One Fifth Of Japanese Prisoners Are Over 65
December 7, 2013

One Fifth Of Japanese Prisoners Are Over 65

Japan is entering unprecedented territory in terms of its percentage of old people. There are already 50,000 people in Japan over 100 years of age. The ‘top-heavy’ look of Japan’s population pyramid (which is now becoming inverted) will only be stranger as the 21st century continues, unless something is done to deal with the declining birth-rate and increasing life expectancy. Diapers for elderly people already outsell diapers for babies.

One perhaps unobvious consequence of all this is the number of seniors in Japanese prisons. A BBC documentary visited a town south of Tokyo where one third of the prisoners are over 65. This is not only due to the population of older people increasing, but down to the changing behavior of seniors as well. In the last 20 years, the rise in assault convictions for seniors has increased by 5000 percent. Murder and robbery cases have also risen sharply. In Japan as a whole, 20 percent of prisoners are over 65, compared with four percent in the UK.

One of the prisoners interviewed by the BBC had been convicted of ‘going out drinking with no money to pay.’ He got two years for that, which seems a little harsh. But the documentary went on to say that half of the people released from the prison will re-offend, so I assume the guy had previous convictions which counted against him more harshly than a solitary offense would.

The prison is almost a cross between a care home and a prison. Very careful attention is paid to the prisoners’ medical and dietary requirements. Each has a sign on their door saying what medication they need each day.

The BBC says it is difficult to know why the increase in elderly prisoners is even greater than the increase of older people in the general population. It cites loneliness and poverty as possible causes. While these are reasonable theories, I think the problem may be linked to issues at the other end of the population dilemma. A major reason why the younger population is falling in number is the reaction of young people, that is to say people of child-making age, to disillusionment. The society still expects extreme hard work, personal responsibility and all-round good citizenship. However, these days the rewards for those things are not as satisfying as they should be.

Following twenty years of economic stagnation, it is becoming more and more difficult for young Japanese people to get housing, raise a family, and stay in a good job for life. As a result of the conflict of high pressure for low rewards, they are retreating, in many cases, into fantasy worlds of manga, anime and electronic friends. Rather than having relationships (and babies) with real people.

The older population may not be immune to this problem either. Plenty of seniors in Japan are comfortable as a result of their diligence, which was backed up by good economic times. But plenty of others will remember the hard work they put in and look contemptuously upon the scant rewards they have. They are already living the future that young people fear. They may also be resentful that their children and grandchildren will not be rewarded for the hard work of all involved, including themselves. People talk about seniors in Japan now as a ‘golden generation’ that benefited from the boom years, and lament the fact that their younger relatives will have less. But the impact of the changing face of Japan may very well be being felt already, by older people as well as young. Plenty of this older generation may not feel so golden.

Image Credit: kazoka / Shutterstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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