Age: Just a Number?

Here in Japan the traditionally taken path has been the one of respect for the elders in society. Well, traditions may not have changed, but society has. With Gen X’rs taking center stage slowly but surely, Japan’s largest demographic, senior citizens, is not taking the backseat ride so well anymore. But exactly what new elderly profiles are emerging in Japan as of late?

First, we see the “disgruntled, confused criminal”. Recently, Japan has been hit by a wave of elderly crime. Most often, cases involve theft, but murder and violent crimes are also on the rise. Researchers are not blaming this problem on money entirely, as some attribute these acts a response to changes in society negatively impacting the mental well-being of Japan’s elderly. In a society that used to take care of its’ aged individuals, the elderly now awake to realize that they cannot recognize their city anymore than they can relate to the demographic now surrounding them. In 2008, the number of recorded crimes by elderly individuals stood at 48,597 cases, a sharp rise from around 13,000 merely a decade ago. Many elderly admitted to prisons admit that upon release they purposely commit crimes so that they can be re-admitted and be close to people their own age in surroundings familiar to them. The polite demeanor that the elderly were so well known for in the past is also being slowly replaced by a more contemptuous, condescending attitude towards the young generation of today.

Another, more entertaining emergent type of elderly individual is the “go-getter”. For example, we see the individual Shigeo Tokuda, a seemingly normal retiree at the age of 73 last year in 2008. But, to female individuals in his age group as well as industry connoisseurs, he became one of the most recognized porn stars in the industry last year in Japan. This type of stardom would be less classified by possibly appearing on television or in magazines, and more so through internet blogs, videos, website postings, etc. Tokuda’s fame is special due to his breaking out of the commonly assumed “helpless” role the elderly play in Japanese society. Post-retirement, elderly individuals often become lonely and bored due to lack of activity and sometimes lack of physical contact with others. Tokuda symbolizes a victory for aged society in Tokyo, as his participation in his current line of work boldly tells the public not only that the elderly can work past 60 nowadays (previously the socially accepted retirement age in Japan), but that they can do things that younger individuals can just as well as the rest of us.

No matter what they are involved in, though, one common stereotype about these individuals is that they possess quite significant sums of personal funds from sources including pensions, savings, etc. As Japan’s largest demographic, it would do business owners and service providers well to understand how to market and sell to this group.

Statistics like the one stating that by 2013 one in four Japanese will be 65 years or older have convinced companies such as Sharp, manufacturer of appliances and other such technology, to produce elderly-friendly devices from DVD players to remote controls. NTT Docomo also became largely popular among this demographic for their “Raku Raku” phone series, which featured large buttons and re-enforced sound quality for those hard of hearing. Elderly in Japan may be hesitant to let new-age robots take care of them in their homes, infringing on the small chance for human interaction that they have left in life, but they are in need of no-nonsense, simplistic approaches to every day life in this technological age.

CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.

We believe that, although the terrain you face in building a successful marketing strategy and activation path sometimes seems obscure, the path to success is knowable and that the consumer is the guide who will show you the way.

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