Valerio on Harding and Iwata Fumiaki and Shin'ichi, 'Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan'

Christopher Harding, Iwata Fumiaki, Yoshinaga Shin'ichi, eds.
Adam Valerio

Christopher Harding, Iwata Fumiaki, Yoshinaga Shin'ichi, eds. Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan. Routledge Contemporary Japan Series. New York: Routledge, 2014. xviii + 300 pp. $155.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-138-77516-9.

Reviewed by Adam Valerio (Temple University) Published on H-Buddhism (August, 2015) Commissioned by Erez Joskovich

Valerio on Harding, Iwata, and Yoshinaga, 'Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan'

Carolyn A. F. Rhys Davids’s Buddhist Psychology: An Inquiry into the Analysis and Theory of Mind in Pali Literature was published in 1914, with her suggestion of a connection between Buddhism and psychology dating back to at least 1900.[1] Hara Tanzan, a Japanese Sōtō Zen monk and the first lecturer on Buddhism at the University of Tokyo, began publishing his psycho-physiological interpretations of Japanese Buddhism as early as 1860 with Shinshiki-ron (On Mind-Consciousness). While the first extant Japanese term for psychotherapy (seishin ryōhō)—today referring specifically to institutionalized psychotherapy—would not become common currency among therapists until the early twentieth century, the Japanese dialogue on the relationship between religion and psychology, especially in reference to Buddhism, had long been underway. Conversely, Rhys Davids’s conversation partners would unfortunately arrive after her time. Nevertheless, the past several decades have produced a litany of English-language works exploring the relationship between Buddhism and the psy disciplines, concernedly tending to center the conversation in modern Euro-American rather than Asian contexts. Exceptions to this propensity are largely constrained to portions of edited volumes, such as Mark Unno’s Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures: Essays on Theories and Practices (2006), Polly Young-Eisendrath and Muramoto Shoji’s Awakening and Insight: Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy (2002), and Wen-Shing Tseng, Suk Choo Chang, and Nishizono Masahisa’s Asian Culture and Psychotherapy: Implications for East and West (2005). Japanese scholars have made original contributions to the relatively small body of Asia-centric English-language literature on Buddhism and psychology, usually as articles or book chapters rather than full manuscripts, with Chikako Ozawa-de Silva’s Psychotherapy and Religion in Japan: The Japanese Introspection Practice of Naikan (2006) prominently resisting that mold. Most works not fitting the typologies above are textual-philosophical in nature and appear generally uninterested in modern Asia-specific inquiries. This category seems to more commonly apply to works by scholars of Buddhism than historians and anthropologists of Japan more broadly. There is room, of course, for all of these approaches, and Buddhism specialists are currently underrepresented in the Buddhism-psychology literature, which for some time has been dominated by psy discipline specialists both in Japan and the West.

In Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan, Christopher Harding, Iwata Fumiaki, and Yoshinaga Shin’ichi present a welcome addition to this unfolding discourse. The fifty-fourth volume in the Routledge Contemporary Japan series, seemingly the first in the series to take religion as its focus, is overwhelmingly constituted of Japanese scholarship, with the exception of the introduction, conclusion, and first chapter, all authored by Harding, its lead editor. Six chapters previously published in Japanese as well as several original contributions are complemented by illuminating new chapters by both Yoshinaga and Iwata, making for an edited volume that adds much to the relative dearth of Japanese voices in English-language literature on Buddhism and psychology.

Taking a historical approach as its emphasis, Harding maintains in the introduction that “we need to highlight the historical contingency of the religion-psy dialogue to avoid totalizing claims” (p. 3). This focus on situating the religion-psychology dialogue within historical contexts—Japan from the late nineteenth century to the present—allows for many of the chapters to engage with broader discussions within Japanese history and anthropology. As Harding notes, Japanese modernization was commonly associated with a threat to essential Japanese qualities, thus producing increased inner turmoil and deviant behaviors. Such a phenomenon not only ties the development of the Japanese psy disciplines to the nihonjinron—“theories about the Japanese people”—enterprise, but also demonstrates how political, legal, and commercial changes influence how we interpret our personal and collective well-being. This counter to universalizing tendencies is undervalued in the broader Buddhism-psychology dialogue, and certainly in what we might regard as “pop literature” on the subject.

