1st Edition

Japanese Tree Burial Ecology, Kinship and the Culture of Death

By Sébastien Penmellen Boret Copyright 2014
    222 Pages 18 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 18 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Tree burial, a new form of disposal for the cremated remains of the dead, was created in 1999 by Chisaka Genpo, the head priest of a Zen Buddhist temple in northern Japan. Instead of a conventional family gravestone, perpetuating the continuity of a household and its identity, tree burial uses vast woodlands as cemeteries, with each burial spot marked by a tree and a small wooden tablet inscribed with the name of the deceased. Tree burial is gaining popularity, and is a highly-effective means of promoting the rehabilitation of Japanese forestland critically damaged by post-war government mismanagement. This book, based on extensive original research, explores the phenomenon of tree burial, tracing its development, discussing the factors which motivate Japanese people to choose tree burial, and examining the impact of tree burial on traditional views of death, memorialisation, and the afterlife. The author argues that non-traditional, non-ancestral modes of burial have become a means of negotiating new social orders and that this symbiosis of environmentalism and memorialisation corroborates the idea that graveyards are not only places for the containment of human remains and the memorialisation of the dead, but spaces where people (re)construct, challenge, and find new senses of belonging to the wider society in which they live. Throughout, the book demonstrates how the new practice fits with developing ideas of ecology, with the individual’s corporality nourishing the earth and thus re-entering the cycle of life in nature.

    Forward  Preface by Joy Hendry  Prologue  1. Introduction: Questions for the Anthropology of Tree Disposals  2. The Birth of Japanese Tree-Burial  3. Kinship, Demographic and Economic Matters  4. Identities, Memorialisation and Agency  5. Bonds, Nature Workshops and Collective Memorials  6. Ecological Immortality and Ideas of the Afterlife  7. Conclusions: Towards a liberalization of death in Japan?


    Sébastien Penmellen Boret is a research fellow at Oxford Brookes and a research associate at Oxford University. He holds currently a post-doctoral fellowship (2012-2014) at Tohoku University where he leads a project about the politics of memorialisation of the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami and is a contributor to Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan (Routledge 2013).

    "By examining innovative forms of burial and the embedded and sometimes competing and contradictory notions of the self, death, the natural world, and the world beyond, Penmellen Boret shows that innovative burial practices in contemporary Japan reveal and contribute to important transformations in Japanese society as a whole. I trust that Tree Burial will find a wide and appreciative audience."   - Mark McGuire (John Abbott College) H-Shukyo, H-Net Reviews. August, 2015

    "This is a rich and multi-faceted book, which explores several important social issues...Japanese Tree Burial is an interesting book, which provides fascinating ethnographic data and brings together several important topics that are not usually associated with each other. It offers some important new insights on the relationship between environmental practices, social change, and notions of death. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Japanese society, religion, and environmental issues." - Aike P. Rots, University of Oslo, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 42/2 (2015)