The Cultural Context of Aging

« Exit The Cultural Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives­

CHAPTER17

‘fRANSFORi\UNG THE CULTURAL SCRIPTS FOR AGING

AND ELDER CARE IN JAPAN

Brenda R. Jenike and John ·w. Traphagru1

Weekdays in Tokyo al\1<1ys begin early-too early for me (Brenda Jenike)

at least. By eight o’clock in the morning it seems that e\·eryone in my

bustling, crowded neighborhood in the north\1·estern TolTo working-class

ward of Itabashi has long ago started their dar. Brealfasts lm·e been sel’\”ed

and cleared. Children are off to school. Workers headed for the corporate

centers ofTokyo are in the midst of their daily commuting crush, standing.

pressed tightly “like sushi” against one another in unbearably steamy trains

for half an hour or longer. Housewh·es are hard at work cleaning the home or

running errands. By a lazy nine o’clock I am supposed to be at Green Hills,

the local public nursing home and senior day care center, escorting residents

and day care attendees to exercise class. I am, howe,·er, late as usual, madly

peddling my shiny red “house\\·ife’s special” bicrcle uphill and against the

wind on this brisk autumn day. Once in the center doors, I am greeted br the

unmistakable scent of strong detergent mingled \1·ith perspiration, a

testament to both the volume ofhuman acti\it)”\\ithin and the continuous

effort to cleanse it. In the genkan (entranceway), I hurriedly remo,·e my

outdoor shoes and put on my indoor slippers. From my locker. I grab my

light blue apron that designates me as a ,·olunteer caregi,·er. [o.ly nametag

says Burenda in the large Japanese sciipt reserved for foreign words.

Greeted by smiling nods and row1ds of”Ohayo gozaimasu!” (Good

morning!), I enter the large recreation room just in time to escort the last few

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participants to their seats. Exuberant music booms through the room, and I,

along \\”ith three other women \·olunteers in aprons, two roung male staff

members and one elderly but robust female sensei (teacher), lead three

consecutive sessions of physical recreation for about eighty frail seniors.

At first, the scene is surreal. Circled round m e sit twenty-six or so dignified

elderly Japanese women and men, some in traditional kimono (these are the

oldest, or “Meiji el de.rs”- born in the last years of the i\leiji period), whose

ages range from the mid eighties through the upper nineties. Jn truth, I feel

ridiculous playing “catch the balloonn \\ith persons who should command

more respect from a young woman such as myself. We do, luckily, manage to

share some laughs. When these day care attendees lea,·e the room for arts

and crafts, the nursing home residents, each dressed in a mix of identical

pastel sweat suits and personal articles of clothing, wheel themseh·es in for

their turn. With some acti\·e, some seemingly acti,·e but cogniti\·ely not quite

aware, and some, those in the “dandelion” (dementia) group not much aware

of an)thing. the residents are di\·ided into teams and then assembled into

rows for balloon rnlleyball. Staff members essentially play the game for the

residents. With large red balloons bopping about the room, residents

sometimes duck, sometimes try to hit the balloon, but most often get hit by

the balloon. No one can really play the game, so it is declared that each side

wins. With exercise time over, residents leave to be fed their lunch or bathed.

Dandelion members areescorted away by staff. Volunteers go to the tea

room to chat. I spend time sitting and talking \\·ith some residents, then chat

with \”Olunteers until it is time to help \\ith the afternoon rehabiri (physical “rehabilitationn therapy) session.

The abo,·e scene from one of the author’s (Jenike) field notes is one that is

repeated at nursing homes and elder day care centers throughout Japan­

whether in rural, urban or suburban- on a daily basis.1 Traphagan, working

in a much more rural and remote part ofJapan, has also played “catch the

 

 

«&it The Cultural Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

balloon” or other similar games with elders e~q)eriencing a range of cogniti\·e

and physical problems, much like those Jenike describes. \\”hile the patterns

ofacti\ity and philosophy of elder care within the context of these

institutions has remained fairly consistent o\·er the past decade and across

different parts of Japan, the approach to funding, managing and prm·iding

care has changed dramatically since the inception of the Jong-term care

insurance program- known in Japanese as kaigo hoken-in 2000.

