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A growing number living alone in their 90s: How do they spend their time and money?

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What’s life like, at 96 and alone? asks Shukan Gendai (Nov 13-20). Good, answers Masaji Fujioka.

Media reports of extreme old age tend toward bleakness, possibly distorting the overall picture.

Fujioka grew up near Hiroshima. During the war he served in the navy. The war over, he moved to Kobe and joined a company as a rank-and-file employee. He retired and returned to Hiroshima. His wife, with whom he was close, died 16 years ago. He has been alone since.

His days unfold something like this: First thing in the morning he works in his garden, growing the vegetables that are the core of his diet. Afternoons he relaxes in front of the TV. Twice a week he plays shogi at the local community center. Conversation there is inconsequential but enjoyable. “Everyone’s younger than me,” he smiles. At his age that’s to be expected.

He has another hobby – he writes waka (traditional 31-syllable poems) and senryu (comic haiku) for the local newspaper. “It keeps my mind alert,” he says, “and it feels so good to see my poems in print.”

His meals, like his life, are simple – eggs, natto and vegetables. “At this age you don’t have much of an appetite,” he explains. “I spend almost nothing on food.”

Or on anything else, it seems. His pension is small, but so are his needs and wants. He’s mildly diabetic but otherwise fit. He needs no care and little medical attention. Once a month he goes to a clinic for a blood test and his diabetes medication. Insurance covers most of that. Otherwise, apart from utilities, “I don’t spend money, so I’m quite comfortable,” he says.

His is a serene and quiet contentment, rare in this agitated and troubled world. Of course, Shukan Gendai points out, not everyone is so fortunate – the financial, psychological and medical problems of aging are very real – but more people would be, the magazine implies, if they would adopt something of Fujioka’s attitude towards life.

Fujioka mentions no anxieties of any kind. Does he ever get lonely? Does he fear death, or waning faculties and the need for care? We don’t know. Mumeko Shima, 94 and also living alone, is similarly independent and, it seems, not much less content, but shares with Shukan Gendai one fear – of a fall while bathing. A retired hairdresser living in Osaka, she applied for and received a municipal subsidy for installation of a railing around her bathtub.

She’s been on her own since her husband died six years ago. She has a weak heart – not painful or disabling, but it needs watching, and a nurse comes to check up on her once a week. Other than that, she cleans the house, does the laundry, cooks and tends her garden, all without help. On weekends she gives herself a break from the kitchen. Her municipality operates a subsidized food delivery service – “tasty and well-balanced meals,” 300 yen each. Like Fujiioka, Shima suffers no financial stress – not because she’s rich but because wants at her age are few. Small things bring pleasure, as they must if one is to be happy. She mentions one: her weekly chat with the driver who brings her meals.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

6 Comments
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As the article states, falling down is a big concern of the aged. That is how my Grandfather got hurt. He fell down shortly after my Aunt went on her daily visit, and couldn't get up. In those days, there were no cell phones.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Routine -eg. Weekly chat with driver.

Hmm - looking forward to needing fewer responsibilities and things and all the crap necessary for maintaining them. Just now envying Shima-san and Fujioka-san

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've also thought that falls, especially in bathrooms, was a major concern. Back home, my uncle and aunt live in a complex especially for the elderly and their bathroom has a special shower where there is nothing to trip over - barrier-free, so to speak. And it's important to have a spacious bathroom so it's not so easy to hit your head on the washbasin or something else if you fall. Fat chance with the size of typical bathrooms in Japan.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Our previous homeowner was in her 90s slipped in the bath hit her head and died. I slip and slide in the bathroom now thinking I need rubber mats and bath rails.

90+ need at least a daily carer visit.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Very true, stability becomes an issue as you age. My mother loved a bath but as she got in to her 80’s and she became less certain on her feet we installed a walk in shower in place of the bath which enabled her to continue living safely at home until the day she died.

What makes you happy and content is different for each person. The life described in the article may be perfect for some while others would find it frustrating, boring and drive them crazy. There is no one size fits all. Many older people still want the stimulation of interaction with other people on a daily basis to keep them and their minds alive, others relish the peace and quiet.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Goes onto show you when you get old, you don't chase the material things in life, these things become meaningless. What is important is the need of health care and socialization with others, which most find hard to get, because of their mobility. Just goes on to show you that NOTHING IS FOREVER!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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