The Crucifixion Of Japan's Greatest Super Hero

Earlier this month in Tokyo, Bandai showed off some of its latest figurines. Iconic characters were recreated in sculpted plastic. Many of the figures were aimed at older collectors, and one set in particular depicted stood out: the crucifixion of the Ultramen.

Ultraman is an iconic Japanese superhero. Kids grow up watching his adventures on TV and in movie theatres. And in 1973, they marvelled as the Ultraman brothers — the Ultra Brothers, if you will — were lured to the desolate Planet Golgotha and crucified. This was the thirteenth episode in the Ultraman Ace series, and it was titled "Capital Punishment! The Ultra Brothers".

Japan is not a Christian country. Only one per cent of the country claims to be Christian. Yet, Taro Aso, a Catholic, became Japan's Prime Minister a few years back, and his religious beliefs were hardly a topic of political discourse. Heck, Aso wasn't even the first Christian Prime Minister in Japan. There have been seven. Not bad for a country that actually crucified practising Christians in the 16th century in hopes of preventing missionaries from converting people — and, in turn, westernising the country.

And in the years following World War II, Japan was even less of an oppressively religious country. The way religion was used as part of the war effort left a bad taste in many people's mouth. Japanese people do celebrate religious holidays, pray and believe in God. However, the concept of religion doesn't weigh as heavily in Japanese society, like it does in some countries.

And while today Japan seems largely indifferent towards the practice of Christianity, it certainly doesn't have much of a problem absorbing Christian holidays, such as Christmas, or getting married in chapels by a faux priest. Obviously, in both instances, all religious meaning is, by default, stripped, and these become secular.

This is probably why such imagery could appear in a children's show. Christian religious iconography does pop up throughout Japanese pop culture.

Decades after the Ultraman Ace series aired on Japanese television, the image of the Ultra Brothers' crucifixion continues to reappear in collectibles, such as this newly revealed figurine set (photos courtesy of AmiAmi).

With Japan's history of Christian martyrdom and its own reinvention during the Post War years, the crucifixion of Ultraman remains one of the most striking scenes ever to appear in Japanese pop culture.

Culture Smash is a regular dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.

Top photo: Picmv


    Less than 1% of Japanese people do celebrate religious holidays, pray and believe in God*


      Kami, then? Buddha? Both are fairly big in Japan.

        Jake's right. Buddhism isn't a religion that believes in a god, buddha isn't a god. kami is the japanese word for god, which of course, exists in mythology in every single culture that ever existed, but they don't play a part in japanese lifestyle nowadays. It's like saying how come we don't worship Jupiter.

          I don't think my point was clear.

          Are you seriously trying to say that 99% of Japanese do not observe Shinto, Buddhist, or Christian holidays, pray, or believe in the existence of deity-like figures of their respective belief systems?

      Seriously, you need to cross check your references.
      Most Japanese blessed by a Shinto priest when they're born, married in a church and died with Buddhist ceremony.

    I once heard Japan described as a superstitious culture rather than a religious one. In my limited time over there I found this to be rather apt, which is why absorbing foreign religious traditions isn't as much of an issue there as it can be in other cultures. Even that period of persecution has more to do with political doctrine than religious intolerance.

    Last edited 09/11/12 11:52 pm

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