Thinking about Dementia: Culture, Loss, and the Anthropology of Senility

By Annette Leibing; Lawrence Cohen | Go to book overview

12
Being a Good Rojin
Senility, Power, and Self-Actualization in Japan

JOHN W. TRAPHAGAN

During the summer of 2000, six women and three men gathered at about ten o'clock in the morning at the Furiai Puraza (Contact Plaza), a senior center located in the town of Yonegawa in northern Japan. The group assembled for the first day of a cooking class that would meet six times over the following three months. As the participants, all of whom were in their late sixties and early seventies, waited for the class to commence, the director of the center spoke briefly about his hopes that all the students would learn not only to cook, but also about proper nutrition. The class, he said, fit within the "goal of having zero people using the kaigo hoken system"—the long-term-care-insurance scheme initiated in 2000 as a comprehensive social program aimed at helping people cope with frailty and disability in old age (Campbell and Ikegami 2000; Traphagan, forthcoming). He then went on to inform everyone, "There are various kinds of uneasiness "fuan" that the elderly encounter: economic uneasiness, social uneasiness, and so on. This sort of class should help prevent this uneasiness, at least at the social level."

After the introduction, the women in the group headed for the kitchen and began managing the process of cooking, using as a guide the recipe they had been handed by the instructor and largely ignoring the few directions she gave. All the women, having used the facility for a previous class, knew where all the pots and pans were located and were adept at food preparation. The men, in contrast, were for the most part uninvolved with the preparation of the food. Two of them helped with peeling some of the vegetables and then went to the adjacent room to smoke. The one man who participated in the entire process of preparation was seventy-five years old and lived alone, having lost his wife about a year earlier. As the women boned the fish and made a mayonnaise

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