The term ubasute (捨 て て? , Lit. “abandonment of an old woman”, also called ” obasute ” and sometimes “oyasute” 捨 て て “abandonment of a father or relative”) refers to the custom supposedly made in Japan in the past Distant, whereby a sick or elderly relative is taken to a mountain, or some other remote or desolate place, and is left there to die, either through dehydration , hunger , or exposure, as a form of euthanasia . The practice was supposedly more common in times of drought and famine, and sometimes received the mandate of feudal officials. According to the Kodansha illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan, ubasute “is the subject of the legend, but […] it never seems to have been a common custom.
The ubasute practice is explored in depth in the Japanese novel La ballad de Narayama (1956) by Shichiro Fukazawa. The novel was the basis of three films: Keisuke Kinoshita from Narayama’s Ballad (1958), Korean director Kim Ki-young Goryeojang (1963), and Shohei Imamura from La ballad de Narayama, who won the Palme d’Or in 1983.
Ubasute has left its mark on Japanese folklore, where it forms the basis of many legends, poems and koans. In a Buddhist allegory, a son takes his mother to a mountain in the back. During the trip, she extends her arms, reaching up the twigs and dispersing them in her 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 he to the old mother clicked
One twig after another?
For the sake of your child
- The practice is discussed in detail in Radiolab’s episode # 305 Mortality. Ubasute times appears as a metaphor for Japan’s contemporary treatment of older people, who stand out for their above-average rates of suicide.
- The ubasute practice is explored in depth in the Japanese novel La ballad de Narayama (1956) by Shichiro Fukazawa. The novel was the basis of three films: Keisuke Kinoshita from Narayama’s Ballad (1958), Korean director Kim Ki-young Goryeojang (1963), and Shohei Imamura from La ballad de Narayama, who won the Palme d’Or in 1983.
- The old law, a tragicomedy of the 17th century written by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Philip Massinger and the 1882 dystopian novel by Anthony Trollope, set the time also to explore the concept of ‘Ubasute’ in a Western context.
- The characters in Christopher Buckley’s novel 2007 Boomsday introduce the concept of ‘Ubasute’ as a political ploy to avoid the bankruptcy of social security as more and more of the aging American population reaches retirement age, which infuriated The right religious and baby Boomers.
- The concept of ‘Ubasute’ forms the basis of the story for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Half Life.
- Episode 19 of Japan’s folktales represents this tale.