Presentation by H.E. Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura,

Ambassador and Deputy Representative of Japan to the United Nations

At a side event to the High Level Political Forum

“Mainstreaming Gender and Aging in the SDGs”

1:15 to 2:30 pm, UN Conference Room 8

13 July 2016



          According to the WHO, the proportion of a society’s population that is comprised of persons age 65 or older is called the “aging rate”. If a society’s aging rate exceeds 7%, it is an “aging society”. If the rate surpasses 14%, it is an “aged society”; if over 21%, it is a “super-aged society”. Japan now has an aging rate of 26%, and is categorized as a super-aged society. This is both the highest in the world and unprecedented in absolute terms. 


          The aging of society is by no means limited to Japan and other developed countries. Even in developing countries, we see a trend toward rapid aging as life spans increase due in large part to improvements in medical care. In Asia for example, the aging rate of Indonesia is 5%, in Vietnam 6% and in Thailand 10%. Furthermore, the growth of the aging rate in these countries is faster than even Japan. Compared to the 24 years it took Japan to double its aging rate from 7% to 14%, in Thailand it is estimated that such a doubling will occur in 23 years, in Indonesia it will occur in 17 years and in Vietnam it will take only 15 years. Such rapid demographic changes leave countries little time to prepare and insufficient economic resources to tackle the challenges associated with an aging population.


          Japan, with its long history as the world’s most aged society, has rich experience adapting policies and legislation to meet such challenges. We have learned that it is essential to undertake necessary measures for an aging society at the earliest possible stage. Such measures require an overarching restructuring of social infrastructure to respond to the health, welfare and social security needs of older persons.


          We believe that Japan’s experiences can serve as a model and precedent for how other countries might adopt the necessary policies for their aging societies. As such, we are eager to share our expertise and experiences through international cooperation mainly in the Asian region. Today let me introduce Japan’s current national policy for an aged society, as well as a concrete example of our international cooperation in this area.   


          To begin, our Government has identified the primary challenges that need to be resolved in our aged society. These challenges include, 1) the current social security system, which unsustainably places the burden of supporting today’s older persons on future generations, 2) income disparities among older persons, 3) lack of job opportunities for retired older persons, 4) social isolation and the solitary deaths of older persons under the collapse of local communities, 5) the increased family burden for caregiving, and many others.


          Additionally, older people are increasingly taking care of older people, which itself becomes a social problem. In Japan, family members have traditionally been the primary caregivers for older persons. Today, almost 70% of adult family caregivers in Japan are 60 years of age or more. It is also notable that many employment losses result from the need to engage in heavy nursing care at home.


          Furthermore, it is necessary to take into account the fact that far more than half of Japan’s older population is female. The average life expectancy in Japan is currently 81 for men and 87 for women. By 2060, it is expected to reach over 90 for women. Consequently, older women tend to bear the burden of taking care of their elderly family members. Measures to support specialized medical care for older women are greatly needed. It is also essential to implement social measures toward gender equality so as to make the best use of the experiences and abilities of women for economic and social vitalization.


          Upon identifying these challenges, the Government of Japan revised our “General Principles concerning Measures for the Aged Society” in 2012. The General Principles consist of six positions as follows:


          At the International level, Japan is actively implementing international cooperation toward “Active Aging”*, especially amongst the ASEAN countries. According to the Report on Active Aging of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, there are three major challenges to be tackled by future international cooperation as follows:

(*Ref: According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition, “Active aging is the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance equality of life as people age”) 


          In order to respond to these challenges, Japan and the ASEAN countries periodically hold high-level official meetings to share and discuss the current situation of each country’s social security system through policy dialogues. These dialogues then lead to the formulation of the network of multilateral cooperation. In addition, bilateral cooperation between Japan and individual ASEAN countries is implemented simultaneously.   


          As one example of our bilateral cooperation, I will introduce JICA’s Cooperation Project on Care for the older people in Thailand. In Japan, 15 years ago, our Long-Term Care Insurance System was established to support the financial and physical burdens on individuals, to provide care to older people


          Based on these systems, as well as Japan’s experiences and challenges, JICA is carrying out a project that aims to develop a financially sustainable long-term care service system for the older people in Thailand. This project will enable appropriate community-based support to families who provide nursing care to their older members. Model service programs to introduce professional home-based care services will be developed in six pilot sites, and human resource guidelines for capacity building will be also prepared.


          Additionally, the project will include the sharing and transferring of Japan’s care techniques via training in Japan. As a result of this pilot project, policy recommendations on sustainable long-term care will be provided to the government of Thailand. I would like to emphasize that this project is characterized by mutual learning between Japan and Thailand through caregiving model formulation.         


          Today I have introduced Japan’s measures for an aged society as well as an example of our cooperation with ASEAN Countries.


          It is notable that Japan’s measures are not just prepared to respond to the needs of older people in vulnerable situations but also to the needs of care givers, mainly family members mostly over 60 years old. These people are sacrificing their own lives to devote themselves to the care of older people. It is essential to take measures for both sides to keep the current care system sustainable.  


          I remember my experience in Africa where I was posted as Ambassador of Japan a few years ago. I found a lesson to be learned from the typical local African community. They enjoy a traditional system of mutual support to take care of vulnerable individuals including older persons. In urbanizing societies, the trend toward the nuclear family is unavoidable. But it is nevertheless important to make use of the good elements of community-based mutual support systems such as those we see in local African communities. This is what we are aiming to realize by establishing the “Community-based Integrated Care System” nationwide in Japan.  


          To conclude my presentation, I would like to stress the importance of the steady accumulation and sharing of practical knowledge and the earliest possible adoption of measures to adapt to an aging society. This is the key for the effective implementation of measures for an aging society, including to the protection and promotion of the rights of older people.


I thank you very much.



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