Kimiko Oshima, 58, worried for years about her 85-year-old mother, who lives alone in Hamada 1,000 km away from Oshima’s home in Tokyo.

But her worries have been eased since a local nonprofit organization began visiting her mother’s home three years ago.

Her mother can still care for herself, but Oshima had been worried about what would happen in an emergency.

In January 2003, she learned about a new service launched by local NPO Ai no Kai (Society of Love) — telephoning Oshima’s mother every morning to ask about her and dispatching a volunteer to her home to teach her how to make picture postcards, usually with a handwritten message and drawing. The service fee is only 500 yen per month.

“It is getting difficult for sons and daughters to live near their parents,” Oshima said, noting the falling birthrate Japan is experiencing will only increase aggravate the situation.

After Oshima’s father died in fall 2001 at age 80, she wanted her mother to come to Tokyo to live with her, but she refused.

While running a sewing business with her husband, Oshima made frequent trips to Hamada to see her mother and eventually learned about Ai no Kai.

When the NPO started offering the service in January 2003, her mother was hesitant about learning how to make the postcards. But now it is what she lives for.

She has sent her daughter a lot of the cards, including one with a picture of chestnuts with the message: “I picked them up on our mountain.”

Oshima flies home once every two months to clean her mother’s house and share fresh fish brought by neighbors.

She now works as an executive of Paokko, a Tokyo-based NPO established in 1996 by those who need to take care of parents who live far away from their homes.

Based on her experience, Oshima listens to stories from people who have similar problems.

In joining Paokko, she was relieved to find there were many other people who are taking care of parents living in faraway locations, she said.

Oshima said that she still cannot afford to think about when she herself gets older.

Whenever she tells her two sons that she will enter a nursing home for the aged in Hamada, her sons, both in their 20s, have no reply, Oshima said, noting she cannot depend on them because eventually they will marry and start their own families.

Oshima said her major concern, and one she has found no solution to, is what to do if her mother becomes bedridden.

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