Taming death: the ethics of care and technologies of protection in a "homeless town" in Japan
(Freie Universität Berlin)
Paper short abstract:
By focusing on an underclass enclave in Yokohama City dubbed "the homeless town," this paper demonstrates the emergence of new ethics and technologies of care precipitated by the imagery of bestial death in Japan.
Paper long abstract:
From appalling gang assaults on the homeless to isolated deaths in flophouses, this paper explores how certain forms of death came to occupy a central place in the discourses and practices of homeless activism in Japan over the past few decades. By focusing on an underclass enclave in Yokohama City dubbed "the homeless town," this paper demonstrates the emergence of new ethics and technologies of care precipitated by the imagery of bestial death. While the mob killings of the homeless in Yokohama in the early 1980s ignited the movement to secure the right to survival with its foothold in a former day laborers' district, the meaning of survival became questionable when the fear of facing isolated death and becoming an unattached wandering soul overwhelmed those rescued. Eventually, the homeless activism in Yokohama came to incorporate social activities and mortuary rituals to prevent the worst forms of death and appease the lonely souls of the deceased. As a result, "the homeless town" became like a mortuary where the body is encased, monitored and attended to by many agents working together to facilitate the transition into the next stage of existence. By illuminating how the meaning of life of the homeless was to be realized by securing a dignified death and afterlife in "the homeless town" in Yokohama, this paper suggests that death came to provide powerful idioms and images to make claims for life in Japanese society in the wake of a prolonged recession coupled with a rapidly aging population.
Politics of life and death and the practice of caring