Friday, June 9, 2023

Prayer and Play in Late Tokugawa Japan

 Hur, Nam-lin

Prayer and Play in Late Tokugawa Japan: Asakusa Sensōji and Edo Society

Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2000


While writing my book Tokyo Stroll I kept digging for resources that would help me go beyond the usual superficial treatment one finds in travel books in describing locations I was including in the book. This meant I had to track down and order many titles I was not yet familiar with. This work was one of them which I finally have been able to re-read at my leisure.


Asakusa's Sensōji is one of the most famous temples in Japan and a popular pilgrimage and tourism destination. The greater neighborhood is well known today for a large variety of sub-temples, shintō shrines, shops, theaters, and entertainments. This variety of, what we in the West would consider a mixture of sacred and secular, came to be during the Edo Period, from 1600 to 1868. Hur's book covers that period from when Sensōji was a locally important temple serving small villages to its transformation to what it became at the end of the shōgun's rule. The story is multifaceted, from the days when the temple was heavily patronized by the government, daimyō, and samurai to its increasing reliance on small donations from commoners and rent from businesses on it's property. Part of that change includes how the area became associated with play, which resulted from a large variety of businesses for entertainment operating in the area, as well as the government relocating the Yoshiwara pleasure district to just north of the temple in 1656, and later "banishing" theaters to the neighborhood in the mid 19th century. 

All of this is tied to the changing economic nature of Edo as wealth slipped from the control of the government with its Neo-Confucian ideology into the hands of rich merchants, the establishment of monopoly capitalism, the increase in commoner desire for entertainment, the temple's reliance on donations from visitors, and the diversity of what could be found in the neighborhood where prayer and play became interlinked.

The book is reasonably priced and a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in Edo, Tokyo, or Japanese Buddhism.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gilles! Did you get your trip to Japan in that you'd mentioned in your previous post?

--Daniel Snyder