Looking Out For Others

In Japan, people are mindful not to cause any trouble within their community. They are careful with their actions so as not to make any conflicts with others.

It is something that Dr. Iza Kavedzija found out during her research: older people in Japan avoid being a burden to others by trying to find ways to be of help to people around them.

Nick: I wanted to go back to this word, meiwaku, which is related to this idea of being a burden. It's taken me a long time to appreciate this word, I have this one memory. 

My son was born in Japan and he spent one year at Hoi kuen, the first year of their schooling. I used to walk into school and it was quite hard to say goodbye to him because he was so gorgeous and cute and we'd be holding hands between the fence or hugging him.

So I'm saying goodbye to him one day and then there was a father next to me looking down at his daughter, and he was sort of smoking a cigarette and he's like, "mei waku kakenai de" to his daughter like don't cause trouble today.

I guess, is how you would translate it. I think in a way he was sort of expressing the same thing I was but very differently but I just couldn't believe you would say that to your gorgeous little daughter, don't cause trouble today. 

So this word is really interesting, and it is something Japanese are very concerned about whether or not they're causing trouble to others. So in the context of your study group who were elderly, how did this play out in their relationships?

Iza: That's a really good question and I think in so many ways, the sense that one doesn't want to cause trouble for others, doesn't want to be a burden was ever-present.

I think to not be a burden on one's children, for instance, which I think was a very widespread concern.

They cultivated numerous ties and links and in fact, we do tend to in the public discourse in the media, we tend to think of older ages, as the time when older people require care, they were more recipients of care. 

But I think that was very noticeable is the amount of care that was present from the side of these older people.

Sometimes some of the oldest people in a way that they're trying to look out for others, trying to keep track of who is where whether they've not seen someone for several days, trying to find someone who they could then ask if they could go and check upon them.

All the things that they might not be able to do but all these things, if you wish emotional labour, they are a form of care. Just because they couldn't do something physically didn't mean that they didn't try and find the way for it to get done.

To take away that burden, overthinking from others. So I think in that sense, the caring relationships were ever-present in everyday life. They try to find ways to help others and find the appropriate kinds of information.

Keep in mind, remember, this person was looking for socks, I saw some good socks on sale, keeping other people's lives in mind and taking their point of view was important.

So in that sense, of course, we have to recognize what you were talking about the service and being amazing. I think we also have to recognize that sort of attention to not being a burden or to doing things well for others that are also a form of effort, and form of care.

So I think that was very, very noticeable among my older friends that are trying to distribute that.

So instead of thinking about themselves as independent, they certainly were trying to cultivate multiple ties, and multiple relationships, a form of interdependence, with many people, rather than becoming overly dependent on one person or one source of support or help which would then be a burden.