Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Joys and Pains of Growing Up and Older in Japan

JAPAN 82N

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the little old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of the wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.


As the Shel Silverstein poem "The Little Boy and the Old Man" suggests, the young and old share more common conditions and sentiments than is generally acknowledged. Teens and old people alike may face negative stereotypes, their future is uncertain, their identities are in flux, and yet both can enjoy vibrant lives. With a focus on Japan, a country with a large long-living population, this seminar spotlights the lives of older people while further exploring our own. Both older and younger people's lives reflect the culture and society where they live, the history they have experienced, and the changes that they face. Using recent studies on aging from the viewpoints of sociology, psychology, and linguistics as well as analyses of life narratives, we will gain a deeper understanding of Japanese society and the joys and pains of growing up and older. Cross-cultural comparisons will also be encouraged. For a final project, students will be partnered with older people and will make a digital profile of their partner. Through the knowledge gained in the seminar and personal encounters with older individuals, students will be better prepared academically and personally to embark on leading a socially responsible life in our rapidly aging society.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Yoshiko Matsumoto

“As a child growing up in Japan, I was fascinated by how people can express their thoughts through strings of words and sounds and understand one another. My curiosity led me to pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics in the U.S. to study systematic accounts of how people use language, from knowledge of grammar to expressions of identity. My work, which is often motivated by observations from Japanese that seem inconsistent with widely held assumptions, explores alternative theoretical perspectives. The topic of this seminar originated in the same approach. While listening to older Japanese women’s conversations, I was struck by the similarities both to conversations of young people that I had analyzed before and to the thoughts I had in my youth. I collected several such observations in my book, Faces of Aging: The Lived Experiences of the Elderly in Japan, and have written articles on related topics including how humor is used while narrating memories of painful experiences. I’m very much looking forward to having stimulating discussions with students participating in my seminar.”

Yoshiko Matsumoto, Yamato Ichihashi Professor in Japanese History and Civilization, is professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures (and by courtesy, Linguistics). She is also the coordinator of the Japanese language program and a recipient of the H&S Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.