Accepted Paper:

Displaced ancestors and recovery in the post-tsunami NE Japan   

Author:

Maja Veselič (University of Ljubljana)

Paper short abstract:

Focussing on the doubts and suspicions about the afterlife of the tsunami dead, this paper examines the relationship between the place, order and emotion in contemporary ancestor veneration in Japan.

Paper long abstract:

Nearly 20,000 people are believed to have perished in the tsunami and fires in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011. Over the following days and weeks, the sheer number of those who died and the damage to local funeral facilities and graveyards presented a challenge to the proper performance of elaborate mortuary and memorial rituals as bodies - often not yet identified or not yet claimed, had to be temporarily buried in mass graves or taken en masse to crematoriums hundreds of kilometres away. Often with little or no presence of Buddhist priests - the foremost ritual specialist for the care of the dead, this resulted in an anxiety about the efficacy of the process which was to enable the transition from the living to the ancestral spirit.

Drawing on the interviews with Buddhist priests in the tsunami stricken areas, this paper examines Japanese notions of the obligations to and interactions with the dead. By focussing specifically on the doubts and suspicions about the afterlife of those whose bodies continue to be missing or whose remains have not been identified as well as on the difficulties posed for the memorialization of pre-disaster dead by disrupted graves, vanished family altars and shattered mortuary tablets; and the way these were addressed by priests, I attempt to tease out the relationship between the place, order and emotion in contemporary ancestor veneration in Japan.

Panel P045
Missing persons, unidentified bodies: addressing absences and negotiating identifications