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Full Access Observations on the Blurring of the Religious and the Secular in a Japanese Urban Setting

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Observations on the Blurring of the Religious and the Secular in a Japanese Urban Setting

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AbstractThis paper presents some observations on how the borders between the religious and the secular are perceived, blurred and reinterpreted at the community level in Kyoto. These reflections are based mainly on my extended fieldwork in the city, where I participated in and took note of the activities of two chōnaikai (neighborhood associations). I also observed and examined events related to the Gion matsuri, which takes place in July and is one of the three main festivals in Japan. The neighborhood associations play a pivotal role in Kyoto’s community life, and the boundaries between the religious and the secular very often remain indistinct due to the ambiguous character of the chōnaikai. In this context, I analyze some of the religious activities within the chōnai, such as taking care of the small votive shrine dedicated to the bodhisattva Jizō, and events related to Shintō. With regard to local festivals, I explore religious and secular aspects of the Gion matsuri, an event that attracts crowds of visitors from all over Japan and abroad, which offers the opportunity to investigate the intermingling of religion and business, local government, culture and tourism.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leipzig Leipzig Germany, Email:, URL:


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