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Imagining Our Digital Futures: The View From Japan

Laura Haapio-Kirk14 February 2020

Japan has gained a global reputation as being the sort of place where one can ‘imagine our digital future’ – from stories of men marrying their virtual girlfriends, to techno-cemeteries replacing tombstones with LED Buddhas, an imagination of ‘techno Japan’ has developed which can be quite removed from the everyday experiences of people living there. Japan has been slow in many ways to adopt new technologies despite an international perception of being at the forefront of technological innovation. This imagined futuristic Japan is perhaps a result of the prominence of robots and advanced technologies in Japanese popular culture, or because of the impression made on travellers by iconic bullet trains and singing washlet toilets. Day-to-day life in Japan is actually remarkably low-tech; the economy is still largely cash-based despite government attempts to encourage card and mobile payments, much bureaucratic work is still paper-based rather than computerized, and old technologies such as fax machines are still popular. Indeed the name of new Reiwa era (Japan’s new imperial era following the end of Emperor Akihito’s 30-year reign) was announced internationally in April 2019 via a fax sent to Japanese embassies worldwide.

On 26th of February I will present my work at a symposium in Sheffield called ‘Imagining Our Digital Futures: The View From Japan’. The event is organised by Sheffield University’s School of East Asian Studies, bringing together scholarship on technical innovations of Japanese art and design with discussions about the use of digital technology to understand Japan. The organisers envision Japan-focused digital research as a productive model for emerging and developing studies of digital cultures around the world. “Imagining our digital futures” requires us to look at our digital present, which in Japan is more commonly about the smartphone rather than robots. And the age-group who are especially keen to imagine a digital future is the middle-aged to elderly, who are finding digital means for challenging previous models of ageing. While Japanese youth have historically been seen to drive innovation in digital communication practices, older people are now starting to embrace the smartphone and are developing their own digital cultures.

My talk will present findings from long-term ethnographic fieldwork I conducted among older people in Kyoto and Kōchi Prefecture, examining ageing, health, and everyday usage of the smartphone. Given the economic and social challenges posed by Japan’s ageing population, the government has turned towards technological solutions, such as assistive robotic devices, to cope with a decreasing health and care workforce. Yet it is in everyday smartphone practices such as messaging, Googling, and using social media that older people are re-imagining care, finding new forms of independence, and crafting new experiences of ageing when compared with previous generations.

With many nations around the world exhibiting ageing populations, there is international focus on how super-ageing Japan is dealing with this demographic shift. By studying the digital practices of middle-aged to elderly Japanese people, this research demonstrates that the smartphone is increasingly central to their lives, and will be key to developing technological innovations for dealing with the challenges associated with ageing.

If you’re near Sheffield do come along, and also check out the Japan Now North festival in the week preceding the symposium with a range of film screenings and discussions on Japanese art, literature, and film. The festival includes a screening of the film ‘I Go Gaga My Dear’ by veteran Japanese documentary filmmaker Naoko Nobutomo. After the screening I will be chairing a Q&A with Nobutomo, discussing her film within the wider context of the Japanese ageing society.

What we can learn from World Menopause Day, by Pauline Garvey

Georgiana Murariu17 January 2020

To mark and celebrate World Menopause Day, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMA) in collaboration with Loretta Dignam, founder of the organisation the Menopause Hub held an evening event entitled ‘#No Taboo’. To this event Dignam invited speakers who are specialists in the area including a dietitian, a consultant nurse from the NHS (UK) and singer Mary Coughlan amongst others.

Coinciding with the event, the INMA issued a position paper to assist their members and other women in the workplace to recognise the issue, noting that:

“…there are over 300,000 women working in Ireland between the ages of 45 and 64, and around 80% of those will experience symptoms leading up to menopause.  We would like to work with employers to create positive employment policies, as we do with other health and wellbeing-related issues. Currently there is an absence of policies on this issue.” [1]

One of the objectives of the event was to remove the perceived taboos surrounding menopause and encourage members of the general public to engage with such issues. The event was fully booked, and not only did women turn up in numbers, but in some cases their partners were anxious for them to attend. One woman’s husband picked her up from work and surprised her with a ticket and spent the evening ‘wandering around town’ while waiting for her.

A couple of issues were notable about the event. Firstly, except for the son of one of the speakers, no men attended. This is remarkable considering that half the world’s population is affected by menopause and indeed as it was reported later that menopausal women are ‘the fastest growing demographic section in the world’ (Hourican 2019). What other physical or medical condition would attract an audience of exclusively one sex?

Secondly, the keynote given by Barbara Taylor, a retired gynaecologist and writer, was memorable. In the talk itself, and later followed up in national media, Taylor made the point that ‘…most of the conversations we do have, are misplaced. We spend too much time talking about HRT versus no HRT, about breast cancer risks, even debating whether or not menopause is a ‘Thing’. In fact, we should be talking about heart health, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s’. Taylor’s point is not that issues surrounding HRT are unimportant, but that they eclipse other equally important health concerns such as the risk of cardiovascular disease after reaching menopause and the higher occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease among women than among men.  One of the most striking and memorable results of the event therefore was the light it shone on the absences  and silences that surround menopause.

 

 

References:
Emily Hourican 11/11/19 ‘Why women know nothing about the menopause’ The Irish Independent (available online at https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/women-know-nothing-about-menopause-then-it-hits-them-over-the-head-like-a-ton-of-bricks-38674567.html, accessed 11/11/19)
 
[1] https://inmo.ie/Home/Index/217/13535