Elderly take up musical instruments, cooking class to spice up golden years

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo News

As Japan prepares for the 2007 retirement flood of baby boomers, an increasing number of middle-aged and older people are taking an active interest in cooking or music as a means to enjoy life in their golden years.

The Better Home Association, a foundation that researches consumer issues, has risen to the occasion by offering cooking classes, and musical instrument maker Yamaha Corp. is doing likewise with music. Both pursuits are proving popular nationwide.

Students include people in their 80s, indicating some retirees are making an active effort to get out and enjoy life instead of staying at home.

In an association classroom in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, about 30 men, including those in their 50s and older, made beef stew, Caesar salad and dessert crepes, a relatively advanced menu.

At the teacher’s instruction, the apron- and bandanna-clad men in groups of four deftly handled their knives and grilled and boiled meat.

The association started holding men-only cooking lessons in various parts of the country in 1991. At present, more than 5,500 men, mainly in their 50s and 60s, are taking the courses, compared with some 350 in the early 1990s, the group said.

Last year, it also began holding cooking classes targeting men aged 60 and older ahead of the start of the baby boomer generation’s retirement. Japan’s first postwar baby boom came between 1947 and 1949, and their 2007 retirement looms large.

Midori Miwa, the association’s public relations director, said people younger than their 60s take the lessons, including many in their 50s who attend courses at night and on holidays.

“By taking part in the cooking lessons, the participants become friends regardless of their jobs and titles,” she said.

Yamaha, which has been providing instrument lessons to adults since 1994, started offering introductory music lessons to people aged 50 or older in spring 2004.

Masaru Sumi, chief of Yamaha’s music planning office, said the company planned and launched the new program designed exclusively for older people because of the rapid increase in middle-aged people taking its instrument lessons in recent years.

Participants can come empty-handed to Yamaha’s 11 courses offering a variety of wind and stringed instruments.

Instead of giving one-on-one lessons that some may consider stiff and formal, Yamaha holds group classes.

About 60 percent of the participants are taking up instruments for the first time. They are not required to be able to read music. Lessons are held twice a month and completed in three months.

Sumi said the company is considering offering programs featuring songs of the Beatles and the Ventures to attract more baby boomers.