New-age ex­pe­ri­ences

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - GARTH CLARKE

NORTH SYD­NEY, NSW MOSTAus­tralians of myage — three score years and 10, plus a lit­tle more, if you must know — will be fa­mil­iar with the in­vis­i­bil­ity fac­tor. You wait at counters for an eter­nity be­fore the sales as­sis­tant no­tices you, or hail taxis only to have them pass you by.

In our coun­try, the el­derly seem to have be­come non­per­sons. It is as­sumed that once we leave the work­force, we also re­tire from life and should do ev­ery­one a favour and take our­selves off to a re­tire­ment vil­lage. When I re­cently shook off the shack­les of old age and trav­elled to Ja­pan, I fully ex­pected things to be much the same there.

How­ever, I dis­cov­ered, to my sur­prise and de­light, that Ja­pan is a coun­try where old age is ven­er­ated. It even has a national hol­i­day known as Re­spect for the Aged Day. And this is not to­kenism: the el­e­vated sta­tus of the el­derly is ev­i­dent every­where, in­clud­ing the crowded ar­rivals hall of Tokyo’s Narita air­port.

My wife and I had reached the ticket counter for the air­port bus only to find the one go­ing to our ho­tel was about to de­part. The young ticket agent, clearly im­pressed by our great ages, im­me­di­ately left her post and, tak­ing one of our large wheel-along suit­cases, went speed­ing through the door, urg­ing us to fol­low. We made the bus with sec­onds to spare and, as it pulled out, we could see through the rear win­dow our good sa­mar­i­tan wav­ing us good­bye as if we were de­part­ing roy­alty.

We en­coun­tered that same cour­te­ous treat­ment al­most every­where we went, in­clud­ing depart­ment stores, one of which had two floors sell­ing clothes for ‘‘the stylish el­derly’’. On the Shinkansen bul­let train, we were un­able to book seats side by side, but a youngish woman no­ticed our sit­u­a­tion and of­fered to swap seats so my wife and I could sit to­gether.

Ja­panese se­nior cit­i­zens clearly take ad­van­tage of liv­ing in a so­ci­ety that ac­cords them care and re­spect. They move about the coun­try in vast num­bers, on planes and trains and coaches, check­ing into five-star ho­tels and ryokan — and, such is their ro­bust good health, pos­si­bly into some of the coun­try’s many short-stay ‘‘love ho­tels’’.

It’s good to be alive, their sprightly steps tell us. They are any­thing but in­vis­i­ble. They live in a so­ci­ety where it is not a sin to be old. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­ Pub­lished columnists re­ceive a 35cm x 27cm x 4cm Cather­ine Manuell Lap­top Com­pen­dium ($79), which also fits iPads and in­cludes a notepad, stor­age pock­ets and pen holder. More: cather­ine manuellde­

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