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Question of the hour: Define ‘getting older’

Date Posted: 2004-06-04

Okinawa officials are struggling to determine just when to begin calling older citizens ‘old’. Seems that the older Okinawans aren’t exactly thrilled with being given the senior citizen label.

The Minister of General Affairs in Japan says “a high aged family consists of a man 65 years old and a woman 60 years old.”

Senior Citizens Day is coming September 15th, and government officials way to be sure steps are taken to properly respect the elderly. Traditionally, 65 has been defined as the age for joining a senior citizens club, or obtaining benefits typically set aside for seniors.

Yet not everyone wants to be called old. An 88-year-old lady with four children and five grandchildren says “I don’t want anyone to call me a senior citizen. Call me a great mom.” She says she likes to get presents for her birthday and for Mother’s Day, but adds “don’t give me any gifts or even call me on Senior Citizens Day.”

Okinawan people hold records for life expectancy, and many just refuse to consider 60 – 65 as old. They still consider themselves young. Their view of old age is the point where the family must take care of them, with them giving up their individual freedoms.

Officials say some 12.8% of people who fit the old age definition live by themselves, and not with children or other family. Here in Okinawa, only 5.9% live alone, but usually stay with their eldest son or daughter, or share time with other children. It’s comfortable for children, too.

Kids say they like having the parents around, both to take care of the grandkids and to help with the housekeeping. There is also tradition to consider.

Okinawa believes in ancestor worship, and every home has a Buddhist altar where the grandparents live. Compared to the mainland Japanese, Okinawan families are more closely knit.

That’s changing some, as young couples are now looking at their independence, and opting not to live with their parents. This is stunning news to some older Okinawans.

As the older citizens voice their enthusiasm for living with their children, they quote the proverb: Children will never know how much parents care about kids.

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