Anxious Intimacy: Negotiating Gender, Value and Belonging among Japanese Retirees in Malaysia


Shiori Shakuto

PhD defended at: 

Australian National University


This is a study of Japanese retirees who have elected to retire in Malaysia. I arrived
in Kuala Lumpur in 2014 to study sensory responses of Japanese retirees to the
Malaysian landscape, but discovered instead that the gender differences in the
experiences of their overseas move into retirement were dominating everyday
discussions among the retirees. Retired baby boomers had lived through Japan’s high
growth period in which family and firm were strictly demarcated into a normative
division of labour between women and men. Men’s retirement seemed to have
unsettled many taken-for-granted categories including gender and intergenerational
norms. I observed that their movement to Malaysia led retirees to reimagine and
restructure relations between themselves and their spouses, with their children, and
the wider Japanese state.

The thesis focuses on three aspects of their lives: (1) their partial refashioning of
retirement as affective labour; (2) their reconstitution of relationships with wives,
children and other retirees; and (3) the sense of anxiety they felt around these
transitions, and how that shaped the new relationships. I engage with a growing body
of literature in feminist economic anthropology that looks at how economic
transformations shape people’s intimate lives and how their lives in turn shape wider
economic practices. The anxiety around belonging felt by those who were outside
the productivist scheme was a kind of experience profoundly entwined with
a contemporary global economy. The distinctiveness of the Malaysian field site
provided a unique place from which my thesis addresses larger debates over the
politics of intimacy and productivity. I move outward from their sense of anxieties to
theorise how intimate relations are both shaped by, and shaping, the operations of
society’s multiple regulatory forms in global capitalism today.