Accepted Paper:

From a 'good death' to a 'calm heart': Buddhist retailing and self-care in contemporary Japan  
Hannah Gould (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how traditional religious retailers are adapting to the increasingly secular and "precarious" (Allison 2013) climate of late-capitalist Japan by participating in new affective economies that manufacture feelings of healing ('iyashi') and subjects with calm hearts ('kokoro').

Paper long abstract:

Anne Allison opens her ambitious theorization of Japanese contemporary life, "Precarious Japan", with a series of evocative images of lonely death, senseless massacre, and chronic disaster, to articulate a climate "where death stalks daily life" and "crimps the familiar and routine" (2013: 4). Probing this moment, when death is transformed from personal crisis into social affect, my paper explores how Buddhist institutions traditionally associated with funerary rites have begun to broaden the scope of their affective labours. By manufacturing products and retail atmospheres that generate healing (iyashi) and calm hearts (kokoro), Buddhist retailers now seek to soothe the stresses and uncertainties of the everyday, and in so doing, protect their market share.

"Affective labour" is often defined in the Marxist tradition as intrinsically immaterial, because unlike industrial manufacture, its products are described as intangible sentiments (see Plourde 2014 on Japanese 'cat cafes'). I argue that it is best understood within a broader economy of the senses; as precarity seeps into contemporary lives as well as deaths, new sensory modes find purchase. The role of religious actors in producing the affects and subjectivities of contemporary capitalism has also suffered from a dearth of critical analysis of late, despite Weber's foundational theorisation in this area. To address these concerns, I explore practices of experimental religious retailing in Japan, drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in the Buddhist altar (butsudan) industry.

Panel P23
Feeling Capitalism