As of 2005, Japan had the distinction of being the most aged nation in the

world, with over 20 percent (25.76 million) of the population aged si,t}·-five

or o,·er (The Nikkei Weekly 2006). EYen more startling, Japan’s l\ational

Institute of Population and Social Securit}’ Research has no\\· forecast a

doubling of this figure to 40 percent aged sixty-fo·e and o,·er by 2050 (Kyodo

l\ews 2006; The Nikkei Weekly 2006). Japanese of all ages are well aware of

the demographic realit}· that tliey are lh”ing in a rapidly “graying society”: the

elderly population in Japan is burgeoning, “·!tile the population ofyouth

needed to suppott it is shrinking.

To deal with tllis demographic conte)l.t and its associated elder care crisis,

in the 1990s the Japanese state replaced the social welfare system that had

provided elder care sen·ices \dth the pre\iously mentioned national long­

term care insuranoe program (LTCI) in April 2000. As a mandatory program

\\ithout the stigma of welfare, owr tl1e past eight years LTCJ has essentially

transformed elder care in Japan from a morally based, family-centered

welfare system to a consumer-driven entitlement system of supporti,·e and

institutional long-term community care. A range of residential care homes,

adult day care centers and a plethora of home care and caregiver respite

senices, as well as some hightech creativit}”, are now pro,·iding ne\\· cultural

spaces for tlie growing nwubers ofJapanese seniors to e)l.’})e1ience late life.

In this chapter we draw from e.’tended particjpant observation in nursing

homes, adult day care centers and caregi,·er support groups, and from in­

()

depth inten·iews with caregh·ers and care recipients that ham been

conducted by the authors in separate field sites, located in To1.1·0 (Jenike)

and about 500 kn1 north of Tokyo in Iwate Prefecture (TTaphagan), since the

mid-199os. Our purpose is to e:\’})lore ho\\· a rapidly aging population and the

transition to community care for frail elderly (a profound change in

approadi) are transforming core cultural concepts in Japan such as filial

piet}· and respect for the e!derlr, as well as the meaning ofold age and care

itself. In considering these changes, we conclude with a discussion of what

ne\\· cultural scripts future generations of Japanese might have in store for

their O\\TI old age.

THE CHANGING DEl\IOGRAPHIC CONTEXT OF THE

JAPANESE LIFE COURSE AND LATE LIFE

The life course for Japanese bas lengthened considerably in only a few

decades. until quite recently, e)l.treme old age-that is, not one, but two or

three decades of life post retirement-\\·a.s not a consideration for the

ordinary citizen and his orher family. Up until the end ofWorld War 11,

a\·erage life e)l.’})ectancy for Japanese males and females was around age fifty.

!\ow sb.1)· years later, Japanese males can e)l.’})eCt to li,·e an a\·erage of 78.5

years, and females 85.5 years (Kyodo l\ews 2006). This longevit}”, highest in

the world except for the small island nation of Andorra, actually exceeds

prior United l\ations’ predictions of maximum life e:\’})ectancies in human

populations (Horiuchi 2000). Thus, today li\ing into a grand old age has

become a normath·e part of the life course for Japanese citizens.

~loreO\·er, the proportion of the population aged eight}· and over within

the total senior population during this same time span has steadily

increased. Just 9 percent of seniors in Japan were eight}· and older iu 1950;

by 1970, this figure had on~· modestly increased to just under 13 percent.

However, by 2005 this had increased to almost 25 percent.~ Furthennore, in

 

 

c E>at The Cultuml Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

the past decade alone, the number ofcentenarians in Japan has quadrupled

to over 28,000 persons, and is projected to top half a million by 2050

(Watanabe 2006; Yomiuri 2006b; Willcox et al. this volume). The rapidity

with which J apan transformed to a society with an aged population has been

often discussed in gerontological literature-it only took twenty-five years for

Japan to 1110\·e from a society with 7 percent of the population o,·er the age of

sixty-fo·e to one \\lth 14 percent o\·er that age, and the trend continues to the

present. TI1is demographic transition was accomplished almost twice as fast

as in any other postindustrial society (see Kinsella this volume).

