Japan outshines Australia on respect for the aged

Ageing is something that can’t be avoided, yet sometimes it’s not treated with much respect in Australia.

The pursuit of youth has few boundaries with media outlets regularly featuring claims that the right beauty treatments can wipe away the years, such as age 70 being the new 60. Men don’t escape either, with one report recently claiming that males sprouting grey hair amounted not to an end but marked a new beginning.

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Photo: Shutterstock

More serious reports concentrate on the financial aspects associated with ageing as economists and government officials furrow their brows to express fears about how the expanding length of lives will stretch the monetary resources of the community.

About the only time that the process of piling on the years seems to attract briefly favourable attention is through the celebration of Seniors’ Week, which next will be held in NSW over the early days of April in 2016.

This annual cavalcade provides a number of events designed to attract older members of our society to enjoy concerts, movies and other outings – equating with what is just a single day of honour held in the US each 21 August when the social, health and economic aspects of ageing are given attention through what’s billed as National Senior Citizens Day.

In Japan, Monday of this coming week will be given over to a similar cause bearing at least a somewhat more meaningful title: Respect for the Aged Day.

Respect isn’t always linked to commemorating senior years in our society – unless you consider that opportunities for the reduced costs of travel on public transport or getting into the movies at below the usual rate may be perceived as delivering special dividends.

The Japanese event is rather different. For a start, their “keiro no hi”, or Respect for the Aged Day, is a public holiday which is a positive way to ensure that the occasion can’t be ignored as easily as can be numerous other days or weeks that seek to draw attention to various causes.

Japanese people are encouraged to visit their elderly relatives or to become involved in various welfare activities at this time and although not born of Christian scripture, it gives life to the message: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is past.” (Psalm 71: 9)

More than 21 per cent of Japan’s population is aged over 65 years but the day to honour seniors had its origins in 1947 when the average age was much younger – and the national holiday was first granted in 1966.

In Australia, some of our prominent politicians have been offering support to people remaining at work beyond the once accepted retirement age of 65 – but if the response from those who communicate with media outlets is to be accepted, finding jobs beyond even the age of 50 can be a tough task. And good health is always required if work is to continue.

Community consultation through the Willing to Work Inquiry of the Australian Human Rights Commission is examining the barriers which are faced in either finding or continuing to work despite advancing age or battling a disability.

For those who are eventually unable to take the opportunity to either work or to celebrate the passage of the years, home care is requiring the support of increasing numbers of people.

The role of carer is being embraced by as many as 2.7 million people – reflecting a need which those economic experts who express fears about increases in the average age of the population estimate would cost as much as $40 billion annually if it had to be delivered by paid staff in a professional environment.

Some carers are able to supplement their worthy efforts through part-time work while others say that many employers refuse to make their hours flexible enough for them to balance the demands of their paid and unpaid work.

Rewards also come from those they serve who may offer gratitude in spiritual terms through the increased time they can spend in prayerful contemplation: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).