Bridging the generation gap is nowhere more evident than in the successful merging of two institutions in Japan and in the United States that are thought to be tasked with diametric missions. The partnership between preschools and nursing homes, which is being closely watched by specialists in both fields, has positive implications for both rapidly aging countries.

When Shimada Masaharu merged a nursery school and home for the aged in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, in 1976, he had no idea that what he had begun would attract worldwide attention. Although Kotoen was originally just another nursery school, during a renovation it was coupled with a senior center. By 1998, the concept had spread to include 16 other similar facilities, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The benefits soon became apparent. Seniors found a solution to the loneliness and boredom that characterized so many nursing centers. According to a study in 2013, seniors began smiling and conversing more among themselves. Moreover, they exhibited delayed mental decline, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of disease and death compared with seniors in nonparticipating facilities.