Ja­pan’s ag­ing so­ci­ety prompts re­def­i­ni­tion of the term ‘el­derly’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS - The au­thor is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. cai­hong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

An early ad­vo­cate of healthy liv­ing to stave off ag­ing-re­lated ill­nesses, Shigeaki Hi­no­hara, a Ja­panese doc­tor, saw pa­tients un­til just months be­fore bid­ding farewell to this world at the age of 105 on Tues­day. In 1954, Hi­no­hara in­tro­duced com­pre­hen­sive an­nual phys­i­cal tests, part of the pre­ven­tive med­i­cal sys­tem said to con­trib­ute to Ja­panese peo­ple’s longevity.

A fast-ag­ing so­ci­ety, Ja­pan has the high­est per­cent­age of se­nior cit­i­zens in the world — more than a quar­ter of its pop­u­la­tion is aged 65 or above. Ja­pan had more than 65,000 cen­te­nar­i­ans last year. Based on United Na­tions doc­u­ments, Ja­pan has de­fined se­nior cit­i­zens as peo­ple aged 65 or above for more than five decades. At the cur­rent pace of ag­ing, 33 per­cent of Ja­pan’s pop­u­la­tion is pro­jected to be aged 65 or above in 2035, with its share in the to­tal pop­u­la­tion ris­ing to 40 per­cent in 2060.

Life af­ter re­tire­ment — 60 in Ja­pan — is chang­ing in the coun­try. It can be a time for golf and/or swim­ming for some, but mil­lions of peo­ple are cling­ing to full-time jobs, re-en­ter­ing the work­force as part-timers, or even start­ing new busi­nesses.

In 2015, a record 7.3 mil­lion peo­ple aged 65 or above were part of Ja­pan’s work­force, ac­count­ing for 11.4 per­cent of the to­tal. A sur­vey of se­nior cit­i­zens con­ducted by Ja­pan’s Cab­i­net Of­fice showed that nearly 70 per­cent of the in­ter­vie­wees were will­ing to work be­yond 65.

As peo­ple are liv­ing a longer, health­ier life in some parts of the world, a new def­i­ni­tion of “old age” is called for, which should be fol­lowed by la­bor, pen­sion and re­tire­ment re­forms among other changes.

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