Barbara R. Ambros, “Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan”
Summary: It opens with a parakeet named Homer, and it closes with a dog named Hachiko. In the intervening pages, Barbara Ambros explores the deaths, afterlives, and necrogeographies of pets in contemporary Japan. Bones of Contention:Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2012) takes readers through the urban spaces of pet memorialization, from zoos and aquaria to pet cemeteries and household altars. The story begins with an introduction and two chapters that offer a broad grounding in the mythical and religious accounts of animals in premodern Japanese texts, as well as a modern history of animal mortuary rites in Japan. Modern animal memorial rituals, Ambros argues, emerged out of a context of the increasing commodification and consumption of animals, and she describes fascinating accounts of the memorializing of animals by whalers and fishers, in the food industry, and in the context of research laboratories and zoos. From the third chapter on, the book focuses specifically on pets and their hybrid status between animal and human, describing responses to some of the key questions that have animated attitudes toward and practices surrounding the death of pets in modern Japan. Are pet memorial rituals religious activities (and thus tax-exempt)? Are pet remains more like the bones of family members or the broken bodies of dolls, or are they simply trash? Should people be allowed to have their pets interred with them after death? Are the spirits of deceased animal companions angry and vengeful, or are they protective and loving? Across interviews, necro-landscapes, chat rooms, and books by a wide range of interlocutors from historians to psychics, Bones of Contention expertly traces the very different ways that these questions have been engaged and debated in contemporary Japan. Enjoy!