immortal wishes:
labor and transcendence
on a Japanese sacred mountain

Ellen Schattschneider

Duke University Press (2003)

Teaching Resources for Immortal Wishes


Suggested Readings and Themes


The following are some of the texts that either strongly influenced me as I was writing Immortal Wishes or that I have come to think of as resonating in interesting ways with the book.  I suspect that some of these readings would be helpful in teaching "Immortal Wishes," either as assignments for students or as resources for the instructor.



Allison, Anne. 1996.  Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

The Akakura case might be discussed in class in light of Allison's treatment of the fraught terrain of mother-child relations and ambivalent imagery of maternal figures in modern Japan. Doi and Winnicott could profitiably be brought into this discussion as well. In this light, students might consider the extent to which the mountain and the shrine founder function as ambiguous maternal figures for worshippers.

Basso, Keith. 1996. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico: Albuquerque.  (esp. chapter four, the title essay)

I read this work after completing "Immortal Wishes" and was enormously impressed by Basso's beautiful treatment of the dynamic, reciprocal relationship between human subjects and spatial contexts.  In his words,  this is "a relationship in which individuals invest themselves in the landscape while incorporating its meanings into their own most fundamental experience." (102)   In class, students might discuss the relevance of this formulation to the Akakura case.

Benedict, Ruth. 1946.  The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Boston: Houghton Miflin.

Students might consider the forms of obligation among worshippers,as well as worshippers' obligations towards ancestors and divinities, in light of Benedict's classic discussion of different forms of obligation in Japanese culture.


Blacker, Carmen. 1975.  The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Nearly any aspect of Blacker's fascinating exploration of Japanese shamanic traditions might be discussed in reference to the Akakura case. Of particular interest might be her discussion asceticism (Chapter Five, "Ascesis"), itako (Chapter Eight, "The Blind Medium"), initiation (Chapter Nine, "The Ascetic's Initiation") and ascetic pilgrimage (e.g. Chapter Eleven, "The Symbolic Journey"). To what extent do shugyo and kamisama spirit mediumship at Akakura resonate with Blacker's accounts?


Doi, Takeo. 1973.      The Anatomy of Dependence. ( Translated by John Bester.)
  Tokyo, New York: Kodansha International.

Students might assess how well Doi's model of amae (indulgence or dependence) and child development resonates with worshippers' experiences of dependence and maturation on the mountain. To what extent do ascetics performing shugyo reduplicate early childhood experiences of dependence, attachment and separation as described and analyzed by Doi? In what respects do adult ascetics' experiences of worship differ from Doi's schema of psychological and emotional development?


Field, Norma.  1991.  In the Realm of a Dying Emperor.  New York: Pantheon Books.

Perhaps students might reflect on the complex status of alternative or oppositional stances within contemporary Japanese society.  What are the limits, as it were, of conformity and 'normalcy'?  Are there any senses in which ritual practice at Akakura could be understood as "resistanc"e against the taken-for-granted strictures of the Japanese mainstream? In what respects might the persons introduced in Immortal Wishes be understood as comparable to the extraordinary persons that we meet in In the Realm?


Grapard, Alan.  1989.  "The Textualized Mountain-Enmountained Text: The Lotus Sutra in Kunisaki." in Tanabe and Tanabe The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. (pp. 159-90).

Grapard's fascinating essay raises a number of important historical and interpretive points, including the colonial or imperial dimensions of earlier pilgrimage and ascetic practices, as well as complex, dialectical relationship between landscape and text. Sacred landscapes cannot simply be regarded as a projections of textual schemata; rather, the social life of sacred texts is partly  conditioned by tangible physical engagement with material landscapes. These insights might be introduced into a discussion of the relationship between texts, narratives and landscapes on Akakura

Munn, Nancy. 1970. "The Transformation of Subjects into Objects in Walbiri  and  Pigantjatjara Myth" in Ronald Berndt, ed. Australian Aboriginal Anthropology: Modern Studies in the Social Anthropology of  Australian Aborigines. University of Western Australia Press

Munn explores ongoing transpositions between persons and landscapes in Western Australian Aboriginal societies; the process of maturation implies progressively closer identification with highly mythologized landscape sites, so that the mature living actor in certain respects takes on fundamental attributes of ancestral features embedded in natural rock and desert features.   Students might consider the parallels to the Akakura case. in which specific rock and landscape features become, in effect, switchpoints, between individual psychic experience and exemplary (now ancestral) antecedents.


Ruppert, Brian D. 2000. Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan. Harvard University Press.

There are many potential points of comparison between the medieval dynamics that Ruppert explores and present-day ritual practice at Akakura Mountain Shrine. Students might, for example, consider the symbolism of Kannon, Fudo Myoo, the Dragon King and the dragon princess, as well as Ruppert's broader discussions of offerings and indebtedness to sacral beings.

Winnicott, D.M. Play and Reality. (especially the chapter, "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena" )

Students might consider the extent to which ritual practices at Akakura, such as shugyo or the mountain opening rite, might be understood as transitional phenomena or transitional objects in Winnicott's terms . It might be helpful to assign Doi and Allison as well, so that students could discuss the nature of transitional phenomena and detachment in Japanese contexts.



Website developed by Ellen Schattschneider (Brandeis University)