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"OH WATERS, TEEM WITH MEDICINE TO KEEP MY BODY SAFE FROM HARM, SO THAT I MAY LONG SEE THE SUN." - Rig Veda
By the year 2030, Japan will be a “highly-aged” society in which one person in three is 65 or older. In anticipation of this future scenario, the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Tokyo is designing and testing models for communities in which senior citizens can not only enjoy active lives, but work and contribute to the overall health of Japan’s economy as well.
Since establishing the Institute of Gerontology in 2009, the University of Tokyo has taken an active role in addressing the issues associated with an aging society. Under the directorship of Professor Junichiro Okata, also of the Graduate School of Engineering’s Department of Urban Engineering, the Institute provides an interdisciplinary platform for collaborative work by researchers from a spectrum of fields, including medicine, nursing, engineering, psychology, sociology, economics, law, and education.
nder the overarching theme of “redesigning communities so that residents can age in place,” the Institute has initiated a number of research projects on the design of communities conducive to a long-lived society. One such project involves a large-scale social experiment in the Toyoshikidai district of Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture.
First developed as a bedroom community just outside Tokyo in the early 1960s, Toyoshikidai is a typical residential suburb of the metropolis, with a mix of condominiums and single-family houses surrounding the 5,000-unit Toyoshikidai Danchi apartment complex, interspersed by parcels of farmland.
In collaboration with Kashiwa City and the Urban Renaissance Agency, the project has already begun construction in this rapidly aging neighborhood of a senior-friendly community that includes not only shops and medical and nursing facilities, but also workplaces for the elderly (fig 5). The aging apartment complex is in the process of being replaced with 10- to 14-story apartment houses designed to facilitate single living by seniors.
Another priority of this community is providing workplaces for seniors. Over 80 percent of seniors responding to a government questionnaire said that they would like to work after retirement; and in fact, they still have the physical capacity to work. However, the current social infrastructure, which treats the period after retirement as the “sunset years” of one’s life, effectively discourages retirees from working. The National Survey of the Japanese Elderly reveals that the decline in physical independence is particularly pronounced among seniors living alone who have minimal contact with family or neighbors.
Workplaces for the second life must derive, not from corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures, but from successfully functioning businesses. Such work will become available only through the establishment of a framework that makes hiring the elderly a smart business decision for companies. Numerous corporations in the agriculture, food preparation, day care, and livelihood support sectors are already participating in the Toyoshikidai project by setting up new businesses to hire seniors.
The project is noteworthy for the diversity of working environments it offers. The agricultural sector, for example, ranges from full-scale farming of previously fallow land, to relatively light work in a “vegetable factory” using indoor shelf-style hydroponic cultivation, to a roof garden accessible to the wheelchair-bound. Thus seniors can choose work suited to their state of health and their own personal preference.
Park benches make the best Zendo.
Far superior to black cushions and blank walls.
This is what the heart looks like.
There are people passing through,
flocks of pigeons,
nannies with strollers,
old men sharing stories in the autumn air,
kids playing jump rope
and on their way to school,
Oak and Maple leaves raining on everyone.
I don’t know if I want to die of happiness
or just fade away.
I look up.
Everyone is gone.
Time to move on
to the next park.
Find my heart again.