The Japanese Have a Term For Trouble Caused By the Elderly: Rogai

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
5 min readJan 31, 2024

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This time, I would like to write about a phenomenon that concerns the Japanese elderly: rogai. This Japanese word applies to elderly people who create trouble in their surroundings. However, as often in Japanese culture, it has several levels of meaning.

The Original Meaning of Rogai

In Japanese, the word rogai is a neologism written with the characters for “old” [老] and “damage” [害].

Elderly people complaining about the young, and the young complaining about the elderly is probably a universal phenomenon. However, Japanese culture is influenced by Confucianism, especially the fact that younger members of the society must owe respect to their elders. In September, Japan even has a holiday called “Respect for the Aged Day” [Keiro no Hi]. In such a context, how did the derogatory term “rogai” appear?

Originally, it was used to qualify “real” damage caused to society by elderly people. In Japan, a third of the population is now over 60 years old. The aging of the population has been the cause for repeated accidents and crimes that have been heavily covered in the Japanese media.

Among them, we find traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers: people taking the highway on the wrong side, crashing into buildings, and killing people. Although studies show that younger drivers actually are more dangerous, old people are perceived as potential dangers on the road, forcing Japan to think about specific ways to handle them.

Another problem is what Japan calls “grey crimes.” Most of the time, these crimes are thefts or shoplifting. Pensions are not always good in Japan, forcing elderly people to keep working part-time after retirement, or finding other means to survive. So, some of the thefts are driven by necessity. However, other thefts are driven by loneliness: bored and alone, some elderly people use that to attract attention.

Annoying Old People

With time, the term’s meaning has extended to qualify all old people who cause trouble and annoyance…

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Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.