Department of Religious Studies

"Nature's Embrace: Creating a New Mortuary Ceremony in Contemporary Japan"

Mon, September 17, 2012 | Burdine Hall (BUR) 436A

12:00 PM

A talk by Satsuki Kawano (University of Guelph, Canada)

Despite a number of social changes endangering the continuity of the family grave system in Japan today, many people value their ancestors and regularly visit their family graves.  Given that a grave remains a symbolic locus of familial continuity, the scattering of ashes, an alternative to internment, seems to challenge the cherished ideas of filial piety and respect toward ancestors.  What are the views of people who have adopted the scattering of ashes as a way of disposing of their own remains?  In this lecture, I will examine ash scattering ceremonies conducted by Grave-Free Promotion Society (Sôsô No Jiyû O Susumeru Kai).  Contrary to the common assumptions that childless people usually elect ash scattering, a number of the Society’s members have adult children.  By “returning to nature” through ash scattering and joining a benevolent force larger than their small family, older urbanites seek self-sufficiency in their postmortem world and attempt to lighten the survivors’ ritual burden to maintain family graves.  Ash scattering ceremonies reveal people’s attempts to remake their ties with their family, and serve as windows onto new patterns of generational relations in urban Japan.

Satsuki Kawano is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Guelph, Canada.  She received a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh (U.S.), an M.A. from the University of Minnesota (U.S.), and a B.A. in Art History from Keio University (Japan).  She held positions at Harvard University (Center for the Study of World Religions) and the University of Notre Dame (Assistant Professor) before joining the University of Guelph in 2004. She has received grants and fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.  Her research interests include ritual, death and dying, demographic change, aging, family and kinship, and childrearing.  Dr. Kawano is the author of Ritual Practice in Modern Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2005) and Nature’s Embrace: Japan’s Aging Urbanites and New Death Rites (University of Hawai’i Press, 2010).  She is currently editing a volume on social change in contemporary Japan (entitled Capturing Contemporary Japan).

Sponsored by: Department of Religious Studies; Department of Asian Studies; Center for East Asian Studies

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