The Influence of Sekentei on Family Caregiving and Underutilization of Social Services among Japanese Caregivers

By Asai, Masayuki O.; Kameoka, Velma A. | Social Work, April 2005 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Sekentei on Family Caregiving and Underutilization of Social Services among Japanese Caregivers


Asai, Masayuki O., Kameoka, Velma A., Social Work


Underutilization of social services among Asians has been well-documented (for example, Braun & Browne, 1998; Nemoto, 1998). A number of researchers have offered various reasons to explain why Asian family caregivers underutilize social services. For example, according to Harris and Long (1993), Asian family caregivers tend to perceive caregiving responsibilities as a very personal matter. Thus, it is shameful for Asian caregivers to seek help outside the family (Timberlake & Cook, 1984), even though caregiving needs of elderly Asians may be difficult or impossible to be met by family members (Dobrof, 1987). Also, the Confucian precept of filial piety has been considered a primary cause of underutilization of social services among Asians (Braun & Browne, 1998; Sung, 1995). We propose, however, that underutilization of social services among the Japanese should be understood in terms of a cultural concept unique to Japanese people. This concept is called sekentei. Sekentei, translated as social appearance, is peculiar to the culture of Japan (Inoue, 1977) and is an important concept that reflects Japanese cultural values (Asahara & Momose, 1995). This article explains the concept of sekentei and discusses the importance of this concept in understanding family caregiving and underutilization of social services among Japanese caregivers.

FILIAL PIETY AND CAREGIVING IN JAPAN

Cultural values of Asians are often compared with Western cultural values in terms of the importance of group or "collectivistic" rather than personal or "individualistic" goals (for example, McLaughlin & Braun, 1998; Triandis, 1995). The Asian family is regarded as an extended, close-knit social unit in which family members provide emotional support, security, and means for meeting financial needs (Lee, 1987). Also, older people are believed to occupy a highly respected position in the family, and strong traditional family ties among Asian family members help minimize caregiving problems for elderly family members (Braun & Browne, 1998).This stereotypic portrayal of Asians, however, may not apply to Japanese families.

When discussing caregiving characteristics among Japanese people or Japanese Americans, numerous U.S. scholars have argued that Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of filial piety (oya koko), or devotion to and respect for parents (Braun & Browne, 1998; Browne & Broderick, 1994; Saldov, Kakai, McLaughlin, & Thomas, 1998). This portrayal is based on the notion that caring for elderly parents is done with gratitude, reciprocating for the care parents provided in childhood. Some researchers have suggested that filial piety and greater availability of extended family supports have led to underutilization of caregiver intervention programs among ethnically diverse groups (Lockery, 1991; Sung, 1995). There are dangers, however, in stereotyping families by presuming that identification with a particular culture means adherence to a specific set of beliefs and behaviors (Gratton & Wilson, 1988). For example, traditionally, Japanese American lifestyle has been based on cultural values that emphasize the importance of family; however, according to Trockman and colleagues (1997), filial piety is no longer relevant among younger Japanese Americans. The notion of filial piety in Japan is also diminishing. According to Miesen and Jones (1997), although large numbers of older people in Japan have traditional expectations of family care, filial piety as it relates to elder caregiving may not be relevant to postwar and subsequent generations in the climate of social and cultural changes in Japan.

The origin of respect for older people in Asian countries is rooted in the Confucian precept of filial piety. According to Inoue (1977), because the Japanese historically did not believe in a god, they developed social norms to guide acceptable ways of living. Criticism from seken and people's concerns about sekentei became the primary criterion for norms regulating social behaviors. …

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