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Japan population aging faster than baby boom

Date Posted: 2005-09-26

Japanese celebrated “Respect for the Aged Day” on Monday, honoring its elderly citizens.

At the same time the government moved into the holiday, the General Affairs Department announced that 25,560,000 of its citizens are now 65 years of age or older. That’s an increase of 71,000 over 2003. It means that one in five Japanese are over 65. In 1950, only 4.9% of Japanese were over 65, rising to 10.3% 20 years ago.

The government is expressing concerns about the rapid increase in an elderly population, which puts a heavier toll on government services. The General Affairs Department is projecting the number of elderly to increase to 26% in the next ten years. The number between 65-7 increased 200,000 over last year, while those over 75 increased another 500,000.

The Ministry of Welfare and Health has published a longevity report on senior citizens, saying Japan now has 25,606 people over 100 years of age. Okinawa still holds the title of having the most senior citizens, an honor held for 33 years. The report notes 85% of those living long lives are women.

Okinawans and Japanese attribute the percentage to women becoming more healthy and powerful when their husbands die. On the other hand, husbands have difficulty coping once their wives die. They say that’s the life of Japanese men.

The oldest living person is Yoko Minagawa of Fukuoka Prefecture. The Ministry of Welfare and Health say she’s 112.

Another factor, officials say, is that retirement is now stretched to a later age, impacting men. Soon, the average age in Japan will be 60-65, and officials say longevity is a great thing for the country.

Foreigners are flocking to Okinawa to figure out firsthand why local women are living so long. They’re finding combinations of the weather, food and diet, a lack of worrying, hard work, the ability to be outdoors in the fresh are all contributing, as is having a sense of responsibility. Researchers are finding that Okinawans love live, love music, relax more than people of other countries, appreciate a slower paced lifestyle, and appear to have more happy moments.

Nobody is willing to predict that the low stress levels will continue into the future, because officials point out there will be problems with pension funding in the coming years. And young people, who by tradition have responsibility for caring for older relatives, are finding it a rough road financially. The question is who will fund future pension benefits in the era of economic reform.

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