Parts of this post were originally published on September 17, 2012.
Greetings to you all from the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yes, I am currently back in the US, trying to recover from jet lag in time to celebrate my younger brother’s wedding at the end of the week. This past weekend, I paid a visit to my grandfather, appropriate timing considering that today in Japan is a holiday for him and his fellow seniors.
Respect for the Aged Day (known in Japanese as Keiro no Hi) is not exactly a holiday that most travelers will notice. Like Labor Day or Presidents’ Day in the United States, the only indication of this national holiday may be more crowded roads or trains for the three-day weekend.
But Respect for the Aged Day is important to note, considering the size of Japan’s population currently over the age of 65 is 24.1 percent. This number increases by slightly over a million people annually. There are even 50,000+ centenarians here – being 100 in Japan is not such a big deal as it may be elsewhere!
Perhaps the most visible commemoration of the day are the keirokai ceremonies – these are often performed by local schoolchildren for the community’s senior citizens and feature songs and dances. Seniors might be treated to lunch, or tea and snacks as well. In some communities, volunteers deliver obento boxes (lunch boxes) to senior residents.
None of this is anything you’re likely to notice as a tourist in Japan; even after living here for several years, I still haven’t actually seen a keirokai (though I am convinced the elementary school behind my house in Okinawa ran keirokai and Sports Day practice together, making for one LONG month of loudspeakers blaring). But what you will likely see are the scores of elderly Japanese. Like most developed nations around the world, Japan’s population is aging rapidly. Couple that with a severely declining birthrate and those with gray hair are fast outpacing the youth of Japan. And unlike in some other countries, Japan’s senior citizens tend to live for a long time – women live an average of 85.9 years, while men clock out around 79.4 years.If you happen to be in Japan this weekend, prepare for crowds at certain tourist sights (especially those having ANYTHING to do with fall leaves) and maybe, while you’re at it, offer your hand to an elderly person crossing the street. It’ll make their day even more meaningful.