atmosphere, Jodo Shinshu became a major proponent of the war campaign, going as far as deleting suspect lines from their founder's writings (Shinran, twelth century). Much of this information has been exposed through historical research in the last fifteen years (see Brian Victoria, Zen at War). My present interest is to look back into local responses to the war among the temples of Kumamoto at the time. While the institutional stance of Jodo shinshu was transparent throughout the war period, I've begun finding through interviews at temples that local reaction was more ambiguous.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The one-day monk.

Journal entry: Daijizenji 大慈禅寺 September 23rd, 2006

I came here with the intent of getting a taste of Soto Zen as well as some work done on my grad apps. Its been hard to escape the zen though.

Its now close to 7am, but I've been up since 4am. First, washed up and waited in my room. (In this brief 20 minute period, I was reprimanded for brushing my teeth while walking and sitting on my folded futon.) Practiced zazen for about 45 minutes. Chants in the main hall. Chants in two successive halls and a another closing chant by the entrance. At the end, everyone yelled in unison at the top of their lungs, "Ohayo Gozaimasu!". The dog ran from the room.
I've received many scoldings while here. Don't speak during the meal (食べながら、しゃべりません。食べた後に、しゃべります。), sit seiza, go to sleep at 9. At first, I thought it was a personal vendetta. I'm learning though it's simply a strict discipline, and to the temple's credit, its still living up to standards set in place by its founder, Dogen, in the 12th century.

I've only been here since 6pm yesterday, and it hasn't been a relaxing retreat, per se. But it has been interesting. Part of me (an improvement from a few hours ago) wants to return for another go at some point.