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Bones of Contention

Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan

Barbara R. Ambros

Publication Year: 2012

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. In Bones 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 Contention is 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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

I would like to acknowledge my colleagues, students, friends, and family who have assisted me in the completion of this book. First and foremost, I need to thank all my informants who shared their experiences with me. Without their stories and gracious cooperation this book would not have been possible...

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pp. 1-16

Late in the rainy season, on July 12, 2007, the main hall of Kōsaiji, an Ōbaku Zen temple in eastern Tokyo, is overflowing with visitors. Temple patrons have come to attend the yearly segakie, a Buddhist ceremony commonly performed during the obon season to feed the hungry ghosts. Elderly couples, middle-aged women, and young...

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1. Order, Karma, and Kinship: Animals in Japanese History and Culture

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pp. 17-50

The Nihon 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...

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2. Masking Commodification and Sacralizing Consumption: The Emergence of Animal Memorial Rites

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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 the...

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3. Pets, Death, and Taxes: The Legal Boundaries of Religion

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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...

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4. Embodying Hybridity: The Necrogeography of Pet Memorial Spaces

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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...

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5. Vengeful Spirits or Loving Spiritual Companions? Changing Views of Pet Spirits

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pp. 156-185

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, July 15, 2007, the small main hall of Jikei’in, a Rinzai temple in Fuchū, 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...

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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...


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pp. 195-222


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pp. 223-229


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pp. 231-255


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pp. 257-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837204
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836269

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 821735442
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bones of Contention

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pets -- Death -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
  • Pets -- Funeral customs and rites -- Japan.
  • Buddhist memorial rites and ceremonies -- Japan.
  • Human-animal relationships -- Japan.
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