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Japan's Older Persons Day Predates the UN Counterpart

October 1 is International Day of Older Persons established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1990. Groups and communities around the world observe the occasion with a variety of activities, including conferences, declarations, and celebrations.

In Japan, however, the focus tends to be on this country’s own Senior Citizens Day, which has a longer tradition than the October 1 International Day of Older Persons.

For some time September 15 has been designated Senior Citizens Day in Japan. In addition, September 15 through September 21 is Senior Citizens Week, and the third Monday of September is Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday. Because of the proximity of these holidays to October 1, the Japanese rarely hold separate events to mark International Day of Older Persons.

Japan’s Senior Citizens Day was launched in 1947 by a single village with the aim of fostering respect for the elderly and promoting their welfare. By 1950 the holiday had spread throughout the prefecture in which the village is located. It continued to spread nationwide until finally, in 1966, it was designated a national holiday. One might think of it as a kind of Mother’s Day for the elderly.

Two laws form the legal basis for this Japanese holiday.

■Elderly Welfare Law
(Senior Citizens Day and Senior Citizens Week)

Article 5

  1. Senior Citizens Day and Senior Citizens Week shall be established in order to deepen interest in and understanding of elderly welfare issues among the populace at large and help motivate the elderly to improve their own lives.
  2. Senior Citizens Day shall be on September 15, and Senior Citizens Week shall begin September 15 and continue through September 21.
  3. On Senior Citizens Day the State shall endeavor to carry out programs in keeping with the day’s purpose. The State and local governments shall encourage senior citizens’ organizations and other parties to hold functions during Senior Citizens Week in keeping with the week’s purpose.

■Law Concerning National Holidays
Respect for the Aged Day: Third Monday of September. To show respect and love for the elderly, who have contributed to society over many years, and celebrate their longevity.

Each year around Senior Citizens Day and Senior Citizens Week, government agencies like the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare launch national campaigns all over Japan.

The emperor, other members of the imperial family, and the prime minister often choose this time of year to visit nursing facilities for the elderly. In addition, each year the government sends congratulatory letters to all who have turned 100 during the year and gives awards to elders who exemplify the ideal of staying active and independent.

Number of Centenarians in Japan
Number of Centenarians in Japan

Prefectural governments around the country also sponsor countless activities and programs of every type to celebrate the longevity of the elderly, motivate them to live healthy and fulfilling lives, and promote interest in and understanding of senior welfare issues in the community at large.

For example, some prefectures have designated September “Fight Alzheimer’s and Prevent Elder Abuse Month.” Some sponsor such events as senior sports festivals and talent shows, as well as interage programs to bring children and elders together.

At the community level as well, local elder associations proactively sponsor and participate in various events and programs. Parties are also held at all kinds of facilities for the elderly.

Also around this time, department stores and supermarkets are likely to advertise special sales of goods tailored to the elderly, and in private households one often sees family gatherings centered on the grandparents. The media also respond by highlighting news and other stories on important issues concerning the elderly.

A 2007 survey by Rakuten Research yielded the following results in response to the question “On Respect for the Aged Day, do you give presents or hold an event of some sort for an elderly person or persons”? (sample: 1,000 men and women aged 20 through 50, with children)

-Yes, every year: 26.1%
-Sometimes: 21.5%
-Used to, but not in recent years: 21.5%
-No, never: 30.9%

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