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Japan’s looming problem of 'double care'

Many working-age Japanese will have to juggle their careers with care-giving responsibilities for their children, parents
The cover illustration on novelist Sara Kokaji's book titled, 'Whether My Life Runs Out or My Money, That's the Question,' which chronicles her personal journey through the elder care experience.

The cover illustration on novelist Sara Kokaji's book titled, 'Whether My Life Runs Out or My Money, That's the Question,' which chronicles her personal journey through the elder care experience. (Photo: cdjapan.co.jp)

Published: March 12, 2024 03:35 AM GMT
Updated: March 12, 2024 09:30 AM GMT

Japan is facing a demographic dilemma that is set to redefine the fabric of its society by 2040. The projection that 350,000 elderly individuals will require family care, as there will not be enough elderly homes for all, introduces a phenomenon referred to as "Double Care Mondai" (problem of double care).

This term encapsulates the burden on individuals in their 30s and 40s, who will find themselves with no alternative but to personally attend to the needs of their aging parents. This situation is furthermore aggravated if we consider that Japan currently has 7 million elderly citizens in need of constant care, a figure that has tripled over the past two decades.

The root of this looming crisis lies in Japan's rapidly aging population, combined with a declining birth rate, which together forecast a future where a sizable portion of the populace will be elderly.

This demographic shift poses substantial social, economic, and health-care challenges.

The problem of double care evokes the stark reality for many working-age Japanese who will have to juggle their careers with care-giving responsibilities, for their children and parents.

This dual burden could have profound implications for their quality of life, mental health, and financial stability.

This scenario is precisely what Sara Kokaji, a distinguished novelist and freelance writer, is experiencing. She has recently emerged as a generational voice of the “malady” chronicling her personal journey through the elder-care experience.

Her recent book, "Whether My Life Runs Out or My Money, That's the Question," serves as clear proof of the day-to-day battles faced by many in her situation.

Caring for her parents, along with an aunt and uncle, all of whom average 90 years of age, Kokaji finds herself dealing with the complexities of love, duty, and the financial strain that accompanies the role of a caregiver.

Kokaji's book has rapidly gained popularity, striking a chord with many. Through her candid narrative, she expresses a sentiment that resonates deeply within the heart of this societal issue — the conflicting emotions of hope and despair, loyalty and exhaustion.

She confesses an intimate thought that she feared might draw criticism for its honesty: a longing for the passage of time. This admission highlights the psychological toll of care-giving, a role fraught with challenges that are rarely spoken of openly.

"Every day, I hope time passes away quickly," she reveals in one interview.

This statement encapsulates the emotional weight borne by those who find themselves caring for elderly relatives. It is a reflection not of a wish for life to end, but rather a desire for relief from the relentless demands of care-giving — a role that can feel as though it is consuming one's own life, bit by bit.

Her book is more than just a personal account, it is a mirror reflecting the broader societal challenge posed by Japan's demographic shift.

With an aging population and a shrinking workforce, the responsibilities of care fall increasingly on the shoulders of the younger generation, many of whom are unprepared for the financial and emotional burden.

The current state of Japan, with 7 million elderly requiring constant care, offers a glimpse into the scale of the challenge.

The pressure on the health care system is immense, with a need for a substantial increase in resources, ranging from medical professionals to caregivers and facilities tailored to the elderly.

However, the situation also demands a cultural shift in a society that traditionally values filial piety and self-reliance. The expectation that children, particularly those in their prime working years, will take on the care of their parents can lead to significant stress and strain, not only on the caregivers but also on their families, especially their own offspring.

Japan's government and society are at a crossroads. There is a pressing need for policy reforms. A strategic approach would be to address the elder-care crisis by ensuring that affluent seniors, capable of financing their own care, are encouraged to do so rather than defaulting to public insurance schemes.

This demographic, surprisingly numerous, holds the potential to significantly alleviate the strain on public resources. By redirecting these funds, the government could concentrate its efforts and financial support on the economically disadvantaged elderly, who rely heavily on public assistance for their care.

This would not only ensure a more equitable distribution of resources but also strengthen the support network for those most in need.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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