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Steven Heine, Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods.

Steven Heine, Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 220. $99.00, cloth; $29.95, paper.

This volume provides a sociological analysis of two distinctive areas in metropolitan Tokyo: Akasaka, which represents the affluent "High City," and Inaricho, which stands for the shitamachi or "Low City." Heine's primary task is to nuance the argument made by Ian Reader and George T. Tanabe, Jr., in their now-classic Practically Religious (University of Hawai'i Press, 1998), namely, that Japanese religions are best understood as providing "this worldly benefits" (Jp. genze riyaku). By analyzing a number of practices related to significant life events, including education, career advancement, travel, marriage, child-bearing, and death, Heine argues that, in fact, contemporary Japanese religiosity evinces a concern for benefits that are "this-worldly" but often "impractical" (genze hi-ryaku), flaming his argument around the ideal of anshin or "peace of mind." He also points out that, in spite of the common phrase that all Japanese are "born Shinto and die Buddhist," the prevalence of the cult of Inad, which represents a form of folk religiosity that does not fit easily into either category, requires us to add a third dimension: "Live had." Finally, the book fatally undermines the idea--held by many Japanese--that contemporary Japanese are "irreligious." Though religious practices in contemporary Japan may be diffused and diverse, they are nonetheless deeply imbricated in the daily lives (and deaths) of the majority of the population.

This book is a departure for Heine, a scholar known for his pioneering work on medieval Japanese Zen thought (especially Dogen) and Zen practice (the koan). Though grounded in solid scholarship, Sacred High City has an unmistakably anecdotal and even autobiographical flavor. On the one hand, this makes it highly engaging and accessible to the nonspecialist; on the other, the structure of the work is loose, and the book ends abruptly, without a proper conclusion. That aside, this is a significant contribution to the study of contemporary Japanese religiosity--particularly, but not exclusively, urban religiosity--and a book that should be read alongside Reader and Tanabe's Practically Religious. Particularly useful is Heine's succinct critical analysis of the four common paradigms employed in recent studies of Japanese religiosity (pp. 24-26). In short, Sacred High City is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Japanese religions, sociology of religion, ritual spaces, or religion and modernization.

James Mark Shields, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
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Author:Shields, James Mark
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Words:412
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