Picking Up the Dead: Managing the Remains of Corpses in a Changing Japan

Anne Allison
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
Duke University

At a time of when the population is aging, young people are marrying and birthing less, and residential patterns are downsizing to single households, more and more Japanese are both living and dying alone. In the face of shifts to sociality and lifestyle trends that favor “simplification,” new practices and ways of managing death are emerging rapidly in Japan. What does it mean to make preparations by oneself, for oneself, for the processing of one’s own corpse? And what becomes of grievability and the maintenance of dead remains when expedience dictates that interment take place in a high rise mansion, and ashes get pulverized to fine ash? As the matter of the corpse, and its remnants, transforms, (how) does this change the matter of death, and humanity itself? 

Anne Allison is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. A specialist in contemporary Japan, she studies the interface between material conditions and desire/fantasy/imagination across various domains including corporate capitalism, global popular culture, and precarity. Allison is the author of Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (1994), Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (1996), Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (2006), and Precarious Japan (2013). She is currently conducting research on new demographic/social trends in Japan involving death, solo sociality, and self-management of mortuary and post-mortem arrangements.

Death Drives, or Thinking with the Corpse