The rapid gro\\th of the elder population has been accompanied by a

corresponding decline in the total fertility rate (TFR). Tiiroughout the early

i97os, the TFR for Japan remained relati,·ely consistent at approximately

2.13, a rate sufficient for population replacement. By the middle of the

decade, the TFR began to decline, and bas continued to do so since-in 2004,

the TFR for Japan was i.29, a number significantly below what is necessary

for population replacement. TI1e implications of this decreased fertility are

striking. Statistics produced by the Japanese government show predictions

ofa decline in population throughout this century where the current

population of approximately 127 million will drop to only 44 million by the

first decade of the 2100s unless there are interwning factors such as

increased immigration.3

Japan, ofcourse, is not unusual in experiencing a low TFR combined \\lth

a rapid growth in the population ofelders; South Korea and Singapore in

Asia, and Sweden and Italy in Europe, a re prime examples ofother societies

elq>eriencing a similar set of demographic changes and associated pressures

(Kinsella this rnlume). Perhaps what makes Japan, or any other society,

particularly interesting is the manner in which those demographic changes

intersect with cultural scripts about how to manage late life and ho\\· to

pro,·ide care for elders who may become increasingly frail and dependent

0

(both physically and financially). Susan 0. Long, in writing about how

Japanese approaclt end-oflife decision-making, draws on Seale’s idea that

people use a \·ariety of cultural scripts, some ofwhich may contain

conflicting ,·alues, to interpret and manage the d}ing process (Long 2005:2;

Seale 1998). This approach can be equally applied when considering tl1e

manner in which people interpret and approach the experience of aging and

the process of caring for an elderly indhi dual.

l\luch of the literature on elder care in Japan in recent years has painted a

rather bleak picture in which fundamental changes in ,·alues related to roles

and expectations \\ithin the family, as \\·ell as a shift from a stem to a nuclear

family system, are forcing a mo,·ement away from family-cen tered support of

the elderly to institutionally-centered support. l:nderlying these ideas is an

often explicit assumption that Japanese family structure is and has been in

the process of transforming from a patrilineal, pauilocal model in which

coresidence ofadult children and elderly parents in three-generation

households forms the basis of social support for the elderly, to a bilateral,

neolocal model more generally affiliated with dewloped societies and those

that have gone through the demographic transition from high to low birth

and death rates (Ogawa and Retherford 1997:59).

This assumption is usually expressed in terms not simply of change, but of

a weakening ofthe family structure. In the postwar period, both within

popular media and social science literature on tlte family in Japan, there has

often been a tacit assumption that modernization and urbanization \\ill

ine,~tably lead to the breakd01m of tlte traditional family form, as \·alues of

indhidualism encourage a stronger emphasis on the nuclear family structure

in part due to the pri,·acy gained by residence away from one’s parents. Not

surprisingly, this perspecti,·e tends to generate rather pessinlistic opinions

about the effects of population aging and the well-being ofthe elderly both in

the present and in the future ofJapanese society.

 

 

• Eiot The Cullural Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

Despite these trends, throughout the postwar era. the primary cultural

script that Japanese ha,·e used to cope ,,;th the process of aging and the

potential need to care for an elderly individual experiencing \arious forms of

functional decline has been one that centers upon in-home, family-based

pro\’ision ofcare for the elderly structured around Japanese kinship ideals.

This cultural script of fLlial obligations toward parents and filial piety

continues to shape Japanese approaches to elder care, e\’en \\’hile ideas

about family structure and obligations within the family are contested and

negotiated.

THE FAMILY IN JAPAN Throughout the post\\ar era, structural and ideational elements of the

family ha\·e occupied a major thread in the study of Japanese culture and

society. Ezra ,·ogel’s (1963) ground-breaking study of middle-class, \\’hite­

collar workers in urban Japan set the stage for a long-term intellectual

discussion of how Japanese conceptualize and elqie1ience familr bonds, and

how this is changing in response to processes of urbanization and

modernization.

The term most similar in meaning to the English “family” is kazoku. From

a sociological perspecti,~e, kazoku places emphasis on the conjugal bond and,

thus, implies tlle nuclear family (kaku kazoku) as it is understood in the

EuroAmeiican context (Long 1987:7). While this tennis routinely used in

Japanese discourse about the family, another term is also employed, one that

has significant implications in terms of the conceptualization of rights and

responsibilities within e:-.1ended families. This term, ie, is a complex concept

that can be understood at multiple le\’els: as a kinship term, as a tool through

\\’bich the nation-state ideology has been promulgated and as an academic

concept. In common usage, tl1e term ie refers to both a house or compound

and its residents, hence it is nonnally translated into English as “household.”

