Rebuilding Human Bonds amidst Japan’s Disconnected Society

A Buddhist Path through Rural Decline, Migrant Laborers, Poverty & Homelessness

by Jonathan S. Watts

International Buddhist Exchange Center, Yokohama

This profile marks an important shift and transition from the focus on individual suffering to a concern by Socially Engaged Buddhists in Japan with more collective forms of suffering and the structural and cultural causes behind them. As such, we will also attempt to weave together these more complex social forces with three distinct case studies, from a suicide prevention priest in northern Japan who developed a structural analysis of the issue to an anti-nuclear priest in central Japan taking on formative systems of exploitation to a group of young priests in Tokyo grappling with the human costs of such exploitation. Indeed, this profile is about making connections—rather “karmic connections” (en 縁) in Buddhist terminology—the kind that have been systematically severed during the rise and fall of Japan’s post-war economic miracle resulting in what is now referred to as the Disconnected Society (mu-en shakai 無縁社会).  

Part I: The Duty of Security: A Zen Priest confronts the Culture of Depopulation, Poverty, and Suicide in Rural Japan

Part II: A Shingon Monk brings “Light” to the Structural Discrimination of Laborers & the Victims of Nuclear Contamination

Part III: Interlude: The Spread of Economic Discrimination and Social Disparity in Urban Japan

Part IV: From the Ghetto to the Pure Land: Jodo Priests Working for the Homeless in Tokyo

  • Reigniting a Tradition of Care and Social Welfare for the Marginalized in Buddhism
  • Rebuilding Bonds amongst the Marginalized and the Disconnected Society
  • Training Buddhist Chaplains through Engagement in “Birth, Aging, Sickness, and Death”

Part V: Conclusion: Re-establishing Bonds with the Rural Homeland

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