A fascinating study of the current crisis evolution of Buddhism as it is practiced in 21st century Japan. Through interviews and visits to rural and urban temples over the better part of a decade, Rowe captures how individuals, families, priests and institutions attempt to navigate 1000-year-old traditions/customs in a hyper-modern society. One of the blurbs on the back of the book describes the writing as "breezy and entertaining" and it is definitely that. And the thing that makes this book special is that it is written by a westerner clearly fluent in Japanese and and intimate with the nation and people he writes about. It is like visiting Japan with a skilled guide.
The first thing that must be said about Mark Michael Rowe’s Bonds of the Dead: Temples, Burial, and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism is that writing about mortuary practice in contemporary Japan is an immensely ambitious proposition. At its most tranquil moments, Japan is a complex society and Japan today is anything but tranquil. In fact, one could argue that the present upheaval in Japanese society is greater than at any other time since Meiji.
Discussing Japanese religion has been a complex matter since Buddhism first came to Japan from China and Korea in the sixth century. Shinto, the native religion, had its own pantheon and system, but it wasn’t until Buddhism arrived on Japan’s shores that anyone bothered to figure out what those were. Faced with a competing worldview, the Japanese had to account for life and death in a manner that could be communicated to other people. Over the years, they discovered that Shinto was pretty good...
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