Ancestor Worship and Quality of Life: Transforming Bonds with the Deceased in Contemporary Japan

Part of the Quality of Life in Asia book series (QLAS, volume 13)


Literature in cultural psychology on happiness has argued that the connectedness and interdependence of the self with others is a key feature of East Asian societies. Ancestor worship is regarded as the most significant social institution in East Asian societies sharing Confucian tradition, such as Japan and Vietnam. Ancestor worship is a kind of reciprocal system in which the living and the deceased exchange mutual care. It links one’s self to the ever-continuing family lineage, providing a basis for an individual’s identity. In contemporary Japan, such beliefs and customs are rapidly diminishing due to drastic changes in population and family structure since the Second World War. This chapter addresses the question that how people in Japan cope with the situation in which the traditional assurance for their afterlife does not work well, and identifies the ways in which they seek alternative bases for their identity by examining the case of a new trend in burial. The new trend in death preparation indicates a silent transition from “bonds with the deceased” to “bonds with the living” in contemporary Japanese society. Both types of bonds can assure one’s sense of self and the meaning of life and fit the contextual features of East Asian societies.


Ancestor worship The self Bonds with the deceased Bonds with the living Shrinking family 



This work was supported by the MEXT-Supported Program for the Strategic Research Foundation at Private Universities of Japan, 2014–2018 (S1491003) and by a research grant from the Senshu University Research Fellowship 2017. The “International Comparative Surveys on Lifestyle and Values” were designed and conducted by the Center for Social Well-being Studies, Institute for the Development of Social Intelligence, Senshu University, Japan, in collaboration with Social Well-being Research Consortium in Asia.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senshu UniversityTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Vietnam Academy of Social SciencesHanoiVietnam

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