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CHINESE BUDDHIST DEATH RITUAL AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF JAPANESE KINSHIP

The family structure in Japan underwent major transformations in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and the following six years due to in part, influence f rom the Buddhist religion. The burial of family members such as husbands and wives separately was the first sign of deviation from the norm. The issues and rituals accompanying the burial practice have been shown to have a profound impact on particularly, the family in reference to property rights, jural rights and the sexual identity of women. There were other influential forces such as continental ideologies on lineage and ancestor hood that transformed the societal view on the family unit and by extension the place of women. The Chinese-style Buddhist burial rituals only served as a catalyst to these emerging changes sweeping through the medieval period but can not be pointed to as the only factors responsible for changes (Cuevas, B. J., & Conference on “Death and Dying in Buddhist Cultures”, 2007). The events surrounding death and burial of a family member in japan were revered and a lot of importance attached to the rituals. From stories collected from folklorists, it has been revealed universal practices of burial. For instance, the wives are buried in their husband’s families. The women remained as father’s daughters both in life and death with assured clam membership and right to own property. Changes occurred during the Heinian and Kamakura regimes in the realm of burial practices. Over two centuries, customs on burial practices changed and had an effect on the family setting. The Chinese norms regarding kinship infiltrated the Japanese society and adoption of Buddhist death rituals influenced greatly their kinship beliefs. Disposal and post-mortem care given to the dead borrowed heavily from the Buddhist religion (Cuevas, B. J., & Conference on “Death and Dying in Buddhist Cultures”, 2007). Prior to Buddhist influence, bones were discarded and graves neglected and those who came into contact with the dead were regarded as unclean. The religious attachment to the dead posthumously is well elaborated by the Buddhist religion. The influence on the Japanese society by the Buddhist created a new attitude towards bones and graves and the Japanese communities now have reverence for these sites to an extent of building shrines as well as paying occasional visits to remember the dead and ‘reconnect’ (Glassman, pg 388). Ancestor worship was unheard of in japan but following Sinification of the Nara period, names began to be inherited from the patriline. This notion originated from kikaji, a tribe from China and Korea. Another concept brought to the fore by the Buddhist religion involved separation of burial sites. This is based on the idea that from the start family members belonged to different backgrounds. This idea was initiated by the Buddhist and was accepted in the late Heian period thereby changing the way the family structure perceived issues of death and inheritance. The notion that the burial of a woman in her father’s home is meant to imply a lingering matrilineal linkage only shows the power of agnatic principles over cognatic ones. This concept however, lost importance gradually with the overwhelming influence from the Buddhist religion (Cuevas, & Conference on “Death and Dying in Buddhist Cultures”, 2007). The influence of Buddhism on the family setting affected not only the dead but also the living. For instance, a widow converted to a nun at her husband’s forty ninth anniversary in an indicative gesture that she had denounced the world and now, her focus was on seeking her husband’s salvation. It is therefore conclusive to say that Buddhism has had a strong influence on the family structure in Japan.

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