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Keywords:

  • Development aid;
  • NGO;
  • temporality;
  • religion/secularity;
  • culturalism;
  • Japan;
  • Burma;
  • Myanmar

This article examines ideas of the past in the development aid work of one of the oldest Japanese NGOs, the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA), derived from a Shinto-based new religion, and its training courses on sustainable agriculture in Burma/Myanmar. Whereas Japan's official discourses on aid focus on postwar national success, OISCA highlights a sense of national– cultural loss and proposes aid as a form of national renewal by using ideas about Japan's past to “redo” modernity elsewhere. This emphasis on pastness was an effect of OISCA staff asserting that it is a “nonreligious” organization and simply “Japanese.” This article demonstrates how hope for national renewal through development aid generates “redemptive dreams” and enacts a politics of temporality in which Japanese and Burmese aid actors contest over the past as resource for the future and over “Japaneseness” as a universal value, oscillating between oppressive and aspirational possibilities.