The interpretation of Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality found in John Storey’s An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture is useful here:

In the realm of the hyperreal, the distinction between simulation and the ‘real’ continually implodes; the ‘real’ and the imaginary continually collapse into each other. The result is that reality and simulation are experienced as without difference—operating along a roller coaster continuum. In fact, simulations can often be experienced as more real than the real itself… (Storey 1993: 163).


For Heian Buddhists, there was no more palpable expression—no more verifiably “real” experience—of the Pure Land than the Firstspace created by the Phoenix Hall [add references to Heian descriptions of the Phoenix Hall experienced as the Pure Land]. On the basis of a notion of hyperreality, the Phoenix Hall fits into the context of Soja’s tripartite space in the following way:

Firstspace of the Phoenix Hall. The material space of the Phoenix Hall was a converted aristocratic villa with additional new construction that was made to appear like the conceived space of the Pure Land. Because the Pure Land is itself not a material space, the physical space of the Phoenix Hall is both Firstspace and simulation of the Pure Land.

Secondspace of the Phoenix Hall. Conceptualizations of the Pure Land taken from sūtras, mandalas, and other Buddhist sources—as well as architectural styles appropriated from Heian period secular aristocratic and temple buildings—are central design elements of the Phoenix Hall and constitute its Secondspace.

Thirdspace of the Phoenix Hall. The lived experience of Japanese Buddhist monastics and laypersons of the Phoenix Hall as Pure Land.


Conclusion: The Production of Simulated Space

The simulated Pure Land made material in the Phoenix Hall appears to mimic the conceived space of the Pure Land. Conversely, however, we can conceive that the Phoenix Hall/Pure Land creates the reality of the Pure Land. Despite appearances to the contrary, the Phoenix Hall was not simply an opulent expression of religious fervor; it also created the model of a “real” Pure Land which in fact had no independent or original material reality. “Simulation,” as Baudrillard argues, “threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’, between ‘real’ and imaginary’ (Baudrillard 1983: 5). The simulation of the Pure Land at the Phoenix Hall concretized the Pure Land’s reality; it did not represent an otherwise real material space. To return to Baudrillard’s conception of hyperreality, the physical presence of the Phoenix Hall blurred the distinction between reality and simulation of the Pure Land. This blurring allowed the Phoenix Hall to be experienced as Pure Land Firstspace. This perceptual shift is underscored by aristocratic Heian Buddhist accounts of experiencing the Phoenix Hall as the Pure Land itself.

What was created in Heian Japan at the Phoenix Hall was, to use a contemporary term, a virtual world. There was no real Firstspace, so Firstspace was manufactured. Pure Land simulation masqueraded as an actualization of the Pure Land, a religious goal accessible to everyone regardless of social class (itinerant monks had begun preaching this starting at least a century earlier). Yet, in a society as hierarchical as Heian Japan, the simulated space of the Pure Land was never equally accessible across class boundaries and hence the Phoenix Hall/Pure Land afforded power only to those aristocrats with access to this space. The actual situation was that the space of Amida’s paradise was experienced as exclusive to aristocrats, appropriated for something other than egalitarian purposes.

            Thus, there were important political and ideological implications to the creation of a Pure Land Firstspace. In the late Heian period, high-ranking aristocrats were in control of fabricating simulations of the Pure Land. No other class had the financial means and religious connections to be able to support such a venture. This hyperreal Pure Land then became the site for, inter alia, demonstrations of wealth, displays of religious and secular power, and the reinforcement of social hierarchies. For instance, Heian aristocrats no doubt experienced the Phoenix Hall differently from the laborers who built it and then were restricted in their access to this space once construction was completed. Flanagan makes a similar point about the distinction between Firstspace and its Thirdspace experience in his discussion of a Sinai Bedouin and an Israeli guide: “The two men lived in the same physical Firstspace zone, but their Thirdspaces differed substantially” (Flanagan 2001).

            The Pure Land/Phoenix Hall masked the hierarchy of relations characterizing Heian period society and reinforced social stratification. The ostensibly egalitarian Pure Land was rendered hierarchical through its material realization as the Phoenix Hall, a space restricted on the basis of social ranking. Yorimichi effectively appropriated the Secondspace and Thirdspace of the Pure Land by crafting the Phoenix Hall as Pure Land Firstspace. This manifested Firstspace then served as the ground for spatial practices involving religious rituals and other actions that not only reinforced the perception of the Phoenix Hall as Pure Land Firstspace but engendered and perpetuated the inequities of power relations between aristocrats and others.

I stated in the Introduction to this paper that I hoped to raise questions about the relevance (or not) of contemporary spatial theories to religious studies generally. It seems to me that the issue of spatiality is a critical piece missing from most analyses of religious data. This is an area of inquiry rich with possibility currently in the early stages of scholarly exploration. I have tried to sketch out here a view of a Japanese religious space in context, one that takes seriously three theoretical claims concerning space discussed by Kevin Hetherington, a sociologist, in his The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Ordering. In this volume, Hetherington reviews recent literature on spatiality and locates these studies within a model of space as socially produced. He extracts three contextualizing positions in this literature:

1.      “space and place are not treated as sets of relations outside of society but implicated in the production of those social relations and are themselves, in turn, socially produced.”

2.      “space and place are seen to be situated within relations of power and in some cases within relations of power-knowledge”

3.      “spatial relations and places associated with those spatial relations are seen to be multiple and contested. A place does not mean the same thing for one group of social agents as it does for another” (Hetherington 1997: 20)

It seems to me that these three claims have to be considered in any analysis of religious space if we are to move beyond an Eliadean view of religious space as merely “sacred.” I could argue, for instance, that the Phoenix Hall qua Pure Land is a sacred space in Eliadean terms (and with all the ramifications of such a claim), but to do so would miss the opportunity for analyzing space-in-context as Hetherington suggests. It is this same concern for space-in-context that inspires Soja to view critical spatiality through a radical postmodernism. As noted above, the example of Pure Land space and its power implications in Heian Japan offers evidence of the multiplicity of spatial contexts and experiences, and the need for trialectic and other approaches to religious space.

            Finally, tripartite theories of space lead us in fruitful directions for spatial analysis, but, as I have proposed in this paper, not all religious space falls neatly into this threefold schema. Soja and others have extracted their theories primarily from the discipline of geography. The study of religious space—with its combinations and continuums of real and imagined spaces—seems, at least in some instances, to require other theoretical frames through which to view religious data. To that end, I have attempted to offer one area of religious spatial inquiry—an absent Firstspace/a present simulated space—for further theorization.




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