Anne AllisonOct 4, 2023
Being Dead Otherwise
Duke University Press 2023
In contemporary Japan, death isn’t what it used to be. Anne Allison’s Being Dead Otherwise (Duke UP, 2023) examines the changing realities of death as a personal and social phenomenon and an opportunity for business innovation and “self-death making.” Factors including the world’s oldest population, declining childbirth rates, and a growing number of single households mean that more Japanese are living and dying alone. Changed social and familial structures have upended some of the foundational bonds that previously defined what it meant to live, die, care for the dead, and be cared for in your own turn. Allison explores both the proliferation of new industries, services, initiatives, voluntary communities, and businesses that have popped up in response to these changes; and also the ways in which individuals faced with uncertainty about their own deaths have begun to create and plan new ways of dying for themselves. From the massive ENDEX mortuary services industry bonanza held annually in Japan’s largest exhibition venue to automated just-in-time columbaria with robotic priests on the one hand and from “ending notes”― antemortem expressions of postmortem wishes and goodbyes―to the crematorium and the bone crusher on the other, this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and ultimately affirming look at Japan’s shifting ecology of death and its radical future potential.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese language and history in the University of Bergen's Department of Foreign Languages.