|Sycheva E.S. The image of kami, Shinto deities in anime and manga|
The image of kami, Shinto deities in anime and manga as criteria of the cultural identity in the modern Japanese societySycheva E.S.
Over the last years the image of Shinto deities kami frequently appears in the Japanese mass culture, particularly in manga comics and anime series and films. It is notable that just about twenty years ago the very nature of both forms of the mass culture eliminated the possibility of referring to subject matter like this. However, it is over the past ten years that manga and anime have been showing an abruptly raising amount of reference to the Japanese traditional culture (including religion) which is an increasing trend.
The presence of various kami in the Japanese modern mass culture can be read as an attempt to re-think the role of Japan and its cultural heritage in today's circumstances. Japanese kami are understood as a totally indispensable attribute of traditional culture of the nation. However, in the modern world where even the Japanese have to be more open to the world, local gods seem to lack authority to be on firm ground abroad. Thus, at the domestic level their significance for the nation is questionable. And it is not at all a matter of religious sense (which is in fact not so appropriate to the Japanese) but the very issue of the national cultural identity which has been facing serious challenges of the time since the Meiji period such as westernization and the following globalization.
In general, referring to the theme of gods in such mass art media as anime and manga resembles an attempt to reconsider the self identity of the nation in the contemporary reality. The authors seem to be bringing up the point with their own opinion upon the subject clearly defined. In order to answer such questions as "Who are we?" "What do we come for?" "What makes us different?" the Japanese have to primarily appeal to those who embody their national mentality observing them through a prism of modernity. It is very difficult to look at oneself from the outside, but looking at own kami is much easier as they are abstract and idealized images through which the unique national culture is expressed. Therefore, the three questions set above get less rhetorical as they turn into "who are they?", "what do they come for?", "what makes them different?". Of course, these questions related to the kami concept may be restated and expanded yet with no change in point. There is still one more question that, to my mind, plays a key role in the context of the modern mass culture meant for young audience, which is "what are kami and what do kami mean today to us, the Japanese?"
Authors are widely using a concept of "yaoyorozu no kamigami" placing some of the "Myriad Gods" as characters of anime and manga instead of the major deities of the Shinto pantheon. These are normally some minor local kami frequently thought out solely by an author or those that are unknown (for example, the moon god Tsukuyomi).
A certain parallel between the theme of kami and supernatural creatures yokai also should be mentioned as it has become extremely popular within the modern mass culture. Both of them, to a certain extent, symbolize national cultural traditions, worldview as well as the nature and the power of the elements. However, yokai rather act as the embodiment of the nature being implicitly connected to ecological subject matters, though the idea of traditional perception of the world is not alien to them. And it is kami who are "in charge" of moral values based on the traditional perception of the world. Although the perception itself has gone through certain changes over the past decades and the essence of such changes is also clearly outlined by the authors.
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