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Colloquium on Asian religions | Turning to tourism? Temples, pilgrimage and questions of religious regeneration and secularisation in Japan

When:Mo 02-05-2016 16:00 - 17:30
Where:Oude Boteringestraat 38, room 125

Speaker: Prof. Ian Reader (University of Manchester, UK)

Recently Eiheiji, the head temple of the Sōtō Zen Buddhist sect in Japan, announced it was working with a construction company to build a new upmarket hotel to encourage tourists to visit the temple. While this commercial venture might contrast with Eiheiji's image of monastic austerity it is line with a widespread pattern in contemporary Japan, of religious institutions interacting with secular and commercial concerns for economic reasons, and focusing on tourism. While the relationship between tourism, entertainment and religious institutions has a long history (especially through pilgrimage) in Japan, recent developments- notably widespread religious decline and the precarious situation of many temples and shrines, plus a national policy to promote tourism as a means of economic revival - have heightened these links considerably.

Via case studies, including examining the mediatised images used to promote temples and pilgrimages, I will examine the links of religion and tourism in contemporary Japan. As my examples indicate, in some cases such links and commercial involvements have revitalised local pilgrimages and religious customs, while in others they marginalise and erode religious practices, with temples at times appearing to be little more than secular tourist sites. In asking whether attempts at the regeneration of religious institutions through the lens of tourism can be seen as an example of secularisation in contemporary Japan I also look further at the relationship between religion and tourism, an area that, as these Japanese case studies indicate, is becoming increasingly significant in the present day.