The emphasis of this volume diverges from the two most prominent English-language approaches to dialogue between Buddhism and the psy disciplines: 1) identifying and critiquing parallels between Buddhist and psy thought (sometimes explicitly addressing questions of compatibility) and 2) exploring ways in which Buddhist thought and/or practices can aid the psy disciplines. While several exceptions to this trend exist, such as Chikako Ozawa-de Silva’s fieldwork-centered illumination of Naikan therapy and Michael Radich’s textual-historical How Ajātaśatru was Reformed: The Domestication of “Ajase” and Stories in Buddhist History (2011), this volume by Harding, Iwata, and Yoshinaga is significant in the alternative emphasis which it provides, the many key areas it excavates, and the quality with which it executes these features. Its chronological presentation is intended to portray Japanese psychotherapeutic and psycho-religious developments as innovations rooted in Japanese traditions and changing sociohistorical circumstance, rather than as “cultural variants” derived from Western advancements, a productive goal which they largely achieve.

In chapter 1, Harding provides us with his four-phase view of the general historical trends in the religion-psychology dialogue in Japan, all of which he sees as having contributed to Japanese views and approaches to mental health today. The period 1868-1912 is, not surprisingly, characterized by modernization, state-building, and new institutional and intellectual activity, but also cultural concerns over interpersonal dynamics and religious attention to physical and spiritual healing. Shortly after the end of this period, a shift occurred regarding legal responsibility for the mentally ill, moving from the family to medical institutions. Yet, from 1910 to 1945, mental therapies inspired by new scientific ideas strategically presented themselves in language rooted in traditional Japanese religious and cultural forms. This included the popular psycho-religious composite method, Morita therapy. In the context of rising issues concerning qualifications, legitimacy, and efficacy, Harding asserts that religion and psychotherapy were bonded together through the importance of practitioner personality, practitioner-client relationships, and a shared culture. After the war and through the 1960s, the relationship between religion and psychotherapy in Japan came to be distinguished by the rejection of much of what was associated with its prewar past, coupled with a renewed impact of the West. This included a strong influence of American developmental psychology, a view of complementarity between Asian religion and Western psychotherapy among both Japanese and Americans (e.g., Karen Horney, Alan Watts), increased translation of works between Japanese, English, and other European languages, an interest in cultural psychology that coincided with a new willingness to think in terms of universals (e.g., Kawai Hayao, Doi Takeo), and a strong push to keep religion out of public life (leading to a highly medicalized psy community). Not surprisingly, then, despite significant Pure Land Buddhist influence, the first Naikan center presented itself as secular when it opened in 1953. Harding, drawing considerably from Ozawa-de Silva’s work on Naikan, situates the period from the early 1970s to the present as centered around (often this-worldly) healing (iyashi). Looking forward from rationalist and materialist pressures of past modernization, and drawing from the rise of Jungianism and community psychiatry, the Spiritual World (seishin sekai) movement was born. As others have noted, this was boosted in 1995 by an increased aversion to organized religions associated with the Aum Shinrikyō gassing and Kobe earthquake response. This four-phase view, intended to provide useful background information and a framework for the rest of the volume, is a substantial contribution in its own right, especially considering the shortage of “big-picture” resources on the topic.

Chapter 2 revisits Harding’s first period, with Hashimoto Akira examining temple and shrine care for the mentally ill. With the influx of Western medical and psychological ideas, religious institutions looked to the successes of Japanese psychiatric researchers. Interestingly, so too did the new psy disciplines look to traditional Japanese therapies, not only due to widespread cultural suspicion toward Western-inspired institutions and ideas, but also because some believed that elements of European therapies already existed in the practical wisdom of Japanese tradition.

Chapter 3 addresses the emergence of an explicit religion-psychology dialogue through Yoshinaga Shin’ichi’s exploration of the new “mind cure” methods in the Meiji era. In particular, Yoshinaga connects the formulation of the first extant Japanese term for psychotherapy (seishin ryōhō) to the history of Japanese importation and integration of hypnotism, especially in the writings of hypnotist Kuwabara Toshiro, and the influence of the Zen practices of Hara Tanzan and his most famous student, Inoue Enryō. In the controversial but popular writings of Kuwabara, who combined Shin Buddhism with Christianity, Yoshinaga sees an influential voice that helped to “re-create ‘religion’ using psychological terms” (p. 93). This chapter clearly illustrates how perceptions of religion and the psy disciplines grew and transformed together in Japan. Of particular interest to some will be Yoshinaga’s discussion of philosophical differences between several Japanese terms for “mind” (seishin, shinri, kokoro) in the context of a “Buddhist materialist dilemma.”

Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the role of personal life stories in the success of Morita therapy and Kosawa Heisaku’s psychoanalysis. Morita therapy practitioners Kondo Kyoichi and Kitanishi Kenji argue that it was in Morita Shoma’s (a.k.a. Morita Masatake’s) personal struggles and the solutions he found in Buddhist religiosity that his psycho-religious composite method took form. Similarly, Iwata understands Kosawa’s psychoanalysis as strongly influenced by how the voices and life histories of both Sigmund Freud and Shinran resounded with his own. Kosawa, seeing Shin Buddhism and Freudian psychoanalysis as two articulations of the same worldview—an observation also put forth in Harding’s “Japanese Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: The Making of a Relationship” (2014)—nevertheless Japanized psychoanalysis, rarely mentioning religion explicitly in his writings (although it was there, nonetheless) while discussing it freely with his trainees and informally with clients. Okonogi Keigo, a disciple of Kosawa’s, furthered his work, countering Buddhicized elements—such as one’s mother becoming one with the idealized mother figure through other-power (tariki) salvation—more than Japanized ones. Iwata appears to agree with the disciple, Okonogi, that Kosawa’s approach was a reflection of Japanese societal anxieties surrounding the encounter of Japanese and Western worldviews, nevertheless pointing out that Okonogi incorrectly situates Kosawa’s construction of the Ajase complex wholly within his Japanese mentality rather than his Buddhist worldview. Although Iwata demonstrates enough familiarity with the Ajase narrative within traditional and modern Buddhist contexts to highlight Okonogi’s error in assessing Kosawa’s formulation, further engagement with Radich’s work on the subject could have intensified this critical point.

Departing from the desire of earlier therapists to protect Japanese culture and religion from Western psychology, the heavily criticized but greatly influential Doi Takeo showed at least equal concern for protecting psychoanalysis from Japanization. While interested in Japanese correlates to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Doi’s Amae theory, argues Ando Yasunori in chapter 6, was as much a product of his desire to ensure theoretical coherence with his Catholic identity as his Japanese identity. Doi’s secular presentation of his psychoanalytic theories, however, stand in stark contrast to the explicitly Catholic version of Naikan therapy created by the Catholic priest Fujiwara Naosato, as discussed by Terao Kazuyoshi in chapter 8. Fujiwara’s “re-religionized” Naikan variant—a potentially misleading term used by Terao, as this review will discuss—appears to me as different from most contemporary Naikan in two ways: 1) it embraces the “religious” label (while clients and practitioners associated with other Naikan centers often identify this therapy as “spiritual,” medical,” or “educational,” but generally not “religious”) and 2) it is substantially different from early Naikan, not just in branding, but in substance.[2] Although Yoshimoto Ishin quickly presented his Shin Buddhism-inspired therapy as secular, his decision later in life to become a monastic and offer Naikan out of his house-turned-temple demonstrates that, despite labels, a movement from traditional to modern, religious to secular, and other-worldly salvation to this-worldly healing was neither seamless nor wholly linear. This more refined narrative is offered explicitly in chapter 7 by Shimazono Susumu, whom Harding refers to as “perhaps the single most influential contributor to the study of the religion-psy dialogue in the Japanese context” (p. 16). Shimazono’s tracing of an ostensible movement from religion to psychotherapy and the many elements associated with such a shift—especially his concept of the “psycho-religious composite movement”—offers several fruitful directions for future research in regards to healing, spirituality, and the relationship between science and religion.

Chapter 9 centers around the significance of transnationalism—in this case, the presence and desired reconciliation between one’s Western and Japanese selves—in the groundbreaking analytic psychologist Kawai Hayao’s relationship with Jungian thought. As this review will discuss, chapter author Tarutani Shigehiro, like several others in this volume, draws our attention to theories that may provide a valuable lens for exploring such topics as Buddhism and globalization, Buddhism and colonialism, and Buddhist typologization.

