Ageing population

Who will care for Japan's elderly?

Today, more than a quarter of Japan's population is aged over 65. This is set to increase to 40% by 2055. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has warned that Japan will need to add one million nurses and care workers by 2025 to cope with this demographic change.

Encouraging immigration may seem like a simple solution—but it's not a popular one. Japan is still one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, with foreigners making up less than 2% of the population. Opening up Japan to large-scale immigration is a very sensitive subject.

New policy on foreign workers

Japan's Cabinet has approved a draft bill that would allow the entry of more foreign blue-collar workers as the country's rapidly aging population faces labor shortages.

The bill is a major revision of Japan's policy on foreign labor. The country has long resisted accepting foreign workers, except for doctors, teachers and others in highly skilled fields. The proposed legislation would create two new visa categories for foreigners employed in more than a dozen sectors facing labor shortages, such as nursing, farming, construction and services.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the new policy means Japan is opening its doors to immigrants, to reassure his nationalist supporters. Opponents are concerned about crime and jobs taken away from Japanese, while proponents say foreign workers are indispensable in sectors facing labor shortages.

Prison: A haven for elderly women

Every aging society faces distinct challenges. But Japan has been dealing with one it didn’t foresee: senior crime. Complaints and arrests involving elderly people, and women in particular, are taking place at rates above those of any other demographic group. Almost 1 in 5 women in Japanese prisons is a senior. Their crimes are usually minor, with 9 in 10 senior women being convicted of shoplifting.

Why have so many otherwise law-abiding elderly women resorted to petty theft? Caring for Japanese seniors once fell to families and communities, but that’s changing. From 1980 to 2015, the number of seniors living alone increased more than sixfold, to almost 6 million. A recent survey found that more than half of seniors caught shoplifting live alone and 40% either don’t have family or rarely speak with relatives. Seniors say they have no one to turn to when they need help.

Working mothers in Japan

The Japanese government wants women to work more and have more children, but it lacks concrete plans of how to do so. To begin with, there is a drastic need to increase government-funded care for children of all ages. In Japanese elementary schools, a lot of the activities and meetings fall in the middle of a weekday, and while public afterschool care does exist, in many places it is only for children up through third grade.

To truly support families and encourage people to have kids in the first place, both women and men should be encouraged to leave work earlier and take paid leave. As long as this issue is not properly addressed, then nothing is really going to change.

Heatwave in Japan

Japan heatwave declared natural disaster (BBC News)

In July 2018, Japan's weather agency declared a heatwave which swept the country a natural disaster, with at least 80 deaths recorded. An agency spokesman warned that "unprecedented levels of heat" were being seen in some areas. More than 22,000 people were admitted to hospital with heat stroke, nearly half of them elderly, emergency officials said. Last Monday, the city of Kumagaya reported a temperature of 41.1ºC (106ºF), the highest ever recorded in Japan. In central Tokyo, temperatures over 40ºC were also registered for the first time.

Flooding in Japan

Hit by its worst weather catastrophe in decades, Japan watched in horror in the summer of 2018 as torrential rains caused more than 200 deaths and 600 landslides, with whole villages swallowed by floods. The rains, which prompted millions to flee their homes and left 250,000 houses without water or electricity, were the worst weather-related crisis for 35 years.

Crisis experts say Japan’s ageing demographics exacerbated the tragedy, as the elderly are more vulnerable and less able to protect themselves. Almost a third of the population was over 65 in the most damaged area, in the country’s south-west.

Government officials described “frantic efforts” to understand why so many elderly residents ignored evacuation orders. “I think Japan is going to have to recognise that old people either cannot, or do not want to, follow the textbook procedures in a crisis,” said one senior official.

Ageing Japanese town's boar trouble

Less than 20 years ago, the only challenges for the 100 residents of the tiny island of Kakara, off southwest Japan, were the elements and ensuring the fishermen’s catch could get to market on time. 

Today, the islanders are outnumbered three to one by wild boar who feast on their gardens and are becoming increasingly aggressive and territorial.

The problems facing the residents of Kakara are being repeated across Japan, with boar numbers exploding as rural populations decline. 

Taobao to hire senior citizens

Taobao, China's biggest online retailer, is hiring two people who must be aged 60 years or older to assess new products aimed at middle-aged and senior consumers.

Applicants are expected to have a harmonious relationship with their children, be an influencer in society such as in square dance groups, enjoy reading about psychology and sociology, and have at least one year of online shopping experience.

Taobao currently has more than 30 million users aged over 50. By 2020, it's expected that China will have 255 million people over the age of 60 — a huge opportunity if Taobao can figure out what these shoppers want online.

According to Alibaba's spokesperson, its two new hires will be working on an "exciting new version of Taobao" and adapting the app to suit this demographic.

Aeon aims to attract older shoppers

Retail giant Aeon Co. has renovated 13 outlets across the country to cater to seniors, offering earlier opening hours and services that encourage asatomo (morning friends) get-togethers.

Kohei Nakahara, a store manager, canvassed elderly people who frequent nearby parks to better understand their needs. “We brought what they want to do into our store, and it resulted in them staying longer. We want to make the store a place like a community hall for neighbors,” he said.

Aeon Retail positioned one store each in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka as model outlets for seniors. Aeon Kasai, the first newly-renovated store to open since 2013, has tried to attract seniors by offering various services from health checkups to a shop that sells fashionable canes.

Autonomous bus service in Tochigi

A test of self-driving bus services organized by the transport ministry kicked off in Tochigi Prefecture on Saturday.

The ministry hopes to launch the autonomous bus services in fiscal 2020 to provide a means of transportation for elderly people living in hilly and mountainous areas with dwindling populations.

The ministry hopes automated public transport services will help elderly people who have trouble visiting hospitals or shopping because they can no longer drive or their bus services have been canceled.

“The ride was comfortable,” one participant said, adding, “I also enjoyed the views from the large window.” 

View a picture of the bus here

Age discrimination in South Korea

A startup in South Korea is making headlines for only hiring staff that are aged 55 years and over.

The founder of content monitoring company EverYoung established the rule to prove the futility of age discrimination – a phenomenon that's reportedly prevalent in modern Korean corporate culture.

Employees at EverYoung monitor blog content on Korean web portal Naver and detect sensitive information on Naver Maps, as well as perform other IT tasks, including running coding classes for school students.

The Seoul startup, which has 420 seniors from a variety of career backgrounds working for it, mandates a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of work, and staff are rostered on four-hour shifts.

Manager Kim Seong-Kyu told ChannelNews Asia that older employees have an attention to detail not as common in the younger workforce, with distracting mobile phones stored away during work time.