'Conventional practice, courageous plan': women and the gendered site of death rituals in Japan

Tomoko Nakamatsu

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1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper looks at recent shifts in attitudes towards the maintenance of the family grave in Japan, and the way in which individual women contribute to this change. The presence of family graves is a remnant of the patriarchal family-household system, in which the continuation of the family grave by a single, patrilineal line is considered imperative. This paper first examines how the family grave practice has been sustained as tradition in legal, religious and social spheres, and then investigates the emerging trend of alternative burials. Based on empirical data from interviews with Japanese women, the paper explores ideas of duty and its various managements by women, seeing grave-tending as housework in the public sphere. The paper then argues that there is scope for discretion in taking up alternative burials to co-exist with the performance of traditional duty, and that desire for change can be executed in non-confrontational ways. Through basing decisions on the concept of familial work, some women manage to redefine their relationships with the ancestors in their own terms, consequently helping to address gender discrimination in burial practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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