Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan
320pp. November 1998
Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan
Author: Reader, Ian; Tanabe Jr., George J.;
Praying for practical benefits (genze riyaku) is a common religious activity in Japan. Despite its widespread nature and the vast numbers of people who pray and purchase amulets and talismans for everything from traffic safety and education success to business prosperity and protection from disease, the practice has been virtually ignored in academic studies or relegated to the margins as a uh_product of superstition or an aberration from the true dynamics of religion. Basing their work on a fusion of textual, ethnographic, historical, and contemporary studies, the authors of this volume demonstrate the fallacy of such views, showing that, far from being marginal, the concepts and practices surrounding genze riyaku lie at the very heart of the Japanese religious world. They thrive not only as popular religious expression but are supported by the doctrinal structures of most Buddhist sects, are ordained in religious scriptures, and are promoted by monastic training centers, shrines, and temples.

Benefits are both sought and bought, and the authors discuss the economic and commercial aspects of how and why institutions promote practical benefits. They draw attention to the dynamism and flexibility in the religious marketplace, where new products are offered in response to changing needs. Intertwined in these economic activities and motivations are the truth claims that underpin and justify the promotion and practice of benefits. The authors also examine the business of guidebooks, which combine travel information with religious advice, including humorous and distinctive forms of prayer for the protection against embarrassing physical problems and sexual diseases. Written in a direct and engaging style, Practically Religious will appeal to a wide range of readers and will be especially valuable to those interested in religion, anthropology, Buddhist studies, sociology, and Japanese studies.

"A wonderful text which will be of great use in classes on Japanese religions and should be included in every college library" --Religious Studies Review, July 2003

"An important book that forces readers to re-map their understanding of Japanese religion ... It is well-written, easy to read, and will undoubtedly make an excellent textbook for college students" --Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000) (Read full review)

"Intentionally controversial, this work seeks to adjust what the authors perceive as an imbalance in the study of Japanese religion.... [It] argues that in Buddhism 'worldly affirmation is just as important as worldly denial' and that the 'rejection of worldly benefits' is a one-sided rendering of Buddhist tradition'." --Journal of Japanese Studies 26 (2000)

"A detailed and rich study that ... [shows] how resilient and creative many established institutions have been in response to the profound social and demograpic changes that have occurred over the course of Japan's modernization. I highly recommend this volume." --Japanese Religions 26 (2001)

"Essential reading.... Whoever visits an appropriate bookstore, sincerely requests this book and donates the requested amount for it will undoubtedly receive a very significant worldly benefit (genze riyaku)." --Buddhist Studies Review 17 (2000)

"The book is leavened by photographs, illustrative anecdotes, and humor, and its accessibility to students makes even more valuable its contribution to our understanding of Japanese religion in everyday practice." --Journal of Asian Studies, November 2000

"The authors are firmly rooted in the real world of the actual conduct of religious life, and readers will find this commonsense approach, gracefully and clearly written, a welcome and readable treatment of a pervasive theme of Japanese religious life." --Japan Quarterly

"The wealth of examples and wide range of topics ... in itself offer a comprehensive introduction to contemporary Japanese religiosity, as well as supporting the authors' claim of the centrality of genze riyaku." --Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Spring 1999 (Download full review)

"Insgesamt jedoch zeichnet Practically Religious ein revolutionär neues Bild japanischer Religion und bietet eine Fülle von Anregungen für weitere Überlegungen etwa zur Frage nach der Popularität von Neuen Religionen und New Age in Japan." --NOAG, 1999

Author: Reader, Ian; Tanabe Jr., George J.;
Ian Reader teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Lancaster University, and was also a senior research fellow at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen. George J. Tanabe, Jr., is professor and chair in the Department of Religion, University of Hawai'i.
Read the table of contents and/or the introduction (PDF).