Bodies, Technologies, and Aging in Japan: Thinking About Old People and Their Silver Products
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Contemporary Japan is known both for its high tech culture and its rapidly aging population, with 22 % of people currently 65 years and older. Yet there has been little attention to the material culture of the elderly. This paper explores the way aging bodies, official ideology, and consumption of what are called “assistive devices” and “life technologies” come together in the experience of frail old people who depend not only on human caregivers but on “things” such as walkers, kidney dialysis machines, and electric massage chairs. It begins to consider the questions: What technology to aid failing bodies is available, and to whom? How does the advocacy of independence create new forms of consumption? How do “things” mediate ideological change regarding elder care and help to create new understandings of self and one’s relation to others? Data come from interviews conducted in 2003–2007 as part of a study of elder care in Japan under the public long term care insurance system that began in 2000. These interviews point both to acceptance of the technology as a way to avoid over-dependence on caregivers, and to resistance to the limitations of aging and to its 21st century definition by the state.
KeywordsAssistive devices Elderly Japan Long term care Meanings of technology
I am grateful to the families who participated in the longitudinal study of family caregiving under the Japanese public long term care insurance system instituted in 2000. My work on this project would not have been possible without the leadership of project directors Suda Yūko and Takahashi Ryūtarō, and qualitative team members Asakawa Noriko, Asano Yūko, Ruth Campbell, Izumo Yūji, Kodama Hiroko, Muraoka Kōko, Nishida Masumi, Nishimura Chie, Shimmei Masaya, and Yamada Yoshiko. Financial support for data collection came from the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Additional funding for data analysis came from the Univers Foundation and John Carroll University. Ruth Campbell, Brenda Robb Jenicke, Kelly Joyce, and [several anonymous reviewers] provided helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this chapter. Assistance in interpreting the data and the creation of the graphs for Figs. 1 and 2 was graciously provided by John Campbell.
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