Respect for the elderly is a Confucian virtue Japan was once famous for. Whose fault is it if the virtue has weakened? Young people’s, because they no longer know what respect is? Or old people’s, because they are no longer respectable?
Largely the latter, maintains Shukan Josei (Dec 10). The elderly, it says, are developing atrocious manners.
They are rude, pushy, selfish and loud-mouthed – “not everyone, of course,” it hastens to add; “maybe even only a few – but the impression those few make really stands out.”
The anecdotes it relates are the kind of thing we’re used to hearing about ill-mannered teenagers. The prime setting is the commuter train, a claustrophobic nightmare at the best of times, more so when ordinary civilized behavior breaks down. You can see it happening on Twitter, where on Nov 18 someone posted a photo of an elderly woman seated on one seat, her purse and shopping bag on the seat beside her, blithely ignoring the standing throng – among which, apparently, was a pregnant woman.
A male commuter finally spoke up: “How about giving her your seat?”
"I’m waiting for a friend,” the woman shot back.
A young student chimed in, “You ought to be ashamed!”
Finally, grudgingly, the woman took her things off the seat.
Another train story Shukan Josei regales us with: It was so tight that it was just about impossible to move. A woman in her 60s suddenly cried out, “Chikan!” (“He’s groping me!”). The target was a man also in his 60s. It could have got ugly. A young woman nearby spoke up: “He didn’t do anything! You’re the one who’s shoving!” The woman turned on her: “What are you poking your nose in for? Shut up!”
Novelist Tomomi Fujiwara in 2007 coined a phrase to describe the proliferating ranks of unmannerly senior citizens -- “Boso rojin” (“out-of-control elderly"), with “boso” suggesting “bosozoku” hot-rod gangs. Fujiwara wonders if this heightened aggression might stem from despair over steadily declining physical strength. That may be, though it fails to explain the unusual proliferation of such behavior now, since strength has always declined with age. Demographics may also have something to do with it – mutual reinforcement as society ages.
Or maybe it’s frustration at being unable to understand how things work in these rapidly changing times of ours. Witnesses describe scenes of elderly people picking quarrels with train station personnel over fares, with video rental shop staff over overdue fees, and so on. A commuter in his 40s discovered the potential for seniors feeling out of it to turn dangerous. An elderly man sitting next to him on a train suddenly addressed him: “I have nothing to do at home. They all think I’m a nuisance, so I went out. My eyes are bad, I can’t even recognize my own brother. It’s a dangerous world. I have a knife on me…”
“You can’t really generalize,” Shukan Josei hears from journalist Ryoko Ozawa, “but I do definitely think there is a tendency nowadays for the elderly to be more selfish than they used to be.”© Japan Today