Japan’s elderly reach for the joys of romance

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

On her first date with her stoop-shouldered “prince,” Tae, a 77-year-old widow, felt her heart flutter in her chest as she gazed with him toward brightly lit Tokyo Tower.

While this may just be a scene from a recent Japanese movie about a gray-haired couple’s romance, what it describes is a growing reality for increasing numbers of Japan’s elderly, who are reaching out in droves for a last chance at love.

Bunji Sotoyama, the director of “San San” (“A Sparkle of Life”), says the theme of his movie is a good fit for Japan’s rapidly aging society.

The plot of the movie charts the heroine, Tae, as she turns to a marriage matchmaking service, looking for a partner to enjoy her life with after many years spent caring for her late husband. Despite opposition from people around her, including her son, she dates several men and eventually meets the “prince,” a former salaryman who got divorced after retirement.

“The end of caregiving may provide a moment of relief. But a void in life will become painful,” Sotoyama, 33, says. “I suppose many people would like to have romance in old age.”

“San San,” which first hit the screens last November, was initially scheduled to be shown at around 10 theaters nationwide, but the number has since increased.

Akiko, a 71-year-old woman who asked to use a pseudonym, signed up for a matchmaking service called Akanekai to find a partner after spending around 30 years as a single mother following her divorce at age 38.

She began to feel lonely as she entered her late 60s, and the death of one of her three children in 2012 compounded her feelings of solitude.

In December, she started living with a 74-year-old man she met through Akanekai, and they now plan to get married. “I am grateful to him for choosing me,” she says.

Agency Akanekai has recently seen an increase in its elderly members, many of whom cite a desire to enjoy life — rather than marry for life — as the motivating factor behind their decision. The gray-haired contingent are also bolder than their younger counterparts, showing a ready willingness to take their partner to parties, an agency official says.

According to a demographic survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of people who got married in their 60s and 70s in 2012 increased by more than 30 percent over the previous decade for both age groups, amounting to some 11,000 and 2,800, respectively. For those aged 80 or older the number climbed more than 60 percent from 2006 — the oldest year for which data are available — to around 530.

Another matching service, O-net, was started last year to help people in middle and old age look for partners without the commitment of marriage. People in such age groups tend to be wary of tying the marital knot due to complications with their previous marriages, such as inheritance.

Hideki Wada, an expert on psychiatric care for the elderly, says feeling a glow of love in the twilight years of one’s life may produce good health effects, both physically and mentally, by stimulating hormone secretion. He says that love is a particularly good prescription for elderly men, who are susceptible to depression because of a decrease in their testosterone levels.

“It would be a happy thing to be able to pass away while thinking of our loved one when we are about to die, rather than just thinking about death,” he says.

  • Mia Cooper

    I’m so happy for them! Love is for everyone! Not just the young.