Ubasute (姥捨て abandoning an old woman?) (also called "obasute" and sometimes "oyasute") refers to the custom allegedly performed in Japan in the distant past, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die, either by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. It "is the subject of legend, but [...] does not seem ever to have been a common custom".[1] The practice was most common during times of drought and famine, and was sometimes mandated by feudal officials.[citation needed]

Ubasute has left its mark on Japanese folklore, where it forms the basis of many legends, poems, and koans. In one Buddhist allegory, a son carries his mother up a mountain on his back. During the journey, she stretches out her arms, catching the twigs and scattering them in their wake, so that her son will be able to find the way home.

A poem commemorates the story:

In the depths of the mountains,
Who was it for the aged mother snapped
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so
For the sake of her son

Role in popular culture

This story made a strong impression on Albert Einstein during his visit to Japan in 1922.[2]

The practice is discussed in some detail in Radiolab episode #305 Mortality. The segment "Fountains of Youth" discusses the modern Japanese perspective on aging. Ubasute sometimes appears as a metaphor for contemporary Japan's treatment of the elderly, who are noted for their above-average suicide rates. [3]

The practice of ubasute is explored at length in Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita's The Ballad of Narayama (1958), Korean director Kim Ki-young's Goryeojang (1963), and Shohei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama, which won the Palme d'Or in 1983.

Similar traditions exist in Yakut culture of Siberia. This is sometimes presented by proponents of the Altaic theory[who?] as evidence of a genetic relationship between these cultures.

Ubasute Mountain

Ubasuteyama (姨捨山?) is the common name of Kamurikiyama (冠着山?), a mountain in Chikuma, Nagano, Japan.[4]

See also


Further reading

  • Japan, An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo, 1993, p. 1121

External links

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