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More people abandoning aging parents due to financial and emotional strain


“Maybe it’s unfeeling of me, but I have my own life to live.”

The sentiment is widespread and, as society ages, spreading wider and wider. How much care and devotion does a grown child owe a needy parent? If we ask what a parent owes a dependent child, the answer must be: whatever the child needs. It’s less clear at the other end of the age spectrum. Nature didn’t program us for lifelong care of increasingly infirm parents.

Spa! (March 23-30) finds more and more adult children giving up in despair, sometimes simply vanishing, leaving a helpless parent to fend for him- or herself. It introduces a woman languishing alone in a nursing facility in Tohoku. The facility is relatively inexpensive but badly understaffed. “When is my son coming?” the woman mutters to herself. No one’s with her, no one’s listening. Her son, in his 40s, lives in Tokyo. She last saw him five years ago.

At first he visited every three months; then six, then once a year. When he’ll come next, no one knows.

Spa! polled 300 men aged 30-59, asking about their relationships with their parents. Only 74 said they were caring fully for them, while 19 admitted doing nothing at all. In between, 143 said they pay the bills but do nothing else. All in all, it’s a harsh world to grow old in.

It’s not easy on the children either. “Yoshiyuki Kinoshita” (a pseudonym) gave up on his father in favor of his “own life” – but it was hard. He suffers remorse. Did he do the right thing? Is there a “right thing” to do?

He was in elementary school when his parents divorced. His father moved out and the boy saw little of him – but what little he saw he liked. Clearly the man was trying to be a good father. He was in the real estate business, doing well. He took his son out, gave him spending money. Yoshiyuki was drawn to him. At the same time he was close to his mother. He knew how hard it was for her, raising a child on her own. He tried to make it easy. He was a good boy, studied hard, took out a student loan and went to university, graduated and got a job in a local bank.

That was in 2008, the year of the Lehman Shock. The economy buckled. Yoshiyuki himself kept his job, but his father’s business was ruined. The elder Kinoshita went to pieces and took to drinking. His son watched him degenerate into a cringing, wheedling alcoholic.

He’d call to beg for money. “I don’t have enough to pay my cell phone bill. Lend me 10,000 yen… lend me 20,000 yen…” And so on. “It just kept escalating,” Yoshiyuki tells Spa!

Yoshiyuki himself was earning barely more than 200,000 a month. He had his student loan to repay. He went deeper into debt to help his father. Before he knew it he found himself 5 million yen in the red. Meanwhile, he was planning to get married. “I couldn’t,” he says, “be his ATM forever.”

He gave his father an ultimatum: “I’ll give you the money I have on hand and then all is over between us; I will no longer acknowledge you as a father. Or – you turn your life around, and I’ll be your son. Choose!”

Sobbing, the father chose the money. Yoshiyuki transferred 150,000 yen into his father’s account and, as it were, closed the book. He walked out of his father’s life, and cut his father out of his. The end.

That was three years ago. Yoshiyuki married. His mother remarried. Yoshiyuki is 34, his father 64. What his father is doing he doesn’t know, but “I picture him dying alone of the coronavirus or something. Well, if there’s no one to tend his grave, so be it.”

“Unfeeling”? What would you do, readers, in his place?

© Japan Today

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"Paying bills and lending money". Financial problems seem to be a large factor in parental neglect. It always surprises me how badly prepared many people are for their retirement and old age both in Japan and abroad. Getting old is something very predictable, waiting until you are 60 to start thinking about how you are going to live is too late. The government and schools should really step up its education on financial matters.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

From a young age my parents cautioned me to plan for my retirement, and I watched them plan for theirs. Monetarily, we are not a burden to anyone. We still help our children and grandchildren and great grandchild, and are grateful to be able to do so. What worries us is losing our mental faculties, the way my mother-in-law lost hers. If I lose my mind, would life be worth living any longer?

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I think they took in their generation almost all resources in their younger years and blocked by all means our growth, budgets and careers, so we just can’t help adequately now, even if we wanted. Most of them know that, had themselves a good time and don’t really expect so much care from our generation. They know that they haven’t left us anything enabling us to do so.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I read some books about Inuit culture, and they sometimes used to leave the old and the orphaned outside, to die in the cold.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

That was three years ago. Yoshiyuki married. His mother remarried. Yoshiyuki is 34, his father 64

So the father was in his early 60s begging his son for money. Disgraceful.

