Seniors in Japan

(from jeffzhao.com/blog)

Most of contemporary society glorifies youth and associates it with beauty, freedom, and happiness. (As they say, “live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.”) Most young people think of life as over by the time they hit 60 or so, and accordingly, we have a great deal of anxiety about not being successful enough, not being “far along” enough, and hitting thirty. By then, you’re halfway dead!

I spend most of my time in Tokyo bumping shoulders with senior citizens. (This is a figure of speech; Tokyo residents usually avoid and apologise for physical contact.) Due to my atypical work and sleep schedule, I’m often wandering during the day and working late into the night. During the day, most young people are working or in school, so that leaves me with senior citizens and housewives.

I’ve seen senior citizens in Japan living voraciously. They have finally escaped the rigamarole of being a salaryman (or salarywoman) and intend to enjoy every last minute of it. They spend their spare hours socializing, exercising, and exploring.

This is not to say that being old in Japan is perfect. There is a huge population problem in Japan.

via Wikipedia (emphasis my own):
“The number of Japanese people aged 65 years or older nearly quadrupled in the last forty years, to 33 million in 2014, accounting for 26% of Japan’s population. In the same period, the number of children (aged 14 and younger) decreased from 24.3% of the population in 1975 to 12.8% in 2014. The number of elderly people surpassed the number of children in 1997, and sales of adult diapers surpassed diapers for babies in 2014. This change in the demographic makeup of Japanese society, referred to as population aging… has taken place in a shorter span of time than in any other country.
According to projections of the population with the current fertility rate, over 65s will account for 40% of the population by 2060, and the total population will fall by a third from 128 million in 2010 to 87 million in 2060. Economists at Tohoku University established a countdown to national extinction, which estimates that Japan will have only one remaining child in 3776.”

Japan is doing a variety of things both to care for its aging population as well as reverse the demographics trend.

To address the massive number of senior citizens who require full-time care, Japan is importing and training Filipino caregivers and developing caregiving robots like the well-known ASIMO. They even developed a weird seal-like companion robot called PARO to keep senior citizens company. (I got the chance to see and pet one at the Miraikan and it was actually quite endearing.)

To increase the birthrate, Japan is heavily subsidizing childbirth with a substantial monthly allowance. ($1.00 ≈ ¥100, so parents receive from $50 — $150 a month depending on their child’s age and how many children they have.) Additionally, Japan has launched a massive campaign with Google called womenwill #HappyBackToWork that seeks to destimatise mothers returning to work after childbirth and encouraging equal division of childcare responsibilities between parents. This is because many women are opting not to date, marry, or have children because it is time-consuming and could hinder their careers.

I’ve often felt like I have more in common with old people than people my own age. This doesn’t come from a misplaced nostalgia for the past, but rather a difference in perspective. In my own family, my views most often align with my grandfather rather than my parents or cousins. I usually prefer the company of old people. They have a lot to say and a lot more worth hearing.

Still, being old isn’t necessarily the same as being wise. There are a lot of old people stuck in the past, like the old people on the Tokyo train line who shoot me dirty looks for seeming unemployed (and will invariably express disgust at my upcoming tattoo). Or the old people in the United States who casually refer to me by outdated racial slurs, reinforce racial stereotypes, and vote for Donald Trump.

In my heart I feel like an old person. I express this sentiment often and it is often dismissed. But I suspect this is a feeling I will never truly shake — that I am not meant for this world, and that I will always feel like an outlier.