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Japanese and global online Shugendō

veröffentlicht am 07.09.2023

Josko Kozic is a doctoral student at the Institute for Religious Studies at Heidelberg University, conducting research on Shugendō, a tradition focused on asceticism and mountain worship, while also investigating related socioeconomic aspects and issues concerning world heritage sites as well as the environment and questions on sustainability. He is currently affiliated to the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo.

In addition to exclusively Japanese Shugendō groups, internationally practicing groups of Shugendō, including their contents, debates, and dynamics have already become part of the online landscape by running their own channels and sharing information through their profiles on social networks. Since the Internet has become constantly present through the (almost) ubiquitous use of smartphones, questions around the relationship between "offline" and "online" have increasingly arisen (Ugoretz & Baffelli 2022). By utilizing her research approach of netnography, using the example of global Shintō, religious scholar Kaitlyn Ugoretz illustrates the fact that social networks work together both online and offline and thus enable a global internalization of Japanese religion (Ugoretz 2022).

If one searches through social networks for religion in Japan, a large number of public groups, official accounts (e.g., of Buddhist temples or schools), and accounts of religious stakeholders comes to the front. This counts for Shintō as well as for Shugendō, a religious tradition including the worship of mountains and the practice of ascetic exercises, both having the goal of enlightenment in this life.
Within groups related to Shugendō, there are several categories, including groups and pages that have open participatory structures and let their members contribute information on the topic in a relatively unmoderated way. One such group can be found on Facebook under the name "Mountain Religions" and is managed by two international scholars. In its official description, the group does not limit itself to mountain religion in Japan, but it has a conspicuously large number of posts on precisely this topic. The site has 222 members from all over the world. Among the contributions are event and publication information as well as threads including questions and discussions.

In contrast to the supposedly neutral Facebook group "Mountain Religions," which is aimed at an objective exchange of information, lies the official profile page of Koshikidake Shōdō, who calls himself a certified Shugendō priest and writes his posts in both Japanese and English. His profile counts more than 5000 followers, including people from worldwide, also he is considered the headmaster of the so-called "Koshiki tradition" and the founder of the International Shugendō Association (ISA). His posts show photos of rituals, lectures and mountain ascents including international participants. These often get commented, including positive feedback, wishes for participation, certain expectations towards various rituals or simply an emoji folding his hands in a prayer gesture (jp. gasshō). In between, he shares invitations to paid instruction training opportunities, all written in English. Finally, he also publishes his critical thoughts on several matters and makes clear what, according to him, may and may not be considered "authentic" in Shugendō practice. In a recent post on Facebook, he expresses his opinion on what is often called as the "waterfall meditation" (jp. takigyōy), a practice essential to Shugendō and widely popularized in Japan's media mainstream:

    Waterfall meditation is not merely an ascetic practice. When rain from the heavens takes decades to become spring water, and in the moment you immerse yourself, feeling it with your entire being, you can sense the energy connecting the heavens, earth, and humans. This energy revitalizes every cell in your body, making you feel lighter and giving you clearer vision. Instead of just giving it a "like," I urge you to truly experience it for yourself.

    Facebook post published by Shodo Koshikidake on August 22/2024

In response, mainly international followers often believe such statements, share self-doubts or ask further questions to him. A formative factor for an interest in digital exchange to Shugendō may lie in the harsh travel restrictions that have occurred during the Covid 19 pandemic. This limited access to sites declared as "sacred" to Shugendō practitioners has led to forms of "remote" encounters, digital participations in religious activities and digital pilgrimages to sacred sites. As mentioned in the example before, some Shugendō individuals (or groups) even express claims of authenticity and exclusivity regarding their own branch. They share these thoughts online and simultaneously advertise their training programs, which are usually paid for. With the help of digital tools, these stakeholders project a "sacred power" supposedly limited to Japan's mountains in the form of digitally mediated (Buddhist) semantics, practices, and designs. In the case of Shugendō groups present online, this often involves advertising the promise of self-optimization. Due to the vast dynamic and abundance of accessible material of such online groups, it remains important to observe which individuals and groups communicate what kind of content and whether there are clear boundaries between neutrally intended information exchange, each group's common (religious) online activities, and the sermons published by individual actors.


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Letzte Änderung: 07.09.2023