Older Japanese men might be expected to cling to traditional social roles, but some are branching out in retirement to act as caregivers for the burgeoning ranks of elderly Japanese. Kohei Yoneyama, a former venture capital executive, started the Nagareyama Friendship Network over a decade ago along with five colleagues. Their mission is to enlist men who are finding that life after the office is short on meaningful activity. Care is not just something women should do, says Yoneyama.
As of March 2008, almost 22 per cent of Japan’s population was over age 65, a figure that is expected to double by 2050. Some 13 million Japanese are over 75 and more than 36,000 are centenarians. Meanwhile, a plunging birth rate is eating away at younger labour ranks. Government responded in 1998 with a law to support non-profit activities like the Friendship Network (which already existed) and in 2000 introduced elderly care insurance which allows for the reimbursement of some service programmes. Japan is also opening its doors to foreign nurses.
The Friendship Network has seen its initial ranks swell from 155 members to 2000 — 12 00 who help others and 800 more who participate in the organisation’s other activities. About 30 per cent of members are men. Today the network also runs a home for seniors who can’t live on their own and even provides some daycare to single parents.
Volunteers pick up elderly people to take them to appointments, do gardening and repairs and give other assistance. Members earn points that in many cases can be exchanged with similar networks elsewhere, making it possible for a volunteer to accumulate credits for a family member far away. They also receive some payment.
A man of 76 who trains volunteers sees himself as a role model for his 60ish students: “So they know there is a future ahead.” He also teaches at a vocational college where he gives young people “a very different image” of older people. Yoneyama says he tries “to transform a company man into a community person”. He tells them: “Get rid of job titles. Get rid of your business cards. Don’t long for your old train pass. Let go of the old and become a new person.” ~ Christian Science Monitor, Oct 21