Carer’s Cafés are a new initiative developed by the Jodo Pure Land denomination that is bringing together the wide variety of people who are caring for the elderly and dying in Japan as the national demographic shifts strongly to an “aging and dying society”. These Cafés seek to support those who have become isolated and depleted in this work to share their common suffering and discover solutions through collective interaction. While the Cafés are held in Jodo denomination temples and led by their priests, the event is not specifically religious nor does it require allegiance to Pure Land Buddhism or any form of religion.
- How comforting is it for someone close by to say, “I have had the same experience”?
- “I am caring for my parents and from the beginning this is the first time to have such an experience. In the world today, there are many unexpected things that are involved in taking care of one’s parents until their deaths. In this way, it is critical to better impart skills to their carers.”
- “Of course we gather the experiences and wisdom of those around us with such experience, but as we face this new society of caregiving in Japan we must develop greater abilities.”
From Caregiving Abilities—An Introduction to the Agawa Way of Caregiving” (Miru Chikara Agawa-ryuu Kaigo Nyuumon) by Sachiko Agawa (Bunshun Shinsho Publishers, 2018)
It seems there are many people who have difficulty speaking about what they think of caregiving for relatives, often saying, “It’s a private and not very enjoyable topic.” Konen-ji Temple in east Tokyo hosts one of the first Carer’s Cafés and has a regular schedule of group sessions for talking freely about the thoughts and experiences of caregiving. A variety of participants join–not only limited to those who are presently caregiving but also those who can speak about their experiences of caregiving in the past and those who want to learn about other phases of this work. Everyone who joins participates by speaking one by one and naturally creating an interconnection as to learn and support one another. In this way, anyone can come by and join the sessions. These are some guidelines and examples of issues discussed:
- The exhaustion people experience in continually caring for a relative by themselves.
- The financial burden of families who cannot care for relatives at home and must put them in a care facility.
- The stress of siblings who are not helping in the caregiving of the parents yet are always making comments about it.
- The struggle to connect to any personal sense of gratitude even though one has already bid farewell to their parents.
- How dealing with one’s own parents’ caregiving actually becomes a way to liberate oneself.
- Concerning questions about the services one is receiving from the government, the skills of caregiving, etc., answers from experts may be available.
The Konen-ji Carer’s Café is led by Rev. Tatsuro Shimomura, abbot of Konen-ji, a Jodo Pure Land Temple in east Tokyo in the suburb of Katsushika. Rev. Shimomura was born in 1982 and graduated with a degree in nursing from the School of Integrated Health Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tokyo.
translated and updated by Jonathan S. Watts (June 2019)