URAYASU, JAPAN: Mrs Teruko Watanabe, 86, slowly shuffles to a beauty salon conveniently located just minutes from her room.
She plonks herself on a soft leather chair and gets ready for some relaxing pampering, leaving make-up therapist Ms Chishio Ohira to work her magic.
Mrs Watanabe is one of the lucky few who live in this chic private facility, the Orix Good Time Living Nursing Home in Urayasu, located just outside Tokyo.
It is anything but a clinical nursing home - boasting its own beauty salon, a private dining room and a special room with French windows leading into a lush shrub-filled lawn where you can attend parties and partake in a whole host of activities such as calligraphy, music and arts and craft.
Regular talks by experts on issues ranging from Confucian philosophy to health are also conducted for its residents.
All these frills don’t come cheap of course - the monthly fees will set you back a cool 430,000 yen (S$5,200) at this mid-range private nursing home. After insurance, residents pay about S$3,000 a month.
As a comparison, VWO-run nursing homes in Singapore, usually six- or eight-bed wards, charge S$1,200 to S$3,500 a month but the cost can be as low as S$300 after factoring in subsidies, reported Channel NewsAsia in 2016.
At the other end of the spectrum, private nursing homes cost around S$3,600 to S$7,000 for a single room.
For Mrs Watanabe, the make-up sessions in Orix are not just a beautification exercise - it is also a form of therapy, which some believe can halt the progress of dementia among the elderly, and keep their brains active and depression at bay.
“I am here for makeup therapy today. And I try different types of makeup, which makes me feel happy and rejuvenated,” she beamed.
There are 68 single rooms and eight couple rooms at Orix. Residents are encouraged to decorate the rooms with their personal items and furniture to create a sense of familiarity.
Mr Kazuo Hara’s wife, Mrs Miyuki Hara, has been living there for about five years. He used to be her sole caretaker, but found it tough to cope as her health deteriorated and admitted he could be a bit rough in handling her. He now visits her two to three times a week.
“I feel that I am doing my best for her right now. I saw that the people who are living here looked very relaxed and serene, and the nurses all had smiles on their faces.
“I am happy to see her get professional care, and as a result, I think she is happier mentally and physically,” he said.
More private nursing homes such as Orix have sprung up over the years in Japan’s rapidly aging society, with the more premium ones catering to well-heeled, well-travelled seniors who appreciate the finer things in life.
MEALS BY CHEFS FROM MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT
At the even more exclusive Maihama Club nursing home - which looks more like an opulent European mansion from the outside - monthly fees can cost a steep S$9,500 per person, or some S$7,300 after insurance.
Watch: What you're paying for (4:03)
With dark brown leather sofas, a granite fireplace and a shiny grand piano, the lobby closely resembles that of a five-star hotel more than a traditional nursing home.
Residents are also pampered by the best - meals are prepared by chefs who used to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant. The home even provides Kaiseki meals – a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner - for a fee.
Maihama Club’s chief executive Gustav Strandell said: “We know each and every one of our residents’ preferences. A good meal, for some of our residents, can be the number one joy of the day.”
All rooms here come with expansive floor to ceiling windows, ensuite toilets and heated floors.
There’s also a dementia day service, a training centre, a medical clinic, and a traditional Japanese bath, with the simple bathtub made of Hinoki (a sweet-smelling Japanese cypress).
Some 60 care staff look after its 73 current residents, who are issued digital pendants which they can use to call the nurses.
Music therapy are conducted regularly, where they learn dancing and music to remain busy and happy.
Care staff like Yohei Nakajima are proud of putting residents’ needs first. “Some other nursing homes tend to prioritise their own daily plans and work which they then make residents follow or even obey,” he said.
“Here, it is up to the residents to decide what to do.”
This is part of a CNA Insider series on the services for seniors in Japan, based on a recent study trip by the Lien Foundation.
Related story: Tokyo nursing home’s single rooms, no-diapers approach