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Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William R. LaFleur

Author: William R. LaFleur
Book title: Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan
ISBN10: 0691029652
ISBN13: 978-0691029658
Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (October 17, 1994)
Language: English
Pages: 275
Size PDF: 1546 kb
Size FB2: 1491 kb
Size ePUB: 1431 kb
Rating: 4.1 ✯
Votes: 645
Subcategory: World

Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William R. LaFleur

Why would a country strongly influenced by Buddhism's reverence for life allow legalized, widely used abortion? Equally puzzling to many Westerners is the Japanese practice of mizuko rites, in which the parents of aborted fetuses pray for the well-being of these rejected "lives." In this provocative investigation, William LaFleur examines abortion as a window on the culture and ethics of Japan. At the same time he contributes to the Western debate on abortion, exploring how the Japanese resolve their conflicting emotions privately and avoid the pro-life/pro-choice politics that sharply divide Americans on the issue.

Reviews (6)
Great condition
recommended reading for graduate students in public health, medicine, theology, law. Students like it and incorporate it well into class discussions.
This is, of course, a book about Japan and Japanese attitudes

toward birth, death and the fragility of life. Because it is

also a book about abortion, it also touches on an issue that

is incredibly hot in America even as abortion has become

an uncontroversial fact of life in most of the rest of the


So it is a tribute to the author's scholarship as well as to

the scope of his world view that he stays true to the business

of explaining a Japanese Buddhist take on the world without

overtly indulging in taking sides in the American controversy.

It' a tribute to his depth of understanding that in spite of

this lack of partisanship, this splendid book has something to

teach us all and some light to shed on the American debate.

It would oversimplify LaFleur's arguement to sum it up, but one

thread is something like this. The Japanese view of a newborn

is that it is a potential life. This view is even more emphatic

in the case of an unborn-a foetus. People become people in

this view by a gradual process of socialization.

Rather than being heartless, this way of looking at things has

a great deal to recommend it-especially in days when infant

mortality was high. Parents who lost a new-born or an unborn

child could pray for the return of that child in a subsequent

pregnancy. The ritual system, which provided no funeral for

one who died so young, affirmed the tentative nature of the

dead one's membership in the human community.

If it takes socialization to make a human and a family to make

socialization, then it is also up to the community and the

family to decide if that's going to happen at all. In this

view, life in infancy is a liquid that hardens into indiv-

iduality with time.

So infant death and miscarriage are sad, but not final. The

unborn child gets to come around again, maybe with better karma.

This, of course, removes abortion from the realm of murder/

choice. It also forces all of us to see our various positons

in the American debate as products of our social and religious

assumptions just as the Japanese view is the product of theirs.

Again, this is not a book about the American abortion wars.

It is instead, a splendid book about Japanese religious beliefs

across a swath of history and how they affect attitudes. By

staying true to his topic, LaFleur teaches us a great deal.

--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and

the forthcoming novel bang BANG from Kunati Books.ISBN

William R. LaFleur gives us a book which is well made. Piece by piece Mr. LaFleur goes over the history of abortion, buddhism, family planning, sexuality attitudes and even woman's lib in Japan. By the time he reaches his conclusion, you can't help but feel like you, yourself, have also researched and processed all the information.
Near the end, when he compares the Japanese ideas to American ideas on the issue, you can't help but feel that maybe it was all a well placed trap, to get you to look at the whole mess from a different point of view, not just the pro-life/pro-choice, good/bad, yes/no, on/off American way (where every issue only has two sides and the winner gets total victory, so no mercy!)
You might not like some of the points made, but it will sure force you to think.
I can heartily recommend this book. I once took a course taught by LaFleur which was one of the best courses on understanding Japanese Buddhism and the practice of abortion. This book matches his good lecturing style.
What is interesting is that in the West abortion is viewed in primarily negative terms, as is infanticide. LaFleur's initial attitude was: How can Japanese engage in this kind of activity on such a large scale? What role does belief in reincarnation (according to Buddhism) play?
Rather than bringing in Western moral preconceptions that might prejudge his discussion, LaFleur treats this sensitive topic with great insight and sensitivity. This book will be a very interesting read for those interested in Japanese society and Buddhism.
Excellent book for both pro-life and pro-choice "activists," and those interested in the issue. And you can learn more about Buddhism as a bonus!

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