The Japanese Art of Getting Older

Whenever anyone tells me that they want to be a sexy grandma or a ‘stud’ at 70 still playing the field, a part of me cringes.

Why bother hanging onto the inexperience of youth when you can embrace the wisdom that comes with those greys that we all seem to be so terrified of.

In Japan, today is Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日 Keirō no Hi), a Japanese public holiday celebrated annually to honour the elderly which this country (and a lot of other developed countries) seem to have an abundance of. 

Whenever we speak about the elderly, we eventually end up talking about the three biggies – pension, healthcare and how-are-we-going-to-pay-for-it-all. This discussion causes a lot of fear and anxiety amongst people – regardless of how old you are. 

While most of my peers are freaking out about the big 30, which is slowly catching up with us whether we like it or not, I’m actually really excited about it. 

Conventional wisdom dictates that as a woman, I should fear menopause and getting old and wrinkly. I should also spend my waking hours worried about the day that my husband won’t find me attractive anymore. 

Seriously, people.

I really do have better things to do with my life. 

In Hinduism, we believe that there are four major life stages: 

  1. Brahmacharya (student): the main focus of this stage is physical development and education. 
  2. Grihastha (householder): during this time, one leads and maintains a household as well as makes an economic and social contribution to society. 
  3. Vanaprastha (retired): where a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation and takes on an advisory role. 
  4. Sannyasa (renunciation): where one renounces the material world and focuses on the spiritual aspects of life. 

Long story short: we Hindus believe that life is cyclical in nature and trying to hold onto anything beyond its time is a bad bad idea. 

I’m in the second stage of my life… and fortunately for me, I have lots of friends in Japan who are in the third stage of their lives and who’ve always been there to guide me through this crazy journey in the land of the rising sun. 


I’m far far away from my country, my parents and just about everything I find familiar. Having all of these elders around me has always made me feel safe, secure and…looked after. 

I have a lot of respect and reverence for longstanding traditions and even more respect for the kind of wisdom and maturity that can only come with experience. 

Today, I met up with Junko San. I won’t reveal her age since she’s a lady, but she’s one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met in my life. Feisty, spirited, adventurous and bold – she’s someone I connected with instantly despite the language barrier and age gap. 


I’ve only known her for eight months, but in that time she’s taught me so much about traditional Japanese culture and given me more than she can ever know. She’s also way fitter than most people my age and climbs many of Japan’s famous mountains when she’s not teaching foreigners how to put on a kimono.

Retirement in Japan is not about staying at home and shrivelling up – it’s about staying genki, pursuing your interests and passing down the knowledge you’ve acquired to the next generation. Many elderly in Japan are also entrusted with the care of their grandchildren. 

After all, it does take a village to raise a child. 

As a teacher, I am an elder to many others myself. Despite all that I do know, I do not know what is best. And I definitely don’t know it all. The same way I teach my kids, I also have to learn from them. 

It is when we are forced to be responsible for others that the signs of how we’ve lived our lives really begins to show. 

Did we eat well? Did we get enough sleep? Did we drink and smoke too much? Did we exercise enough? What were we like when we were young? Did we make a couple of mistakes that we recovered from or did we mess up big time? 

Are we able to set an example for our kids, or are we going to tell them to ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and expect them to miraculously know how to do something that we never modelled?

How were our own parents? Are we bitter or have we finally accepted that regardless of what happened, they did the best job that they knew how to do?

How are we going to be as parents? Will our kids come around to visit us or will they avoid us like the plague?

Will we be around while our kids are growing up, or will there always be something more important than those little humans that we brought into this world?

Whatever the case may be – when I get old, I won’t be a sexy grandma. And I definitely won’t be married to some guy who thinks he’s some kind of ‘stud’ at 70. 

What I will do – is live a full life and…age gracefully.

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