Compassion, Ritual, and the Abortion Controversy in Modern Japanese Buddhism

Document Type


Document Subtype


Presentation Date

Spring 4-18-2009

Conference Name

North Central Sociological Association

Conference Location

Dearborn, MI


Considerably moreso than in the United States, abortion as opposed to contraception seems to constitute a major form of family planning in modern Japan. Indeed, induced abortion and infanticide constitute a centuries-old tradition among various social classes in Japan, a society which since the Sixth Century C.E. has also had a strong Buddhist presence. Our primary interest in this essay is to consider the concept of ritual as an expression of compassion and its relationship to the modern mizuko kuyo (parent-led private memorial rituals for aborted fetuses) in Japanese Buddhism. Our goal is not to reconcile the practice of abortion with the supreme value placed on life in all forms of Buddhism but rather to interpret the otherwise paradoxical reality of Buddhist memorial rites for unwanted pregnancies.


religion, Japanese Buddhism, water-child ritual, abortion, Japan


Asian Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Sociology

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