According to research by WHO on life expectancy in advanced nations, the average life of a Japanese citizen is a leisurely 83.7 years (80.5 for males, and a healthy 86.8 for females). In fact, Japan is the No. 1 country for longevity (followed by Switzerland (83.4 years), Singapore (83.1), and Australia (82.8)).
Today, of all the industrialized nations, Japan has the most old people and the least babies. Believe it or not, nearly half of all Japanese people will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025.
Not surprising then, there is a national holiday for the Elderly. Keiro-no-hi holiday, or 'Respect for the Elderly' Day, falls on Monday 19th this year. On this day, the hope is that the young will pay their respects to the elderly, wish them a long healthy life and thank them for their wisdom and hard work. In some cities there are even presentations made.
But the truth be told: it must be pretty hard for the elderly these days. These are the people who fought in the war. The people who built Japan into an economic superpower in 30 years or so. These are also the same people who were raised according to the ways of traditional Japanese society and culture. Today, as they walk around the cities they built, they must really wonder who they built it for.
Young people generally tend to forget about the elderly in the rush of youth. This is considered natural and the elderly probably remembering being that way when they were young. But a lack of respect for the elderly is a relatively new thing and certainly not something the elderly themselves can remember feeling when they were young. But a total lack of respect for old people in Japan is becoming increasingly common. Younger people seem to view them as a nuisance, as distant reminders of the old world of Japan.
Today, some elderly people consider the young of Japan to be alien creatures: entirely beyond understanding and communication. These are the kids that have inherited the riches that their grandparents created. And the sad thing is: most young people don't even think about the sacrifice and effort their grand parents made. They only seem to be thinking about themselves and this is the biggest criticism the elderly have of them: they are selfish. And selfish is a pretty new word in Japanese society. If anything, the Japanese are naturally unselfish. But not any more.
Relations between the elderly and the young are still healthy in rural areas, where nearly nobody lives these days. If you go into the countryside, where time slows down and thing become naturally natural, the elderly still have their place in society. In fact, they run society. They are in charge and they are the kings and queens of their families. This is good. This is the way it should be.
But in the cities, the elderly seem to have no place to call their own. They seem forgotten and this is saddest thing of all. But on Elderly Day, Japanese society, as a whole, tries to remember and honor them.
This year let's try to remember how important they really are. Without them we would have nothing. Without them we would not even exist. And let's not forget the biggest truth of all: in a few decades we will be elderly ourselves. It's the future for all of us. Let's try to remember that.
Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.