Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Bones of Contention

Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan

Barbara R. Ambros
Copyright Date: 2012
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bones of Contention
    Book Description:

    Since the 1990s the Japanese pet industry has grown to a trillion-yen business and estimates place the number of pets above the number of children under the age of fifteen. There are between 6,000 to 8,000 businesses in the Japanese pet funeral industry, including more than 900 pet cemeteries. Of these about 120 are operated by Buddhist temples, and Buddhist mortuary rites for pets have become an institutionalized practice. InBones of Contention,Barbara Ambros investigates what religious and intellectual traditions constructed animals as subjects of religious rituals and how pets have been included or excluded in the necral landscapes of contemporary Japan.Pet mortuary rites are emblems of the ongoing changes in contemporary Japanese religions. The increase in single and nuclear-family households, marriage delays for both males and females, the falling birthrate and graying of society, the occult boom of the 1980s, the pet boom of the 1990s, the anti-religious backlash in the wake of the 1995 Aum Shinrikyō incident-all of these and more have contributed to Japan's contested history of pet mortuary rites. Ambros uses this history to shed light on important questions such as: Who (or what) counts as a family member? What kinds of practices should the state recognize as religious and thus protect financially and legally? Is it frivolous or selfish to keep, pamper, or love an animal? Should humans and pets be buried together? How do people reconcile the deeply personal grief that follows the loss of a pet and how do they imagine the afterlife of pets? And ultimately, what is the status of animals in Japan?Bones of Contentionis a book about how Japanese people feel and think about pets and other kinds of animals and, in turn, what pets and their people have to tell us about life and death in Japan today.25 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3720-4
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Late in the rainy season, on July 12, 2007, the main hall of Kōsaiji, an Obaku Zen temple in eastern Tokyo, is overflowing with visitors. Temple patrons have come to attend the yearlysegakie,a Buddhist ceremony commonly performed during theobonseason to feed the hungry ghosts. Elderly couples, middle-aged women, and young families with children spill into the hallway and the spacious waiting room, where they can follow the ceremony on a large-screen plasma TV (figure 1). Overseas patrons halfway around the globe can watch a silent live stream of the ritual over the Internet on the temple’s...

    (pp. 17-50)

    TheNihon shoki(720), one of the earliest extant written records of Japanese history, contains a myth that explains the divine origins of agriculture, sericulture, and animal husbandry. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, dispatches her brother, the moon god Tsukiyomi, to call on the goddess Ukemochi. Ukemochi faces the land and produces boiled rice from her mouth. She then turns to the ocean and produces fish from her mouth. Finally, she turns to the mountains and produces land animals from her mouth. She serves Tsukiyomi a meal prepared from these items. Offended and angered because he considers the food polluted, he...

  7. TWO Masking Commodification and Sacralizing Consumption: THE EMERGENCE OF ANIMAL MEMORIAL RITES
    (pp. 51-89)

    Mr. Watanabe manages Jindaiji Dōbutsu Reien Sekai Dōbutsu Tomo no Kai, the pet cemetery of the World Association of Animal Lovers on the grounds of Jindaiji (Tendai temple, Chōfu, Tokyo). He is also the owner of Suijin’en, a stylish Japanese gourmet restaurant at the foot of the temple. Every year in theobonseason, Mr. Watanabe and his restaurant employees hold a memorial rite for fish, birds, and mammals (gyochōjū kuyō). The setting for the event is a picture of Japanese tradition: a Buddhist cleric from Jindaiji officiates at the ritual in front of a stone stupa next to the...

    (pp. 90-123)

    On June 17, 2007, I visited Jimyōin, a Tendai temple in Kasugai City in the hilly suburbs north of Nagoya, to attend the monthly memorial service for pets. After the service, the taxi driver who took me back to the nearest train station criticized pet memorial services at temples such as Jimyōin: such rituals served as moneymaking schemes (kane mōke) for temples. He said, “People are used to having Buddhist clerics memorialize family members. Since the pet mama and pet papa want to do more for their ‘children,’ they are willing to pay anything, and temples take advantage of that.”...

    (pp. 124-155)

    Ms. N., who is middle-aged and unmarried, lives in Tokyo. In 2006, when her parents passed away in short succession, they were interred at a Buddhist temple. Her father’s cremains filled the last space in the family grave. Ms. N. began to ponder her options for her own future interment. Eventually, the family would have to have the ancestral cremains removed from their urns and “returned to the soil” (tsuchi ni kaesu) to open up more space, but rather than considering a traditional burial, Ms. N. began to search for a new grave site though this would mean being separated...

  10. FIVE Vengeful Spirits or Loving Spiritual Companions? CHANGING VIEWS OF PET SPIRITS
    (pp. 156-186)

    Early in the afternoon on Sunday, July 15, 2007, the small main hall of Jikei’in, a Rinzai temple in Fuchu, western Tokyo, with one of the largest and busiest pet cemeteries in the metropolitan area, is crowded with sixty people — mostly middle-aged women and a few young women and elderly men (figure 19). Despite the heavy rains of a typhoon that morning, they have come to attend the yearlysegakieritual for pets. The patrons have received booklets so that they can chant along with the clerics as they intone theHeart Sutra,a Kannondhāranī,and the Four Vows...

    (pp. 187-194)

    Each year on April 8, the Maintenance Association of the Bronze Statue of Loyal Hachikō (Chūken Hachikō Dōzō Ijikai) sponsors the Hachikō Spirit Propitiation Festival (Hachikō Ireisai) to commemorate the spirit of Hachikō (1923–1935), a dog of the Akita breed. Hachikō had gained the admiration of the Japanese public by waiting daily for his deceased master, Dr. Ueno Eisaburō, outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo. Since the 1930s, Hachikō has been a symbol of unshakable loyalty. Hence he has been known as Chūken Hachikō (Loyal Hachikō) in Japanese. Hachikō’s life coincided with a time when Japanese dog breeds were gaining...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 195-222)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 223-230)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-266)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-269)