Chapters 10-12 depart from the dominant approach of the volume. Horie Norichika’s chapter discusses insights from his Web-based research of past-life therapy clients in Japan. Uncovering shifts in popular Japanese understandings of reincarnation, responsibility, interpersonal relationships, and self-development, this research has the potential to enhance future investigations of the spirituality and New Age movements as well as to be put into dialogue with the past-life research coming out of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Division of Perceptual Studies. Shiotsuki Ryoko’s chapter provides further problematizing of a simple transition from traditional to modern and religious to secular, utilizing her case study of contemporary Okinawan shamanism (yuta) as an illustration of how the psy disciplines are not an inherently secularizing force. While healing has largely become the new context of Okinawan shamanism, the emergence of positive views toward spirit possession in some areas of contemporary Japanese psychiatry (i.e., a depathologization), coupled with the unique legal and political history of the region within broader postwar Japan, has helped maintain and even reinvigorate Okinawan religiosity. In contrast, Taniyama Yōzō’s chapter on the impact of the March 2011 Triple Disaster on the religion-psychology dialogue is somewhat prescriptive. A Buddhist monk, professor, and disaster chaplain, Taniyama explores differences between spiritual and religious disaster care, urging a more reflective support and relief system that bucks the pre-3/11 trend toward secularizing relief care. His Tohoku University-based training program for “interfaith chaplains” aims to account for religious and regional diversity while allowing space for self-aware, non-proselytizing religious care.

Concluding the volume, Harding asserts three tensions as central to the religion-psychology encounter in Japan. Firstly, pioneering Japanese psychotherapists often developed their theories and practices within the context of their own personal and interpersonal experiences, viewing both religious and psychotherapeutic theories as works in progress that ought to be shaped by the experiential. Affinities with figures such as Shinran, Myoē, Freud, and Carl Jung were often based more on shared personal experience than being of the same mind. Yet, these innovators were also in some ways “conduits for the ills of their ages” (p. 272). Figures such as Kosawa and Doi were reflective regarding this tension, with which Harding draws parallels to that of the Kyoto School thinkers Miki Kiyoshi and Tanabe Hajime. A second tension, says Harding, lies in the question of whether Japanese psychotherapists discovered or created Japanese psychological typologies. This tension is tied up in that of humanism versus Japanese particularism/essentialism. Both Tarutani’s discussion of Kawai’s identity struggles and the periodic engagement throughout the volume with nihonjinron discourse illustrate this tension. Lastly, Harding sees a tension between instrumentalism and engrossment—that is, “in how people interact with the world and conceptual representations of it” (p. 283). This tension can manifest in conflicting priorities regarding addressing present-life problems (often brought on by confrontations with modernity) versus understanding reality as it is. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Within an instrumentalist focus on purposefulness, the shift from salvation to healing becoming prominent, as does the mapping of competing epistemologies and worldviews onto each other. A process of engrossment has often been at play, too, with the promotion of extralinguistic self-cultivation, a nonrational rewiring resulting in embodied knowledge, standing as one example. According to Harding, the religion-psychology dialogue has been shaped chiefly through attempts to manage and capitalize on these tensions in response to the challenges of modernity.Given this picture, Harding calls attention to a path for religious organizations’ continued engagement with the psy disciplines and Japanese civil society more broadly: care and peace. Building on Taniyama’s advocacy for interfaith disaster care, Harding sees a possible “supra-modern” relationship between religion and Japanese modernity, incorporating rationality and secular and professional values “into a broad, transhistorical and trans-sectarian vision of the human person” (p. 270). As the 3/11 Triple Disaster may not have yet released its full impact on Japanese cultural views toward religion, spirituality, and mental health, he asserts that it is too early to know the likelihood of this vision coming to fruition.

This volume by Harding, Iwata, and Yoshinaga is an indispensable addition for those interested in English-language literature on the relationship between religion and psychology in modern Japan, offering translations of several papers previously published in Japanese, voices from an assortment of scholarly backgrounds, exposure to a range of sources perhaps not in the purview of scholars based outside of Japan, and an abundance of fine historical analysis hitherto lacking from the discourse. Of course, coherence can be an issue in any edited volume, particularly when joining voices across cultures. Young-Eisendrath and Muramoto acknowledge this difficulty in their own volume, which emerged in part from the experimental nature of the conference out of which their volume emerged. Unno’s volume abates this issue through appropriate sectioning of material. In the case of Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan, Harding, Iwata, and Yoshinaga have created a high-coherence volume by way of effective structuring, contributor choice, methodological emphasis, and thematic focus.