0

\\”hen an indi\’idual speaks of her ie, the reference may be either to her

house, those relati,·es who Ji\·e 11ith her in the same house, or inclusiw of

both. The term also has a nuanced meaning suggesting something that is

traditional, old fashioned, and often out ofdate to many Japanese. As an

academic concept, ie is understood as “a multigenerational property-o\\’ning

corporate group 1\’hich continues through time” (Long 1987:3). It is

organized not on the basis of nuclear family structure, but on a stem family

structure consisting ofthree generations in which there is one married

couple from each adult generation who live together \\’ith the unmarried

children of the younger generation. Continuity 01·er time is essential to the

structure of the ie. As has been frequently pointed out in scholarly \\’Ork on

the family, the li\’ing and tl1e dead are linked together by the idea that family

genealogy is not sinlply relationships based on blood inheritance and

succession, but that genealogical bonds are connected to the maintenance

and continuation of the family as an institution (Artiga 1954:362; Plath 1964;

Traphagan 2oooa).

Central to the idea of the ie is tl1e idea that authority 11ithin the household

is not wsted in persons, but in social positions 11~thin the family unit. Each

position \\’itl1in the household-father, mother, grandfather, grandmother,

\\’ife and eldest son-is\·ested with S)mbolic capital associated 11·ith that

position, which, in turn, is associated \\itl1 specific responsibilities to the

household as a whole and other members of tl1e household. In some

respects, the most powerful office is that ofhousehold head, nonnally

transferred from eldest son to eldest son, and it is the household head who

forms the line of succession that characterizes tl1e historical continuity of

genealogical bonds in agh·en household. The household head is the

representati,·e of tl1e household to the outside world and the final ,·oice of

authority on decisions internal to tlle household. The basic nature and

meaning of tlle ie has been a source of ongoing debate among scholars

 

 

•Exit The Culturol Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

concerned with Japanese kinship.

Although the ie sU’llcture has a long history in Japan, it \\’as not until the

l\leiji Restoration (1868) that it became a generalized model for family

organizat ion. Prior to the Restoration, traditional norms of maniage and

residence among peasants were flexible and did not necessarily include

changing residence upon marriage. It was decided by the bur eaucratic

leadership that such a system was unsatisfactory as the basis for building a

modern nation-state, or more precisely, a family-state (kazoku kokka). The

model that did seem appropriate was the samurai paUiarchal family

strncture that was adopted as a basis for all family organization in Japan.

Thus, who was to be included in the koseki (family registration) \\’as based

upon this organization (Gluck 1985:182). Indeed, the ie formed the primary

supporting beam of society, in :\leiji ideology. The emperor was the patriarch

of a “family-state,” his line ofdescent symbolically represented the ancestral

ethnicity of the Japanese, and his ie formed the main stem family to which

all other Japanese families were connected (Gluck i985:78).4

What has become clear in postwar studies of the Japanese family is that it

must be understood as an adaptable and d)11amic social sU’llcture that

incorporates elements of indusUial and postindusUial procli\·ities towards

nuclear stl’Ucture while maintaining ideational elements associated with

stem family sU’llctures-particularly 11·hen it comes to thinking about elder

care. Jn short, whether people adhere to t11e traditional stem family approach

to fami ly organization and elder care, or whether they adhere to a nuclear

approach, they continue to think about familial bonds in terms of the stem

family sU’Ucture and continue to conceptualize fa mily either in line with or in

contrast to that structure.

“\ \7AR1VI CONTACT”: FILIAL CARE AND OTHER

TALES FROM AN AGING SOCIETY

(..,

As stated before. throughout the postwar era, the primary cultural script

that Japanese ha,·e used to cope 11ith the process of aging and the potential

need to care for an aged parent has been one that centers upon an in-home,

familybased pro,·isioo of care sU’llctured around Japanese stem family

kinship ideals. Coresidence with one’s children in old age, traditionally (and

still most typically) with one’s eldest son and his wife, has been a

fundamental social expectation, signifying the successful maintenance of

primary relationships o,·er the life course. Whether or not a family continues

to follow the inheritance and residence patterns of the paUili:neal stem

family system, cultural norms dictate that one adult child-the designated

familr successor-is still responsible for the total care of aged parents. In the

minds of the current cohorts ofelders and their own aging adult children,

then, the physical, emotional and social support of the Yet)’ old (\\’ho are not

childless) are the responsibility ofthe child with whom they reside.

TI1is fundamental elqiectation among the older cohorts is in accordance

11ith the norms of filial piety (oyak”ok”o) upon which they were raised.

