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Japan's Senior Citizens Growing Active

March 26, 1999

Elderly people in Japan have traditionally been seen as conservative and sober-minded. A survey has revealed, however, that a sizable proportion of them now have unconventional lifestyles and values, and that as a result, a new culture is beginning to emerge. These people are eager to gain new knowledge and love to go out. Newspapers, too, include a growing number of reports on people taking up new challenges in their later years. Recent headlines include "Even Men, Elderly People Engage in Flamenco" and "Information Networks Promote Community Participation for Middle-Aged and Elderly People."

Survey Points to Changing Attitudes
The survey was carried out by a research group formed by Dentsu Public Relations Inc. and the business department of Bunkyo Women's College. In October 1998 the group polled 600 people between the ages of 50 and 79 living in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, asking 80 questions about their values, activities, and awareness of various daily-life issues.

The survey report divided pollees into four basic groups. The "community group," consisting of those who energetically take part in community activities, accounted for 47% of the total. Those in the "old-fashioned group," with conservative values and expressing low levels of interest in consumption and outside activities, came to 23%. These two groups represent the conventional image of middle-aged and elderly people. The other two groups, in contrast, signify the emergence of a new, youthful breed of senior citizens: the "challenge group" (19%), including those who are fond of nature and those who ambitiously engage in academics, and the "enjoyable life group" (11%), made up of energetic people who go on trips abroad or take part in sports.

The challenge group mainly consists of people in their fifties belonging to extended families. Living with their children and grandchildren has stimulated them to engage in self-improvement, such as by learning to use personal computers. Members of the enjoyable life group, meanwhile, mostly come from nuclear families in the cities and have strong educational backgrounds. Being financially well-off, they have no hesitation about spending money on their hobbies and on their health.

Culture Classes and New Sports for the Elderly
It has been many years since the time after child rearing and retirement came to be called the "second life." But behind the recent increase in elderly people who become active in their latter years lies a change of attitude, brought about in part by longer life spans: Old age is no longer seen as the quiet epilogue of life, but as another chapter when people should make use of their increased free time and enjoy life fully. Many books on this topic have been published, and culture classes specifically designed for middle-aged and older people are also growing in number and thriving.

In addition, a number of sports have been adapted to suit older people's needs. The short ski, which uses shorter-than-normal skis (from 90 to 110 centimeters), is gaining popularity among the older generation because the shorter length makes the skis easier to control. In one short-ski class the oldest enrollee is a 78-year-old man. One person comments that "at 60, it's a dream come true to be able to start skiing," while another says, "I was worried because I hadn't skied for 35 years, but I was able to use these new skis without falling over."

Potential of a New Consumer Market
These ambitious seniors are expected to influence others of their generation, encouraging their peers to enjoy life like them. For this reason Professor Tomoyoshi Ogawa, a member of the above-mentioned research group who teaches marketing theory at Bunkyo Women's College, points out that from now on manufacturers and distributors will need to take into account the diversifying lifestyles of elderly people in their business strategies, such as by developing new products geared toward this age group. "Of particular concern," he says, "is the issue of how to effectively stimulate the consumer appetite of this new breed of senior citizens."

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.