The phrase, "the business of aging," may evoke images of efforts to exploit the older adults in Japan. The recent news of the Enten ("yen from heaven") investor fraud represents one of many swindles aiming at the money that older adults have saved over many years by the sweat of their brows.
Even so, I have my own reason to use the phrase, "the business of aging." I believe that many of the problems related to our aging society can and should be solved through sound businesses that make profits while serving a useful purpose, rather than using public funds through such means as government subsidies. In an aging nation with a mature economy like Japan, we can no longer sustain the social security system based solely on public funds.
In many other nations with mature economies, the market mechanism has been penetrating in their welfare services, because their social security policies based on government funds had reached their limit. Government funds come from people's taxes and from national debts under the name of "government bonds." Financing our policies through debt means that we put an enormous bill on our future generations' accounts.
Do we really want to leave our children an enormous debt? Of course, not. We would rather leave them the best "wisdom" we can create from all our generation's brains. In our mature economy where high growth cannot be expected, we are facing the serious aging of our population. In such a society, it is preferable to replace the traditional "government welfare" system with a "sound profitable welfare business." To make this change happen, we must improve the quality and the quantity of all the welfare businesses. And our wisdom is necessary to make these improvements. That's what we should hand down to our next generations.
Is there anything that we Japanese have, as a nation of the 21st century, which we can be proud of? What will the rest of the world respect us for? The world is looking at us to learn what will happen in the world's fastest aging society. We are expected to produce new products, services and systems that are best suited for the aging society. If our innovations are valuable, other nations with similar problems will give us respect. We may not be the first in the IT industry, but we can be the first in "the business of aging" industry, if we try.
Receiving respect for our quality products and services is not enough. Remember the time of economic bubble in Japan from the late 1980's to the early 1990's. At its peak, Japan was watched by the world with interest because of its economic power. During that time, I resigned my job and went to France at my own expense to study at a business school. There, I was exposed to many questions about the Japanese economy. People wanted to know about the "made in Japan" products that flooded into their markets. However, unfortunately, they were not so interested in the Japanese people who produced the products.
When I remember this fact, a quote by Kanzo Uchimura (a religious philosopher and writer, 1861-1930) comes to my mind:
"Making a profit is not for oneself. Through the way of God, following the proper laws of the Universe, wealth will be used for the nation. I hope that this spirit of business will emerge in each one of us."
(Source: The Greatest Heritage to the Future / The Story of Denmark by Kanzo Uchimura)
Although we may think of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as a recent innovation, Uchimura had already expressed his "philosophy of business" more than 100 years ago. Likewise, "the business of aging" does not mean simply making profits from older adults who have a lot of money and time, but it means making a public benefit contribution through profitable business approach.
When the Japanese word equivalent to "the business of aging" becomes the focus of the attention, the products and the services alone should not be worthy of note. More than anything else, it should be the spirit of the Japanese people who produce and manage the businesses that should attract the world's attention and respect. That's what Uchimura was hoping for. Laying the foundations for his wish is our responsibility as the adults living in this time. And the foundation will be our greatest heritage to the future.
Murata Associates, Inc.