The multifaceted significance of institutional care for elderly people in contemporary Japan is analyzed. An overview of the changes in the demographic structure in Japan is provided. Changes in the social environment of care for elderly people in the postwar period are discussed. In regard to the recent trends of welfare policy for elderly people, development of the variety of institutional care for the elderly is briefly described. By providing concrete examples of cases observed at an institution where the first author of this article has been working for many years, analysis is made of what causes individuals to opt for institutional care instead of other alternatives, such as family care. In all, we hope to enhance the understanding of the meanings of institutional care for the elderly by exploring the interface between family obligation and social care in the changing social environment of contemporary Japan.

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