How can we imagine someone's experience of illness—even extreme cases, like, for example, psychosis—to the extent that we begin to empathize as if the experience were nearly our own? Based on 5 years of archival research and anthropological fieldwork, I investigate how different forms of understanding and empathy have emerged through the work of people living with dementia (dementia tōjishas), some of who have advocated for the cause in Japan. I show how those with dementia used to be regarded as incommensurable beings, who were sometimes romanticized as having a transcendental power, and how those who care for them have changed their perspectives as they began to see dementia tōjisha as possible versions of their future selves. I also describe the rise of the tōjisha movement and the ways in which it has raised questions about the limits of empathy and instead asserted rights as a basis of understanding. In doing so, dementia tōjisha may be questioning the very foundation of Japanese society, highly invested as it is in the virtue of empathy for maintaining social relations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas