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The New Seniors Who Are Changing Japan

Healthy and proactive about everything? Asako Yamaoka, the editor-in-chief of the senior women’s lifestyle magazine Halmek, says such a simple categorization overlooks the diversity of Japan’s seniors. She describes the new possibilities that can come from seniors with a wide range of personal values.

According to Asako Yamaoka, businesses in Japan that focus on active seniors such as gyms offering exercise programs geared for them, and game arcades where even seniors can enjoy themselves are readily noticeable. Yamaoka is the editor-in-chief of Halmek, a lifestyle magazine for senior women with a readership of about 160,000. Her magazine’s readers are a diverse in age, from the late fifties to nineties, with most in their sixties and seventies.

“The vast majority of our readers do not consider themselves seniors,” she relates. “They’re surprised when people treat them like seniors by doing things like giving up seats to them on the train.”

On the other hand, Yamaoka clarifies that it isn’t accurate to think of seniors today as uniformly active. “Actually, while there are outgoing types who have a strong desire to improve themselves, others place a high value on being conservative and traditional,” she says. “Among seniors, there is a wide range of ways of thinking and standards for conduct. We strive to avoid generalizing by age, and instead divide our target audience into seven groups based on in-company think tank research, and write our articles primarily for the ‘outgoing and pursue self-improvement’ and ‘prize dignity and learning’ groups.” Yamaoka also indicates that many new types of businesses aimed at seniors are likely to emerge as other industries learn more about the values and intentions of seniors.

Yamaoka adds that those in their sixties and seventies are still changing and growing. “If we run a feature on the basics of using a smartphone, we’ll get a ton of letters saying ‘I learned how to use one,’ ” she explains. “Based on this, it’s clear that even though many seniors really can’t handle new challenges, they do have the flexibility to grasp something if they get past the initial hurdle. And when we announced that we were seeking models for the magazine, we received so many applications from people saying ‘I wanted to try this out once,’ and we realized all over again how many people care about fashion and beauty. The nature of people’s interests naturally varies, but if the impetus is there, there are countless ways seniors can take action.”

In another decade, those in their sixties will already be using the Internet and smartphones to look up information. “Right now most seniors still use travel agencies to book their trips, but the next generation will be able to research transportation and accommodations on their own and travel freely wherever they want,” Yamaoka observes. “I think we’ll see a completely new type of senior emerge.”

Seniors already represent close to a third of Japan’s population, and their ranks are growing, so who can say how their influence will change Japanese society? “I hope that the knowledge and experience seniors have cultivated can be used to support the younger generations and make society mutually beneficial,” Yamaoka says. “In terms of raising children, family support center projects in several municipalities are matching seniors with families raising children in the same area. Seniors feel that they’re useful and have a sense of purpose, while the younger generation can have an easier life thanks to their help. I think this will enrich society.”

In Japan, the country with the world’s largest percentage of aging citizens, a shift is beginning toward a society where seniors can enjoy different lifestyles and use their abilities no matter their age. This will bring about an era in which all generations can have easier lives, and perhaps set an example of longevity—a “100-year life society”—for the world.