According to Confucian thought, the tie between parent and child is one of

the fa·e primary human relationships, calling for the bene,·olent leadership

of the parent and willing obedience of the child. As anthropologist Da,id

Plath explains, “deYotion to one’s parents in particular is the root of all \irtue

and the model for all human propriety” (Plath 1988:507). FUrthermore,

cultural ideals for old age in Japan call not only for IO\ing indulgence by

famil)’ members, but also for an accepted dependence on the part of elderly

parents. A key characteristic of filial care, then. has been amae dependency

(Doi i973; Johnson 1993), which has been aptly termed “indulgent

dependency” (Lebra i976) and “legitimized dependency” (Hashimoto i996).

While the term amae is most often applied to the relationship ofa dependent

young child on its mother, an aging parent will likewise in turn begin to seek

the indulgence and support of his or her adult child. Like a mother

 

 

c Exit The Cultural Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

understanding the needs of her child, an attenth·e adult child (or daughter­

in-law) should understand and attend to an aged parent’s needs \\ithout the

parent ha,·ing to ask for assistance. TI1is parent-child role set “encourages

passh·e helplessness” by one partner and •acth·e nurturing” by the other

(Kiefer 1987:104). Jenike’s caregi,·er respondents described this relationship,

based on the feelings ofoyak”‘ok”o. as a natural desire to care for one’s

parent, rather than a duty (Jenike 1997). An aged parent deserws support as

part ofa lifelong reciprocal relationship, in which the parent has

accumulated social capital through contnbutions to the household and

sacrifices for his or her child and grandchildren (Hashimoto i996).

Symbolic of this idealized family-centered caregi,ing is the concept of

“\1-arm contact” (fureai) through “skinship” (physical touch by kin). \\.hile

both ofthese ideas refer to physical assistance. such as helping an elder to

stand up and walk, holding their hand or touching their arm or any bodily

care such as assistance 11ith bathing, they more importantly encompass the

idea ofan ongoing, emotionally 11arm and empathetic family relationship.

Not Enough “Sih”er Seats” Cultural ideals are ofcourse important in understanding \\”by people (or

institutions) behave (or function) the way they do. Ideals should not,

howe,·er, be confused with actual practices. On trains, sub\\”ays and buses in

Japan, seats near the front called usih·er seats” are reserYed for the elderly

and those \\ith physical disabilities. Ideally, this marks seniors as special,

and desening a seat. In practice, \\”hen almost e,·eryone on the bus, train or

subway is elderly, the few “silver seats” provided become meaningless.

Like\\ise, cultural ideals of filial piety-coresidence (at least in late life),

physical and emotional suppo11 within the household unit, indulgence and

encouraged dependency-should not be confused with actual practices. Just

as household m1its and family structure in Japan can greatly dh·erge from

v

the stem family ideal, the ability ofJapanese to meet tl1e ideals and

expectations for elder care that assume intergenerational coresidence and

empathetic, handson personal care has become more and more challenging.

As life e:q>ectancies ha,·e increased, and “ith them, added years of

debilitating chronic conditions, entering into and sustaining potentially

prolonged relationships of dependency are indeed fraught \1ith much

ambi\alence on the part ofboth elderly parents and their adult children. This

ambh·alence is especially salient when one considers that many of these

adult “children” are tbemselYes o,·er age Si.”-1)”.

For elderly Japanese, dependency of aged parents on the yow1ger

generations is still socially encouraged. Ho\\”e,·er, becoming an undue

burden (mei11-aku) on family members by outliving and exhausting the social

capital accrued through reciprocal intergenerational relationships over the

life course breaches the intergenerational contract, and should be ayoided

(Hashimoto 1996; Young and Ikeuchi 1997; Traphagan 1998a). The existence

of numerous poklmri (“s\\”ift” death) temples frequented by elderly Japanese

who go there to pray for a peaceful and timely death and to buy amulets for

the pre,·ention ofsenility and other disabling conditions ofold age, attests to

the strong desire among elderly to a\·oid falling into this unilateral

relationship of dependency (\\’Coss 1993; Young and Ikeuchi 1997). In

addition, the suicide rate for Japanese aged si.xty and o,·er (35.3 per 100,000

persons for 2003) continues to be the highest for any age group (accounting

for a third ofall suicides) and is high when compared to that for elderly in

other industrialized nations (Asahi Shimbun Japan Almanac 2005;

Traphagan 2005a). By comparison, the U.S. suicide rate in 2003 for men

oYer age si.’it:y-fi,·e \\”as 27.34 and -l-43 for women, \\ith both figures

significantly lowertl1an in Japan.5 These two phenomena point not only to

the increased awareness among Japanese seniors of the consequences of

long-tem1 chronic illnesses in old age, but also to the long-held cultural

 

 

c EXJt The Cultural Context or Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

beliefthat an indi\idual has an obligation to lea\·e this world ifhe or she has

become burdensome (Plath 1983). In some cases, elderly J apanese ha\’e also

resorted to suicide to make a strong social statement about neglectful

children (Traphagan 2005a).

