Japan’s senior freelancers

March 8, 2023

Our (senior) editor Dan Sacha writes from Japan:

Japan is the land of senior freelancers. This is not a joke or an exaggeration, but a statistical fact. There are over 90,000 people over the age of 100 in Japan. I notice this on a daily basis because, surprisingly, it is the elderly people with whom I strike up conversations — often at their instigation.

  1. When I first arrived in Japan almost 10 years ago, within a few hours I was approached by a retired gentleman who had learned English in his old age so that he could communicate with foreigners who came to his hometown. He invited me to lunch and said, among other things, in very broken English, that when he got good at it, he would start sharing his language skills with his friends. Would he become a freelance tutor in his old age? I'm afraid I'll never know, but I like to think so.
  2. On my second trip, I found a popular pancake stand just behind the house, run by an octogenarian grandmother. Apparently, her cooking skills were known far and wide, because if you didn't get through in the first few minutes, you had to wait. Since I had been a regular for some time, and apparently an atypical customer by the standards of that part of town, she didn't hesitate to wave at me from a distance. I'm sure she's still running her little business with vigor to this day. When I have time, I'll check it out.
  3. The third time my path crossed with Kinji Nakamura, an artist who sells beautiful postcards of his paintings in a small bamboo grove on the west side of Kyoto. He didn't fully embark on his freelance journey until he was 48 years old (he had previously worked in a law firm). When we met in 2018, he was just over 70. For clients who were able to speak with him, he usually made a note of where they were from right on his card. I was far from the first Czech. Although I hadn't planned to buy anything, I ended up with seven small paintings in my backpack. His positive energy helped close the deal. I hope I'll have at least as much of it when I'm his age.

Of course, Japan's aging population and longevity pose many challenges. But from a purely day-to-day perspective, similar encounters and dedication to craft or commitment to life change at such an advanced age have always motivated me tremendously. And entertained.

I'm all the more curious to see what story awaits me this time…

PS: You can probably guess who is on this photo without further explanation.

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