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Title: Renewing the World: The Rise of Yonaoshi Gods in Japan
Authors: Miura, Takashi
Advisors: Stone, Jacqueline I.
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Bakumatsu
world renewal
Subjects: Religion
Religious history
Asian studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines a new category of gods that emerged in Tokugawa Japan (1603–1867), centering on the concept of “world renewal” (yonaoshi). Starting in the late eighteenth century, a number of deified humans and supernatural entities came to be worshipped as “gods of world renewal,” invested with special religious authority to rectify various social evils. Some examples of these “yonaoshi gods” included a samurai who sacrificed his life in order to kill a corrupt ruler; disgruntled peasants who demanded that the government repeal unfair taxation; and a giant catfish believed to live beneath the Japanese archipelago and to cause earthquakes to punish the hoarding rich. The discourse of yonaoshi also remained relevant in modern Japan. In the Meiji period (1868–1912), the new religion Ōmotokyō reinterpreted yonaoshi to mean an apocalyptic world transformation and the establishment of a paradise on earth presided over by a messianic deity. The popularity of yonaoshi gods since the late Tokugawa period reflected a heightened concern with salvation in the present world. Rather than envisioning a better rebirth or life in a postmortem paradise, many sought immediate deliverance from suffering here and now. The “this-worldly” turn of Tokugawa religion has continued to define Japanese religion in the modern and contemporary periods. Yonaoshi gods have received only cursory academic attention thus far, partly because the emergence of yonaoshi gods is impossible to grasp through the traditional modality of research focused on sectarian movements. To counter this tendency, this study utilizes a variety of documents that are not explicitly “religious” in nature, such as government records, popular media materials, and personal memoirs. Furthermore, this study challenges the scholarly convention of identifying yonaoshi as a millenarian concept without considering the context. An analysis of yonaoshi gods reveals that yonaoshi during the Tokugawa period referred to rectifications of specific economic conditions that endangered the lives of a particular community, such as the high price of goods, harsh tax obligations, and the gap between the rich and the poor. Only in the Meiji period did a fully millenarian understanding of yonaoshi emerge, most notably in Ōmotokyō’s eschatological doctrine.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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