Japan’s Model for Productive Ageing

Japan accounts for the largest aging population in the world and this trend continues to increase. Its estimated that by 2030 the number of Japanese residence older than 75 years of age will double, to account for 20% of the country’s population. Equally concerning are predictions that at this time 10% of people age will be suffering from dementia and 45% will be living alone. With the imminent prospect of no longer being able to support their ageing population Japan has already increase the mandatory retirement age from 55 to 60 and is trailing new approaches to tackling their pressing challenges.

One such initiative, evolved through collaboration with the Institute of Gerontology, the University of Tokyo and a variety of government and industry stakeholders, aimed at turning the concept of “ageing-in-place” into reality in Kashiwa, a city 30km away from Tokyo. With a population of about 400,000, it is a typical ageing community of Tokyo with many working households having moved into the Toyoshikidai housing complex built in the 1960s. (Institute of Ageing, 2015) With the complex in desperate need of repair and with a third of residence 65 or older, it is an ideal pilot for future smart ageing cities. Working alongside the municipal government, and residents, the University of Tokyo has been begun plans to redesign the community and in is in the process of adapting to the evolving needs of the aging community.

The plan now underway includes replacing the old five-storey residential buildings with mobility friendly age care and community centre that will cater to residence at various life stages. With a primary focus on health care the facility is designed around a 24-hour care system to support home-based care and independence. At the center of the neighbourhood will be a “Community Eatery,” a dining hall that caters not only to elderly residence but younger generations stopping in for breakfast on their way to work or school. (University of Tokyo, 2013) This was designed as a result of data indicating that elderly citizens living by themselves ate poorly, resulting in malnourishment in comparison to communal settings.

Another major objectives of the redesign is to improve the community engagement and to encourage a sense of fulfilment by developing various employment opportunities for the elderly to take a role in supporting their own local community. (Research Institute of Science and technology Society) These jobs have been curated and subsidised by the government to ensure that the ageing population are actively and comfortably working in a model proven to improve physical and psychological heath.  “Seniors vary in their backgrounds and health, as well as in their values regarding work,” leading Professor Akiyama observes. “If we accommodate this diversity by offering them new workplaces and workstyles with a wide degree of freedom, I believe that the healthy elderly can continue working indefinitely.” (University of Tokyo, 2013)

With its academic and scientific success studied around the world the institute has launched a second smart ageing project in Otsuchi which presents unique opportunity to innovate. As one of the coastal towns that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, all of the local infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, now more than ever with the needs of the aging population and their support networks in mind.

Written by Kevin Millingham



Amati M., Kavoura M.,  Jones M., Goodman R. 2016, Japan offers us many lessons in embracing longevity, The Conversation Media Group Ltd, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://theconversation.com/japan-offers-us-many-lessons-in-embracing-longevity-51913>.

Institute of Ageing, 2015, Creating Age-Friendly Communities, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.ioa.cuhk.edu.hk/images/Conference/ProgrammeBooklet_Final.pdf>.

Journeyman Pictures 2016, How Is Japan Dealing With Its Rapidly Ageing Population?, video recording, YouTube, viewed 22 October 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF14TCrMN2Q>.

Research Institute of Science and technology Society, R & D Projects, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://ristex.jst.go.jp/korei/en/02project/prj_h22_04.html>.

University of Tokyo, 2013, A Large-Scale Social Experiment for a Highly-Aged Society in Japan for 2030, Technology Org, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.technology.org/2013/09/13/large-scale-social-experiment-highly-aged-society-japan-2030/>.

Yoshimura K. 2010, University of Tokyo transforming Kashiwa into city for the elderly, The Japan Times Ltd, viewed 22 October 2016, <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/04/02/national/university-of-tokyo-transforming-kashiwa-into-city-for-the-elderly/#.WCBPPPp97QY>.

Posted in B: Aging Best Practices

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