Domination and Diminution: The Shrinking of the Shamaness into the Anime Miko
R. Christopher Feldman
Asian Cultures and Languages
University of Texas at Austin
The figure of the miko or shrine maiden is a popular trope in contemporary Japanese popular culture. Dressed in their traditional red and white outfits, these characters are usually depicted as virginal, often prepubescent or adolescent, and endowed with powers of prophecy, clairvoyance, and the ability to speak with–and for–the kami. They are seen in manga and anime genres as widely disparate as historical fiction, contemporary cyberculture, and hentai pornography, and appear to be particularly attractive to male consumers of otaku culture. At the same time, the once prevalent figure of the empowered shamaness whose talents the anime miko now wields is almost nowhere found in contemporary Japanese pop culture.
Drawing on the fields of anthropology, popular culture analysis, and Japanese history, and using examples from a variety of anime, this paper will explore the relationship between the vanishing shamaness and the rise of the moe (cute) miko. A theory will be presented that through a process of diminution, the shamaness has been shrunk down,’chibi-fied,’ into the anime miko. In this way, the intimidating image of a mature, empowered woman who speaks with the voice of the gods has been tamed, reducing her into the cute and unthreatening girl with the vacant eyes popular with male otaku.