TOKYO: Talk about shopping in Tokyo, and Harajuku and Shibuya will likely spring to mind. But one mall that’s become a destination for elderly shoppers in droves is Aeon Kasai.
In 2013, Aeon Retail, which runs more than 160 malls across Japan, devoted the entire fourth floor of their mall in Kasai to products and services targeted at the elderly. More than 1 in 4 Japanese are aged 65 or older.
Today, the mall receives about 150,000 visitors each month, a third of which whom are seniors, said store manager Kouhei Nakahara.
Most days, the mall is buzzing with activity from 7am when it opens – three hours ahead of most other Aeon malls, as most seniors tend to rise earlier.
Apart from fashion targeted at seniors, there are also large sections dedicated to walking, hiking and travel – all pastimes beloved by the Japanese elderly.
“Gold Time”, when discounts and special deals are offered, is held before 9am to attract these elderly patrons (whom the mall calls the “Grand Generation”, it says, because they don’t like the label “seniors”).
But it’s not just about shopping. Another big draw of Aeon Kasai is its range of facilities and services for the elderly to keep fit.
Take the 180m carpeted walking course winding its way around the shops. “People can walk safely even during rainy, snowy or hot summer days,” said senior merchandiser Hiroto Yamada. “It’s also equipped with an Automated External Defibrillator, just in case.”
Most days, exercise classes are held in the mall’s open spaces, some of which are conducted by the mall’s management for free.
There’s even a private gym for the elderly. The 3-Fit Gym noticeably lacks treadmills, but is stocked with machines that help the elderly stretch and build their strength.
It’s 82-year-old Nemoto Kazue’s favourite hangout, and she finds joy in the company of other patrons and the “young and good-looking” staff. “They are like my grandchildren and make me feel young too,” said the retired tax officer, who exercises here almost every day.
Differences extend to the supermarket, which is equipped with shopping carts that are 30 per cent lighter than regular ones. “Our customers don’t need large heavy carts, since they usually live by themselves or with an elderly spouse,” said Mr Yamada.
Food items, many of which are low in fat and salt, are also designed and portioned for the elderly who live alone, or with just a spouse.
A rehabilitation centre caters to the infirm, while performances and workshops for seniors are often held.
In all, the mall’s elderly patrons tend to spend three hours here on average each visit – compared to younger visitors who spend just one hour.
Said 67-year-old Hidetoshi Kobayashi, who visits the mall’s recreation room every morning: “Lots of people meet here. And you can also go shopping after playing ‘Go’. So we really appreciate this as a gathering space.”
This is part of a CNA Insider series on the diverse services for seniors in Japan, based on a recent study trip by the Lien Foundation for its Genki Kaki project.
Watch: The shopping experience (1:39)