Japan, no Country for old men

Being an old man in Japan, honors and pressure

Japan is one of the countries with the highest rate of longevity and health, but with longer life expectancy come problems related to senility, such as dementia or the Alzheimer’s disease. Shinzo Abe‘s administration is struggling to find effective measures to improve the assistance to a population that is progressively aging – almost one out four inhabitants is older than 65. Sometimes the weight falls only on the families, who bear it less and less willingly, being a constant effort.

Seniority is seen as synonym of wisdom in many cultures, the Japanese one itself. But in a capitalist world, oriented on productivity and profit, the role of old people is marginal. To make people aware and demolish this myth, a restaurant in Tokyo decided to hire for a couple day a particular crew, affected by dementia. Mizuho Kudo, a food blogger, reviewed the experience in a very positive way, writing about a happy and relaxed atmosphere, with a smiling personnel who just did a few mistakes with the orders.

Social experiment in Tokyo, Japan. A restaurant with a personnel affected by dementia

Besides these initiatives, limited in time, old Japanese people live a contradictory every day life. On one hand there is a great consideration, for example since 1966 there is the Respect for the Aged Day, every third Monday of September. On the other hand this prestige is jeopardized. Many people still leave their jobs to take care of the elderly, but five million seniors leave alone, and happened that some of those deaths remained unnoticed. There are even cleaning companies which are specializing in interventions in apartments where a kodokushi occurred (a lonely death).

The labor market suffers from the demographic changes. Managers of the main companies are mostly over 60, compared to an European average that is getting younger, between 40 and 50 years. Things are becoming different in Japan too, though. Almost 20% of the old people leave in poverty and is frequent to see an elderly working to make ends meet. That’s why there are temporary agencies dedicated to this niche who should be out of the labor force.

Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan

Another ambiguity concern transportation. In Japan is not considered rude refusing to leave the seat to old people, because it would be like consider him or her in need, weak, generating embarrassment. Is not the same about driving licenses. The increasing number of accidents made a funeral home propose discounts for those who will renounce to their license. Reflexes get slower and so are times of reaction, it’s physiological, not just a stereotype. Other regions prefer to reduce the price of taxis.

A curious consequence of aging is the aging of criminals as well. More than 23 thousand people over 65 only in the first half of 2015 have been charged with some felonies, says national police. At the same time there were investigations on 20 thousand adolescents (14-19 years old).

Old people assistance is another field in which Japan and social-political administrations are facing challenges to balance tradition with innovation, but that goes further the integration of pagodas and skyscrapers in the typical landscape.


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