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Menburyu and the Shaguma: (De)Constructing (Inter)National Cultural Practices and Symbols Within a Post-Native-Speakerist Framework

Part of the Intercultural Communication and Language Education book series (ICLE)


How might (inter)national cultural practices and symbols be (de)constructed within a post-native-speakerist framework? This question will be explored in relation to Menburyu and the shaguma, which are interconnected cultural symbols and practices found in Saga Prefecture where the author works. To that end, this chapter is split into two main parts prior to discussion and conclusion. Firstly, the relationship between post-native-speakerism and social constructivism is explored with reference to socialization and identity development, including cognitive, moral and intercultural development. Secondly, the (de)construction of (inter)national cultural practices and symbols is exemplified by reporting on an exhibition entitled Menburyu: Past, Present and Future developed within Houghton’s Furyu Educational Program (FEP). The report consists of reflective teacher narrative and commentary on selected exhibition panels related to Menburyu and the shaguma. Insofar as personal and social memory are linked, the preservation and revitalization of both can be pursued through the (de)construction of (inter)national symbols within citizenship education in FLE in ways that can support human brain health and cultural development through heritage management, intercultural dialogue, technology, health and fitness, art generation and social business. Taking a holistic approach to social development, practical ways of (de)constructing (inter)national cultural practices and symbols are suggested and exemplified in relation to overarching UN Social Development Goals (SDGs).

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    Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (24520627) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2012–2015).

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    For a list of Japan’s intangible cultural heritage, see


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I would like to thank all of the following individuals and groups that have supported this project so far. This includes professional fitness instructor Kazuki Miyata for inspiring and continuing to sustain this program, NPO Tiempo Iberoamericano in Fukuoka for helping to lay initial foundations for the project before the discovery of Menburyu, Mai Mishima, Kotaro Ideta, Professors Igarashi and Inoue for supporting the project within Saga University, my husband Takao Suenaga for helping me to research the history of Menburyu especially in the early stages of the project, Bailey Onaga for her artwork, Furyu mask-makers Keiun Komori and Keihou Nakahara with his son Hirokazu Nakahara, members of the Hogaura Menburyu community, Noh expert Masanori Inouchi, Kashima City Hall (Culture Division), Saga Board of Education (Culture Division), Kashima Densho Geino Festival organizers, Saga Densho Geino Festival organizers, Ureshino City Hall (Tourism Division), Mie Ishii (Saga University, Faculty of Art and Regional Design) and the ICCROM team who gave space for this project within the Arita Summer School as well as all the ICCROM participants whose ideas nourished the content of this chapter through illuminating discussion. I would like to thank the organizers of the JALT PanSig, JALT OLE-SIG, The TEFLology Podcast team (Turner, Schaefer & Lowe; see Chap. 11, this volume) for providing me with important plenary speaking space through which to both express and further develop my ideas and Jeremie Bouchard for his constructive comments on this chapter. I would like to thank all the journalists who have covered various stages of this project including Saga Shimbun, Nagasaki Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Kashima Cable TV, Saga TV and Saga NHK. I would like to thank all the students and community members who have participated in this project so far, and the countless others who have contributed in various ways.

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Appendix 1: Shifts Needed in the Educational Activities of the Foreign Language Teacher (Houghton, 2018)

  From To
1 Native-speaker model Diverse models, plurilingualism
Nativeness Non-nativeness, variety, appropriation, hybridity, language variety
System control
2 L2 as a good in itself L2 as vehicle for mutual exchange of people
Target language (Emergent) grammar
(Predefined) grammar (Emergent) language norms
(Predefined) language norms NNS interaction only? NS and/or NNS interaction?
Intercultural communication
Language norms of established varieties (e.g. US, UK, inner circle) Prioritize NNS interaction? Select from all available varieties? Standard English? ELF norms? Nativized Englishes? Greater explicitness in norm selection? Contrastive intercultural approach?
3 Accuracy, correctness, error correction (fluency) Communication flexibility, shuttling between communities, repertoire building (fluency)
Open-ended development, contextual adaptation
Self-expression, mutual intelligibility
Language and cultural awareness, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, criticality
Intercultural competence, communication and negotiation skills/strategies, active citizenship
4 Target culture (content) Intercultural content
Represent NNS interaction in contextually sensitive curriculum
5 Published teaching materials/top-down decision-making Teacher-selected/teacher-generated teaching materials
6 Teacher-centred Learner-centred

Appendix 2: Desirable Characteristics of the Foreign Language Teacher (Houghton, 2018)

