HISTORICAL OVERVIEW Yayoi Period, 300 BC: Agricultural development. Nara Period, 700 BC: First strong central state. Heian Period, 784 CE: Indigenous Japanese culture developed, noted for art, poetry, and literature. Era of warring feudal states, 1180: Samurai culture emerges. Tokugawa (Edo) Period, 1600: Japan is unified and Samurais are divested of some power. Japan flourishes, and becomes isolationist, only trading with Dutch and Chinese from Nagasaki. Meiji Period, 1868: Japan is forced open by Commodore Perry’s US Naval threats. Samurai culture is abolished, and Japan begins to modernize and industrialize. Era of Japanese Imperialism, 1910: To establish itself as a world power, Japan begins invading and occupying Korea, China, and other regions of Asia. Japan declares war in the Pacific with the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Post WWII Era: Japan has developed into one of the world’s economic powers.
Samurai were the military nobility of feudal Japan who served overlord Shoguns. Samurais were expected to be educated, and were influenced by the religious philosophies of Buddhism, Zen, Shinto, and Confucianism. The Samurais were disbanded in the late 1800s during the Meiji Period. However, Samurai culture was at the base of the Japanese national identity as a martial nation.
SHINTO Shinto is animistic and polytheistic, and devotees worship the Kami deities and spirits, and ancestors. Japan’s indigenous and largest religion. It is syncretic with Buddhism. During the Meiji Period, Shinto was declared Japan’s official state religion, and the religion of the Emperor. There are three main types: –SHRINE SHINTO –SECT SHINTO –FOLK SHINTO
BUDDHISM Buddhism is comprised of a variety of teachings, but a common characteristic is learning a way of life to bring personal peace and spiritual enlightenment. THREE MAIN BRANCHES: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. The Mahayana schools strongly encourage the idea that all people can be enlightened and that the ultimate goal is to help all beings find freedom from suffering--enlightenment. Even the monks chant and make vows to help all sentient beings when they are not in meditation. In comparison, Theravada Buddhists mostly believe that lay people have a limited potential to achieve enlightenment, so Theravada monks are more personal in the sense that they are primarily striving for their own enlightenment. In Theravada, the goal is to be an "arhat", a self-enlightened one. In Mahayana, the goal is to be a "bodhisattva,” someone near enlightenment who comes back to Earth, teaching others until all beings are enlightened. Mahayana is very “other” focused, though you acquire your ability to help others by perfecting yourself. As for Vajrayana, one thing that makes them unique is that they believe their practice is effective enough to make one a Buddha in only one lifetime. (Thanks to J. Hennessee for these clarifications.) Mahayana came to Japan in the 6th century.
ZEN A particular type of Mahayana Buddhism. Emerged in Japan around 1100, and was particularly favored by the Samurai culture. Zen teaches meditation in order to “awaken,” and live in the immediate present, be spontaneous, and liberated from self conscious and judgmental thoughts.
CONFUCIANISM An overall philosophy of life and society. Neo-Confucianism was introduced to Japan in the 12th century and impacted Japanese politics and social structure. It emphasizes harmony, nature, and humanism. Neo-Confucianism supports a social hierarchy in which each individual fulfills the obligations of their place to the fullest for the benefit of the entire society.
ON: A Japanese, hierarchical social system that operates on the concepts of honor, responsibility, and obligation. Individuals are born into their social place, and must conform and fulfill the obligations of that place. Conformity to on will foster material progress for all. Japanese society has long been intolerant of individualistic views and behaviors, but younger generations are instigating social transformation in Japan. With modern industrialization, a capitalist class system has emerged in Japan, and been integrated with the on system. JAPANESE SOCIAL STRUCTURE
TAOISM Pronounced “Daoism,” and means “the path.” A synthesis of interrelated philosophies and religious beliefs. The three foundational “jewels’ of Taoism are compassion, moderation, and humility. Taoist philosophy emphasizes union of self and nature, and non action: spontaneity, transformation, and omnipotence through emptiness. Taoists worship nature and ancestor spirits.
SHUGYO ASCETIC DISCIPLINE This Shinto, Mountain sect was established in 1920 by local women, and is supervised by many women spirit mediums. During the spring and summer, devotees ritualistically climb the mountain. Although shugyo may be profoundly transformative for the soul of the ascetic and the well-being of her family, it is also dangerous. Ascetics may be possessed by the numerous mountain demons (oni). Schattschneider analyzes the sect as emerging to deal with local upheavals wrought by modernization and economic hardships. Through the rigors of ritual climbing, ascetics incorporate their selves and personal biographies with the landscape, opening up intimacy with the spirits and ancestors. For the ascetic, this can result in both resolution, or exacerbation of personal, family, and community issues.
Shugyo ascetics believe Mount Akakura is inhabited by dangerous oni who can possess them and cause harm. Throughout Japan, oni are considered to be once but no longer venerated indigenous divinities that, because they are not subjugated, have become angry and dangerous.
JAPANESE GHOSTS Japanese culture is steeped in ghosts, hauntings, and dynamics of the uncanny. OBAKE or BAKEMONO: Anything that is weird, grotesque, or uncanny. YOKAI: Ghouls, goblins, and monsters--some dangerous, others amusing--that appear at dawn or dusk. YURIE: Spirits of dead people who remain among the living for a specific reason, often vengeance. THE GHOST OF OKIKU
THE UNCANNY Freud's general thesis: The uncanny is anything we experience in adulthood that reminds us of earlier psychic stages, of aspects of our unconscious life, or of the past experiences of the human life deemed to be “primitive.” –Fear of castration. –A double of ones self or another. –Involuntary repetition; the compulsion to repeat as a structure of the unconscious, for example déjà vu. –Animistic conceptions of the universe that involve the power of the psyche. It sees itself as stronger than reality; such as telepathy, or mind over matter. –When an inanimate object, such as a chair, suddenly “springs to life.” –When something “otherworldly” materializes. The uncanny arises as the recurrence of something long forgotten and repressed, something superceded in our psychic life -- a reminder of our psychic past. But it can also apply to the communal psychic life of an entire culture.
JAPANESE GHOSTS GONE GLOBAL Along with the US and the European Union, Japan is a major economic global power. A particularly artistic and extreme ghost film genre has developed in Japan over the past few decades. Media conglomerates elsewhere recognize this genre’s box office potential, and have adapted it for “Western” audiences, often contracting Japanese directors. Both the Japanese and “Western” productions of this genre are gaining popularity worldwide. THE RING 2
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, a socialist feminist, in 1953, it is often included in top ten lists of the world’s greatest cinematic works. It is a ghost story set in medieval Japan that is politically situated as a critique of martial culture, materialism, and the status of Japanese women.
Study Guide for UGETSU MONOGATARI The film takes place during the era in Japan of warring states and the dominance of Samurai culture. Samurais practiced a combination of Shinto, Buddhism, Zen, and Confucianism. What characteristics of these religions do you see in the film? In what scenes do you see Mizoguchi’s criticisms of Japanese martial culture, materialism, and the treatment of women? Japanese culture has a spiritual and philosophical relationship to the landscape. In which scenes is this emphasized? Demons and ghosts haunt Japanese culture and the landscape. Identify the ghosts, hauntings, and uncanny occurrences in the film. What points and issues about Japanese culture might Mizoguchi be making with these scenes?