Gordon Mathews - Professor of Anthropology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Death and what lies beyond is unknowable for those who are alive: “After all, no one has ever come back from there to tell us what it’s like.” However, death and the world beyond is imagined in this world, and this imagination may itself be of considerable analytical importance, in understanding not just individuals, but the sociocultural structurings of society. In this paper, based on extensive interviews with Japanese adults about death and what lies beyond, I examine the Japanese dialectic of individual and society in the imagination of the other world and the ongoing creation of society in this world. I first explore the range of individual views of death and beyond. I then analyze this range of views in terms of Japanese society, exploring how these views reflect different tensions within Japanese society today, and compete to shape and legitimate potential Japanese societies of the future.