An ethnographic look at grieving, giving, and growing older.

click image to order from Rutgers University Press. Available January, 2015

click image to order from Rutgers University Press.
Available January, 2015

"Aging and Loss is a mournful book that treats loss as both a space of emptiness and a temporality of creativity. Achingly beautiful about aging and death in a country where both are rising today."

Anne Allison, author of Precarious Japan (Duke University Press 2013)

"Jason Danely’s book represents an excellent contribution to our understanding of aging in Japan and provides an important exploration of the intersection of religion and aging."

John W. Traphagan, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Texas Austin, Author of Rethinking Autonomy: A Critique of Principlism in Biomedical Ethics (SUNY 2013)




Based on nearly a decade of research, Aging and Loss examines how the landscape of aging is felt, understood, and embodied by older adults themselves. In detailed portraits, anthropologist Jason Danely delves into the everyday lives of older Japanese adults as they construct narratives through acts of reminiscence, social engagement and ritual practice, and reveals the pervasive cultural aesthetic of loss, burden, abandonment, and hope.
This is the first volume in the new series, Global Perspectives on Aging, edited by Sarah Lamb (Brandeis) and published by Rutgers University Press.

From the reviewers

"Devoid of academic jargon, Aging and Loss addresses several key theoretical questions in anthropology today. Its elegant prose makes it accessible to wider audiences, attesting to the power of ethnographic storytelling as a form of knowledge-making."

--Anthropological Quarterly

" A gracious, observant, and sensitive ethnography. Jason Danely contemplates the experience of aging, mourning, and memorialization in Japan. Danely is interested in capturing the texture of these experiences: the space that loss creates, incompleteness, transience, hope, giving things up, and finding new clarity. This aesthetics of loss has its context in the broad repercussions of Japan's declining population—closed, vacant schools; inadequate welfare support; and the loss of traditional values."

--American Ethnologist

"Danely tackles the complex topic of aging and loss with a great sense of tact and sensitivity. He addresses the topic by employing a skillful analysis of folk stories, films, and delicately conducted interviews … Far from being dry ethnography, this book is written in a poetic and emotive voice. Yet the pictures of aging in Japan are far from overly optimistic."

--New Asia Books

"Aging and Loss is a beautifully written piece of work that could be enjoyed from multiple perspectives beyond the lenses of anthropology or Asian studies. The fact that the stories took place in Kyoto - an ancient capital and the heart of Japanese traditional arts and culture - will further instill interest among those curious about the rich culture, nature, and changes challenging the city."

--American Anthropologist

"The in-depth stories and analyses of this interweave with theoretical reflections resulted in a rich ‘‘story,’’ which is both an academic study and a piece of fine art"

--International Journal of Aging and Later Life


From intimate reflections on life transitions, to the ways aging is transforming our political and economic world, this volume features ethnographic accounts on five continents from some of the leading voices in the field.

Rapid population aging, once associated with only a select group of modern industrialized nations, has now become a topic of increasing global concern. This volume reframes aging on a global scale by illustrating the multiple ways it is embedded within individual, social, and cultural life courses. It presents a broad range of ethnographic work, introducing a variety of conceptual and methodological approaches to studying life-course transitions in conjunction with broader sociocultural transformations. Through detailed accounts, in such diverse settings as nursing homes in Sri Lanka, a factory in Massachusetts, cemeteries in Japan and clinics in Mexico, the authors explore not simply our understandings of growing older, but the interweaving of individual maturity and intergenerational relationships, social and economic institutions, and intimate experiences of gender, identity, and the body.



“…an important contribution to the field...excellent chapters within a comprehensive anthropological framework that touches on an increasingly important global demographic trend. The book counters the universalizing tendency of some disciplines to model aging after Western lifestyles.”  ·  Philip B. Stafford, University of Indiana

This is a well-crafted volume and an important addition to the literature on aging and the life course.  It provides an invaluable cross-cultural perspective that emphasizes how the life course is framed within a cultural context and how cultures change over time. The chapters focus on a large number of ethnographic cases and are organized well for use by students or professionals wanting an updated overview.”  ·  Dena Shenk, University of North Carolina Charlotte

This volume is a welcome addition to [the literature], particularly because it speaks to concerns in the cross-cultural study of aging and in anthropology.  It was a pleasure to read.”  ·  Peter Collings, University of Florida


Aging and Loss: Mourning and maturity in contemporary Japan


A woman prays at a home altar for her ancestors. At 90, she still makes offerings daily. (photo by Jason Danely)

A woman prays at a home altar for her ancestors. At 90, she still makes offerings daily. (photo by Jason Danely)

Aging & Loss examines aging as a constellation of aesthetic practices, the most pronounced being mourning and memorial. I call these aesthetic because, like art, their narratives are creatively tailored, and yet have profound affect on the way one perceives oneself, one's relationships with others, and the invisible world of the spirits.
It is divided into four main sections: Loss, Mourning, Abandonment and Care, and finally, Hope. Each of these sections features the voices and stories of a few of the individual participants, painting a portrait meant to express their varied, complex, and beautiful feelings and subjective experiences. I also 'zoom-out' to the broader historical, political, and cultural context of an aging Japan. CLICK HERE FOR THE SAMPLE TEACHING GUIDE


Transitions and Transformations:
cultural perspectives on aging and the life course


Residents of Loknath Old Age Home tell of appreciating the seva offered by proprietor Pushpa (right) (photo by Sarah Lamb)

Residents of Loknath Old Age Home tell of appreciating the seva offered by proprietor Pushpa (right) (photo by Sarah Lamb)

Transitions and Transformations is meant to cover a wide range of subjects related to aging and culture. It is best used over an entire course, supplemented by related texts or discussion topics pulled from recent news. There are five sections, most comprised of three chapters, as well as an Afterword by Jennifer Cole. If you are using the book in a shorter summer term, focus on one section each week. If using the book in a ten or twelve week course, you can expand on each section or have the flexibility to add your own content without being bound to a textbook. CLICK HERE FOR A SAMPLE TEACHING GUIDE