Świtek, Beata. 2021. Reluctant Intimacies: Japanese Eldercare in Indonesian Hands. New York: Berghahn. 242 pp. Book review for Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale: Journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists.

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review

Abstract / Description of output

The phenomenon of foreign migrant labour unequivocally permeates the realm of paid eldercare worldwide. Nevertheless, Japan distinguishes itself among advanced nations with a unique stance marked by its apprehension to integrate foreign caregivers. Projections indicate that by 2050 Japanese citizens aged 65 or older will constitute 36% of the total population (AARP 2022: 2). Despite this impending demographic shift, the entrenched conservative government, which has maintained an almost uninterrupted rule for 70 years, persistently reinforces narratives advocating the automation of care rather than embracing changes in migration policy or raising salaries for care givers. This approach overlooks the irreplaceable role of (Japanese and non-Japanese) human caregivers and the intricate nature of caregiving practices, which current AI and robotic technologies are not adequately equipped to address.

Amid dominant discourses, foreign caregivers labouring in Japan remains marginalised, while their numerical insufficiency remains striking when compared with other countries. To address this issue, anthropologist Beata Świtek offers her excellent ethnography, Reluctant Intimacies. Świtek immersed herself in the world of Indonesian care trainees operating under the auspices of the 2008 Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Her book offers a timely exploration of the intersections between ageing, immigration and care in contemporary Japan. A central motif emerges in the form of ‘reluctance’, encapsulating the intricate terrain of ‘intimate encounters’ unfolding between foreign bodies and elderly Japanese residents within nursing homes. These encounters, alongside the dynamics governing the nursing home environment, serve as a lens to contextualise the reception (or rejection) of otherness in Japan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-104
Number of pages2
JournalSocial Anthropology
Volume32
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Japan
  • Care
  • Healthcare
  • Policy

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