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@ theaustralian.com.au. 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 manuelldesign.com.