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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 06:05 GMT 07:05 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Computer grannies log on in Japan

Japan has a growing army of millions of pensioners

The BBC's Juliet Hindell: 'Some of the computer grannies admit they're already addicted'
Pensioners in Japan are proving you are never too old to learn. A new generation of "computer grannies" have joined the cyber age. Elderly people are logging on all over the country.

The Computer Grannies Club in Tokyo is one of many which has cropped up. It was founded by Kayoko Okawa, who has also turned her home into a computer drop-in centre.

'Club is a great success'

She says the club was a boon to members: "Coming to the computer class cheers everyone up. They start dressing more fashionably and become much more lively. It's a great success."

[ image: Crocquet was the traditional way to pass your twilight years]
Crocquet was the traditional way to pass your twilight years
Volunteers help out at the club and the computers are lent by a telephone company. The class meets twice a month and the elderly ladies come to learn about e-mail and navigating the Internet.

Traditionally, elderly Japanese have passed their retirement in peace, playing crocquet and looking after their grandchildren.

Japan is one of the most rapidly ageing societies in the world. Because of the falling birth rate, Japan will soon have more old-age pensioners than any other country.

[ image: Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world]
Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world
Kathy Matsui, an economist at Goldman Sachs, says: "If a fifth of the population is over 65 in a few years who is going to provide for these people?"

"If there are not many immigrants and Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Japan has a problem."

New computer skills

The computer grannies are keen not to become a burden. Many are seeking out new computer skills so as to stay in contact with the cyber age.

"They are a good way of getting information," says one 81-year-old woman.

Another 86-year-old says: "My grandchildren have a computer but they won't teach me how to use it."

A third pensioner says she is learning for the future so that when she loses the use of her legs she will be able to e-mail her friends and relatives and will not become isolated.

[ image:
"I am learning for the future because I don't want to be isolated"
When these women were born Japan was very different. The country was going through its own industrial revolution and the Emperor was still considered a God.

As the millennium comes round the corner, Japan's elderly are keen to prevent themselves becoming similarly obsolete.

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