Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan

Paperback: $29.00
ISBN-13: 9780824836740
Published: September 2012
Hardback: $55.00
ISBN-13: 9780824836269
Published: September 2012

Additional Information

280 pages | 25 illus.
  • About the Book
  • Since the 1990s the Japanese pet industry has grown to a trillion-yen business and estimates place the number of pets above the number of children under the age of fifteen. There are between 6,000 to 8,000 businesses in the Japanese pet funeral industry, including more than 900 pet cemeteries. Of these about 120 are operated by Buddhist temples, and Buddhist mortuary rites for pets have become an institutionalized practice. In Bones of Contention, Barbara Ambros investigates what religious and intellectual traditions constructed animals as subjects of religious rituals and how pets have been included or excluded in the necral landscapes of contemporary Japan.

    Pet mortuary rites are emblems of the ongoing changes in contemporary Japanese religions. The increase in single and nuclear-family households, marriage delays for both males and females, the falling birthrate and graying of society, the occult boom of the 1980s, the pet boom of the 1990s, the anti-religious backlash in the wake of the 1995 Aum Shinrikyō incident—all of these and more have contributed to Japan’s contested history of pet mortuary rites. Ambros uses this history to shed light on important questions such as: Who (or what) counts as a family member? What kinds of practices should the state recognize as religious and thus protect financially and legally? Is it frivolous or selfish to keep, pamper, or love an animal? Should humans and pets be buried together? How do people reconcile the deeply personal grief that follows the loss of a pet and how do they imagine the afterlife of pets? And ultimately, what is the status of animals in Japan? Bones of Contention is a book about how Japanese people feel and think about pets and other kinds of animals and, in turn, what pets and their people have to tell us about life and death in Japan today.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Barbara R. Ambros, Author

      Barbara R. Ambros is professor of East Asian religions in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Ambros gives us a rigorous account without pretenses that examines the intersection of modern family life and
      religion with a twist: She considers pets as they have emerged as “family members, children, or companions.” The historical background . . . is meticulous and captivating.

      —Religious Studies Review
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