Balanced portrayal of religion unexpectedly well-timed

The cover of “‘Kamisama’ no Iru Ie de Sodachimashita” by Mariko Kikuchii, which is published by Bungeishunju Ltd.

‘Kamisama’ no Iru Ie de Sodachimashita(We grew up in a house where god dwells)
by Mariko Kikuchi (Bungeishunju)

The biggest news stories in Japan this year will undoubtedly be topped by the shooting in July of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The suspect’s confession that his motive was hatred of a religious organization of which his mother was a believer has had complex repercussions both socially and politically. The manga I am introducing today, “‘Kamisama’ no Iru Ie de Sodachimashita” (We grew up in a house where god dwells), which was published in October, is not directly related to the case. But it seems to have synchronized with the times in a curious, unexpected manner.

The term “shukyo nisei,” which means “second-generation followers of a religion,” has since become a major buzzword. It refers to children whose parents are followers of a certain religion or cult, and who naturally grow up having the same beliefs as their parents. This manga is reportage about such young people and is subtitled “Shukyo Nisei na Watashitachi” (We, the second-generation followers).

Some religious doctrines forbid blood transfusions or the use of medicines, prohibit free love or even participation in certain school events. Second-generation followers eventually realize that the world within their homes and the outside world are very different, but oftentimes they cannot easily abandon the faith they have lived with since childhood even if they want to. Nor do they want to betray their parents’ love for them. It is the fate of children born in a “house where god dwells” to be caught in a dilemma or even a trilemma between religious belief, family love and wider society.

The author, mangaka Mariko Kikuchi, is also a second-generation follower. Hoping that people may understand their suffering, she began serializing stories about second-generation followers in a publisher’s online magazine last year. But the series was discontinued in March due to strong objection by a religious group. Ironically for the group, its objection has actually resulted in drawing more attention to the issue.

Even though there used to be a tacit consensus that criticizing religions was considered taboo, such an atmosphere was turned upside down after the Abe shooting in July. The manga was published in book form by Bungeishunju Ltd., a different publisher from the one that had originally serialized it online. Bungeishunju made the publication offer to Kikuchi before the Abe shooting, so it was by no means a jump-on-the-bandwagon proposal. That said, the timing of the publication could not have been better.

“I have no intention of denying religion,” Kikuchi said. “It’s true that religion brings salvation to some people, and there’re many teachings that are good in themselves. However, we second-generation followers cannot help but feel that we must continue to practice our faith or else our parents will stop loving us. This is a common affliction felt by second-generation followers. Do not force religious beliefs on us, but let us make our own choices. For those who think all this has nothing to do with them, I want them to imagine how it might have been if they were born into such a family.”

The drawings in this manga are done with a gentle touch. Although the manga allows readers to make a guess as to which religion each episode deals with, it generally offers a well-balanced portrayal of the religion, and I didn’t feel that they were deliberately cast in a negative light. Even though the first publisher axed the serialization midway through, this company’s courage in approving the project for launch also deserves appreciation in its own right.

Recently, the media has become so heated up about the “religion = evil” formula that it borders on alarming. In this context, the calm, level-headed approach of this work shines through. It deserves to be read for the sake of a fair and open discussion about religion.