Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Pranke, Patrick

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Polzer, Natalie

Committee Member

Polzer, Natalie

Committee Member

Sohn, Steve

Committee Member

Hagan, Mike

Committee Member

Lai, Delin

Author's Keywords

Japan; otaku; shinto; kanda shrine; washinomiya shrine; Japanese culture


The focus of this dissertation centers on the otaku subculture and their subsequent incorporation of Japanese religious elements into their consumption of Japanese popular culture. This phenomenon highlights the intersections of popular culture and religion in Japan, which is emerging in religious sites. Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples are incorporating popular culture as a means to maintain relevancy, encourage growth of parishioners, and raising revenue by capitalizing on the popularity of manga and anime. The relevance of this research connects to the continued impact of Japanese popular culture through globalization. The first chapter provides a theoretical background examining this socio-religious phenomenon, and sociological framework, which considers the capitalist economy and relationship to religion. Chapter Two defines Shintō and kami, explains deification, outlines an historical overview for religion in Japan, providing historical antecedents for the otaku’s relationship to religion, and highlighting historical and cultural influences. Chapter Three analyzes the historical and cultural contexts that form the otaku identity, traces the etymology of the word “otaku,” and positions the otaku within mainstream society. This analysis of otaku identity and mindset provides insight into the otaku’s consumptive behaviors associated with popular culture. Chapter Four analyzes otaku consumptive practices and behaviors, and the impact on several Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples. Chapter Four concludes with the emergence of “pop culture kami” that accentuate the otaku’s incorporation of Shintō elements into their consumption of popular culture. This convergence of otaku, religion, and popular culture points to emerging shifts within contemporary Japan.