Japan is not a young population. It is a fact and well-known that Japan is an aging population. With around 23% of its population (that is around 28.9 million of the total 126.3 million as of June 17,2015 according to countrymeters.info/en/Japan), aging 64 years and over and is expected to rise to thirty-five percent in 2050, expect to see otoshiyori (elderlies)- the obaasan (grandmas or female senior citizen) and ojiisan (grandpas or male senior citizen) in just any corner of Japan, literally left and right. The senior citizens. You might expect them to be sluggish and sickly. Sitting in a corner or in a rocking chair. However, when you see them here in Japan, you may be taken by surprise of the things they can actually do!
During my first visit to Japan, I was more rooted to the ground than a tree upon seeing an aged man in a blue uniform cutting grasses in an establishment garden. I wanted to scream “Somebody help him!” because at first I thought that old man was crawling on the ground. But as soon as I realized he was actually cutting grasses, I was awed! He is a worker! Few meters away, another aged man was smoothing the flow of traffic in an intersection. From then on, I realized that the many senior citizens in Japan do actually work. In my current apartment, there is another ojiisan (with a curved-back) who works as a janitor.
To keep my body fit and healthy during my stay in Japan, I went to the gym. I was expecting to see more of the young ones but to my surprise, many are the “young once”. They squat, they run, the carry weights! I was astonished! They are not young but they look young and definitely they can do what young people can. In the community, the elderlies gather in an organization they call roujinkai (roujin-aged, kai-meeting or assembly). They do a lot of activities in their narai-goto (narai-learn, goto-things). Cooking, dancing, jogging, sports such as golf, running, and otedama – juggling bean bags. One time, we were climbing up a mountain and I was surprised (and worried) when I saw an aged couple (really aged they walk very slow) going down the slopes! (Will they be able to descend safely? They should be resting in their house instead of mountain climbing, I thought). That only shows how genki (healthy) elderlies in Japan are!
If you go out in the morning, around the time when school children go to school, you will see some elderlies in the intersections wearing a luminous (usually green) vest and waving flags. They help the children cross the streets safely. If you go to the community center, a lot of them will greet you and are ready to assist. In the countryside, the elderlies play a big role in the operation and success of many festivals. Many of them teach traditional culture to both the local young populace and foreign visitors.
We may call them the aged, elderly, senior, even call them sundowners, but, definitely, the sun is not down on them. They’re still up, strong, useful and functional. Where else but here. In the land of the rising sun.