Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Anne Allison of Duke University: Remainderless Death: Facing the Precarity of Dying Alone in Japan

Fri, February 19, 2016 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118)

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Anne Allison of Duke University: Remainderless Death: Facing the Precarity of Dying Alone in Japan

Decaying bodies are often discovered these days in the rooms, or apartments, where residents had been living, then died, all alone. A phenomenon that is called “lonely” or “solitary” death (kodokushi, koritsushi), it is often used to index new demographic and sociological trends in Japan: a high aging/low birthrate population where the rates of marriage, coupling, and even sex are on the decline, and one-third of all Japanese live alone. At a moment when “singlification” is emerging as the new social fact in Japan (which some see dystopically as the collapse of sociality altogether; muen shakai), I consider the implications this has on the treatment of death/the dead. Tracing new trends in how the to-be-deceased are taking over the management, and responsibility, for their own mortuary and post-mortem arrangements, I focus specifically on a new form of company that offers the service of disposing of the personal belongings of the deceased. Targeted, in part, to the still-living as insurance against leaving a mess behind should one die a lonely death, this is a service that symptomizes as much as relieves the precarity of dying alone in Japan today. What then, I ask at the end, does such a model of what I call “remainderless death” signal about the meaning, and sacredness, of life itself in Japan today and about those relations once tasked to ensuring the grievability and memory of the deceased?

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