Post-war Japanese picture books often appropriate elements with recognizably religious pedigrees—characters, plots, visual imagery—for use in the education and entertainment of young children. Working against conventional interpretations of mainstream children’s books as wholly secular and therefore un-religious, I argue that they in fact promote a transformed and acculturated form of religiosity. Picture book religion boasts its own moral canon, a strong sense of tradition, and a pantheon of super-human entities. It promotes group cohesion while encouraging right behavior and a sense of wonder. And it has its own priests in the guise of illustrator-auteurs, teachers, and semi-professional "picture book masters" (ehonshi).
Heather Blair specializes in Japanese religious history and is associate professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. Her research focuses on the religious culture of the Heian period (794–1185) and the ways in which premodern religious patterns adapt and transform in contemporary life. Her publications include Real and Imagined (Harvard University Asia Center 2015) and articles in journals such as Monumenta Nipponica and Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies.