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Society / Culture

Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan

(Rutgers University Press 2014)

Jason Danely

Japan’s increasing rate of population aging means that the social and psychological dynamics of aging are increasingly central to an understanding of its society, whether from a political, economic, or cultural stance. Demographic changes caused by aging are routinely framed as a social crisis, with little attention given to the very individuals who must navigate aging in terms of their subjective experience as well as what it posits for them in larger, social, terms.
In this anthropological study author Jason Danely shifts the focus onto these older adults through a series of intimate portraits. He examines their day-to-day lives, their patterns of social engagement, and, crucially, their practices of memorialization (rituals for ancestors and spirits that place the departed in a living context) as a means of situating themselves in old age and beyond.
Through memorialization, older adults are able to incorporate the aesthetics of loss into their personal narratives, finding agency and transforming value. Such creativity in loss is held in contrast to abandonment, in which the older adult feels only estrangement from family, community, and hope. Memorialization also allows for the performance of the “aging self”—a self located in human relationships and interrelatedness and which coexists with its other selves. This is opposed to the “ageless self” notion of a singular and constant identity that we find entrenched in the West.
Based on a decade of research, this detailed and sensitive examination of the intersection of aging, religion, and community places at its center the little-heard voices of the elderly.

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