The main way, howe,·er, that caregi\ing ideals based on the stem family

structure no longer fit 11·ith reality is in tenllS of changed residence patterns.

Up until the 1990s, the majority of elderly Japanese Ji\·ed in

multigenerational households, and many had done so their whole li,·es. In

the 1990s, there began an increase in delayed coresidence, that is, families

were postponing forming extended households until the older generation

reached ad,·anced old age or a health concern necessitated daily care.

Delayed coresidence also often meant, if families could afford it, li\·ing in t1m

separate households on the same property-a popular choice that pro1ides

some autonomy, yet still upholds the ideal of ‘1i1·ing at a distance where the

soup (if brought from one household to the ne:-.1) \\’on’t get cold” (s”upu no

samenai l1·ori). The rise in numbers of families who postpone coresidence,

reside in separate households when they do, or, most significantly, who

ne1·er coreside in any form at all, has resulted in the doubling o\·er tl1e past

decade of the number ofJapanese seniors recorded in the national census as

residing alone or with spouses only (a 10 percent increase in total

households \\ith elderly, see Figure 17.1). In 2005, 01·er halfofall households

\\itl1 elderly persons (sixty-fh·e and 0\-er) were single elderly and elderly

couple households, witl1 4.05 million elderly persons recorded as li1ing

alone, an increase of more than 1 million since the 2000 census (Japan

Statistical Yearbook 2008; Kan 2007).

0

Women pr:tying at a pokkuri temple in Sugnmo, Tokyo, an area that caters to 1hc elderly. Photo by Jay Sokolovsky.

 

 

c Exit The Cultural Context of Aging, Worldwide Perspectives

Figure 17. l Li”ing Arrangements fur .f t1 11ancsc 65 t1nd Over, 1985-2005

Cl Wtlh children

O Elderly couple

OAlone

ll! W1lholhom

1985 19Sl0 1995 2000 2005

Source: S1n1i<1ical Survey Dcpanmcn1. S101i<1ics Jlurcou. Minl<1ry of ln1crnal Mfoir; ond Communi· cmions. in Japm1 Statl\tko/ Yt•arhtmk. nc<:C.\!)Ctl Jnnuary 2008. n

Kowhere is this trend more apparent than in depopulated rural areas,

where the percentage of residents age sixty-fh·e and O\’er can top 60 percent.

Recent natural disasters and ei.treme weather ha\·e shed a grim light on the

\’Ulnerability ofelderly Japanese living alone in rural Japan, and the

consequences ofadult children not \\ishing to leave city jobs to mo\·e back in

\\ith and care for their aged parents. In 2006, when record amounts ofsnow

fell on rural northwestern Japan, elderly residents in mountain \·illages

became trapped in their homes, with snow piled to second stories. Residents,

many on fixed incomes, had to endure the cold and darkness \\ithin for

weeks on end. \Vorse, \\ith up to six feet of snow and ice weighing down their

roofs, elderly in their se,·enties and eighties li,·ing alone climbed up to

shO\·el. Many fell to their deaths or suffered se,·ere injuries. Others, tl}ing to

clear piles ofsnow from their yards. fell or got stuck in drifts and froze to

death. In all, eighty-five senior citizens across north\\·estern Japan died and

more than 1,000 \\·ere injured (Faiola 2006). IJ1 the summer of 200-1, when

Japan was struck by a record twenty typhoons, the majority of those killed

were elderly \\ith dementia who li,·ed alone and kept wandering out in the

midst of the st:onns (personal communication \\ith Kyoto Shin bun reporter).

Throughout Japan, the phenomenon of”kodokushi” of the elderly

– asolitary death” in which a person dies alone \\ithout care or

companionship and is often not disco,·ered for a length of time-bas been

increasing, necessitating the formation of new companies that specialize in

dealing with the deceased person’s belongings at the request of family

members (Kan 2007).

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