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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 22:09 GMT 23:09 UK
Japan's ageing population still contributes
By Duncan Bartlett
BBC World Service, Ome, Japan

There is a saying in Japan: "Old people are everyone's treasures".

86-year-old Rin Morita
Many Japanese pensioners help in the family home

It is just as well the nation feels that way, as one in five Japanese people are now over the age of 60.

Japan has the fastest ageing population in the world.

Nearly two million people in Japan are now aged over 80, but they too play a key role in family life and in the economy.

Take 86-year-old Rin Morita.

Help at home

She lives with her oldest son, his wife and her granddaughter. She also has two great grandchildren.

"I do the cooking and the cleaning most days and that allows my son and daughter-in-law to work in their shop," she says.

"I like to have something nice on the table for them when they come home from work and in this way they're able to stay a little bit longer working and earn more money."

No other country in the world has experienced such a growth in its elderly population.

Japan has a long tradition of honouring the old. Every year, National Respect the Aged Day is a public holiday.

About 93% of Japanese people who are over the age of 60 live at home, either on their own, with a spouse or with other family members.

But traditions are changing.

Rising costs

Nowadays, the number of people living in a nursing home or another welfare facility for the aged is increasing.

The price of care is shared between the old person, their family and the government.

That is putting pressure on the nation's economy, and the expense of providing care facilities will go on rising as people live longer and the proportion of elderly people increases.

Fortunately for the government, many families still prefer to care for elderly relatives at home, saving the tax payer money.


Sinikka Salo, a businesswoman from Finland, manages an old people's home in the Japanese city of Sendai.

She says it is difficult for families to accept that sometimes professional care is required.

"The tradition in Japan for the eldest son or the wife of the eldest son to care for the elderly people is very deep," she says. "So there might be some feeling of dissatisfaction among the family if they send old people to a care facility.

"We are looking for solutions to that. One way may be to set up close circuit television so that the older people can talk to their families via a video link whenever they want to."

Of course, close circuit television links to relatives would not be able to provide the same level of warm human contact that Mrs Morita enjoys with her family.

And far from seeing her as a burden or a problem, they regard her as a precious part of the group - someone who contributes a lot and who cares for them just as much as they care for her.

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