This article introduces the Japanese millennial movements, which came into contact with its western counterparts in the nineteenth century. While periodization has been intrinsic to millennialism, the Japanese had no period-based idea of millennialism, marked by the return of a messiah. Pre-Buddhist Japan did not have much to do with temporal demarcations. The loosest attempt at periodization came from the observation of the harvest seasons. Omoto (1892–1935) and Aum Shirinkyo (1986–1995) are Japan's most notorious tryst with millennialism. While the former, launched by a peasant woman Deguchi Nao, preached the return of the mythical figure “Ushitora Konjin”, to salvage man, and the latter, the most notorious, founded by Asahara Shoko, was involved in various nefarious activities, including the infamous Sarin gas incident on the Tokyo subway (1995). Shoko and several members were arrested and sentenced to death. Post Aum, millennialism lost influence in Japan.
This chapter investigates the place of destructive acts against oneself—such as starvation and self-mutilation—in the spectrum of violent actions performed in the name of religion. Self-starvation and self-mutilation share some of the ideological and performative features of violence in the name of religion. The self-sacrifice of Quang Duc was demonstrative of a time-tested Buddhist form of bodily practice known in Buddhist studies in the West as self-immolation. It is revealed that self-directed violence can be both an act of devotion and an act of protest. Self-immolation and hunger-striking employ the body as a means of resistance. Like self-conflagration, the hunger strike has become a global phenomenon used on every continent of the world.