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Heterotopoi in Japan
Embodying Places and Emplacing Bodies

Time: Fri, March 21, 2014, 9:15–18:30
Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organisation: Johannes Wilhelm
(University of Vienna, Dept. of East Asian Studies, Japanology)
Cooperation: Bernhard Scheid (IKGA); Akademischer Arbeitskreis Japan (AAJ)
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The workshop is free of charge, but in order to provide enough space, we kindly ask you for a reservation in advance via e-mail to:

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General Topic

Societies tend to transform and represent their social structures in spatial arrangements, thereby creating places and spaces of social and symbolic significance. This creation process involves a twofold practice of (1) the physical transformation of places and (2) the (re)interpretation of existing places and spaces by connecting them to beliefs, taxonomies, texts, and ritual practices. Places of sacred or spiritual significance are perhaps the most intriguing examples of this manipulation of space: they operate with an imaginary realm consisting of spiritual bodies, which obey to social structures of their own. As the spiritual bodies themselves, these imaginary social structures are of course related to but not necessarily identical with the structures of “real” society. Sacred places (created by physical manipulation and re-interpretation) are in this sense the physical aspects of an imaginary world in constant dialogue with living people and their social practices. As Foucault exemplified in his writings, profane spots such as prisons, hospitals, or universities can be equally seen as corresponding to social structures, which they do not simply mirror. Rather they form them according to abstract, ideal – and in this sense allotopic – concepts. While heterotopoi can be profane or sacred, they build on concepts of “the other”. In this sense, the term “heterotopos” or “heterotopia” could be seen as a tool highlighting the symbolic functions and meanings of places in a multireligious society like Japan.


Welcome Address


Religious Realms: Space and Place as Concepts

Florian Purkarthofer (Vienna)

This presentation deals with “space” and “place” as concepts, instead of ‘neutral categories’ in order to distinguish between the different ways space and place are used by religions and social institutions to their advantage. I will focus especially on the forms and structures of topoi and contrasting heterotopoi as they represent religious space concepts.

Religious Inclusivism and the Composite Nature of Japanese Deities

Bernhard Scheid (Vienna)

Japanese religion seems to comprise a kind of structural inclusivism, which facilitates the acceptance of seemingly different or heteromorphic numinous units (deities) within one common spatial entity (temple or shrine). This inclusivism is clearly obvious in the case of Buddhism, which offers several theoretical foundations for including practices and deities of other traditions. Yet, similar practices exist also in the case of shrine deities, considering that there is virtually no shrine of some historical importance dedicated to one single kami only. I will try to make this clearer by referring to a couple of historical examples (the Seven Gods of Fortune, Hachiman, kiki-mythology). I am still not sure, to which degree this kind of "inclusivism" can be regarded as a typical feature of Japanese religion only, and look forward to discussing this question.

C o f f e e B r e a k


Hunting the Haunting, Back to the Sacred: Competing Discourses, Perceptions and Inscription in Contemporary Osorezan

Andrea De Antoni (Kyoto)

This presentation will focus on the processes of othering heterotopoi. From a methodological perspective, it will propose an approach that tries to overcome the dualism of representation/practice by focusing on experience. In particular, I will display the ways in which (religious) institutions try to create the “reality” of an “other place” by influencing and organizing the perception of the environment through the strategic inscription (Akrich and Latour 1992) of their discourses within it. In order to do so, my presentation will focus on Osorezan, a sacred mountain in the Shimokita Peninsula, the northernmost tip of Honshu. Ivy (1995) highlighted the modern fascination with the mountain, as a passage to the afterlife where the spirits of the dead can gather, appear and communicate with the living especially through the itako, female mediums who congregate on the mountain during the festival season. According to Ivy, the mountain operates within a national mass-mediated array of images and ideas about the "folkic marginal" and nostalgic. However, particularly with the diffusion of the internet, Osorezan started to be portrayed as a powerful haunted place on specialized websites and in magazines, causing a decrease in the number of visitors. Relying on ethnographic data collected through fieldwork on the mountain in 2008, I will focus on the network of interactions through which the "reality" of the mountain as a sacred place is constructed. In the first instance, I will present the two above-mentioned competing discourses related to the mountain. Secondly, I will focus on the visitors' experiences in the place, and display the strategies through which the Buddhist temple managing Osorezan struggled to organize them by modifying the environment and inscribing institutionalized discourses in it. Strategies that, as I will show, have turned out to be successful.

L u n c h


Post 3.11. Pacific Tōhoku and the Encoding of Memory

Johannes Wilhelm (Vienna)

There are many examples of „related“ and „encoded“ or „othered“ locations in coastal life. In the tale of Urashima Tarō we find just one more example of an „other place“ (the castle of Ryūgū), a utopia in the Japanese coastal context, and, in fact, this story has a uchronic moral. Coastal people usually have elaborate local knowledge of visible and non-visible items in their surroundings. They read their surroundings both physically as much as mentally (see Utsumi Nobukichi). We even find objects that can be regarded as crossings of time and place, e.g. ceremonial acts in a biographical or annual cycle. People infuse places and objects with meanings and these meanings evolve or diminish in a discourse, sometimes – and as a consequence – even physically. I will try to approach this phenomenon by employing cases from Pacific Tōhoku before and after 3.11. by asking how the infusion and/or reduction of meaning to places and objects is structured individually and collectively.

Edo-Period Mount Tateyama: A Place for the Laity to Experience the Buddhist Other-World

Susanne Formanek (Vienna)

Since early times, mountains in Japan have been thought to be the abode of numinous beings. With the introduction of Buddhism, its cosmology was projected onto the mountains, some of which began to be seen as the earthly representations of the Buddhist cosmos. For religious specialists, and especially the yamabushi, ritual ascent of these holy mountains meant experiencing rebirth in the Ten Realms of the Buddhist cosmos on a symbolic level. Although today not as well known in this respect as the Dewa Sanzan, Mount Tateyama in Toyama prefecture also had been used in this way since the tenth century. During the later Edo-period, however, local priests marketed the pilgrimage to the Tateyama as a place where laymen could experience the Other-World and managed to attract a considerable number of pilgrims. The paper will focus on the means they used to achieve this inscription of meaning to the place and its various sites.

C o f f e e B r e a k


Of Wandering Spirits and Morbid Brains: Placing Mind and Body in the Age of Psychiatry

Bernhard Leitner (Vienna)

The presentation aims at highlighting the development and transformations of heterotopoi of mental deviation in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Japan. In a time when psychiatry was being established as a discursive and social agent, conceptual changes concerning theories of the mind and body were introduced. Especially the wide-spread phenomenon of spirit possession triggered a controversial debate on the nature of mental diseases. I will show that alongside this theoretical discourse, new forms of spaces (heterotopoi) had to be constructed simultaneously in order to rearrange body and mind in accordance to the psychiatricscientific paradigm. But the actual diversity of practices was still not to be abolished by the emerging power of psychiatry. I will focus on religious, cultural and medical mind-body-regimes to analyze their respective relations of power deployed through diverging forms of heterotopoi for the mentally ill.

Between Village Community and Towering Mountains: Thinking Women and the Supernatural in the Tōno Monogatari

Theresa Aichinger (Vienna)

The Tōno monogatari (Legends of Tōno) are more than merely a collection of folk tales. They depict and reproduce a unique historic social reality in which several very distinct heterotopoi can be unveiled. In my presentation I will not only deal with these “other spaces”, but also try to unfold the ways in which agents – particularly female characters – move through these locations. The main assumption in this respect is that through entering and leaving, though interaction and encounter, those agents are both attributed to and displaced from locations – creating what Foucault called “a space of emplacement” but at the same time overcoming this very hierarchic disposition. The ‘sacred yama‘ opens up and mixes with the ‘profane’, thereby strengthening and at once discarding a social and territorial order.

Discussion and Heterotopian Party

17:00–open end

Keep on talking with one or more glasses of water, wine, or juice in the local cafeteria or at some other places ...

The picture above shows a divine revelation to fishermen in rough sea. Votive picture (ema) of the Tsuyaki Shrine in Fukuoka, photo by Arne Kalland.

Öster­reichi­sche Aka­demie der Wissen­schaften
Institut für Kultur- und Geistes­geschichte Asiens
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