Keiro No Hi: Celebrating The Health & Wisdom Of An Aging Society

Respect for the Aged Day

By Petra Canan Trudell
September 18, 2016
Lifestyle

Did you know that Japan and Palau are the only two countries in the world that have an official public holiday dedicated to their elderly citizens? Learn why, when and how this day is celebrated in Japan.

It’s no secret the Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies in the world — and with an elderly population generally held in high regard by society. And just like Japan has national holidays to honor children, there is one day each year dedicated solely to the oldest members of the community, making it only the second country in the world to have an official public holiday for its senior population (Palau is the other). This year falling on Monday, September 19, the Japanese celebrate Keiro no Hi, or Respect for the Aged Day, throughout the country.

When did Respect for the Aged Day begin?

The tradition dates back to 1947, when the village of Nomadani Mura in Hyogo Prefecture (now known as the town of Taka-cho) organized an “old folks gathering” under the guidance of the then-mayor Masao Kadowaki. He suggested that the young have much to learn from their seniors if they want to build a stronger village and invited them to sit down and listen.

This launched a tradition in the village and the same gathering was organized again the following year.

The day’s popularity spread by word-of-mouth and following a series of negotiations with local governments, this “Old Folks Day” was designated a national holiday in 1966 as Respect for the Aged Day. The date was changed to the third Monday of the month in 2003.

下駄を履いた年配女性の足

What is celebrated?

Everything about the elderly population in society, but more specifically their wisdom and accomplishments. Celebrating longevity is the other reason behind Respect for the Aged Day. Living a long and healthy life is highly respected in Japan and the day serves as a reminder not only to care for the elderly in your family, but also to take care of oneself.

For this reason, the news of the day tends to focus on the pressing issues of older generation and raising awareness for the needs of this rapidly growing population.

Japan has been setting — and shattering — life expectancy records for years, a feat most often attributed to a healthy diet rich in fish and vegetables. According to the latest data by the Japanese government, more than 25 percent of the population is aged 65 and older, with this number expected to reach 40 percent by the year 2060.

The number of centenarians in Japan surpassed 60,000 in 2015, setting a record for the 45th year in a row.

When do we celebrate?

The holiday takes place on the third Monday of September. Every six years, Respect for the Aged Day occurs during what’s become known as Silver Week, a week with three consecutive holidays on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was dubbed “Silver” for being the second-longest break after the famous Golden Week in late April and early May. “Silver” is also a common term for referring to the elderly population in Japan, derived from — you get it — the graying of hair. The other two holidays celebrated during Silver Week are Autumnal Equinox Day and Kokumin no kyujitsu, or Citizen’s Holiday.

Grandmother portrait

How should you celebrate Respect for the Aged Day?

Local communities hold special events to mark the occasion that all are invited to join in on. If your elderly relatives are close by, spending time with them is the best way to show them how much you appreciate them. You can also check in on other elderly members of your community. Set aside the time to listen to their stories and take their guidance to heart.

It’s a day to reflect on where we’ve been and see how the lessons of those who came before us can help us live better lives.

And if you’re thinking of a gift — a fruit basket, a delicious cake or a good cup of Japanese sake are simple and enjoyable ways to show your love and gratitude .