I am in that age group(the father's) and there is not a snowballs chance that I would ever mooch off my children.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

In fairness, there are also pensioners who are still supporting now-adult children, so this cuts both ways.

With pension ages going up, more gig economy, and final salary pensions a thing of the past, I think we'll see more and more destitute old people. If pension schemes, the stock market, real estate values etc. blow up, even those with investments may get dragged down. Many asset classes look overvalued to me.

Anyone college grad 53 or younger in Japan will have missed the Bubble and worked only during the "lost decades". Another 10 years and the group will include retirees.

8 ( +8 / -0 )


Over here in the States we have a program created by the Democrats called Social Security, which keeps more people out of poverty than any other governmental program. It is fully self funded. Does Japan have such a program? I have read that other countries have similar programs, and some are more effective than the one over here.

As for alcoholism and drug addiction, they are a scourge, to be sure. I know that my Dad came out of World War II with a drinking problem. He largely learned to control it, but it stayed with him til the day he died. I think that many of us who have managed to stay sober would also have drinking problems if we had to go through something as traumatic as a war. I was told by a man who was an aircraft crew chief on aircraft carriers (he was on two carriers that were sunk, the Yorktown and the Hornet), that he was pretty much in a constant state of mild inebriation, and that he was not alone. He said that having a buzz on was how they coped with the constant threat of injury and dying.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's your parents. No matter if your relationship with your parents is good or bad, they are your parents. Never do to anyone else anything that you would not want someone to do to you

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The lack of empathy, love and just plain old humanity is discussing[sic] in Japan.

What an utterly ridiculous statement.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Bonding with your child starts day one, and it should end with the child and parent bond the day they die.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Parents have chosen to have children and they are responsible for them till they are adults. Then they can relinquish responsibility.

Children did not choose to be born and bear no responsibility to parents.

Love is a total different matter and does not or should not change over years.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Monkey- I agree. As if this article accurately describes all 130 million Japanese. I think the vast majority of kids will look after their parents in some way. Maybe not waiting on them hand and foot, but at least making sure they are safe. But how closely a kid is involved in their parents life depends on a number of factors- relationship dynamics, resources, time, etc.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is a difficult situation for sure when a parent is an alcoholic. My own father was a terrible alcoholic and i tried and tried and it was heartbreaking to see him degenerate. But I always did my best to make sure he was comfortable and cleaned up after him. I am married to a Japanese female for 22 years. We live in London, but usually go back to Tokyo at least once, usually twice a year for a vacation to see the parents, and then they come to the UK once a year - So in pre-covid times we see each other every 4 or 5 months. Last time we visited was just a week before lockdown in the UK, so the timing was fortuitous.

We are in our early / mid 40s. Our parents are in their mid-70s. It becomes harder for them to travel. But I always want to care for my Japanese parent in-laws. Perhaps we have the benefit of a middle-class lifestyle (but by no means rich) and can travel to see them regularly enough, and make sure bills are paid. But it is important to me that they are cared for and looked after.

Nobody knows the future. We have a brother in Tokyo who is diligent and takes care of them, but we can see a situation in the not too distant future whereby my wife might need to return to Japan alone to live with one of the remaining parents to care for them for however long is necessary if one of them goes before the other.

There are many variables, but it is important to me / us that they are well taken care of in their old age. Life is hard and they deserve to be loved and looked after.

So it goes. Well, hopefully not for some time yet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

First off, I thought Japan was supposed to be a generous welfare state. What happened to that? Furthermore is it even possible to give every irresponsible drunk everything they need to live comfortably when they choose to keep lifting that beer can to their lips morning, noon, and night day after day?

I don’t think it is incumbent upon children like Yoshiyuki to bail out his drunk father who is milking him dry and destroying his chances for a happy life. Your parents brought you into the world due to their own choice. They assumed the burden of raising you. Of course it’s nice if the kids can help bail you out. But if a parent has mistreated their child they can hardly expect anything in return.

None of us know if we will be able to live out our years without suffering in poverty. Even the best laid plans can be upended by a corrupt government’s mismanagement of the economy or a tragic accident. Personal foibles can be overcome if their is a will to do so. A stock market collapse due to excessive government debt can destroy 401K’s or other retirement investments and ruin lives. In life there is no sure thing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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