YOKOHAMA: When Mr Masaaki Shiraiwa first moved into the Wakabadai public housing estate in the late 1970s, he found a warm community of young to middle-aged residents.
Nearly 40 years on, the 72-year-old is still living in the same place – among many of the same folks who first welcomed him there. The difference? These days, almost 45 per cent of the estate’s residents are aged 65 or older.
Even as they have aged together with the estate, they have also banded together to meet their own needs, helping to evolve the estate’s facilities and services.
For instance, take the tea salon Himawari which doubles up as a community centre. Anyone, especially the elderly living alone, can sign up for periodic phone calls and home visits from trained staff.
There’s also a “home helper’s club” where they can hire someone to do chores for them at S$6 a half-hour, or pick up groceries for them.
And then there’s its spare key service, started by long-term Wakabadai resident Ms Junko Ohtani. Members leave an extra set of house keys in the safekeeping of the community centre’s staff, who are on call 24/7.
“As a homecare worker, I would often come across older folks who have lost their keys,” explained Ms Ohtani. “With this system, even if you lose your keys in the middle of the night, you can call a mobile phone number to retrieve a set.”
The spare keys may also be used by ambulance personnel attending to a call.
Himawari is run by the Wakabadai NPO (non-profit organisation), an initiative by the residents themselves. Mr Shiraiwa, who serves as its director, said that across Japan,
we foresee a big rise in the need for medical and nursing services, and at our estate, we want to be prepared for it.
In a way, ageing Wakabadai with nearly half its population in their golden years is a microcosm of Japan, and what could very soon be the demographics of many housing communities across the country.
WATCH: 8 reasons why it's good to be old in Wakabadai (2:45)
ROUND-THE-CLOCK MEDICAL CARE
What Wakabadai’s residents can take comfort in is Asagao, the estate’s nursing and homecare support office. Staffed by four nurses and two care managers from a nearby hospital, it runs an emergency hotline and can provide medical and nursing care services to residents 24/7.
There is also the Yokohama city government-run Community Care Plaza, which offers a senior day care service, holds exercise classes for seniors, and provides consultations on nursing and parenting issues.
The plaza also holds special concerts to encourage seniors – even those from other neighbourhoods – to visit and have fun.
The overall idea is to help seniors live independent and active lives for as long as they can, but Wakabadai also has a nursing home and an assisted living facility for those too old or sick to be cared for at home.
Some initiatives are led by the elderly residents themselves, like Wakabadai NPO. Founded nine years ago to look after their welfare, it has partnered with 10 residents’ associations in the area to bring concerts, sports, wellness events and cultural activities to the estate.
It also finds jobs for senior residents who are willing and able to work.
Said Mr Shiraiwa: “As people age, they have a tendency to stay at home. We don’t want the elderly to withdraw into themselves and their rooms,”
Himawari serves as a place for elderly residents and volunteers to meet and interact over a cup of tea. Said Ms Ohtani:
There are many people who are lonely here. Sometimes, all they need is a listening ear.
Mr Shiraiwa added: “When this place was built 39 years ago, the government was interested only in providing housing.
“But our residents have been able to create a community built on human relationships. That’s what we are most proud of.”
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.