Photographers' Blog

Republic of the elderly

By Kim Kyung-hoon

There are several key descriptive phrases to keep in mind when talking about Japan; one obvious to everyone is “Rapidly Aging Society”.

The rise of the elderly population and falling birth rate are no longer surprising news. One in four people in Japan is now over 65 years.

If you have the chance to walk around Tokyo’s downtown area, you’ll probably nod your head in recognition of the truth of this phrase. When you stop at a crosswalk to cross the street, you will find yourself surrounded by people who have silver hair and are stooped with age. When you watch TV you will see commercials for adult diapers and denture washers, common during prime time. Because the elderly are a big consumer group in Japan, Japanese enterprises never forget to satisfy the elderly and they gladly provide elderly consumers with their state-of-the-art technologies such as a care robot or a walk-assist robot.

The predominance of elderly people is not rare even in underground culture. If you go to an adult video shop, you can easily find a 78-year-old porno star who has starred in several hundred movies. His movies stimulate his peers to enjoy an active life with their partners as long as they are able.

However, not all the elderly are enjoying their golden age.

Some old people die alone, their bodies sometimes undiscovered for days. In Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, at least 25 elderly have died alone in their homes and 4.6 million elderly are living alone across Japan, according to the Japanese government’s data released last year.

Trailer park worth $30 million

By Lucy Nicholson

Too often in America, being old means being lonely, isolated and depressed.

At Village Trailer Park, a leafy oasis surrounded by busy commercial streets about two miles from Santa Monica’s famous beach, elderly residents are fighting to preserve a different way of life.


Owner Marc Luzzatto wants to relocate around 50 residents from the quirky trailer park to make way for nearly 500 residences, office space, stores, cafes and yoga studios, close to where a light rail line is being built to connect downtown Los Angeles to the ocean.

Village Trailer Park was built in 1951, and 90 percent of its residents are elderly, disabled or both, according to the Legal Aid Society. Many have lived there for decades in vintage mobile homes they bought.

Robot Paro comforts the elderly in Fukushima

By Kim Kyung-hoon

When I covered Fukushima’s nuclear crisis in March, the first radiation evacuees who I encountered were elderly people who had fled a nursing home which was located near the tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant which was leaking nuclear radiation.

On that night, most of the elderly who could not move well due to old age spent a cold night on a temporary shelter’s hard floor.

Their scraggly bodies, the nasty smell from those who were not able to relieve themselves, and faraway looks of the those who had dementia have been impressed onto my memory, one scene out of many from this tragedy which I will never forget.

Cheering on an aging Japan

When I first heard there was a 78-year old cheerleader in Japan who wears metallic silver wigs and waves gold pom-poms as she jumps and dances in her shiny red sequined costume, it instantly made me curious to find out what kind of person she is.

Japan's cheerleaders.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Everyone knows by now that people in Japan live a long time. According to the World Health Organization’s latest life expectancy figures Japanese women remain at number one (life expectancy: 86 years), but I had never heard of an 80-year-old cheerleader.

Fumie Takino’s way of life seemed to be the key.

My first encounter with her was at her gymnasium, which takes her an hour to get to by bus and train. Upon meeting her I was immediately struck by her big smile and how open she was to let me photograph her practice session with her teammates.

Alzheimer’s disease: A subject close to home

Who, in the world of photography in Reuters, doesn’t know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Who doesn’t know and feel the suffering of their closest relatives when they are facing this disease? It must be even more difficult for the eldest, who are used to seeing people suffering from cancer or strokes but do not understand this disease, and start to panic.

Recently, I made contact with the Portuguese Alzheimer Association to talk with them about the disease. A week after I contacted them I met with two women, Brazilian therapist Claudia Zolini and Portuguese therapist Margarida Matos. I started talking to them about my personal experience with this disease, telling them how my godmother, who died in March, suffered from Alzheimer’s. I told them how, when the first signs of her disease showed up years ago, I would laugh at her little mistakes – until the moment came when I had to face the real evidence of this illness, that I could not fully understand. I told them that suddenly I had to become a psychologist for my mother, who by then was in a panic, fearing that she would also suffer from Alzheimer’s. She could understand many different types of diseases but not this one. She suffered in a way that only she can tell.

After recounting my story, the two aid workers told me they would help in any way they could. My godmother had an income, and with the assistance of the estate she could afford to be in a facility where she was helped. But I wanted to know what happens to low income families, who cannot afford to send their relatives to nursing homes. I felt that would create a bigger impact. The aid workers asked me: What do you mean bigger impact? I answered, the bigger the impact for me and the bigger it will be for society. They kept asking questions, in particular, if the photos would be used in the right way by the newspapers. I stayed silent after this question. I then answered, if they don’t use it wisely, they are not human.

Never too old to be a porn star

Audio slideshow produced by Toru Hanai and Kim Kyung-hoon. A full story is listed below.

ICHIKAWA, Japan – He is a typical man of age — a few white hairs cover his round head and he wears dentures.

But 75-year-old Shigeo Tokuda sat on a movie set on Monday wearing just a silk kimono and loin cloth about to have sex on film with a woman who is younger than his daughter.

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