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Title: Pollution and vitality : the process of death in a Japanese inaka (rural) town
Author: Kim, Hyunchul
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis is based upon twenty-one months of fieldwork (including four months at a local funeral home) carried out in Makabe, a small town located in Ibaraki prefecture within the central region of the main island of Honshu in Japan. Engaging with anthropological approaches to death and mortuary ritual, it aims to produce a new ethnographic investigation of death and its related beliefs and practices. More precisely, it attempts to explore the way in which people in Makabe deal with the dead and 'perceive' death in and through various mortuary rites. Since the rapid economic growth of the 1960s, Japan has been considered one of the most developed, modernised and urbanised countries in the world. The rapid urbanisation and modernisation have brought fundamental social changes not only to urban but also to rural districts. In these circumstances, mortuary rituals have also changed from communitybased 'traditional' funerals to 'commercialised' ones managed by professional undertakers. Nonetheless, many important aspects of the 'traditional' perception of death and its ritual articulation remain more or less unchanged in Makabe. The most important of these aspects is the 'traditional' idea that the pollution of death (kegare) is extremely dangerous, powerful and contagious, an idea which continues to have an important influence on the treatment of the dead. Thus, the ritual imperatives still place considerable emphasis on the purification or elimination of death pollution and the replenishment of vitality. Along these lines, the thesis attempts to illuminate death and the articulation of mortuary rituals in and through their relation to pollution and vitality. In order to do so, it focuses on the exploration of several major themes including the connection between different kinds of death and persons, the spirit of the dead, the sources of pollution and its purification, the expression of grief, and the exchange of gifts. All of these themes are meant to illustrate the way in which pollution and vitality are implicated in the process of death. Thus, the analysis as a whole seeks to elucidate why local perceptions of death and the articulation of the actual mortuary rituals must be understood, first and foremost, in terms of pollution and vitality; indeed, grasping the relationship between pollution and vitality is crucial in order to understand not only the conjunction between mortuary rituals and people's perception of death but also a number of important features of the 'traditional' Japanese Cosmos that I encountered in Makabe.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available