The Creativity of Loss: Aging, ritual, and economies of care in contemporary Japan
[Recorded 25th February 2015] This talk examines the ways in which Japanese men and women experience old age today. While the image of Japan as a geriatric utopia where elders are revered and dutifully cared for by their families is still prevalent around the world, the rapid aging of the Japanese population, combined with other political, historical and economic changes has exposed a much more fraught and ambivalent relationship to old age. The development of modern care institutions and fragmenting family ties has left many older adults wondering where they will spend their last years and with whom. What does one hope for in old age? What gives life interest and a sense of wellbeing when old age has brought so many losses? I propose that the ideas of interest, loss, and risk are appropriate here because they are part of the social economy of care that allows older people in particular to create new and more expansive sense of the self even as they experience loss. In fact, loss brings about new opportunities for forging new possible selves and ways to participate in economies of care. Japanese traditions of mourning and memorial provide a symbolic resource for older adults to work though feelings of grief and at the same time generate hopes for the future. These traditions become a site of reimagining dependence, yielding, and waiting, as features of a life connected to family, to one's past, and to a larger natural and spiritual order. Recognizing the importance of cultural narratives of mourning provides a new perspective for understanding the emotional and existential worlds of older Japanese adults and a basis for critiques of rationalized models of social care in Japan. This seminar took place at Oxford Brookes University on 25 February 2015.