Forum: Social Problems

Poverty Problems in the Japanese Society:
   [A] Increasing poverty among the elderly
     [1] Introduction to "The Low-living Elderly" book by Takanori Fujita (2015)

Toru Nakagawa (Osaka Gakuin University),
Mar. 29, 2016

Introduction after an approach with Visual Thinking and CrePS Methodology (General Methodology of Creative Problem Solving)

Posted on Mar. 30, 2016

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Editor's Note (Toru Nakagawa, Mar. 29, 2016) 

Japan has been facing a drastic shift in its demography, i.e., increasing ratio of elderly people thanks to the lengthened life and decreasing ratio of the children and young due to lowered fertility rate.  The shift has raised many big challenges such as decrease in the productive population, higher cost of welfare, difficulty of economic growth, etc.  Influences of them already appear in the economic stagnation for these 25 years and in the increase of poverty in the Japanese society.  We, Japanese people, need to solve these big and complex problems.  What was wrong in the social and economic policies of the government, in the activities of industries, and in the behaviors and thoughts of people?  What and in which directions should we do, now and in future, to overcome these difficulties? 

Having these intentions, I am starting here a series of pages concerning to the Poverty Problems in the Japanese Society. At the initial step, I am introducing you the book "The Low-Living Elderly" written by Takanori Fujita, a young social worker.  On the basis of experiences of his NPO welfare activities, he describes various cases of individuals, and discusses what should be done by individuals, society, government, etc. The book is written carefully, systematically, and deeply.  The book is now a best seller, selling over 200,000 copies in 9 months.  The present page posts my brief introduction to the book in English.  (Please understand that these are tentative English translation by Nakagawa.) 

Since I have been working on the methodologies of creative problems solving (TRIZ/USIT/CrePS), mainly in the field of science and technology, I am trying to shed lights on the problem by using such methodology.  I have made detailed diagrams representing the logics of the text, and made a pamphlet of 24 pages in Japanese.  The diagrams empowers 'Visual Thinking', which encourages us to understand the logic both in macro and in micro scales. (See the bottom of this page)


Top of this page Editor's Note (1) Social problems

Introduction to the Book

(1) What is LLE (2) Actual living (3) Risks

(4) Make more efforts

(5) Social system (6) Protect yourself (7) Proposals of policy
Editor's Note (2) Visualized Documents Visual Thinking and Tool Visualization work Final report  Pamphlet PDF Author's Message (Fujita)       Japanese page

  Introduction to "The Low-living Elderly" book by Takanori Fujita (2015)

Toru Nakagawa, Mar. 29, 2016


Source reference:

"Karyuu Roujin -- Ichioku Sou-Rougo  Houkai no Shougeki" (in Japanese)

"The Low-Living Elderly -- The Impact of Future Decay of Elderly Lives of 100 Million Japanese"

by Takanori Fujita
Asahi Paperbacks 520, Asahi Shimbun Press,
Jun. 2015
pp. 222



The low-living elderly are defined here as the aged people who live at or lower than the social welfare level.  It is estimated that there exist about 6 to 7 million of them in Japan at moment

Recent increase in the number of non-regular employments and decrease in the average income in Japan, the poverty is spreading increasingly widely among the young and middle-aged people.  Thus there is a high risk that in the near future the lives in the aged days may become miserable for most of the Japanese people.

Chapter 1.  What is 'the low-living elderly'  

The Low-living elderly have 3 characteristic features in common:

Characteristics 1:  Their income is remarkably low. 

The national welfare minimum (composed of living and housing supports) is about 130,000 yen/month (or about 1.5 million yen/year) for a single elder person living in the metropolitan area. 

The concept of 'Relative poverty' is used internationally; In the community (e.g.,a country or region), the persons whose income is lower than the half of the median of the income of the population.  This criterion gives 1.22 million yen for single persons, essentially equivalent to the national welfare minimum. 
At this level of living, the basic needs of housing, food, medical care, etc. are often not fulfilled. 

Characteristics 2: Insufficient or no savings. 

Low income requires to spend down one's savings, and insufficient savings will result in the crash in living due to any trouble.  

Characteristics 3:  No person to ask for a help (i.e., social isolation). 

Due to the trend towards nuclear families, people often have no family members/relatives around. 