  General Specific
1 Skills/competences Traditional language proficiency
Sociolinguistic sensitivity
Intercultural/strategic/sociolinguistic/meta-cultural competence
Communication skills to negotiate different grammars in newer varieties of English
Deconstruct traditional theories/practices and overcome linguistic imperialism
Multidialectal/multilingual competence
Deal with unfamiliar situations
Co-construct shared culture
Negotiate/mediate between cultures
2 Knowledge Language/communication diversity/(language) change/language variety including ELF, world Englishes, hybrid Englishes, standard English
Multi-disciplinary knowledge including new/traditional/outdated viewpoints and practices/critical pedagogy
Intercultural studies/citizenship
Practice-based theories of communication, teaching and identities in social interaction including educational technologies
Linguistic education/imperialism
3 Background/practical knowledge/experience Living/studying/travelling abroad (over 6 months?)
Membership of local community
Experience of language in use/how language functions in society/communicating with speakers from different linguistic backgrounds
Training in specific cultures
Experience as outsider
4 Tendencies Teacher as learner/lifelong learning/professional development
Intercultural awareness/cultural sensitivity/engage with global perspectives/local diversity with battery of supporting attitudes
Respect language norm development/open to different varieties of English/respect and acknowledge their legitimacy/willingness to apply multidialectal/multilingual competences in teaching
Translingual mindset
Deconstruct existing practices
Engage in lifelong learning

Appendix 3: Helpful Websites with Information About Japan’s Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages (English)
Cultural Properties Database (Japanese)
Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Japan (English)
Japanese Architecture and Art Online Dictionary (English)
Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage (both English and Japanese)
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)—Intangible Cultural Heritage Page (English)
Essay on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritages (English)
Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) online cultural heritage database

Appendix 4: A Historical Timeline of Buddhism in Japan

Table 6.3 Timeline of history (adapted from Harari, 2011, pp. ix–x)

The cognitive revolution occurred around 70,000 years ago along with the emergence of fictive language. Cultures arising during the permanent settlements characterizing the agricultural revolution seem to have started around 12,000 years ago. From 5000 years ago, religions started to emerge, starting with polytheism. The first empire arose around 4250 years ago, followed by the Persian Empire, Buddhism in India, the Han Empire in China, the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, Christianity and Islam from 2500 to 1400 years ago. Intercultural dialogue probably characterized these processes from the cognitive revolution, but it was harnessed to great effect around 2400 years ago by Socrates (470–399 BC) in ancient Greece, in ways that continue to have an impact upon society today

Episode 2 of Season 2 of the NHK’s acclaimed documentary series, The Silk Road, entitled The King’s Road, reviews how the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, who had studied under Aristotle in ancient Greece, ended the Persian age in the fourth century BC as he moved the allied forces of Macedonia and Greece eastwards. In 327 BC, they reached the 10,000 km Khyber Pass, which took 7 years to cross, ultimately reaching the Indus River. This laid the foundations for the Silk Road and the emergence of Greco-Buddhism which flowed towards Japan, evolving along the way. But how?

By the third century BC, soon after the death of Alexander the Great, Buddhism is thought to have reached what was known as the Gandhara region, in what is now northwestern Pakistan (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019a). Reigning near the Indian border in the second century BC, Greek King Menander sought to understand Buddhism, engaging in public dialogue about it with Nagasena, a Buddhist sage, in a style that may have been influenced by Plato’s dialogues (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019a). By fostering the evolution of Greco-Buddhism, this public dialogue changed the world, and Buddhism reached Japan directly in the process

The sage and the king had a profound discussion about Buddhism. This dialogue between the two, known as King Menander’s questions, was brought to Japan in ancient times in the form of a book of sutra named after Nagasena. King Menander visited Nagasena at his palace, with a large entourage of his Greek subjects. The moment their eyes met, the king said to the Buddhist sage, “Many a time have I heard eloquent speakers, and I have had discussions with them, but at no time have I felt greater thrill in my heart than in the talk I am having with you now”. According to the ancient record, the dialogue between King Menander and the Buddhist sage Nagasena, was watched by more than 80,000 people (NHK, 1980~)

After the dialogue, which continued for hours, King Menander is said to have been converted to Buddhism. Buddhist images excavated from sites across the Gandhara area reflect the Greco-Buddhist cultural fusion characterizing these times. As displayed in The King’s Road episode of The Silk Road, the Gandhara Buddhist images of earlier times were modelled on Greek gods such as Zeus and Apollo, some with western features such as wavy hair, moustaches and pleated togas that differed in style from Buddhist images found in China or Japan in later times

The process through which Buddhism was introduced to Japan was greatly facilitated by Buddhist monk Xuanzang (602–664) in the seventh century (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019b). In an epic journey, he travelled from the ancient city of Chang’An in eastern China (now Xi’An) to India to collect and bring back Buddhist scrolls. His story is told in Episode 4 of Season 2 of The Silk Road, entitled The Travels of Xuan Zang in India (NHK, 1980~). His legendary achievements inspired generations to come and were documented much later by Wu Cheng’en, a novelist and poet of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), in a popular novel entitled (in English) Journey to the West (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019c)

