Japanese Tree Burial

Ecology, Kinship and the Culture of Death

By Sébastien Penmellen Boret

© 2013 – Routledge

222 pages | 18 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9780415517065
pub: 2014-01-23
US Dollars$160.00
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About the Book

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.

Table of Contents

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?

About the Author

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).

About the Series

Japan Anthropology Workshop Series

Editorial Board:
Pamela Asquith, University of Alberta
Eyal Ben Ari, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hirochika Nakamaki, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka

Kirsten Refsing, University of Copenhagen
Wendy Smith, Monash University

Founder Member of the Editorial Board:
Jan van Bremen, University of Leiden

Routledge is very proud to be publishing this important series, which has already signed up a good list of high quality books on interesting topics, and has a truly international range of authors and editors.

A key aim of the series is to present studies that offer a deep understanding of aspects of Japanese society and culture to offset the impression of constant change and frivolity that so tempts the mass media around the world.  Living in Japan brings anyone into contact with the fervent mood of change, and former residents from many other countries enjoy reading about their temporary home, but there is a demand also to penetrate less obvious elements of this temporary life.  Anthropologists specialise in digging beneath the surface, in peeling off and examining layers of cultural wrapping, and in gaining an understanding of language and communication that goes beyond formal presentation and informal frolicking.  This series will help to open the eyes of readers around the world from many backgrounds to the work of these diligent anthropologists researching the social life of Japan.

Submissions from prospective authors are welcomed, and enquiries should be sent in the first instance to the series editor Professor Joy Hendry (jhendry@brookes.ac.uk).

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOC008000
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General