Aging Around the World: Japan

by Patti Digh, Council on Aging for Henderson County Board Member

This series of blog posts will focus on issues of aging in the countries whose wines we will taste at our Wine Around the World event on October 22, 2015. There are tickets left, but they’re going fast. Tickets can be purchased at our office or online here:

As you will learn, aging has different cultural meaning and expressions around the world:

  • Different cultures imbue aging with different meanings and values
  • Cultures treat their elderly differently and place different values on old age
  • Eastern cultures tend to highly value age and wisdom, while Western cultures tend to highly value youth
  • In Western societies, people take pains to appear younger than their biological age, for example

So, aging isn’t just a biological process; it is also a cultural one. Frequently the average life expectancy bears on what age counts as “old.” For example, in the United States, where the average life expectancy is over 78 years, people are not considered “old” until they are in their sixties or seventies. However, in Chad the average life expectancy is less than 49 years. People in their thirties or forties are therefore already middle­ aged or “old.”

Over the next 8 days leading up to our Wine Around the World event at The Cedars, let’s grab our passports and go on this amazing journey into aging in many cultures.


WAW-Japan-blogpostAs an Eastern culture, and a rapidly aging one, Japan reveres its elderly, bowing to the wisdom that comes with age. Many other Eastern societies also associate old age with wisdom, so they value old age much more than their Western counterparts.

Japan faces the unique problem of tending to an increasingly elderly population. 7.2 percent of the Japanese population will be 80 or older in 2020 (compared to 4.1 percent in the U.S.), which will likely lead to a host of new problems for the country. Adult diapers are already outselling baby diapers, and the pension system is on course to dry up.

In Japan, adult children are expected to care for their aging parents in ways different than in the United States. Sixty five percent of Japanese elders live with their children and very few live in nursing homes. Japanese cultural norms suggest that caring for one’s parents by putting them in an assisted living home is tantamount to neglect. This is in line with the Council on Aging for Henderson County’s emphasis on self­ determination and our mission to support independent living as long as possible before institutional care is necessary.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster of March 2011 has highlighted current and emerging issues of a “super­aging” society, especially the need for community ­based support systems. (Such as what the Council on Aging provides to our local elderly populations.) This earthquake revealed positive aspects of the Japanese society: older adults’ wisdom and resilience for survival and coping, active social and labor participation at old ages, and strengths of social relationships. The disaster also highlighted challenges that Japan is facing, especially rebuilding disaster area communities and addressing population aging in urban communities where Japanese traditional qualities are fading.

What does the Council on Aging for Henderson County do that reflects the values of Japan around aging? We also see the wisdom inherent in old age, and advocate for the independence and personal dignity of each of our clients.



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