These characteristics mean the low-living elderly have lost all the safety nets and are in the situation where they can not live the healthy and cultural life which is ensured by the Constitution. 

It is estimated that there exist about 6 to 7 millions of the low-living elderly at present in Japan. 

The increase in the low-living elderly is going to cause the following 4 effects:

(a) The elder and their child generations fall into poverty together. 

(b) The culture of evaluating long happy life and elderly people will be lost. 

(c) Decrease in the consumption by the young and middle-aged, thus resulting in stagnation of economy

(d) Further reduction in the number of birth of children.


Chapter 2.  Actual living of 'the low-living elderly': Cases and backgrounds 

The Author describes 4 actual cases where ordinary people have 'unexpectedly' fallen into the status of 'the low-living elderly'.  

Case (A) (Man of 76 years old, without marriage)

Near the age of 40 while working regularly in a restaurant, his father was found ill of cancer.  So he quitted his job to go back to his parents' home and took care of his father for 1 year and then his mother for 10 more years. 
Because no jobs were found in his home town, he moved to Tokyo area and worked in welfare facilities as assistant-helper until the age of 65. 
He had the savings of 5 million yen at his retirement, and the national pension of 90,000 yen/month.  The cost of apartment (50,000 yen) and treatment of low back pain and diabetes reduced the savings quickly.  
With no savings any more, he had to fill his hunger with native grass. 

Graph of 'Personal history of Quality of life (especially stability)' (by Toru Nakagawa)

[snip for cases (B)(C)(D)]

The Author summarizes the background: 

For the elderly, the income becomes much lower than before retirement.  Their desire of 'working some longer to get income for filling the shortage of pension' is often impracticable  
The outgo, however, usually does not reduce as supposed, because of higher risk of 'unexpected' needs of much amount of money.  Many elderly people do not have enough savings. 

Thus the poverty of the elderly is proceeding in Japan and a significant ratio of the elderly have already become at the low-living status. 

Not only taking care of individual cases but also more importantly systematic social solutions to the widespread serious problems are necessary.

Chapter 3.  Anybody has the risk of falling down to the low-living 

The Author points out 5 typical patterns of an elderly person falling down to the low-living:

(1) Because of high medical expenses due to diseases or accidents;

(2) Because of being not accepted by care houses.

Care houses for the elderly at low-cost with the support of the national care insurance are quite short in number. Businesses involved in the welfare have chosen to build luxurious private care houses for much higher profitability instead of government-regulated public care houses, the Author says.

(3) Because of their children being dependent to the elderly

Due to low income (working-but-poor, with income less than 2 million yen/year) or social withdrawal.
This is a case where the (poverty) problems of the younger generation give influences on the elderly.

(4) Due to increasing number of divorce of middle-aged or elderly couples.

A couple can live on 300,000 yen/month (with some proprieties), but divorced singles, especially men, can not live on 150,000 yen/per month (with divide half of the formerly shared proprieties).

(5) Having become demented but no near-by family support.

The ratio of demented elderly is around 10 % at age 75 but as high as over 40 % at age 85.

The Author writes that the current working generation have much higher risks of falling down to the low-living in their elderly years, because:

The average income is reducing than before, and their pension will be too small to pay for their retired life.
Moreover, the income of 4 million yen/year today is actually much lower than the income of 4 million yen/year in the old days, the Author says. Many companies have reduced their welfare/benefit program for employees.

Especially, these days, non-regular employment has increased in ratio; it is characterized with lower wage, poorer working conditions, and unstable status. The Author encourages that all the workers in any employment form should claim better payment to government and to companies.

The trend toward nuclear families reduces the possibility for the elderly to get support by their children. The trend of increase in the ratio of non-marriage among the younger generations may raise the risks of their falling down to the low-living in their elderly years.

It can be dangerous that most Japanese people still have the mentality of 'all Japanese are of middle living class'. We should think and work hard to solve the problem of increasing poverty in the Japanese society.

Chapter 4.  The day when your arguments of 'Make more efforts' and 'Self-responsibility' will kill yourself -- Issues of recognition and understanding

The Author raises a question: "Despite the present situation of increasing number of the low-living elderly, why no serious measures have been implemented so far in Japan?":

He finds that the principal factors are poor awareness and ill-understanding by the general public.  Such factors push the low-living elderly to the margins of society and the government's attitude of "providing no support without explicit request in person" makes the situation worse.

