Japanese Tree Burial
Innovation, Ecology and the Culture of Death
To Be Published November 30th 2013 by Routledge – 224 pages
Tree burial, a new form of disposal for the cremated remains of the dead, was created in 1999 by Chisaka Genpo, the head priest of a Zen Buddhist temple in northern Japan. Instead of a conventional family gravestone, perpetuating the continuity of a household and its identity, tree burial uses vast woodlands as cemeteries, with each burial spot marked by a tree and a small wooden tablet inscribed with the name of the deceased. Tree burial has become highly popular, and is a highly-effective means of promoting the rehabilitation of Japanese forestland critically damaged by post-war government mismanagement. This book, based on extensive original research, explores the phenomenon of tree burial, tracing its development, discussing the factors which motivate Japanese people to choose tree burial, and examining the impact of tree burial on traditional views of death, memorialisation, and the afterlife. Throughout the book demonstrates how the new practice fits with developing ideas of ecology, with the individual’s corporality nourishing the earth and thus re-entering the cycle of life in nature.
1. Introduction: Researching Innovative Cultures of Death 2. When Life Crisis meets Environmental Crisis 3. Renouncing Generational Graves: Kinship, muenbotoke, the price of death 4. ‘People’s Own Grave’: Identity and Memorialisation in Tree-Burial 5. New Intentional Bonds through Death 6. Ecological Immortality and Perspectives on the Afterlife 7. Conclusion: Death and Social Change
Sebastien Boret is an Associate Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, UK.