Ancestors in transition: Negotiating contemporary identities within the Japanese ie household system

Amy V. Walker Kuroki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The household, embodied by ancestral ritual (practiced under the guise of belonging to a Buddhist sect, in this case Jōdo Shinshū), remains a salient feature of Japanese culture and society. This article will put forth the argument that as long as the household structure continues to be performed as a coherent unit on the surface, transitions happening within are obfuscated, as personal narratives play out in the family sphere.

This assertion is illustrated by ethnographic accounts collected over an extensive period of fieldwork in rural Takachiho town, Miyazaki prefecture. Through the examination of oral narratives, individual cases left unexplored in contemporary scholarship will be examined in order to show how complex issues involving gender; divorce and single parenthood; and non-heterosexual identities are becoming commonplace features of lay and clerical households – often seen as peripheral to mainland urban centres, and excluded from discourses of social change.

The ways in which people are negotiating the dichotomy between continuity and transition at the localised, individual level of personal identity, while reproducing, protecting and perpetuating the situated ie household and neighbourhood temple through memorial ancestor ritual, is the central theme of the discussion – moving away from the dominant ‘funerary Buddhism’ perspective.

Instead, this article maintains that 'ancestor consciousness' remains a prominent feature of the localities: bringing people together, while recognising the continuing relationships between the living and the dead.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)53-68
Number of pages16
JournalIrish Journal of Asian Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

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