• culture

    Japan: Age Doesn’t Seem to Matter

    We found Japanese culture to be truly intergenerational, with workers everywhere ranging from 20 to 80 years old. This could be the future globally.

    The first thing I notice upon landing at Narita is how friendly and helpful the immigration people are — how nice it is to be in a welcoming country. The second thing is that the hall where entry is processed is staffed by people who appear to be from 22-85 years old.  Everyone working in immigration is doing more or less the same job, at the same highly efficient yet helpful pace. When we Americans think of intergenerational, we think 25-45 or maybe 55. How limiting. Here, there is a whole other generation added to the mix. And from what I can tell, they are all doing it well.

    Hyper-Age Society

    I’m not an authority on Japanese culture or Japanese regulations. Japan is the first hyper-age society, and it is fascinating to see how this actually works in practice. This is also an incredibly opaque society for the visitor, and I only know what I see. There are no doubt troves of things hidden from me that I am entirely ignorant of.

    Do they warehouse their older people hidden out of site? Not that I can tell. There are people in their 80s and perhaps 90s everywhere. The check-in desk at The Grand Hyatt Kyoto was staffed by 2 people in their mid-30s, and another person who appeared to be in their mid-70s. At one point in our wanderings, there is a lot of being lost when traveling in Japan, we needed lunch. In the small ramen restaurant we found, the waitress appeared to be about 75, and the kitchen staff about 75-85. It was all totally normal.

    Ahead of the Curve

    Our taxi drivers, our train conductors, everyone we interacted with was of an immense spectrum of age. Why is this even usual, or noteworthy? We are on the cusp of an era of not only increasing health spans but increasing life spans. The way we in western cultures deal with age is going to change, if we want it or not.

    Fitness and Freedom

    Maybe I noticed these things only because that is our gig here at AGEIST. But in terms of actual customer experience, there was no difference felt from having a 25-year-old, 55-year-old or 75-year-old interact with us. This may be because the people that we saw seemed incredibly fit. I saw exactly one heavy-set person the entire time I was in Japan. Why this is I am not sure, however, I did observe that the Japanese love to walk. It seemed an hour or longer walk to work was entirely unexceptional. 

    At the other end of the generational spectrum were the children. Unlike Americans who seem to prefer their offspring locked up for safekeeping, here they were out on the streets, riding the subways, very much of a polite, well-behaved presence.

    Work and Purpose

    Economically, a multi-age workforce and its corresponding multi-age consumers make complete sense. It is simply not possible to sustain an older population if one is going to prevent them from working. But there is much more to this. Work provides purpose; there is a factor of self-reliance and pride involved when we work. To prevent someone from working is to disconnect them from this opportunity. 

    Do the people we saw have to work, or do they choose to work? It is an interesting question and one that we look forward to answering more clearly.  What we are very clear about is that not allowing someone to contribute when they are willing and able is to no one’s benefit.


    David Stewart
    David Stewart
    David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

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