Obasuteyama in Modern Japan: Ageing, Ageism and Government Policy
O basuteyama is a mountain in Nagano Prefecture, about ninety miles from Tokyo, with a rather nasty reputation in Japanese folklore. Although there is no evidence for the practice, tales recount how aged villagers, usually women, were taken to the mountainside (literally 'the mountain for abandoning grandmother') after their seventieth birthday, and either thrown off a cliff or left to die. Some of the tales end on a happier note and, in one version, the son charged with abandoning his mother on the mountainside refuses to do so. Following the advice of his mother, who is now in hiding, he is able to solve a number of problems confronting the local ruler, thus demonstrating the importance of the experience and wisdom of the elderly. I
Tales such as these have given rise to the use of the word obasuteyama (or alternatively ubasuteyama) to describe places where the elderly are neglected and shunned, and this paper concerns the metaphorical abandonment of the elderly in present-day Japan. My aim is to show that ageism has deeply affected the way in which the ageing of the Japanese population has been interpreted in Japan, and that ageism, and the consequent position of the elderly as a minority group, has been at the root of government policy towards the elderly.