At a moment when marriage and childbirth are on the decline, employment is increasingly short-term and precarious, and more and more people are living longer and all alone, sociality is changing in Japan. Away from the workplace or the family, ever more attention is placed on a free-floating, mobile but responsible self. Consistent with this streamlining of the social is a new trend in “simple living” spurred by de-clutter guru, Marie Kondo. Encouraged to detach from all but the most essential, most joyful of personal possessions, the stress is on matter that materializes life in a very particular way. But in this presentist, self-oriented lifestyle, what happens at the time of death? To those possessions the deceased has left behind, and to bodies of the dead, in cases when there is no social other to attend to these persons and things? Asking what the matter of death is in an age of decluttered belonging(s), I examine new businesses emerging in Japan (ihin seiri gaisha) that help clients sort through the possessions left behind, or that they may leave behind themselves, at the moment of death. Special clean-up of the "lonely dead" is one of their services—sanitizing the landscape of the waste left behind by a wounded sociality.
Anne 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 conducting research on new demographic/social trends in Japan involving death, solo sociality, and self-management of mortuary and post-mortem arrangements.