You are here


Sacred Cetaceans: Comparing Whale Worship in Vietnam and Japan

Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - 12:30 to 13:30

ADI and NIAS are pleased to invite you to an Asia Brown Bag Talk by Aike P. Rots, University of Oslo.

In various parts of the Asia-Pacific region, whales, dolphins, and other aquatic mammals are associated with divine power, and are (or were) the objects of ritual veneration. In particular, as I will show in this presentation, worship traditions centred on cetaceans have been preserved in coastal regions in Vietnam and Japan. Along the south and central coast of Vietnam, whales and other cetaceans are venerated as life-saving sea deities, named Cá Ông. Temples are typically built at places where whales have washed ashore and died, and they often contain the bones of these animals. To many Vietnamese fishing communities, Cá Ông is a powerful protective deity, and ritual ceremonies and festivals (lễ hội) at these shrines are important community events. In some Japanese coastal areas, the spirits of whales are likewise venerated through ritual practice. At some Buddhist temples in areas historically known for whaling, kuyō – pacification rituals for the spirits of deceased animals – are conducted regularly. There are also Shinto festivals (matsuri) centred on whales and associated sea deities such as Ebisu, and various shrines and temples throughout the country have gates, bridges, or statues made of cetacean bones. Thus, in Vietnam as well as in Japan, whales continue to carry significant symbolic capital today – if no longer as deities, at least as local “heritage” and as symbols of nature conservation and a reimagined “ancient sustainability”. In both countries, whale-related rituals have been reclassified as local or national “heritage”, and acquired new meanings as a result of tourism, coastal depopulation (either forced or voluntary), and changing livelihoods.

Aike P. Rots is an associate professor in contemporary Japan studies at the University of Oslo. He holds a PhD from the University of Oslo, an MA degree from SOAS, University of London, and BA degrees from Leiden Uni-versity. He is the author of Shinto, Nature and Ideology in Contemporary Japan: Making Sacred Forests (Bloomsbury 2017) and the co-editor (with Mark Teeuwen) of Forma-tions of the Secular in Japan (special issue of Japan Review, no. 30, 2017). He has written articles and book chapters on a variety of topics, including modern Shinto, sacred space, religion and politics in Vietnam, and Japanese Christianity.

Time: 23 May 2018, 12:30-13:30
Venue: NIAS, room 18.1.08, CSS, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5

Feel free to bring your own lunch. There will be coffee/tea.

NAJS 2018 - Call for Papers

Thursday, May 24, 2018 to Friday, May 25, 2018






Fourteenth Annual NAJS Conference
Nordic Association for the Study of Contemporary Japanese Society (NAJS)
24-25 May 2018, Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Fourteenth Annual NAJS Conference will take place at the Southern Campus of the University of Copenhagen, and is organized and sponsored jointly by Asian Dynamics Initiative (ADI), NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies.
The full call for papers, registration forms, guidelines for participation, and more information about the conference can be found here:
Deadline for abstract submissions: 31 January 2018






NEWDAY - The Nansen East-West Dialogue Academy Open for Registration

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 to Friday, August 17, 2018

Creating better relations by seeking mutual understanding: Harmony in diversity

Summer course 7-17 August 2018 - Lillehammer, Norway

NEWDAY is a cross-cultural dialogue academy founded to provide a platform for the development of closer and better relations among scholars and university students from East Asia and the Nordic region of Europe. NEWDAY offers an inter-disciplinary training program addressing current global challenges in a unique social setting.

Dialogue about what among whom?
The pace of change has never been faster. Where we are headed is not at all clear. That is a question to be debated, and dialogue is needed. The NEWDAY project maintains that humane leadership is needed, and we believe that devoted and concerned students of today are the prospective leaders of tomorrow.

In an effort of contributing our part to this important task, we are calling concerned students from East Asia and the Nordic countries to Lillehammer, a small but Olympic town in Norway. The summer course takes place at Nansen Academy, a distinctive People’s High School, where you will spend ten days together with outstanding scholars, media people and political leaders.

The contemporary world needs open minds and innovative thinking. We believe that respectful cross-cultural dialogue is a necessary tool in order to create international understanding with appreciation of differences.

The NEWDAY motto is Creating better relations by seeking mutual understanding: Harmony in diversity. You are invited to join us. Welcome!

Application and information

Application for NEWDAY 2018 is now open. For more information, click here.

For more information: [email protected]

For photos and information on NEWDAY 2017, please visit: