Urban Religion in the Metropolis Tokyo and in Kyoto

— Jörg Rüpke

Religious practices, religious spaces, and religious times are part of urban diversity in today’s towns and cities. A 40-page picture book, grown out of a cooperation with Japanese universities in the framework of research on “Religion and Urbanity”, documents some impressions of that from visits to Tokyo and Kyoto.

Tokyo has a comparatively short history, characterized by the tight connections between urban growth and diversity from bottom up and top down. This held true from the start of the settlement, the castle „Edo“ being founded in the 15th century, and its growth into a large city from the end of the 16th onwards. In 1686 Edo became the capital of Japan and „Tokyo“. Religion, as visible today, is not primarily the survival of these periods. In a metropolitan area of nearly forty million people, religion is visible in old and new architecture, in makeshift shrines and ephemeral festivals and processions.

A makeshift shrine in Tokyo ((c) Jörg Rüpke)

If some religious practices and actors strive for visibility in their neighborhood or on grand scale, others remain invisible, because they do not care. The tourist’s photos do not catch them at all. Naturally, the selection depends on one’s own prejudices, the author’s conceptions of what religion is and the author’s intentions of what the academic construct of religion, in the process of change called „urban religion“, should be like. The view presented in the book is informed by some basic knowledge of the history of religion in Japan, by European experiences and a view of urban religion in ancient Mediterranean cities. Ideas of a precarious order of religious pluralism, of the fluidity of polytheist systematization and of local knowledge and competition are seen through the lens of the camera and might be decoded from the photos.

 Yet, these are invisible orders, imputed onto as much as deducted from what is visible. All in all, the book is not a statement, but an invitation to embark onto “urban research”, to not only detect religion in the city, but to inquire about how religion got urban and how the urban was changed by religion. The wide distribution, the prominence and the acceptance of religion within the urban space of Tokyo and the central role given to religion in the construction of its “heritage” by the administration of Kyoto tells of how much religion has shaped the cities’ urbanities.

— Jörg Rüpke is a scholar of religion, focusing on the ancient world. He is one of the spokespersons of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”.

Fidn the book here.


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