Japan beginning to embrace the 100-year life

Like grandpa finally admitting he needs bifocals, it has adopted idea as overarching policy directive

Senior citizens following moves made by humanoid robot Pepper during an exercise routine at Shin-tomi nursing home in Tokyo. The phrase hyakunen jinsei (100-year life) has bustled into Japan's corporate vocabulary; in some cases, such as manufacturin
Senior citizens following moves made by humanoid robot Pepper during an exercise routine at Shin-tomi nursing home in Tokyo. The phrase hyakunen jinsei (100-year life) has bustled into Japan's corporate vocabulary; in some cases, such as manufacturing, it is driving new technology investment in robotics and exoskeleton suits for older workers.PHOTO: REUTERS

When The 100-Year Life first appeared in mid-2016, the book about longevity and societal change sold only modestly in the West. Some took it as an inspiring road map, some as a warning, some as a niche-interest read for human resource departments or pension specialists.

But when the translated version was published in Japan a few months later, it hit the world's most aged nation like a jolt of electricity. To Japan, the book's central thesis - that individuals, institutions, government, finances and infrastructure need urgent preparation for a time when millions can reasonably expect to live for a century - touched the rawest of nerves. It became a huge bestseller, transforming the public debate and crystallising what had been a murky discussion of demography-themed hopes and fears.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 12, 2018, with the headline 'Japan beginning to embrace the 100-year life'. Subscribe