Keiko Awaya wasnâ€™t allowed to major in English at college because her nation was at war with the U.S. at the time. Now 85, her readiness to use savings to fulfill a decades-delayed dream is part of a wave of spending by the elderly thatâ€™s aiding the Japanese economy.
â€œAt my age, I thought it was OK to spend that much money because I donâ€™t have many years to go,â€ said Awaya, who has paid 1.3 million yen ($16,000) each for two month-long study- abroad packages offered by Tokyo-based Ikiiki Co., one to Boston and another to England. To keep herself fit for overseas trips, Awaya goes to a gym twice a week.
Ikiiki is part of an endeavor to unlock an estimated 900 trillion yen in savings held by Japanese over the age of 60, through rekindling the zest for spending that todayâ€™s retirees knew in the 1980s bubble years. From gaming arcades with tatami- bench tea areas to fitness gyms with stretching classes, the efforts go beyond nursing care, and may help Japan keep full employment even as manufacturing declines.
â€œJapanese companies are getting better at providing attractive products for the older generation,â€ said Nobuhiro Maeda, a gerontology analyst at NLI Research Institute and a visiting fellow for the Institute of Gerontology at Tokyo University. â€œWinning market share in the expanding senior market is the key for companies to survive at home and thatâ€™s critical for the future of Japanâ€™s economy.â€