The Author is actively working with an NPO to support the low-living people.  He has received encouraging messages but much more negative and opposing ones from various people. 

So he is discussing here in response to such negative messages.  (The diagrams I made for Visual Thinking helped me much to clarify the logic of discussions among people with different opinions.)

We Japanese generally have the sound moral of 'to live without depending on others' help'

As a result, when we see or hear about the people who become unable to live self-dependently, we often think   "Their efforts are insufficient.  They themselves are responsible for their failure.  They should not dare to depend on the public support without further efforts and persistence." 

Such thoughts evaluate poorly the low-living elderly and push them towards the margins of society. 

However, viewing the issue in the whole scale of our society, we realize that it is inevitable to have the poor people besides the rich in the competitive society of capitalism. 

In the history of the humankind, the world has found 'Basic human rights' as a fundamental moral.  

Constitution of Japan guarantees the people the right to maintain the minimum standards of healthy and cultural living.  

Therefore, it is not 'overreliance' but 'rights' for the poor and needy people get a support from the country. 
Recognition, or rather change in thoughts, in this direction
is necessary for us all, i.e., the general public, the poor and needy people themselves, and the public administration. 

Under the limited national financial situations, how can we support the poor and needy people, not only the elderly but of all other generations, and in various situations? 

We have to think over the big and complex problem with all our efforts.    
(The discussion continues to the next Chapter.)

Chapter 5.  Old-built system and non-responsive policy produced the low-living elderly -- Examining the system and the policy

The Author examines the present system and policy related to the social welfare. He discusses in the following 8 aspects:

(1) Income:

The amount of the pension is insufficient for most people. There was an underlying assertion that the elderly can be supported by their family. The trends towards nuclear families and disperse living of family members and relatives have reduced the family functions and undermined the assumptions of the pension system, thus accelerated the problems of the low-living elderly.

(2) Savings:

Unstable employment, reducing salary, and increasing price in these years cause the middle and young aged not to make sufficient savings for their elderly days. This will result in even more low-living elderly people in the future.

(3) Medical care: 

The low-living elderly have less chances of receiving the medical care; some of them are found dead without attended. Medical treatment in the early stages of diseases is the way to reduce the total cost of medicine for the society.

(4) Elderly care insurance:

Many more special elderly nursing home should be built, and nursing care and welfare should be linked in services.

(5) Housing:

We should set up some policy for the elderly not to loose their home.  Reducing the burden of rent is the crucial key.

(6) Human relationships:

The government's negative stance of 'support only after requested' should be corrected; human-relationship safety networks should be built for taking care of the elderly in the vicinity.

(7) Welfare:

The level of welfare should not be lowered. Inconvenience in the welfare system should be corrected.

(8) Working conditions: 

Many elderly people have to work for getting their living income. Assistance for finding work is the way, but more basically we should seek for a social system where the elderly can live without working.

(x)  The 'free/cheap lodging houses' are often operated as 'poverty business' in reality, where the owner exploit the low-living elderly.

The Author remarks the conclusion of this chapter very clearly, saying:

(a) The low-living elderly are produced by the present social system, and not by the lack of ability or idleness of the individuals.

(b) The present social system and policy of 'excessive priority in business and discarding the social weak' should be corrected; otherwise the problems of the low-living elderly and the poverty in the Japanese society will not be solved.

(c)   Furthermore, we should correct our own recognition and feelings that have been tamed by alienation of humans and neglect of human rights.

Chapter 6.  How to protect yourself -- Measures before and in a low-living elderly situation

The Author advises first to the low-living elderly what they should learn and what they should do.

Firstly, he explains the current social welfare system, e.g., how to apply for the social welfare, what are the requirements for receiving the welfare, and items and amounts of the welfare. 

He also explains how to receive the medical care free of charge or at low cost, and advises about the recognition and attitudes.

Secondly he advises how to prevent from falling into the situation of the low-living elderly.

"Savings are important", he says first of course,

but he adds that human relationships in the elderly days are more important than money.
Some people can be helped smoothly but some others can not be, he says. People who come early for asking assistance and who are of positive thinking can be helped smoothly.

