Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Discussion and Conclusion
Although ash scattering is sometimes seen as an ideological challenge to the taken-for-granted Buddhist mortuary authority, a closer examination reveals a far more complex picture of this relatively new mortuary practice from its users' perspective. The case of Mrs. Noda demonstrates that ash scattering can be used as a way of managing the sense of distance that one might feel in relation to one's potential ritual caretakers. Mrs. Noda has chosen to live away from her married stepson, who had expected her to come and live with him and let him care for her ritually. And now she has decided to have her ashes scattered at sea rather than having them interred in a family grave. She is concerned about overburdening her stepchildren, particularly because she is not related to them by blood. Similarly, other GFPs members with whom i talked also emphasized their desire to reduce their dependence on children— particularly those who are without married sons and have only married-out daughters. Asking a daughter to care for the natal family grave would entail doubling her ritual care responsibilities if she was already responsible for looking after her husband's family grave. Ash scattering, therefore, provides a memorial strategy for people who lack a culturally preferred caretaker to maintain a family grave (Kawano 2010).
The feeling of an absence of family solidarity can also lead a family member to opt for ash scattering. In fact, seeking a separate resting place through ash scattering is not unusual among GFPs members—in particular those who have structurally weaker positions in their families (Kawano 2010). For example, adoptees and in-coming brides are expected to adapt to their adoptive Or marital family traditions and prove themselves in the eyes of their family members. In particular, in a family without a male heir, it is not totally unusual for the family to adopt a daughter's husband as the heir (called the mukoyōshi; this practice used to be much more common when the society's economy was based on agriculture, as the adopted heir took charge of the family's farm), but he has a low status in the family, and usually his wife has the upper hand. Like an in-marrying bride, he must take his wife's family name, and he is expected to join his wife's family grave. Ash scattering is sometimes chosen when adoptees or brides find their family situation oppressive. In this context the practice can be a release from strained family relations. A discussion of posthumous divorce through ash scattering is not uncommon: women who are unhappy in their marriages want to “divorce” their husbands after death and have a separate resting place. As inoue (2003) points out, graves with permanent ritual care that can accommodate individuals rather than families are sometimes chosen by would-be divorcees. Mrs. Noda's case, however, differs from such cases of posthumous divorce. Although her stepson assumed that her remains were to be interred in the family grave, she does not have a strong sense of belonging to her marital family as she has no natural children of her own.
A collective ash-scattering ceremony, conducted for multiple, unrelated families to scatter the ashes of their deceased kin, often costs less than $1,000 per family, and a single-family ceremony may cost around $2,000. In contrast, establishing a new, centrally located grave in the tokyo area may easily cost more than $25,000. Ash scattering is certainly an inexpensive alternative to acquiring a new family grave in tokyo. Nevertheless, i reject the argument that people's choices are determined simply by the low cost of scattering ceremonies. If new memorial alternatives such as ash scattering were chosen based purely on individuals' financial circumstances, the GFPs would then predominantly have economically disadvantaged members. However, this is not the case, as i encountered a number of middle-class members, such as former salaried employees, professionals, and civil servants, as well as members with working-class backgrounds. The cost of ash scattering, however, did have a role in shaping members' mortuary choices. One characteristic of the GFPs members was that they tended not to be part of a long-standing community in which generations of their ancestors had lived. Many of them were relatively new migrants in their urban communities of residence. As such, they tended to see their own endings as private issues rather than public affairs signifying their family's social standing in their community (Kawano 2010). A social actor makes a consumption choice by assessing the value of a ceremony in the Existing cultural, social, and historical context. The cost of ceremonies matters not because the majority of GFPs members could not afford expensive graves but because they could define the option of ash scattering as a private consumption choice that did not damage their family's status. In Mrs. Noda's case, her natal family no longer existed; her marital family had a grave of its own. She did not worry about the watchful eyes of her neighbors and relatives, who might judge her marital family's reputation by scrutinizing the scale of her mortuary ceremony.
Mrs. Noda's case reveals that her choice of ash scattering does not necessarily lead to a rejection of conventional mortuary customs. She feels that old and new practices can coexist without any sense of incoherence. Her case thus challenges common assumptions held by critics—for instance, that GFPs members “throw away” their ancestors' ashes and thus neither respect those ancestors nor perform conventional memorial rites for the family dead. Contrary to such assumptions, Mrs. Noda maintained a busy schedule of tending to the family dead in both her natal and her marital families. She valued the expression of care and concern through visiting graves and chanting mantras to the deceased. What she did for others, however, was not what she wanted to impose upon others. Rather than obliging her stepchildren to care for her, she chose a path to reduce the extent of her dependence in the posthumous world. It is worth emphasizing that Mrs. Noda's mortuary choices reflect her abil-
Ity to make personal decisions on her own; these, however, are made by considering, rather than disregarding, her relationship with her stepchildren. She wishes to minimize her dependence on others while recognizing her ties to others, rather than maximizing her independence by presenting herself as an autonomous individual free from social and family relations. The distinction between minimizing dependence and maximizing independence might seem subtle, but it is significant culturally and analytically. Too often, critics claim that ash scattering illustrates the ever-expanding “individualistic” orientations prevalent in today's Japan, and the new mortuary practice is often contrasted with the waning group-oriented ancestor worship that symbolizes interdependence and group solidarity. As Mrs. Noda's case reveals, however, the relationship between the old and the new is much less straightforward.
I would like to thank Mr. Mutsuhiko yasuda of the GFPs, volunteers at its tokyo office, and other GFPs members who allowed me to participate in their activities And conduct my research. A social science research Council–Japan society for the Promotion of science postdoctoral fellowship (2002–2004) made it possible for me to conduct extended fieldwork in Japan for this project. Glenda roberts of waseda University kindly served as a host researcher during the tenure of my fellowship. I am grateful for thoughtful comments provided by Glenda roberts and susan Long as well as anonymous reviewers on earlier versions of this chapter.
1. The Japanese term for “graves with permanent ritual care” has also been translated as “eternal memorial graves” (rowe 2003, 110) and “eternally worshipped graves” (tsuji 2002, 188).
2. Mrs. Noda seems to have been unlucky. Her dentist told her to get dentures and to make several appointments to remove her remaining teeth (she insisted on having them all pulled out during one visit). This dentist removed even her healthy teeth and made her buy a very expensive denture, for his profit. This radical practice of pulling perfectly good teeth used to be more common in
Early postwar Japan. During the 2000s, however, this kind of dentist is no longer typical.
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