Religion and Beliefs
In Japan the number of 'body donations' (kentai), i.e. willing whole cadavers to medical schools for dissection pratice, now greatly exceeds demand, whereas organ transplant donors are still very few. This is the opposite of the situation in Europe. Much has been written about organ transplantation in Japan but very little about the different practice of body donation. Some analysts essentialise 'Buddhist' versus 'Christian' attitudes toward the corpse as a supposed explanation of these differences. In fact, since the 1980s Japanese associations of medical anatomists have promoted body donation while disclaiming connections to religious institutions. Even so, many medical schools hold annual Buddhist funerary and memorial rituals for the souls of the donors, as well as for the spirits of the supposedly willingly ‘self-sacrificed’ laboratory animals. It has been suggested that the recent popularity of body donation is largely due to the fact that it will reduce funeral expenses and solve the problem of lack of space for new graves. Donors, often with no descendants, frequently say kentai provides 'meaning' by contributing to the progress of medicine. Collective funerary monuments, generally erected on medical school grounds or in affiliated temples, house the remains of most donors, cremated after several years of procedures. This anthropological paper deals primarily with popular religious practices and concepts rather than with ethics or legislation. It includes interviews and short videos of ceremonies and concludes with a brief comparison with France.