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Japan: retail therapy - the senior version

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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.
Not sure how many British firms produce dried fish or housecoats these days, but these older shopaholics symbolise some of the opportunities that exist for foreign companies looking at the Japanese market. Healthcare, medical and lifestyle aids are the obvious ones, but this is also a wealthy generation that is happy to spend money on grandchildren, pets and leisure. Pension fund and asset management are other areas where opportunities exist.
And it's a segment that's set to grow - up to  38% of the population by 2045. The large number of elderly people to have been made homeless by the earthquake is a stark reminder of how rural areas, in particular, are aging fast, and with the destruction of hospitals, and daycare facilities  there will be a great need for nursing homes and welfare services to meet the needs of this older generation.
 It feels a little callous to talk about trying to generate business out of tragedy or indeed out of a demographic timebomb. But there are real needs here that British companies can help to meet. And UKTI can help - do get in touch with us  if your company has something to offer the good citizens of Sugamo!

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  1. Comment by Jeremy Hill posted on

      How positive this all seems, and a wonderful pen picture of the reality of present day life in Japan. An interesting insight into opportunities coming out of the aging population situation, and refreshing to realise that it's not all Zimmer frames! However, as far as the music is concerned, with both the surviving Beatles also now over 65, are they now considered to be the "crooners of yesteryear"?