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Ubasute - the Japanese Custom of Leaving One`s Mother to Die of Starvation

Antonia R.Antonia R.

In years of poverty and hunger, the Japanese performed quite an inhumane practice, called ubasute, which means "abandoning an old woman". When feeding the family became difficult, they would get rid of the oldest member of the family.

It's still debated whether this custom was actually performed or whether it was more of a myth.

According to the stories, during times of hardship, when the harvest was poor and when the family began living in scarcity, the sons were compelled to take the oldest family members to a remote mountain area and abandon them.


This was done to ensure more food for the rest of the members of the family.

Many consider ubasute to be pure fabrication but, on the other hand, there is the so-called "Suicide Forest" in Japan, which is purported to be where sons would take their mothers and leave them to die.

The son would carry his elderly mother to the site and after leaving her there, to ensure that there would be enough food for the rest of the family, would throw branches along the way back home.

ubasute custom

In so doing, he would show that his mother had agreed to the custom and that she would not return home, even though the way back home had been marked.

After the elderly person was abandoned in the mountain, she would do nothing other than simply wait for her death. And it did come, in the form of starvation, dehydration, cold or a combination of these but as one might guess, it was slow and painful.

Other stories tell that the elderly weren't always left to die in the mountains but in dense forests as well. The idea behind ubasute was that the person had to be left without food or roof over their head.

In 2015, the ancient ritual once again drew the public eye after Katsuo Kurokawa admitted that he had performed ubasute on his sister. After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, she had lost her ability to walk and became a burden for the family.

They were left on the street after the environmental disaster. At the same time, finding food was difficult, which was why Katsuo had decided to abandon his crippled sister.