Composed of 100 chapters, the novel can be divided into three major sections. The first seven chapters deal with the birth of a monkey from a stone egg and its acquisition of magic powers. Five chapters relate the story of Xuanzang, known as Tripitaka, and the origin of his mission to the Western Paradise. The bulk of the novel recounts the 81 adventures that befall Tripitaka and his entourage of three animal spirits—the magically gifted Monkey, the slow-witted and clumsy Pigsy, and the fish spirit Sandy—on their journey to India and culminates in their attainment of the sacred scrolls. In addition to the novel’s comedy and adventure, Journey to the West has been enjoyed for its biting satire of society and Chinese bureaucracy and for its allegorical presentation of human striving and perseverance. An English translation by Arthur Waley entitled Monkey was published in 1942 and reprinted many times. A new translation by Anthony C. Yu, A Journey to the West (4 vol.), was published in 1977–83. (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019c)

In its long journey from India to Japan, Buddhism went through many transformations as it fused with cultures and other spiritual systems along the way, and this included Japan’s ‘native’ religious belief system known as Shinto

Buddhism came from China, and when it reached Japan it complemented, rather than threatened, Japan’s native religious beliefs now known as Shinto (the way of the gods). Shinto involved the worship of thousands of kami (deities), who were regarded by Buddhists as being manifestations of buddham himself, so the two creeds co-exited very happily. The imperial family, who were regarded as kami themselves, were closely involved with the spread of Buddhism from very early on, and when Nara became Japan’s first capital in 710 the great Buddhist temples of Nara such as Todaiji and Kofukuji grew to exert considerable political influence (Turnbull, 2003, p. 5)

While such influence was never exercised through military means at this stage in Japanese history, warrior monks were attached to Buddhist institutions as fighting forces between the tenth and sixteenth centuries according to Turnbull (2003), who highlights the complicated and often violent nature of Buddhism, ‘the religion that underpinned the warrior monks’ (ibid, p. 42), in Japan in those times. However, although ‘[t]he brand of Buddhism espoused by the first warrior monks was that taught by the great temples of Nara and Mount Hiei, whose attitudes and opinions dominated the religious scene, [t]he disputes between them were never about points of doctrine, nor was there any disagreement with Shinto’ (Turnbull, 2003, p. 42). Indeed, Shinto and Buddhism had been woven together syncretically for centuries through the historically significant process of shin-butsu shugo (Shinto-Buddhism coalescence), described by Prideaux (2007) as follows:

The syncretism, or weaving together of religions, [continued] over centuries as Japan went about absorbing Pure Land, Zen and other Buddhist sects from China. Over time, cross-pollination between Buddhism and Shinto would deepen in a process known as “shin-butsu shugo” (Shinto-Buddhism coalescence), or less flatteringly as the “shin-butsu konko” (Shinto-Buddhism jumble) (Prideaux, 2007)

Shinto-Buddhism coalescence was, however, later seriously disrupted as nationalist yearnings, especially during the Meiji Era (1868–1912), resulted in calls to rid Shinto of its foreign influence with movements to purge State Shinto of its foreign Buddhist influences. At Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, for example, Buddhist artefacts were burned and otherwise removed (Prideaux, 2007). When Japan opened its borders to the world at the end of the Edo period:

the separation of the two religions was one of the early reforms of the Meiji regime, which in 1868 issued an edict ordering Buddhist priests connected with Shintō shrines either to be reordained as Shintō priests or to return to lay life. Buddhist temple lands were confiscated, and Buddhist ceremonies abolished in the imperial household. Shintō was proclaimed as the national religion; later it was reinterpreted as a suprareligious national cult (The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannia, 1998)

In contrast to the process of shin-butsu shugo (Shinto-Buddhism coalescence), this separation process is known as shin-butsu bunri (the separation of gods and Buddhas). It characterized the kokugaku (National Learning) movement in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century Japan, which emphasized Japanese classical studies (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010). This can be connected to nativism (Teeuwen, 2006), and ultimately to native-speakerism, as related by Rivers (2018)

The term shinbutsu bunri refers to the separation of Shinto and Buddhism (actually the expulsion of Buddhism from syncretic Shinto-Buddhist sanctuaries) that occurred from the spring of 1868. This separation was one of the central events in the formation of modern Japanese Shinto (Antoni, 1995)

Kokugaku, (Japanese: “National Learning”), movement in late 17th- and 18th-century Japan that emphasized Japanese classical studies...[T]he Kokugaku movement attempted a purge of all foreign influences, including Buddhism and Confucianism…The Shintō revival, Kokugaku movement, and royalist sentiments of the Mito school all combined in the Meiji period (1868–1912) in the restoration of imperial rule and the establishment of Shintō as a state cult (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010)

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Houghton, S.A. (2020). Menburyu and the Shaguma: (De)Constructing (Inter)National Cultural Practices and Symbols Within a Post-Native-Speakerist Framework. In: Houghton, S.A., Bouchard, J. (eds) Native-Speakerism. Intercultural Communication and Language Education. Springer, Singapore.

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