Attitudes toward Death, Dying and Funerary Customs in Japan - Past, Present and Future

Dorothea Mladenova (University of Leipzig)
Juljan Biontino (Chiba University)
Anthropology and Sociology
Bloco 1, Piso 1, Sala 1.10
Start time:
31 August, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel aims to show continuities and discontinuities in attitudes toward death and dying and its ensuing funerary culture, spanning from the Japanese Empire to contemporary society while also considering future trends.

Long abstract:

Whilst in earlier times death has played a vital part in reinforcing and restructuring community ties through the practice of funerals and memorial ceremonies, modern societies tend to confine death to an invisible, private space, where it is dealt with exclusively by close family members and experts. This tendency of suspending death from the public sphere has been framed as tabooization of death (N. Elias) or post-mortal society (C. Lafontaine). However, in contemporary societies a trend toward a de-tabooization of death can be observed. With family structures tending more and more towards atomization and new medical possibilities challenging conventional boundaries between life and death, individuals are required to confront their own death and dying in different ways than before. This panel aims to show continuities and discontinuities in attitudes toward dying, death and funerary culture, while considering the social, political, and industrial impact of these changes. It is necessary to scrutinize how societal and technological transformations have enforced new norms of agency concerning death, which in turn have repercussions for the community and the society as a whole. The papers deal with the historical background of how attitudes and rituals concerning death and dying were changed in the wake of Japan's modernization process after the Meiji Restoration, and further discuss the Japanese "Right to Die"-movement, which was founded in 1976 and since questions the practice of so called "meaningless life prolongation", following the rhetoric of de-tabooization of death and patient autonomy while promoting the legal recognition of Living Wills. Lastly, it will be dealt with possible future trends against the backdrop of "peak death" that is expected to occur in the year 2040. Until that point, demand for burial space and incineration facilities is going to rise, but the expected drop in the death rate combined with the individualization and downscaling of funerary practices is challenging the funeral industry to become more creative and competitive. Our first speaker will then serve as discussant.