Dealing with the dead’s possessions: a case study of “memento  disposition” business in Japan

Ryosuke Fujii

PhD student, Graduate School of Sociology, Kwansei Gakuin University

Abstract

Completion of the funeral process has always left us with issues of ihin (mementos)—the dead’s possessions, and hence, it is important that we must consider how we deal with the ihin. Since 2006, a new business specializing in cleaning up and sorting out the belongings of the deceased called “memento disposition” (ihinseirigyō) has flourished in Japan. In this paper, I explore why this business has emerged, and consider the problem of death and bereavement in contemporary Japanese society. In doing so, I have studied the work of a company, which deals with the dead’s possession through participant observation. In particular, I have focused on the details of the memento classification, and found that the mementos are being classified into five categories: the meaning or the value, keepsake, tool, commodity and ceremonial articles or waste. This paper reveals the socially significant aspects of the “memento disposition” in the form of giving new meaning or value of the mementos by these categorizations, and also claims that it is a social requirement that specialized industries and commodity services give the mementos a new meaning as well as socialize them again as the meaning of the possession becomes nothing by the owner’s death.