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The Burden of Caring in Japan

By Laura Haapio-Kirk, on 5 January 2018

Image (c) Laura Haapio-Kirk

A recent news story titled Dying at home rather than in hospital, elderly Japanese “go to the afterlife quietly caught my eye with its suggestion of a preference for home deaths in Japan. The location of palliative care and the relationship of a dying person to their caregivers, whether they are relatives or professionals, can reveal a great deal about an individual’s social world, as demonstrated in Miller’s recent book The Comfort of People. Upon closer inspection the article’s title proved to be misleading; Japanese cultural beliefs surrounding death and the avoidance of burdening others (Long, 2012) indicate that the situation is more complicated.

The article claims that the current shortage of hospital beds combined with the expense of professional medical care means that for many people the choice to die in hospital is taken away from them. One reason why hospital care may be preferred over family care is that over half of Japanese carers are pensioners themselves (Hurst, 2017). The Japanese term rou-rou kaigo describes the common practice of care between the elderly. Our ASSA project focuses on people between the ages of 45-70 who may be both experiencing embodied reminders of ageing, while simultaneously caring for their ageing relatives. We will study how care is mediated through technology, specifically through the smartphone, such as by maintaining self-care through mHealth apps or caring for others through connected devices.

In Japan, not wanting to be a burden in death can be understood as a final act of care towards one’s family. I am wondering whether this may help to explain people’s interest in new technologies such as smartphones. Perhaps older people are hoping that technology will give them a means to look after themselves more effectively and so be less dependent upon their families. Or perhaps, as Long’s article suggests, some people resist such technologies precisely in order to preserve what they consider to be traditional Japanese family values. By conducting my research in Japan where life expectancy is the longest in the world, I hope to deepen our understanding of the possibilities afforded by a prolonged mid-life and explore how family relationships and networks of care are affected by the simultaneous rise of the smartphone.

– Laura Haapio-Kirk

 

References

Long, S.O. J. 2012. ‘Bodies, Technologies, and Aging in Japan: Thinking About Old People and Their Silver Products’ in Cross Cultural Gerontology (2012) 27: 119. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10823-012-9164-3

Hurst D. 2017. ‘More than half of Japanese carers are pensioners’ in The Times June 28 2017. Retrived 23..11.2017 (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/half-of-japanese-carers-are-pensioners-themselves-n2v3glbkz)

Dying at home rather than in hospital, elderly Japanese ‘go to the afterlife quietly’ (November 20, 2017) Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-homedying/dying-at-home-rather-than-in-hospital-elderly-japanese-go-to-the-afterlife-quietly-idUSKBN1DK2LB

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