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When Death Falls Apart

Making and Unmaking the Necromaterial Traditions of Contemporary Japan

When Death Falls Apart

Making and Unmaking the Necromaterial Traditions of Contemporary Japan

Through an ethnographic study inside Japan’s Buddhist goods industry, this book establishes a method for understanding change in death ritual through attention to the dynamic lifecourse of necromaterials.
Deep in the Fukuyama mountainside, “the grave of the graves” (o-haka no haka) houses the material remains of Japan’s discarded death rites. In the past, the Japanese dead would be transformed into ancestors through years of ritual offerings at graves and in the home at Buddhist altars called butsudan. But in 21st-century Japan, this intergenerational system of care is rapidly collapsing due to falling birth rates, secularization, and economic downturn.
Through the lens of this domestic altar, Gould asks: What happens when religious technology becomes obsolete? In noisy carpentry studios, flashy funeral showrooms, the neglected houses of widowers, and the cramped kitchens where women prepare memorial feasts, Gould traces the butsudan alongside the Buddhist lifecycle, exploring how they are made, circulate within religious and funerary economies, come to mediate intimate exchanges between the living and the dead, fall into disuse, and, maybe, are remade. Gould suggests how this form might be reborn for the modern world, from miniature urns inspired by sleek Scandinavian design to new ritual practices that embrace impermanence, such as scattering or the making of “bone buddhas”. Read against a long tradition of theorizing memorialization, Japan’s contemporary deathscape offers a case study of a different kind of necrosociality, based on material exchanges that seek to both nurture the dead and disentangle them from the world of the living.

208 pages | 6 x 9

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: East Asia

Religion: South and East Asian Religions

Table of Contents

Textual Conventions
Introduction: The Stuff of Death and the Death of Stuff
1. Crafting
2. Retail
3. Practice
4. Disposal
5. Remaking
Conclusion: When Death Falls Apart
Works Cited

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