Holding good and rich human relationships and occasions/places of mutual assistance is helpful. 

His concluding remarks is impressive:  "There are many elderly people who live happily even in their poverty. They commonly have rich communications and connections with other people."

Chapter 7.  Proposals of policy

In the last chapter of the book, the Author writes his personal proposals of policy. (Nakagawa used Visual Thinking diagrams for clarifying the Authors proposals, and then wrote down in sentences.)

The Author proposes as follows:

(1) First of all, the government should realize that the poverty exists widely and growing further in the people and should address the issue of correcting the income disparity and take measures to fight against poverty.

(2) Under the principles of fundamental human rights, Fundamental Law of Fighting against Poverty should be enacted, and the measures for preventing people from getting poor and for saving people from the poverty should be made as the important strategy of Japan.

(3) The government and all the municipal governments should inform that the poor and needy people (including the low-living elderly) can be saved by the social welfare and should guide them to apply for the welfare.

(4) The current system of social welfare should be decomposed into their support categories, so that the supports can be received more smoothly. By supporting the people for some partial categories in the current welfare, the people can make their own living before entirely losing their properties.

(5) Support the people for their housing rent (partially). This releases the low-living people (including the elderly and the young) from the rather heavy burden of rent and builds a better condition for the young to have their home, thus becomes effective as the measures for increasing children.

(6) The current reduction measures of the national pension premium should be informed, so that the low-living young people apply for the reduction instead of no payment in silence.

(7) In place of the current national pension system, a new system should be built in order to guarantee all the people for their living in their elderly days at the minimum level of healthy and cultural living which is guaranteed in the Constitution.

(8) After all, it corresponds to the living support in the social welfare system. Then the current national pension system should rather be quitted and integrated as the living support in the new social welfare system, as described in (4).

(9) For building a society where people can live happily, all the people in Japan should consider and choose proper systems including the taxation system for redistributing the wealth, and should proceed for its realization.



  Editor's Note (Toru Nakagawa, Mar. 29, 2016)

Visualized Documents of "The Low-living Elderly" Book (by Toru Nakagawa, Mar. 2016)

For understanding the social problems of 'Poverty in the Japanese Society', I started last September to visualize the logic of Fujita's book "The Low-living Elderly" The method of 'Visual Thinking' was used with the support of 'Fuda-Yose' Tool developed by Akihiro Katahira .  The visualization work was posted first on Sept. 17, 2015 in Japanese in its full detail and was finalized on Jan. 9, 2016.  In English, the work was reported briefly on Nov. 29, 2015 and in its final form on Mar. 6, 2016. 

Visualized documents of Fujita's "The Low-living Elderly" Book were completed by Toru Nakagawa and were posted in PDF  and also publicized as a pamphlet of 24 pages.

The following figures show the cover page and the back cover page of the pamphlet.


The message contributed by the Author, Mr. Takanori Fujita, is publicized in the back-cover page in Japanese and is shown here in English translation:

Professor Toru Nakagawa

I visited your Web site ("TRIZ Home Page in Japan") and read the pages of Visualized documents.

I am very happy to find your visualization diagrams represent my description in the Book very properly without any misunderstanding.

Since the visualized diagrams are easy to understand the logic, I hope that the diagrams help people to understand my book better and form the basis of further discussions on this issue.

Today the readers can not spend enough time to closely read and correctly understand various books.

In such a situation, I wish this pamphlet of visualized diagrams may have chances of being read by many people and may help people to understand various books, including mine, and to enhance discussions for solving the problems.

March 8, 2016  Takanori Fujita
Executive Director, NPO HotPlus, (Certified Social Worker)
Associate Visiting Professor, Faculty of Human Welfare, Seigakuin University


Top of this page Editor's Note (1) Social problems

Introduction to the Book

(1) What is LLE (2) Actual living (3) Risks

(4) Make more efforts

(5) Social system (6) Protect yourself (7) Proposals of policy
Editor's Note (2) Visualized Documents Visual Thinking and Tool Visualization work Final report  Pamphlet PDF Author's Message (Fujita)       Japanese page


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Last updated on  Mar. 30, 2016.     Access point:  Editor: