8 December 2016: Professor Anne Allison


The Spectre of Dying Alone: A Manga of Lonely Death in Japan

AllisonOn 8 December 2016, the JSC was delighted to welcome Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, to talk about her latest research project, an exploration of  solitary or lonely death (koritsushi, kodokushi), and new mortuary and post-mortem practices in Japan. See below for an presentation abstract.

Professor Allison’s presentation was followed by comments from our discussant, GIl-Soo Han, Associate Professor of Communications & Media Studies in the Faculty of Arts, Monash University, who provided a trans-Asian perspective on Professor Allison’s ideas, informed by his on research on ‘funeral capitalism’ in South Korea. 


In an era of high aging/low birthrate demographics, more and more Japanese are older, fewer and fewer are getting married or having children; and single households are on the rise. As living alone becomes increasingly the norm, so does dying alone: a prospect that is fed by a flood of news reporting around the phenomenon of bodies discovered days, weeks, even months after a death “unrecognized by anyone else” (kizuite moraenai shi). Generally called solitary or lonely death (koritsushi, kodokushi), how this gets configured in media representations as a state of social abjection (not only for the person dying but also for those left with the mess and smell of their death afterwards) is what I examine in this presentation. Focusing on a manga drawn by Yoshida Taichi intended as a preventive measure against dying unrecognized by others (his term for solitary death), I look at the depiction given the death itself; infested by bugs, flies, and decay the body emits a horrendous stench that pollutes the entire neighborhood. Sympathy here seems to be aroused more for the neighbors than the dead man himself: an issue I explore in terms of ethics—ethics are being organized around whom precisely and in what exact terms of respect/community/life and death?

Profile: Professor Anne Allison

Anne Allison is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. A specialist in contemporary Japan, she studies the interface between material conditions and desire/fantasy/imagination across various domains including corporate capitalism, global popular culture, and precarity. Allison is the author of Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (1994), Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (1996), Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (2006), and Precarious Japan (2013). She is currently embarking on a new project involving death, solitary living and dying, and new mortuary and post-mortem practices in Japan.

Profile: Associate Professor Gil-Soo Han (Discussant)

GIl-Soo Han is Associate Professor of Communications & Media Studies in the Faculty of Arts, Monash University. He is currently researching ‘Funeral capitalism in Korea’ and ‘Multiculturalism at the Australian Cemetery’. His recent publications include ‘Funeral Capitalism: Commodification and Digital Marketing of Funeral Services in Contemporary Korea’, Korean Studies (2016); and Nouveau-riche Nationalism and Multiculturalism in Korea (Routledge, 2016).