Caring for the elderly the Japanese way

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Caring for the elderly the Japanese way

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“After all, Japanese people should have soybean soup,” an elderly man in his 80s said to himself. Around 8 a.m. on Sept. 6, I was at a hotel in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan. He greeted two elderly women sitting next to him, asking, “Did you sleep well last night?” After finishing the meal, they continued the conversation. “Does your son work in Tokyo?” “Your daughter-in-law is very pretty and nice.”

This hotel seems a bit different. There were about 20 elderly people having a meal in the restaurant. What brought them here to have breakfast?

I thought they were in a tour group, but it turned out their situation was completely different. It was the day that super Typhoon Hinnamnor swept through Nagasaki. In reaction to my bewilderment, a hotel staffer said, “In the last few years, elderly people have come to spend the night at this hotel when a major typhoon hits Nagasaki. Downtown hotels nearly sold out because of the typhoon.” Then I noticed a woman in her 80s standing next to a woman in her 40s who checked out. The daughter who lives out of Sasebo said she was worried about her mother and came to stay with her at the hotel.

I met 88-year-old Chiyuki Tanaka while waiting for a taxi in front of the hotel. She lives alone in Sasebo. “When my husband was alive, I wasn’t worried about typhoons. But after he passed away, I cannot deal with typhoon damage alone. As I am also scared, I spend a night at this hotel whenever a typhoon comes,” she said. When a taxi arrived, Tanaka said “stay healthy” and walked away.

The Japan I saw while covering the typhoon was different from what I had imagined. I heard that Japan was well prepared for earthquakes, volcano eruptions and typhoons. But its disaster readiness was deeply — and somewhat excessively — melted into their daily lives.

The local government sent a separate evacuation warning to the elderly because they have a higher risk of falling or getting injured in strong winds. The elderly get evacuation lodging or move to a shelter before the evacuation order.

How about Koreans? Restoration work is still in progress, but there is news of another typhoon. As an excessive reaction to natural disasters is fine, I expect a meticulous disaster prevention plan from the Korean government to protect lives.
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