Jul 24, 2018
So I came across this flyer posted outside the local supermarket today:
Have you seen anything like this in your neck of the woods? I’ve blacked out the personal details from it, but it’s a missing person flyer.
Back in the States, I regret to say I’m used to seeing these for missing children, but in this case, it’s for a missing old person. The individual, aged 80, hasn’t been seen and folks are trying to track him down.
The tragic reality is that this situation is likely to increase in Japan, especially in rural communities. Allow me to explain why.
The greying of Japanese society is well documented. With a birthrate of 1.4 and aversion to immigration, Japan is facing a situation where elderly people will become the majority, and the country is not prepared for that. A few reasons why are highlighted below.
Movement to the cities
This issue is especially relevant to rural areas like my home here in Niigata. The standard used to be that at least one child would take over the family home and provide care for the parents until they passed. However, the combination of folks having fewer kids and those kids moving to the cities leaves many elderly alone in their homes. With no one to watch out for them, situations where folks become lost, disoriented, or worse due to lack of caretaking is only going to increase over time.
Expense & shortage of nursing homes
One solution to an absence of family caretakers is to place elderly folks into nursing homes—at least it would be if there were enough to do so and they weren’t so expensive. Most nursing homes here have untenably long waiting lists, and for most Japanese, the costs are prohibitive. That means the government is likely going to have to step in, but it does not have the budget or manpower to succeed in producing enough nursing homes to care for the number of elderly that will soon need it.
So what’s the solution? From my vantage point, there are two.
First is immigration for medical staff to fill nursing homes. This is a stop gap measure though, because the government can only subsidize so many nurses and doctors.
Second is getting folks out of the big cities. Japan’s tendency to put all of its eggs in a few baskets is dangerous, not just because a disaster in the wrong place could cripple the country, but because city living has eroded family life in Japan.
Japan needs to encourage folks to move back to the furusato, and it wouldn’t be so difficult. I’ll explain my master plan in a future blog post when I have the time!
Until then, I encourage you all the support the elderly folks in your neighborhoods. Give them some care and consideration—you never know the difference you can make!
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).
This is such a thoughtful post. I always like the idea of being neighborly especially to the elderly. As is the case with mostly every country, I always wonder why governments NEVER try and make the necessary arrangements to ensure certain facilities and amenities and opportunities that are in abundance in urban areas be present and available in rural areas. One just needs to look at and carefully analyze the push and pull factors between urban and rural areas to recognize what must be done in order for communities to become stabilized.