According to the 2013 edition of World Population Ageing, a UN report, Japan was most aged society in the world with 32% of its population being 60 years or over. Italy and Germany came second and third, both with nearly 27% of their populations in the same age bracket.
In Japan, however, usually only those who are 65 years or over are considered as “old”. They are then broken down into two groups: (1) between 65 and 74 years old, who are simply labeled as “old”; and (2) 75 years or over, who are referred to as “old people in the advanced age bracket.” The latest White Paper on ageing of population (2012 data), released in 2013 by the Cabinet Office, the Government of Japan, shows the former group comprising 12.2% of the total population and the latter, 11.9%. This means that 24.1% of the Japanese population is made up of those who are 65 or over. As Japan’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, the ageing of the society may no longer be reversed, unless drastic measures are taken.
In relation to the ageing of population, I came across a sad article on female prisoners in Japan (“Hikari-o sagashite (In search of light)” by Miki Morimoto in Asahi Digital, May 23, 2014). Back in 1993, apparently only 26 women of 65 years or older were serving their sentences. By 2012, this figure increased by 11 times to 285. On the other hand, men prisoners in the same age bracket increased five-fold, from 368 to 1,907 in the same period. So the rate of increase was higher among women than men. Eighty percent of “old” women incarcerated are said to be serving for minor offenses, such as shoplifting and theft, while about half of them are recidivists.
Ageing among prisoners is simply a reflection of the society as a whole. Therefore, many inmates are reported to visit prison clinic frequently for their medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cataract, knee and leg pains, lumbago, as well as dementia. The scene of prisoners walking slowly from the dining hall to their cells with canes and walkers is said to increasingly appear like that in any home for old people.
The author of the article had interviewed some women prisoners, and I was saddened to read certain situations mentioned as possible reasons behind their committing crimes as well as repeating them. They included stress from not having been well accepted by parents-in-law in the past, the psychological wound from which still remained unresolved for some women to date; increased daily stress from having to deal with the husband alone after children had left home; loneliness from grown-up children drifting away from home; the feeling of not having their own place at home in the backdrop of husband’s violent behavior; and financial difficulties and uncertainties for the future (for both married women as well as those living alone). In effect, many of them seem to commit crime out of the feeling of insecurity and for not having their own place of comfort at home. They become recidivists in search of comradeship among fellow inmates. How sad it is, though, for anyone to feel that peace and comfort can be obtained in prison in the twilight of life.
In order to help such women to feel secure after their release so that they would not return there, some correctional institutions now provide counselling service for them. Many such women are said to have had poor communication skills, which had led them to isolation in community, which, in turn, resulted in their committing crime. So they are helped to build up communication skills through group therapy, where they discuss in detail and openly the problems they had had and the actual crimes they committed. The counselling service also provides information as to how and where they can seek financial help to prevent them from going back to shoplifting again after their release.
In the past when most people lived in an extended-family set-up, ageing mothers used to be looked after by their grown-up sons. This is no longer so, especially in large cities, throughout Japan. Therefore, women must also learn to grow out of being emotionally dependent on their children. They must nurture to have independent minds with clear wishes and dreams in life of their own, however small they might be. When they find their own purpose or meaning of life, they will be more forward-looking in life. So, I believe that arming them with better communication skills will go a long way for themselves as well as for the society as a whole.