Ubasute: A Dark Page in Japanese History
Elderly Japanese Woman Art
What Exactly Is Ubasute?
Japan is a country rich in history, with some of its most prominent history lying within art and luxury. The Japanese were incredible artists, and participated in many different forms of art. From paintings and poetry to Geishas and luxurious kimonos, they have fascinated many throughout the years. However, Japan has many dark legends and tales, as well as cultural practices, that have been less than supported by the rest of the world.
Ubasute is one of these many different tales that has survived through many generations of Japanese history. Ubasute means "abandoning an old woman", and it is usually referred to as "Ubasuteyama". This translation of Ubasute is exactly what the legend entails: to leave an elderly woman. The elderly women were to be carried to the top of a mountain, and left there to pass away. This legend interested me to write about it, as it seems to be fairly unknown to many people and it looked to be interesting hub material!
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What Do You Think About the Practice of Ubasute?
What Is the Legend Behind the Japanese Leaving the Elderly to die on Mountaintops?
In the legends, elderly women were eventually chosen to be carried to the top of a mountain to die, yet the reasons are varied. These reasons will be covered next. The son of the elderly woman would carry her on his back, and hike to the summit of a mountain. Once there, he would leave his mother on the mountain's summit and make his way back into the village.
During the journey, the mother would break limbs and twigs from the tree, dropping them to the ground as she plucked them. According to legend, the older women would do this so that their sons could find their way back down from the mountain. Once left, the woman would then die, whether it be from the lack of food, dehydration, or the cold temperatures.
For the most part, the legend entails that women were left on a mountain. However, nearly any faraway, desolate area was acceptable as well. The idea behind the legend was for the woman to be located far from food, water, and shelter.
Why Would the Women Be Left?
During drought and famine, food production became low. The Japanese sustain themselves on a variety of grains and fish; but grain such as rice was a staple food in Japan, as well as other vegetation. Fish was not as common for many of the residents of the villages. Therefore, food became scarce during drought, inducing severe famines. This legend seems to depict that many of the Ubasute acts took place during these droughts and famines.
When observing this legend, it makes a bit of sense. If there are fewer people eating the limited reserves of food, there would be more to go around and it would last longer. In the legends the elderly japanese women do not seem to fight the act, but rather embrace it. The Japanese are a very proud and disciplined group of people; perhaps the elderly women would have considered this as a proper and just way to pass on.
How Much Truth Is There to the Legends?
So far, I have only been able to find that these are mostly just legends. There is not much evidence that these dark events actually happened, much less that they became a custom within the Japanese culture. This made me feel quite a bit better about writing this hub, so hopefully not many of you are as creeped out as you were at the beginning of this hub.
It seems that this legend occurs in many different artistic pieces and folklore. In some paintings and drawings, there are elderly women resting upon their sons' backs; some poetic work describes the journey that the mother and son take. There are even movies, such as "The Ballad of Narayama" that depict the legend of Ubasute practice. Perhaps this legend was a popular wise tale of selflessness and the circle of life.
Does Japanese Folklore, Other Than this, Interest You?
My Personal Opinion Regarding the Practice of Ubasute
Personally, I can see a tiny, nearly nonexistent bit of reasoning behind this almost fictional practice. However, the fact that it is one's own mother quickly squashes any reasoning for committing this cold and cruel act quickly for me. How could anyone drop off their mothers to die? After all of the pain a mother goes through, after all of the time she spent raising her children (and later helping with grandchildren), how could anyone bring themselves to drop their mother off in an uninhabited area to starve and die? Starving to death is generally a very, very slow death. Why anyone would even think to put their own mother through such agony is well beyond me. Almost everyone loves their mother deeply, including myself. The act of Ubasute is very well a slow murder, and deeply depressing.
I am very glad to notice that I cannot find any documented cases of this practice, but it is odd to find this as a tale. What do you think about this concept? Please feel free to share your opinion of this act and of my hub!