The Practice of Concern

Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan

by John W. Traphagan

Tags: Anthropology, Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, Medical Anthropology, Medical Anthropology

248 pp $30.00

ISBN 978-0-89089-406-4
eISBN 978-1-5310-1071-3

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The Practice of Concern: Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan explores ideas and practices related to religious ritual and health among older people in northern Japan. Drawing on more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork, Traphagan considers various forms of ritual performance and contextualizes these in terms of private and public spheres of activity. An important theme of the book is that for Japanese the expression of concern about family, friends, the community, and the nation is a central symbolic element in religious ritual practice. The book has important implications for research into religion and health, because it suggests that, in order to carry out successful cross-cultural research, it is necessary to move beyond conceptualizations of religion — largely centering on concepts of belief, faith, forgiveness — that have shaped much of the work in this area to date, because, as consideration of the Japanese context shows, the theological language of Western religions is not necessarily adequate to the task of understanding how health and religion are tied together in other cultures. Traphagan argues that there is a need to focus on how religious rituals are markers that symbolically convey information about embodied experience and how these markers express and are expressions of concerns about health and well-being. The Practice of Concern provides a detailed examination of Japanese religious practices both within the home and in the community, as well as a thorough discussion of Japanese concepts of health, well-being, and aging.

In addition to those who are interested in medical anthropology, this book will be useful to gerontologists who are concerned with cross-cultural studies in aging. Because of the rich ethnographic detail presented, the book also provides an excellent introduction to Japanese religious and ritual practice and Japanese culture and society more broadly.

This book is part of the Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.

"[T]he book's basic argument is indeed innovative… well worth reading." — Pacific Affairs

"John Traphagan demonstrates why cross-cultural studies are critically necessary if we are to understand the range of meanings and experiences of age and aging in a pluralistic world." — Journal of Japanese Studies

"Gerontologists will find the book illuminating in its treatment of aging in cultural context in Japan as well as the meaning and significance of ritual and religion in this society. The key concepts of aging—ritual—health/wellness are intertwined; Traphagan does an excellent job of explaining the linkages as well as the cultural factors responsible for maintaining these links." — Journal of Intergenerational Relationship

"In addressing the full spectrum of topics concerning older adults' health and well-being along with the vast array of Japanese religious rituals, The Practice of Concern is uniquely ambitious in scope. At the same time, it is a thoughtful, ethnographically grounded account of rural life in Japan that produces useful insights for anyone with an interest in the cross-cultural study of aging and religion." — Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging