Sometimes we hear a story repeated so many times that we never doubt that it is true and it becomes a “well-known fact.” However, we also know that there are many myths that become truths and most of us never stop to wonder if perhaps they were once true but that they no longer apply.
One such “myth” is that Asian countries take better care of their elderly than we do. I am sure I am not the only one who has heard that Japanese families embrace their elder members, bringing them into their homes and caring for them as they age. Sounds nice, but is it really true?
According to a recent article in Reuters, aging Japanese citizens are a new social problem. Almost 5 million older people live along in Japan and with the growing number of aging people, more and more live alone and unfortunately are dying alone. Often their bodies go undiscovered for days.
Local authorities in Japan are getting together with agencies such as the post office to check in on seniors, adding to their social contact and possibly enhancing their lives. In the Shinagawa ward of Tokyo, at least 25 elderly people died alone last year. Now postmen will make sure nothing is amiss when they visit the homes of the elderly. They can contact a welfare officer if they think something is wrong.
Social welfare and public health officials say that a deep social Japanese reluctance to interfere in the lives of others means that some people go for days without talking to anyone. Also, there is a gradual shifting away from ‘traditional’ ideas about community bonds resulting in increasing isolation instead.
A Japanese realtor hopes to help some elderly people by promoting the idea of house sharing between single mothers and seniors. They see this as a win-win for seniors who might have extra room in their homes and mothers looking for affordable housing. The CEO of the realty firm, Hiroshi Kuwayama, said that he realizes that “younger single mothers are more flexible but it takes time for the elderly to accept the concept of house sharing.” Still, he hopes it will work.
Another Japanese firm, this one delivering daily meals to seniors, has trained delivery personnel in basic first aid skills and tells them to check to see if the customers are okay. While they are not doctors, they are often the first to find a body or a customer who is ill.
A social commentator, Tomoko Inukai, said that a “flaw in Japanese society is that we don’t look each other in the eye when we see people in the streets. We need to rethink the Japanese fear of interacting with others.”
Are Americans so different? I don’t think so. Let’s each decide to look out for elderly neighbors and friends this holiday season. That‘s the true spirit of holidays.