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From Mikadoism to Marie Kondo: A Media History of the American Reception of Japanese Religions

  • Nebraska Wesleyan University Lincoln, NE USA (map)

How have American audiences understood Japanese religions? How did Japanese Buddhism transform from a type of un-American emperor worship practiced by unassimilable Japanese Americans to an artistic inspiration for Beat Generation authors? How did the word “Zen” become a long-running Daily Show comedic bit, an adjective for marketing merchandise, and a legitimate Scrabble play? Why did a popular Netflix show get American audiences suddenly talking positively about the “Shintō roots” of tidy closets in January 2019, and what historical factors allowed this usage to differ so much from WWII-era descriptions of Shintō as a religion of war? Examining newspaper articles, magazine spreads, martial arts films, television programs, and anime, this talk explores how Japanese and American people have collaboratively constructed images of Japanese contemplative and therapeutic practices that reinforce, challenge, and transcend the commonsense category of religion.