If you ever need proof that Japan’s population is aging fast – curently 21% are over the age of 65 – just head down to the Sugamo area of Tokyo on a Sunday morning. The streets are thronging with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s shopping at the stores and stalls that are all, without exception, designed to cater to the needs of their generation.
If you’re in need of a shopping trolley, support stockings, a flat cap, sensible shoes, a flowered apron or what I think used to be called a housecoat, this is the shopping street for you. The music shops stock cassettes of crooners from yesteryear, the food shops are piled high with the dried fish, fresh seaweed and rice crackers beloved of older Japanese people, and the clothes shops boast rack after rack of styles to suit the older figure, in more shades of beige than I knew existed. It’s not often that I come back empty-handed from a shopping trip, but this time I managed it – there’s hope for me yet.
No sign here of people exercising restraint in their personal consumption following the earthquake. The only visible reminders of that sad event are the unmoving escalators in the subway station – turned off to save electricity. I did think this might be one station that might keep them running, out of consideration for their elderly clientele, but no. And in fact these astonishingly nimble, spry pensioners didn’t seem the slightest bit fazed as they trudged up the 80+ stairs to ground level. These are the active elderly and their fitness levels are humbling.