Greeting the Dead: Managing Solitary Existence in Japan

Anne Allison (Ph.D. '86) discusses the precarity of life and death in contemporary Japan

At a moment when the population is declining, marriage and birth rates are down, one-third of people live alone while one-fourth are 65 or older, and reports of “lonely death” (of solitary people whose bodies are discovered days, or weeks, after death) are commonplace, the social ecology of existence is undergoing radical change in 21st century Japan. While long-term bonds—to company, family, locale—were once the earmarks of its “group-oriented society,” today it is living, and dying, alone that marks Japan’s new era of “single-ification” and “disconnected society” (muen shakai). How the rise of single-ification affects the management of death—both those already dead as well as those at risk of dying in/from solitude—is the subject of this talk. Looking at new practices of burying/memorializing the dead, new trends in both single and solitary lifestyles, and new initiatives in dealing with suicide, I consider how the neoliberal shift to “self-responsibility” plays out in the everyday rhythms of being with/out others for post-social Japanese.

allisonAnne Allison (Ph.D. ’86) is a cultural anthropologist who researches the intersection between political economy, everyday life, and the imagination in the context of late capitalist, post-industrial Japan. Her work spans the subjects of sexuality, pornography, and maternal labor to the globalization of Japanese youth products and the precarity of irregular workers. She is the author of Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (University of Chicago Press, 1994—an ethnography of the Japanese corporate practice of entertaining employees and customers in the sexualized atmosphere of hostess clubs; Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (University of California Press 2000)—a collection of essays analyzing the complex desires linking motherhood, pornographic comics, and popular culture; and Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (University of California Press, 2006)—a study of the intermeshing of fantasy, capitalism, and cultural politics in the rise of Japan’s brand of “cool” youth-goods on the global marketplace. Her most recent book, Precarious Japan (Duke University Press, 2013) looks at the socio-economic shifts in post-corporatist Japan towards precaritization of work, sociality, and everyday security.

This event is presented by the Center for International Studies and cosponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Program on the Global Environment.

Event Sponsors

© 2015 Center for International Studies