Numazu, Japan


Photographer: Kazuhiro Yokozeki

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Yumi Muguruma, 45, is a social welfare worker at Smile Home, a day-care facility for the elderly in Numazu, a coastal city in central Japan. She’s also a former university professor of ethnology who believes oral histories can be a valuable tool in the care of older people, offering them a way to reconstruct memories, dignity and a sense of belonging. Through telling stories about themselves and their experiences, people make themselves active members of their community, says Yumi, who calls what she does “caring ethnology”. To encourage the residents of Smile Home to open up, Yumi shares folk narrative recordings she collected when she was a professional ethnologist. Then over meals of traditional Japanese food or at folklore dance evenings, people tell their own stories. Yumi believes that, as populations around the world age, approaches that recognise and respect the rich personal histories of older people will help bring generations together, creating more caring communities.