Aging and Social Change’s Updates

In rapidly aging Japan, dying is big business

The Washington Post | Article Link | by Anna Fifield 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

TOKYO — In Japan, death is an opportunity for growth. Business growth, that is.

In a country with many more deaths than births each year, Japanese companies are looking to maximize the amount of money people spend on shuffling off their mortal coil, from preparing “ending notes” and choosing coffins to arranging to have their ashes blasted into space or turned into diamonds.

“I want to promote our products because we have almost 1.2 million people dying each year but we sell only 60,000 of these mats,” said Koichi Fujita, a representative of a company selling tatami liners and pillows for coffins. He was using slightly outdated death figures: Japan said goodbye to 1.3 million citizens last year but hello to only 1 million new babies.

Fujita’s was one of the scores of companies touting their wares at Endex, an expo devoted to planning for the end of one’s life, held at a huge exhibition center in Tokyo.

“Japanese people spend their lives on tatami mats,” Fujita said, referring to the straw flooring in traditional Japanese rooms. “And there’s a saying that they want to die on a tatami mat, meaning die at home. But so many people die in the hospital, so at least they can have a tatami mat in their coffin when they are sent off.”

Japan has the fastest-aging population in the world. Slightly more than one-quarter of the population is 65 or older, and the Health Ministry forecasts that the proportion will hit 40 percent by 2060.

Many aspects of Japanese life are now geared toward senior citizens. Go into any drugstore and you will find shelves of diapers and sippy cups — for the elderly. Banks and post offices have reading glasses on the counters for customers with failing eyesight, while big pedestrian crossings have buttons to push for those who need extra time to get across the road.

Panasonic has a line of easier-to-use household appliances — including washing machines, microwaves and rice cookers — targeted at the elderly, while convenience stores sell packaged food in smaller portions for seniors.