Old age in the Japanese medieval period

Attention: This page reflects the state of 1996. It is meant for documentary purposes and will not be updated any longer.

Part of the project on "Life-Cycle Patterns in Early Modern Japan".

This study investigated the meaning of being and becoming old in the Japanese middle ages (12th–16th c.). It continued the research done in an earlier study by Susanne Formanek (1994, Austrian Academy of Sciences) concerning the history of old age in the ancient period (7th–12th c.). Formanek showed that a largely pessimistic view of old age already developed in antiquity, and it is thus no surprise that the middle ages, being heavily influenced by Buddhist thought, also saw old age primarly as a time of suffering and isolation. However, some sources seem to reveal a growing influence of the elderly in the newly emerging feudal structure of the period. We thus arrive, generally speaking, at a contradiction between intellectual sources, on the one hand, stressing the norm of world-renouncement in old age rather than, say, the obligations of filial piety towards the elderly, and socio-historical sources, on the other hand, that suggest a significant role of gerontocratic principles like seniority or anciennity. This study approached this contradiction from several different angles and showed that the common view of old age as being particularly revered in traditional Japanese society cannot be maintained fully with regard to the Japanese medieval period.

Publications


Bernhard Scheid, 1996
Im Innersten meines Herzens empfinde ich tiefe Scham: Das Alter im Schrifttum des japanischen Mittelalters. (BKGA 16.) Wien: VÖAW, 1996 (order online).

Project data


  • Head: Prof. Dr. Sepp Linhart (University of Vienna)
  • Research: Bernhard Scheid, Beatrix Kromp
  • Field: Japanese Studies
  • Running period: 1990–1996
  • Funding: FWF