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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Exhibiting Spirituality: Ōmotokyō and Visual Technologies of Proselytization in the early Showa period

July 12, 2000

Nancy Stalker, Stanford University

In the Taishō and early Shōwa periods, the popular religious group Ōmoto attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in Japan and abroad. Its popularity threatened the imperial state such that it was twice brutally suppressed during this period. Western scholarship on Ōmoto has focused either on state oppression or on Deguchi Nao, the female foundress, but has not yet explained how and why Ōmoto was able to attract a large and diverse following. This paper will discuss the use of visual technologies including art exhibitions, expositions, publicity-oriented photography and feature films as a key component of Ōmoto proselytization.

Regional exhibitions showcased works of calligraphy, ink painting and ceramics by Ōmoto’s charismatic, entrepreneurial leader Deguchi Onisaburō. Expositions in major cities featured Ōmoto’s internationalist activities and, after 1931, panoramas of and artifacts from Manchuria and Mongolia, capitalizing both on Onisaburō’s notorious 1924 exploits there and on high public interest in the area following the Manchurian incident. Photography and film enabled Onisaburō to disseminate an image of himself as divine, garbed and surrounded by the iconography of a heterogeneous complex of codes of Japanese sacrality.

Thus, Ōmoto’s multi-faceted productions of visual culture contained both an epiphanic vision of national identity, based not on state-controlled social formations but on shared aesthetic values and notions of the sacred, and a realistic trumpeting of growing international stature, which conflated Ōmoto and the Japanese state. This intersection provided spectators with a physical and psychical representation of a modern national identity nonetheless grounded in quote;traditionalquote; aesthetic and spiritual concerns.

This presentation will include the screening of two films produced by Ōmoto in 1935, a documentary newsreel and Shōwa no Shichifukujin.