At a moment when the population is declining, marriage and birth rates are down, one-third of people live alone while one-fourth are sixty-five 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 twenty-first-century Japan. While long-term bonds—to company, family, locale—were once the earmarks of its “group-oriented society,” today living and dying alone mark Japan’s new era of “single-fication” and “disconnected society” (muen shakai). How the rise of single-fication affects the management of death—both those already dead and those at risk of dying in/from solitude—is the subject of this article. Looking at new mortuary practices, new trends in both single and solitary lifestyles, and new initiatives in dealing with suicide, this article examines how the neoliberal shift to self-responsibility plays out in the everyday rhythms of being with/out others for postsocial Japanese. It also considers the implications of these shifts for the concept of the social itself.
Greeting the Dead: Managing Solitary Existence in Japan
Anne Allison is professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University. A specialist in contemporary Japan, she has written about gender, hostess clubs, corporate capitalism, popular culture, Pokemon, and precarity. Her books include Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (1994), Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (2006), and Precarious Japan (2013).