Health and Well-Being in Contemporary Japan

This symposium brings together four papers addressing issues of health and well-being. Papers will be 20-30 minutes, and there will be extensive time given to discussion.

Date and Time: 31 October 2015, 2pm-6pm

Venue: Aichi Prefectural University (Nagakute Campus), Nagoya. Room H203. Access map is here. Campus map is here (in Japanese).

Attendance: Free to BAJS and non-BAJS members alike, but please contact Philip Seaton in advance by email to let him know if you plan to come.


Does multilingualism have a negative influence on the linguistic and cognitive development of children on the autistic spectrum?, Eugene Ryan, Toyohashi University of Technology

I am one of the members of a research project which aims to challenge the premise that a monolingual environment is the preferred option for the development of bilingual children with ASD. Our group is called RAMDEI (Research Association for Multilingual Development, Education and Intervention) and is based in Japan and the UK. Typically, the parents of those bilingual children with ASD are advised to use only a single language at home in order to make their child functionally monolingual, even though more than one language is often essential for the family simply to continue daily conversation. As a result, those bilingual children with ASD are forced to give up much of the natural conversational experience at home, which is indispensible for proper development of our social cognition. I will outline the literature of this relatively new field of research, and explain the role and activities of our research group. Finally I will share my experiences as a parent of a bilingual boy with autism.

Current Research and Perspectives on Socially Withdrawn Youths (Hikikomori), Nicolas Tajan, Kyoto University

Hikikomori in Japan is the phenomenon of social withdrawal that effects hundreds of thousands individuals, in which the individual shuts his/herself in their room generally at their family’s home for several months and even years without social relationships. In this presentation, I will sum up my recent investigations on this issue, and I will expose my current research and perspectives focusing on the study of cultural formulation and illness narratives. I situate my approach at the intersection of mental health anthropology and psychopathology.

Broken Bodies, Labour, and Well-being, Emma E. Cook, Hokkaido University

“In that job, I broke my body (karada wo kowashita)” explained Yoshio-san. To ‘break the body’ was a term that was typically used to indicate a physical breakdown or physical manifestations of illness and exhaustion as the result of long-standing stress, difficult working relationships, long hours of work, and lack of sleep. Such experiences were generally narrated as a consequence of overwork but also as a result of character and cultural imperatives to do their best (ganbaru) and endure (gaman) their situation. For some, working part-time – for a limited time – provided respite from the labour pressures experienced in full-time jobs. Yet, part-time work was not a safe space in which bodies are not broken. Indeed, the precariousness and low wages of irregular labour, exploitative company practices, and a culture of gaman and ganbaru, can push workers to the point of breakage. This paper explores what it means to have and experience a ‘broken’ body, how precarious labour can precipitate breakages, the affects on physical and emotional well-being, and the role that gendered understandings of labour plays in experiences and narratives of broken bodies.

The Folk Medicine Market in Japan: The Case of Eczema, Miho Ushiyama, Waseda University

The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry reports that about 350,000 people are suffering from eczema (atopiisei-hihuen) in Japan. The prevalence of eczema in the UK is similar to Japan but it seems that Japanese people have stronger concerns about it compared to their UK counterparts. In Japan, it is easy to find many products regarding eczema, such as shampoos, soaps, clothes, shower heads, food and even houses. There are also many kinds of folk remedies which claim that they can cure eczema. In the 1990s, Dr. Kazuhiko Takehara coined the word ‘atopy-business’ to refer to the phenomenon that the many products and remedies for eczema are seen to be exploiting eczema patients. He suggests that this phenomenon is unique to Japan. I conducted fieldwork on eczema in Japan and the UK from 2006 to 2013. Compared to Japan, it was very difficult to find products or folk remedies regarding eczema in the UK. In this paper, I will explore how the ‘atopy-business’ is flourishing and how it influences peoples’ attitudes towards eczema in Japan.