Despite popular images of priests seeking enlightenment in snow-covered mountain temples, the central concern of Japanese Buddhism is death. For that reason, Japanese Buddhism’s social and economic base has long been in mortuary service–a base now threatened by public debate over the status, treatment, and location of the dead. Bonds of the Dead explores the crisis brought on by this debate and investigates what changing burial forms reveal about the ways temple Buddhism is perceived and propagated in contemporary Japan. Mark Rowe offers a crucial account of how religious, political, social, and economic forces in the twentieth century led to the emergence of new funerary practices in Japan and how, as a result, the care of the dead has become the most fundamental challenge to the continued existence of Japanese temple Buddhism. Far from marking the death of Buddhism in Japan, Rowe argues, funerary Buddhism reveals the tradition at its most vibrant. Combining ethnographic research with doctrinal considerations, this is a fascinating book for anyone interested in Japanese society and religion.
“Bonds of the Dead is an intriguing and impressive work of social analysis that helps us understand the current state of religious practice and spiritual concern in Japan. It makes us think not only about how these Buddhist practices are responding to changes in Japanese society but about how they are helping to constitute those changes. Rowe succeeds in triangulating field observations and interviews with textual analysis, and he uses his time in Niigata, Tokyo, and elsewhere to situate his analysis of these movements in convincing detail. An appealing, instructive, and entertaining book.”–William Kelly, Yale University
“Reading this book, I came away with renewed admiration for Rowe’s skills as an interviewer and as an analyst of contemporary developments in Japanese Buddhism. Bonds of the Dead will be widely recognized as setting a new standard in studies of contemporary Japanese religious life.”–Helen Hardacre, Harvard University
“Bonds of the Dead contains a wealth of fascinating information that reminds us that human societies rely on religion to confront the insurmountable problem of death. Rowe’s first-person perspective allows the reader to gain insights into how ordinary people approach Buddhist temples and how ordinary priests attempt to serve them, and he writes in a breezy and entertaining manner that is accessible to a broad audience of people interested in contemporary Japanese society and religion.”–William Bodiford, University of California, Los Angeles