Being Dead Otherwise

Rana Abhyendra Singh

The 240-page book Being Dead Otherwise by Anne Allison, which was released in March 2023, addresses the delicate subject of death and the Japanese funerary sector. The self-reliance inclination of modern times is producing a change in the way that families live together. Rituals and other post-mortem customs are often handled by the deceased's family, but as the number of single-person households in Japan has increased, more people are choosing non-traditional methods to handle their own funeral rites.

The interaction between people and their post-mortem rituals is radically changing in 21st-century Japan. In this work, Allison attempts to describe what precisely occurs to a person if he dies alone. In every culture, the family is in charge of the post-mortem customs, the physical remains, the burial, the remembrances, etc. However, as was already indicated, the author makes an effort to acquire information regarding how, where, and with whom one ends up after death in light of shifting patterns.

Being Dead Otherwise aims to highlight the circumstance and state of those whose destiny is to live and die alone. Through the lens of Japan at the beginning of the 21st century, it considers these necro-sociological settings where the trend is to outsource the grieving process to a firm or inter ashes in an automated crypt in the absence of a family. It also questions the ways in which death affects relationships, as well as potential futures in the process of caring for the dead. All of these decisions were made using Japan as a case study. The book is condensed into three sets of paired chapters, with a final solitary chapter and an epilogue to round out the end. Three pairs are based on different themes related to death: history, preparations, and departure, respectively.

In the introduction, the author creates a realistic picture of many death-related circumstances. She contrasts those possibilities and makes observations on the current circumstances. Allison advances several sociological and anthropological perspectives surrounding demise and funeral rites. She discusses the post-World War II situation, including how Japan dealt with the depression brought on by mass deaths and how it has continued to do so. Any religion’s or culture's funeral rites have only one purpose: to keep us in touch with our ancestors. In Japan, the link is established and kept by routinely caring for the grave. Allison addresses the issue of what happens to ancestral spirits when the last carer has died and there is no one left to carry out the funeral rites, in addition to the topic of what occurs once a person dies alone.

In the first chapter, Allison lays forth the topography of funerary tendencies in Japan, which is the first part of the history topic "Ambitious Bones: Dead In The Past." She grounds her argument in this chapter on Joseph Roach's three-sided connection hypothesis of memory, performance, and substitution. As mortals age, a way develops to both mark and make up for the loss, possibly through ritual performance. Both the living and the dead have to disconnect from one another after death. She discusses various mortuary practises, including burial only for the royal families when decomposition was the norm for the general populace, elders being abandoned as they approach death, using folklore to illustrate the link between death and pollution, amulets for Japanese soldiers because they are most likely to die alone, holding specialised festivals to care for the spirits of those who died violent or unfair deaths, etc. The chapter mostly discusses various methods of passing away in Japan.

The second section of the historical topic is titled "The Popular Industry Of  Death: From Godzilla To The Ending Business." After reflecting on Japan's historical greatness and military triumphs, Allison turns attention onto Godzilla (referred to as Gojira in Japanese). This chapter is based on a comparison of the ending market to Godzilla. The ritualistic purchases for the post-mortem rites are made in the mortuary market known as the ending market. This chapter's primary theme is a comparison of Godzilla and the ending market, their histories, stories, and how deadly they have become over time. After the economy's bubble burst in 1990, the Japanese dream of owning a home, having a secure marriage and family, and having a steady job all but vanished. As a result, the birth rate abruptly dropped, and Japan's population began to age, which boosted the market for finished products that are classified as harmful. This market breathes life into practises that are on the verge of sociological decline. The author describes a thorough tour of the ending market and refers to it as necro-animation.

The second topic of the book starts with the third chapter, and its first half is titled "Caring (Differently) For The Dead." The examination of the familial model, including its assumptions, inclusions, and exclusions, forms the basis of this chapter. Allison also examines the sociality of ancestors in this chapter, which is ritualised and practised during significant Japanese cultural events. What is interesting in this situation is that there are still a few non-family persons who take care of the deceased and tend to their graves because of the absence or carelessness of one's own family. The author participates in these rites through an acquaintance, going to their graves at their place of rest while still showing them care.

The second part of the section is titled "Preparedness: A Biopolitics of Making Life Out of Death." This chapter focuses on how the index market is organised. 'Anticipation' is the chapter's main word – anticipating the past, present, and future, as well as plans and preparations. The author emphasises how planning one's own funeral in advance may be both exciting and stressful at the same time. This readiness provides a plan for and a defence against the possibility of an unforeseen death in the future. Allison mostly focuses on why this gets a spotlight in this chapter with regard to preparedness, with what implications, and for whom. She discusses the market's intricate working dynamics in detail.

Departure is the third theme in this book. The title of the first section is "The Smell of Lonely Death and the Work of Cleaning It Up." The market dynamics and formation of a new category of post-mortem clean-up services are the main topics of this chapter. The chapter details the experiences, emotions, challenges, and psychological effects that the clean-up jobs have on those doing the work. Cleaning up after a person who died alone is a tremendous issue as the frequency of lonely deaths rises.

The second part of the departure section is referred to as "Departing: The Handling of Remaindered Remains." In this chapter, the author examines what transpires with regard to the treatment of remains and to the lives by which the materiality is governed and distinguished in Japan in the present day. The third stand-alone chapter, "Automated Graves: The Precarity and Prosthetics of Caring for the Dead," examines the potential trajectory of relocating the ability of the dead to grieve to a non-human register – that is, if machines carried it in the face of a care-deficit of close others.

For this research, Anne Allison chose a dark subject which most people do not feel comfortable discussing. Yet, in a very decent and gracious manner, the author has managed to capture a grave theme such as death in a completely different perspective. She tries to include details of the customs and rituals and even market trends that she got to experience during the field research. Despite having a distinct and original theme, the author occasionally veers off course by describing vivid scenarios that have no bearing on the book's subject and unduly elaborate on it, which delays the conclusion that readers are hoping to achieve. It conveys the impression that the ethnography is gradually becoming a descriptive essay. Reading about the weather, the sky's light, and the air's scent is similar to reading a journal entry.

In terms of theme and chapters, the book is organised in a perfectly suitable chronological order, moving from the past to the present and the future. The book is not overly long, so readers will not lose interest. The book might be a valuable addition to an anthropological library and could be used as a source of information for related initiatives in the future.