Japan celebrates its large elderly population
Respect for the Aged Day may call to mind graying Japan’s rapidly aging population, but that only underscores this national holiday’s emphasis on honoring and appreciating the contributions senior citizens have made to society.
Celebrated this year on Sept. 18, this holiday traces its origins back to 1947 when a farming village in Hyogo Prefecture proclaimed Sept. 15 as “Day for the Elderly,” or Toshiyori-no-Hi. They held a meeting to honor seniors and listened to them speak in order to benefit from their words of wisdoms. The idea spread throughout the prefecture, then spread nationwide.
“Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro-no-Hi) was legislated in 1966 according to the National Holidays Act,” said Yukihiro Miura from the holiday section of the National Cabinet Office’s General Affairs Division. “The purpose of this holiday is to express respect for the elderly in our communities and wish them longevity.”
“I think sometime after Japanese society started recovering from the devastation of the war, people began to think of how they could appreciate the elderly who had contributed so much to society, and how to glean from their wisdom,” Miura added.
Although the holiday was originally observed on Sep. 15, the National Holidays Act was amended in 2003, introducing the so-called Happy Monday system which moved several holidays to Mondays to create three-day weekends. Respect for the Aged Day has been celebrated on the third Monday of September ever since.
Autumnal Equinox Day
Sept. 23 is Autumnal Equinox day, which is an important national holiday, although it falls on Saturday this year so there is no day off.
According to an old Japanese saying, “No heat or cold lasts past the equinox.” Since the equinoxes are transitions between these two extremes, they represent passing from this realm to the next in Japan’s Buddhist tradition.
No matter where you are, however, these are great times to get outside the gates and feel the warmth or coolness of the changing season while learning a little local culture.
Both the vernal (spring) and autumnal equinoxes (March 21 and Sept. 23, respectively) are moveable calendar events that have been observed as national holidays for more than 1,000 years in Japan.
Today, many mainland Japanese visit family tombs in temples or cemeteries to offer prayers for deceased family members and friends during the weeks of Vernal or Autumnal Equinox Days.
On Okinawa, families offer “ohigan kuwachii,” or equinox delicacies, such as pork ribs, sweets, fruits, rice cakes, flowers, incense and “uchikabi” (money for the other world) for their ancestors at family alters.
How old is old in Japan
In Japan, people age 65 and older are considered elderly, according to the Act on Assurance of Medical Care for Elderly People. The act defines people 75 and older as “late-stage elderly.”
• Japan has the highest life expectancy at 83.7 years (86.8 for women, 80.5 for men) out of 194 surveyed nations, according to the World Health Organization in 2016. (The U.S. ranks 31st at age 79.3 [81.6 for women, 76.9 for men].)
• 27 percent of Japan’s population – 34.6 million people (20 million women, 14.6 million men) – is age 65 and older. The number increases by 720,000 annually.
• There are 15.9 million people in Japan age 75 and older, up by 254,000 from the previous year.
• There are more than 65,000 centenarians in Japan. The number increases by 4,000 annually
• The number of the elderly is rapidly increasing in Japan as the number of children being born declines, causing major concerns over how a shrinking workforce will continue to fund healthcare and social security.
– Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications 2016 statistics