The fame of Miyajima : spirituality, commodification and the tourist trade of souvenirs in Japan
My thesis questions common assumptions that mass production and distribution diminishes the spiritual power of objects. The rice scoop (shamoji) provides a case study of a material form which functions as a vehicle of spiritual power in Japan. The shamoji is much more than a mere kitchen utensil.It is also a recognised national symbol linked with chancing ideas concerning rice, feminine gender roles and spirituality. Moreover, as an idiom the shamoji has many unrecognised consequences. Seventy percent of all Shamoj in Japan are distributed via Miyajima,a small island located Southwest of Hiroshima in the Japanese Inland Sea. An ethnographic investigation, firstly, explores the ramifications of shamoji for different groups involved in its production, distribution and consymption on the island. Secondly, an analysis of consumption of shamoji among various segments of urban Japanese provides insights into religious and social practices in the domestic and public domains of life. I argue that the commodification of shamoji and their increased distribution to major cities via multiple distribution networks does not diminish their spiritual power. Instead, this process enhances their spirituality, spreading the fame of Miyajima and its shamoji. My work addresses issues such as the impact of commercialisation upon religious form,the way spirituality is embodied in material culture and the link between formal religion and the everyday life of the household. The core contribution of this study is to rethink the embodiment of spirituality in the context of modernity and mass consumption and the role industrially produced and commercially distributed commodities play in the democratic distribution of spiritual power. Unlike previous studies, my thesis presents a more comprehensive example directly entering the world of 'the tourist trade of souvenirs' and 'the arena of women and everyday domestic consumption'. Within these contexts assumptions about the dissipation of spirituality are much more entrenched.