Dr. Nuffer Speaks at MGF Conference on Space and Place

Dr. Laura Nuffer delivered the address, Hell on Earth: How the Realms of Torment Became a Tourist Destination in Early Modern Japan at the 2nd Annual Interdisciplinary conference, "A Sense of Space and Place: Global and Local Perspectives" organized by the Mellon Globalization Forum, which was held at the University of the South, April 6-8, 2017.

Lecture abstract:

Where is hell? For a person in premodern Japan, there were several possible answers to this question.  Buddhist cosmology recognizes the existence of many realms of torment, made accessible to Japanese audiences in evangelical treatises such as the monk Genshin's Essentials of Salvation (Ojoyoshu, 985), which maps out lakes of boiling blood and rivers of iron hooks in Dante-esque detail.  However, the fearsome geography of hell was more than a mattter of faith; in a volcanically  active region sucha as Japan, hell was readily accessible on earth.  One particularly  prominent access point was Mount Tateyama in modern Toyama prefecture.  With its steaming craters and pools of bubbling mud, by the 11th centurey Tateyama had secured a reputation as the gateway to the underworld.  Tales in collections such as Miracles of the Lotus Sutra (Hokke genki, 1043) describe the encounters between visitors of Tateyama and loved ones suffering in hell, whose torments could be eased  with the proper Buddhist devotions.  Over the centuries, Tateyama becomae a popular pilgrimage site, but, as this paper will demonstrate, during the Edo period (1603-1868) it began to acquire a different character: that of a tourist destination, one sight to be seen as part of a larger travel itinerary.  The increasingly desacralized character of the Tateyams pilgrimage mirrored the more playful, even parodic depictions of hell that emerged in popular Edo fiction, suggesting a broader "touristification" of Buddhist cosmology.