Home Art and cultureUbasute: Tradition of Abandoning the Elderly to Death
Ubasute: Tradition of Abandoning the Elderly to Death

Ubasute: Tradition of Abandoning the Elderly to Death

Ubasute appears in Japanese folklore as a tradition wherein the elderly or sick relative would be abandoned in the forest to death. Although it appeared in many folklore, whether the tradition is real or not remains a mystery. Some news we can hear suggest that the practice of Ubasute is being revived or put into practice in the modern times.

A form of parricide

Ubasute or Obasute means “abandoning the elderly woman”. The meaning of it can also reach to “abandoning a parent”. This is a form of parricide by leaving the elderly in the forest to death. It is never a humane deed to abandon the elderly who was physically weak in a forest waiting for death.

When the family met with hard time, they decided to abandon one of the relative. And the elderly who was physically weak was the first to be abandoned
When the family met with hard time, they decided to abandon one of the relative. And the elderly who was physically weak was the first to be abandoned

Legends had it that

As mentioned above, Ubasute appears many times in the Japanese folklore. Although they told the stories of abandoning the mother, it meant to inspire the filial piety and honor the love of parents for their children.

Ubasuteyama Story

In one story, the son carried his weak mother up to a mountain. He intended to leave his mother there to death. The mother who was still wise enough to see through what her son was up to. Yet, she still cared for her son, worrying about whether he could travel back home or not. She scattered the twigs along the way so that her son could find his way back home after leaving her on the mountain. The story carries the moral meaning that will never perish no matter what period of time people live.

In the depths of the mountains,
Whom was it for the elderly mother
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so
For the sake of her son

The son and the regret

Another story from India told the story of a King who hated the elderly. The King ordered that the elderly who reached 70 years old must be in exile no matter what. And like many other children, the King had his mother. When his mother reached 70, she must go into exile. One of the ministers under the rule of the King respected the King’s mother so much that he dug a secret chamber under his house and hid her there.

A son carrying his mother to the mountain where he intended to leave his mother there
A son carrying his mother to the mountain where he intended to leave his mother there

Years later, the neighboring king sent a riddle to the King saying if he couldn’t solve it, there would be war. The riddle was to differentiate the two horses which one was the mother and which one was the child. The King summoned his ministers to solve it yet no one could. The minister who hid the King’s mother knew she was old enough to have heard this kind of riddle. He went back to the chamber and asked her. She suggested that the King place grass in front of the horses. And the one that stepped back and let the other eat was the mother. More riddles came to the King and the mother helped solve them all.

When the neighboring king gave up his intention to wage war, the two kingdom became ally. The King was happy and asked his minister how he could solve all the questions. The minister got no option but confessed about the chamber and the King’s mother. The King, instead of being angry, regretted what he had done before and finally abolished the rule of exiling the elderly.

Ubasute in the modern time?

It remains a mystery whether Ubasute was a tradition in the past. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that this tradition is being revived.

In the modern times, there are people putting the Ubasute into practice.

More and more people are pushed by poverty to the point that they have to abandon their parents. Ubasute is being put into real practice
More and more people are pushed by poverty to the point that they have to abandon their parents

In 2015, for instance, a man confessed that he had abandoned his “troublesome” disabled sister in a mountainside to die in 2011. Another woman was arrested for abandoning her father in the public station.

It is true that every nation is in pursuit of economic growth, yet no one is sure whether poverty will take a back seat or not. Many people under the pressure of poverty are sending their parents to hospitals or charity offices where people would adopt the elderly. While the fertility drops, the economy shows little sign of improvement, the practice is surely to continue.

The elderly is now facing the real Ubasute in their life. The Japanese minister even encouraged them to hurry and die because the minister felt bad for the billing paid for the elderly was by government.
The elderly is now facing the real Ubasute in their life. The Japanese minister even encouraged them to hurry and die because the minister felt bad for the billing paid for the elderly was by government.

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