An Attitude of Gratitude: Older Japanese in the Hopeful Present




gratitude, quiet hope, aging, Japan, ends of life, meaning


In this article I explore ideas of the good and meaningful life in older age, based on ethnographic research with older Japanese in the city of Osaka. Some of my interlocutors and friends in the field spoke about the approaching end of their life. When speaking about the time remaining, many expressed their sense that the future ‘will somehow turn out [all right]’ (nantonaku). This statement of quiet hope acknowledged change and encapsulated a desire to support others; it also shifted emphasis away from the future. This is not to say that the experience was for my interlocutors primarily marked by an orientation towards the past: by reminiscing and recollection. Inhabiting the moment was equally important. While reminiscing and narrating past events clearly relate to meaning-making, then, what is the role of dwelling in the moment for maintaining a meaningful existence? I will argue that dwelling in the moment allows for the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude, which lends meaning to a life. This attitude of gratitude binds together both reflection on the past and attention to the present moment in its fullness. It also, I suggest, opens up space for a particular kind of hope, grounded in the moment. Thus, the sense of the good and meaningful life that my older friends conveyed encapsulates an attitude of gratitude as a way of inhabiting the present, rather than dwelling in the past or leaping towards the future. 

Author Biography

Iza Kavedzija, University of Exeter

Lecturer in Anthropology

Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Department


Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Appadurai, A., 1985. Gratitude as a social mode in South India. Ethos, 13(3), pp.236-245.

Bloch, Ernst. 1995 [1986]. The principle of hope. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Bauman, Z., 2004. To hope is human. Tikkun, 19(6), pp.64-67.

Silva, C.O.D., 2007. Demystifying Japanese therapy: An analysis of Naikan and the Ajase complex through Buddhist thought. Ethos, 35(4), pp.411-446.

Crapanzano, V., 2003. Reflections on hope as a category of social and psychological analysis. Cultural Anthropology, 18(1), pp.3-32.

Danely, J., 2016. Hope in an ageing Japan: Transience and transcendence. Contemporary Japan, 28(1), pp.13-31.

Desjarlais, R. and Jason Throop, C., 2011. Phenomenological approaches in anthropology. Annual review of anthropology, 40, pp.87-102.

Genda, Yuji (ed.). 2006. Kibōgaku [Hope studies]. Tokyo: Chūōkōron Shinsha.

Genda, Yuji. 2008. Kibō to ningen (1). Tokushū: shakai no kibō – chiiki no kibō: kibōgaku no genzai [Hope and individuals (1) Special issue: Hope in society and hope in region: Current studies of hope]. Shakaigaku Kenkyū 59(2). 1–9. (accessed 7 September 2015).

Genda, Y. and N. Nakamura, 2009. Kibogaku [2]: Kibo no Saisei: Kamaishi no Rekishi to Sangyo ga Katarumono (The Social Sciences of Hope Volume 2: Reproducing Hope—What the History and Industry of Kamaishi). Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai.

Goodman, R., 2008. Marginals, minorities, majorities and migrants—studying the Japanese borderlands in contemporary Japan. Transcultural Japan: At the borderlands of race, gender and identity, pp.325-324.

Hage, G., 2003. Searching for hope in a shrinking society. Sydney: Pluto Press.

Hommerich, C., 2012, June. The advent of vulnerability: Japan's free fall through its porous safety net. In Japan Forum (Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 205-232). Taylor & Francis Group.

Innami, F., 2011. The departing body: creation of the neutral in-between sensual bodies. Asian and African studies., 15(3), pp.111-130.

Knight, J., 1996. Making citizens in postwar Japan. Civil society: Challenging western models, pp.222-241.

Lawton, J., 2002. The dying process: patients' experiences of palliative care. Routledge.

Lock, M.M., 1994. Encounters with aging: Mythologies of menopause in Japan and North America. Univ of California Press.

Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2004. The method of hope: Anthropology, philosophy, and Fijian knowledge. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Miyazaki, H., 2006. Economy of dreams: Hope in global capitalism and its critiques. Cultural Anthropology, 21(2), pp.147-172.

Moore, Henrietta. 2011. Still life: Hopes, desires and satisfactions. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Naito, T. and Sakata, Y., 2010. Gratitude, indebtedness, and regret on receiving a friend’s favor in Japan. Psychologia, 53(3), pp.179-194.

North, S. and Morioka, R., 2016. Hope found in lives lost: karoshi and the pursuit of worker rights in Japan. Contemporary Japan, 28(1), pp.59-80.

Nussbaum, M.C., 2013. Political emotions. Harvard University Press.

Okuno, T., Ma no kozou [The structure of Ma] 1983.Tokyo: Shuheisha.

Plath, D.W., 1980. Long engagements: Maturity in modern Japan (Vol. 75). Stanford University Press.

Pilgrim, R.B., 1986. Intervals (" Ma") in space and time: foundations for a religio-aesthetic paradigm in Japan. History of Religions, 25(3), pp.255-277.

Reed, A., 2011. Hope on remand. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(3), pp.527-544.

Riles, A., 2010. Is the law hopeful?. The Economy of Hope, pp.125-46.

Robertson, S., 2016. Hope that sustains: revisiting New Year’s divination at Suwa Taisha. Contemporary Japan, 28(1), pp.101-122.

Rosenberger, N., 2007. Rethinking Emerging Adulthood in Japan: Perspectives From Long‐Term Single Women. Child Development Perspectives, 1(2), pp.92-95.

Welch, J.R., 2014. Xavante ritual hunting: anthropogenic fire, reciprocity, and collective landscape management in the Brazilian cerrado. Human ecology, 42(1), pp.47-59.

Yamada, Masahiro. 2004. Kibō kakusa shakai: “makegumi” no zetsubōkan ga Nihon o hikisaku [Unequal hope society: Despair of the “losers” pulls Japan apart]. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Yuasa, Yasuo. 1987. The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory. Edited by Thomas P. Kasulis. Translated by Shigenori Nagatomo and Thomas P. Kasulis. Albany: SUNY Press.

Zigon, J., 2009. Hope dies last: Two aspects of hope in contemporary Moscow. Anthropological Theory, 9(3), pp.253-271.






Special Issue Articles