Why should senior citizens be happy?

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Why should senior citizens be happy?

Over the Chuseok holiday, I took a short vacation to Japan and learned a new word. YanG is a shortened form of Yancha Jiji, meaning “mischievous grandpa.” It refers to the new generation of elderly in Japan who refuse to yield to aging and who enjoy their senior lives. In September, a new magazine targeting this age group launched. Its website shows an old man dressed in a stylish suit with the caption, “We love the grandfather who is sophisticated and fun all the time.”

Quality of life in Korea and Japan may seem similar, but the lives of senior citizens clearly differ. During my vacation, I benefited from the low won to yen exchange rate and went to a French desert place in Ginza, Tokyo. A cup of branded coffee is 1,000 yen ($9.5, or 9,713 won) there, and most of the patrons were foreigners and Japanese senior citizens over age 60. An elderly couple in their 80s was enjoying brunch at the table next to mine.

Many stores had banners saying “Celebrate Respect for the Aged Day on Sept. 15.” This day is an official holiday in Japan for elderly citizens, and the week is designated “Silver Week.” It celebrates seniors who have made contributions to society and expresses hope for their longevity.

Korean senior citizens have also worked hard for their society, but the quality of life for elderly Koreans is far from affluent and filled with leisure. In the country with the highest elderly poverty rate among OECD member countries, only wealthy senior citizens can enjoy a leisurely brunch at a fancy cafe and sip a cup of coffee that costs more than 1,000 yen.

According to data by the Korean Insurance Research Institute, 96.4 percent of senior citizens over the age of 65 in Japan are on a public pension, and the average monthly pension per person was 1.6 million won as of 2012.

However, only 34.8 percent of Korean senior citizens here were on a public pension in 2012, while the average monthly pension amount was only 360,000 won last year. Even taking the gap in economic size and the prices between the two countries into account, the discrepancy is serious.

Naturally, young people see their future in the way seniors live. A Japanese friend told me, “When I see old ladies shopping downtown, I think getting old is not so bad.” This Chuseok holiday, one in five seniors aged 65 and above reportedly spent the holiday alone without their family. If my future is ridden with poverty and loneliness, what’s the point of having any hope for it?

The author is a culture and sports news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 10, Page 23

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