Japan: Ahead of the U.S. for “Aging in Place”

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First of all, let me just say that I’m sincerely sorry to our readers and subscribers for my blogging absence the last few months.  Ever since I went to Japan in October, I’ve been slammed at my Architecture firm (and that’s a good thing after the last 6 years of “recession”).  But enough about that, now for the “WHY I’m BACK” part… my trip to Japan!

A huge thank you to AgeInPlace.com and Mr. Mark Hager, as he’s the one that recommended me to the talent recruiter looking for a designer/architect that understood the aging population.  He told her to contact ME.  I sent them my speaker video, and 4 days later I’d renewed my passport and was flying across the International Date Line from Seattle, on blind faith, praying there would be a sign with my name on it (in ENGLISH) as I was promised when I came out of customs…  and WHEW.  There he was.



The producer of a Tokyo TV show took me to the cab, and 90 minutes (and $250!) later we were in Tokyo, checking into my hotel.  They’d interviewed a number of other potential applicants, but in the end I was the ONLY architect IN THE WORLD sent to Japan for this segment of the TV show about “Aging in Place” and housing design for the elders of their nation specifically.  I was honored to take this on, as Japan is one of the currently oldest nations in the world, and it was going to be an amazing opportunity to study what they were doing.  What a whirlwind experience the next 5 days were!

The highlights of the trip (aside from some sightseeing and taking a risk of getting on the subway system, as well as seeing the MOST POPULATED pedestrian intersection in the WORLD! – Whoa…)  were getting to visit the International Home Health Expo at the Tokyo Convention Center, and being allowed into the private R&D facilities for a tour and to test



equipment at TOTO Tokyo, as well as going to OKI’s design development department to look at how they’ve (locally only thus far – we only know them for printers/copiers over here) gotten into the Home Monitoring segment in Japan.

I’ve blogged in the past about the success for centuries of Asian cultures that cluster smaller housing units around common courtyards and social settings with “multi-generational” living as a consideration, as have some of my esteemed colleagues such as Louis Tenenbaum in the MetLife Mature Market Institute paper.  It worked for generation after generation, until the U.S. “American Dream” set in, and we all needed our own private plot of land and personal structure.  Now we approach a major caretaker and nursing shortage with the looming “Silver Tsunami” of 10,000 people per day crashing into 65 years old and beyond with a new 1/3 of life longevity that we didn’t have as recently as the Industrial Revolution just 150 years ago.

But I digress… the point is, family style living and care-taking in a family & shared “it takes a village” multi-generational housing approach has worked for centuries.  And we are going to need that consideration and reverting back mental paradigm shift very shortly, or the results will be devastation to our communities, our healthcare system, and our nation along with it’s housing stock.  Back to JAPAN.

Seeing how one of the oldest nations in the world is forward thinking and in front of the curve compared to the U.S. was astounding, and I was the only one selected to come be a part of this experience.  So what did I see?

– Showers that keep you “at body temperature” with misting arms, vs. walk-in seated tubs

– Over 30 different auto solutions for wheelchair “bucket seat transfers” and “vehicle entry ramps.



– Beds that can, with one hand, be converted (with me IN IT) so half of the bed becomes an in-home wheelchair… by a man that was probably half of my weight!

– Monitoring systems that with a tiny globe on your ceiling, barely visible on the other side of the room, can change the color of an opalescent side table lamp from “green when active” as I moved around, to “blue when still” as I stopped moving, to “red when I STOPPED BREATHING”! (which any color could create an alert / page / notification to your doctor’s or child’s smart phone, etc.



Products are great.  How it all comes together in an empowering home environment for the prolonged independence of your and your loved ones is where a designer comes in.  Aging in Place.  Aging in Community.  Keeping your home, your pet, your garden, and your neighbors for as long as possible.  None of this works in a “solution silo” as Louis would say.  We need to think beyond our own professions.  We need to reach out, across the aisle, beyond our own industries, to be sure the best team and the best solutions are brainstormed for our clients, which includes putting our “I can solve all of your problems” ego aside.

I argue this concept of “team solutions” every day with clients, every month on stages across the region and nation.  And I even made this case internationally on my amazing trip and professional exposure experience in JAPAN last October.  This is GLOBAL, and we can all make a difference in our future by working TOGETHER!

*Please get in touch if you would like to collaborate on stage anywhere, I’m here to continue my passionate education of the public, the consumer, and the business industry about how we can reach, connect, and engage successfully with the BOOMER CONSUMER.  We’ve never had a client demographic like this before, and it is going to change the world!  Are YOU READY?  Is your BUSINESS ready to help?  Do you know HOW?  Get in touch if you want more information, we can help!  Thank you

Image Credits:  see text box descriptions for website locations of imagery for credits


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5 thoughts on “Japan: Ahead of the U.S. for “Aging in Place”
  • I have designed, built and currently sell the first universal design toilet seat,WINGMAN. As of Dec 2014, it is now approved in the state of Colorado for ADA toileting compartments in Public and Employee restrooms. It solves many of the short falls and built in risks of the ADA toilet compatment making installations usable by broader composition of body types and ability levels. For many for whom the ADA was previously not enough WINGMAN will open the door for them to re-enter the social-economic environment and live fuller and longer lives.

    • admin says:

      I appreciate your information and sharing your product. But this isn’t exactly a “comment on the blog article”. Please be careful with “self promotion only” type comments when you see articles related to your business, as it’s not good for trust and rapport with your clients and industry colleagues to only be pitching yourself and not “adding value to conversations” per se. I’ve seen you do this in other forums and comments / social media platforms at least once before, and trust me – people notice. Thanks and keep up the good work you are doing. I allowed your comment to post here, but be careful… thanks! If you want to know more about how you really connect and related to the boomer consumer as a small business owner, there is a TON of information over at http://www.AgeInPlace.com/small-business where you can hear podcasts, sign up for the newsletter, etc. – Enjoy! http://ageinplace.com/small-business/

  • Michael says:

    Great article, Aaron.
    As a private practice occupational therapist working in the home health care arena, I have seen a growing trend of people wanting to age in place. As well, a proactive movement to modify their environments in consideration of future health conditions. I have yet to see an interest or trend developing towards the multi-generational housing approach, although I firmly believe this paradigm shift has further reaching benefits than just our health care costs or quality of living as we age.

  • Scott says:

    Thanks for the article Aaron. I would love to know more. Can you tell me what you saw in Japan in terms of their fall prevention in the bathroom? Did you have the opportunity to go into any residential communities and senior facilities (if they have senior facilities) and see what they use for fall prevention in the bathroom?

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