Of the many areas of the religion-psychology dialogue in Japan, a promising area of further research that I see opened up through this volume concerns conflicting identities and the challenge in finding appropriate labels for their manifestations in the world. While Kondo and Kitanishi’s chapter on Morita therapy at times bears similarity to the overgeneralizing tendency of Tseng, Chang, and Nishizono’s volume, particularly in their discussion of Asian conceptions of self (which echoes Morita’s own belief that healing necessarily emerges from a self that exists in sociocultural harmony), many of the other chapters present more nuanced discussions of Asian identities. We see this in Kawai’s transnationalism, Doi and Fujiwara’s Catholic Japaneseness, Kosawa and Morita’s secular-labeled but Buddhist-inspired therapies, and of course, the inner and outer tensions that pervade the volume: modern versus traditional, therapist versus struggling human being. Moreover, what does it mean when we label a phenomenon “religionized,” “re-religionized,” “psychologized,” “Japanized,” or “Buddhicized?” What are the sufficient and necessary conditions for such a label? It is not inaccurate for Terao to refer to Fujiwara’s Catholic Naikan as “re-religionized,” since Yoshimoto’s original Naikan was based on the Shin Buddhist practice of mishirabe, explicitly marketed by him as secular, and repackaged in the 1990s by Fujiwara as a Catholic meditation. However, Yoshimoto firmly eschewed the label of “religious.” From his perspective, then, Fujiwara “religionized” rather than “re-religionized” Naikan. How about “psychologized Buddhism” and “Buddhicized psychology?” Several of the pioneering figures explored in this volume saw no distinction between specific religions and psychologies, a far stronger claim than that of compatibility or complementarity. Who determines the labeling of these phenomena? Should the academic study of Buddhism and science, in discussing appropriation, utilize discourses surrounding the insider-outsider problem, emic versus etic? Questions along these lines appear relevant to the lavish attention awarded to mindfulness in recent years, and may also intersect with current Buddhism-related conversations regarding globalization, colonialism, and typologization. Jørn Borup’s “Easternization of the East? Zen and Spirituality as Distinct Cultural Narratives in Japan” (2015) and Wakoh Shannon Hickey’s “Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism” (2010) both come to mind. An academically rigorous address of these questions goes beyond the scope of this volume, but answers enacted by several instrumental figures are there for the taking.

Any assessment of a work’s value to an individual should occur within the context of that individual’s goals. Methodologically, Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan has its limitations. Differing from many historical approaches to other topics, the editors acknowledge that their volume heavily prioritizes pioneering individuals, institutions, and ideas over everyday people—clients, religious practitioners, and those otherwise contributing to the dialogue in perhaps less perceptible ways. Challenges exist in accessing and divulging client information, especially in the case of university and hospital records (karute). Yet, Horie Norichika’s chapter on past-life therapy case studies, much like Ozawa-de Silva’s work elsewhere, demonstrates that avenues of research along these lines are possible, a point acknowledged and encouraged by the editors. Data accessibility aside, the editors present a volume partial toward historical methods. Harding maintains that interviews and self-ascriptions are “likely to be compromised by various forms of self-editing in which we all habitually engage—people in this case perhaps talking about shūkan (custom or habit) rather than shūkyō when explaining their behaviour out of a desire not to be thought superstitious or otherwise socially/psychologically suspect, especially after the Aum Affair” (p. 10). His point is well taken, particularly in the context of Japan, though I suspect that the value of such fieldwork would nonetheless go far in doing the boundary work that he admits is necessary. Still, neither historical nor anthropological methods may do much for those primarily interested in textual and philosophical explorations of the relationship between Buddhism and psychology. These orientations, infrequently engaged with in this volume (though Yoshinaga and Harding are among the most willing), can be underdeveloped and are not uncommonly relegated to footnotes. Even so, while a single volume cannot cover everything, this one supplies a lot. Those working on Yogācāra and/or Buddhist philosophy of mind may find this work of less use than those interested in other areas (e.g., Buddhist modernisms, lived manifestations of Shin and Zen, popular Japanese perspectives on religion, spirituality, and healing), but the already weighty tilt of the literature toward textual-philosophical orientations can profit from the contextualization and new voices provided by this excellent volume.


[1]. Teresina Rowell Havens, “Mrs. Rhys Davids’ Dialogue with Psychology (1893-1924),” Philosophy East and West 14 (1964): 51-58.

[2]. Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, Psychotherapy and Religion in Japan: The Japanese Introspection Practice of Naikan (London: Routledge, 2006).

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Citation: Adam Valerio. Review of Harding, Christopher; Iwata Fumiaki; Shin'ichi, Yoshinaga, eds., Religion and Psychotherapy in Modern Japan. H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews. August, 2015. URL:

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