2015 Generations United Conference in Hawaii Intergenerational Activities in Japan:Passing the Culture on to the Next Generation

Japan Aging Research Center


People are now living longer across the world, and the number of older people keeps increasing. Japanese population is aging particularly fast: As of 2014, one in every four people is aged 65 or over already. Moreover, the total population in Japan started declining after reaching its peak at 128 million in 2005-2010. By 2020, when Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are held, Japanese population will decrease by about 4 million compared with the current figure. Japan will also become a hyper-aged society by then: The proportion of older people will increase to 29%, and those aged 75+ will account for 15% of the total population.
There are about 1,740 municipalities in Japan; most of them, including urban communities, are facing population aging, and many are also experiencing a population decline. A quarter century ago, around 1990, people believed that communities with proportion of older people above 30% would go extinct soon or later. However, the 2010 census shows that the proportion of the elderly exceeds 50% in over 10 municipalities, where public administration and people’s lives are well-functioning. In these communities, older and younger people live in harmony while sharing social roles.
Every country and community has tradition to protect its social environment and to pass its culture on to the next generation. Such culture encompasses a wide range, including: daily living that is unique to the community (e.g. clothing, food and housing), production technique (e.g. farming and craftwork), use of land and environment, as well as songs, dances and festivals that came out of culture of the community. It is older people’s roles to pass these on to the next generation.
Such activities to pass the culture on to the next generation are important examples of intergenerational exchange. However, since these activities are so diverse, it is not easy to introduce every kind. Hence, this paper focuses on new “intergenerational exchanges,” which started after Japan became an aged society, to promote social participation among older people.

Intergenerational Activities with Young People: Older People’s Perspectives in Japan
Before introducing concrete examples, the author would like to briefly introduce how older people in Japan feel about intergenerational activities with young people.
According to a survey with 3,000 men and women aged 60+ (Cabinet Office, 2013), about 60% of the respondents were interested in intergenerational activities with younger generations. However, only a little over 40% were actually engaged in such activities, leaving some 20% missing the opportunities. Therefore, quite a few people are unable to take a step to communicate with younger generations despite their willingness.

Intergenerational Exchanges to Pass the Culture on to the Next Generation: Examples
How and in what form do intergenerational exchanges take place to pass the culture on to the next generation? The following presents some examples.

1.Passing on the culture of daily living
Sawadani Group to Pass on Local Culture (Misato Town, Shimane Prefecture)
1There are over 200 people aged 65+ in this community, accounting for 40% of the total population; many of them stay active. This group mainly consists of members of a local senior citizens club. In the beginning, the group was mainly engaged in sport events, planting flowers and intergenerational programs to promote social interaction. Since 2011, the group has been engaged in more joint work with a younger group for community revitalization.
2Many members have rich memories of history, traditional events and culture; and they always talk about needs to pass these on to children. Meanwhile, members of the younger group for community revitalization have also become interested in valuable local culture, such as traditional foods and technique. Therefore, both groups have decided to compile stories of older members on local culture so that they could preserve it for future generations. The activity started in April 2013 and is run by 17 people.
The activities include the following:

  • Interviewing the older members by members of the younger group for community revitalization.
  • Creating data based on the interviews: editing, designing the book, and adding illustration.
  • Printing the book (500 copies) and distributing them to schools and other organizations in the community.
  • Organizing intergenerational events for children, parents and older people (e.g. enjoying traditional meals for Japanese Star Festival, teaching traditional children’s games, etc.).

Older people rediscover their pride through these activities which preserve their memories. The book was also introduced by newspapers, and a number of people also ordered this book, recognizing the importance of passing the local culture on to the next generation. These accomplishments gave the wonderful encouragement and pride to the group. Children, parents and local residents also appreciate this book as a textbook to learn the history of their community.

2.Passing on the traditional technique
Matsunaga Community Center (Obama City, Fukui Prefecture)
Matsunaga Community Center organizes 4 events every year for elementary school children (1st to 6th grades) to experience the whole process of rice-growing, including planting, harvesting, as well as making and eating rice cakes. This program is under the supervision of a local producers’ association and senior citizens club, and about 60 students participate every year.
While many farm households in the village no longer grow rice individually, this program teaches children about traditional manual farm work, which their parents and grandparents used to do, as well as how to use traditional farm tools.
Children can learn the entire process of rice-growing; from seeds and seedlings to plants, grains and rice straws; through the opportunities to actually use farming tools and to have the firsthand experience.

Amago Armor Workshop (Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture)
Amago Armor Workshop, which started in July 2011, is run by 13 members. These members, who have experiences in making armor, came together to contribute to a community through handmade armor. They teach technique on armor-making to the younger generations and participate in local events to communicate with various generations while wearing their handmade armor.
This community has many historical features, including “Amago Family (a feudal lord who was active during Japanese Warring States period)” and many others. In order to promote development of the community with rich history, the group strives to preserve and make available this technique by developing skills to make armor with cardboard. The armor looks so real that few people can tell it is made of cardboard.
According to history books, this community used to have gun squads and Ninjas. Based on this story, the group re-organized “Amago Gun Squad.” Armored warriors, along with newly added kids’ troop and Ninja troop, join local events to make them more attractive. The group also makes imitation guns and armor, rent them at local events (e.g. festivals, parades, etc.), and work with elementary schools and/or other groups to join the events to promote intergenerational communication.
Through these activities, the group provides opportunities for people to rediscover historical resources in their community and passes these resources on to the next generation. Also, the members feel Ikigai (i.e. meaning of life) through volunteering and communicating with younger generations with handmade armor.

3.Promoting and passing on traditional arts

  1. Takuno Kagura Unit (Ohta City, Shimane Prefecture)

Takuno Kagura Unit (Kagura: ancient Shinto music and dancing) started in Jun 2012 and has 15 members.
This community has “Takuno Kids’ Kagura Unit” which is over 350 years old.
However, this unit was having difficulty surviving because of the declining number of children and lack of trainers. Feeling a sense of crisis, middle-aged and older people in the community formed this unit in 2012. The unit was able to purchase costumes thanks to the grant it received in 2013. Currently, the unit goes to local events and festivals to perform Kagura.
Its activities include weekly practice, monthly training for kids’ Kagura, as well as performance at local events, festivals and welfare facilities.
This activity enables various generations, ranging from elementary school children to people in their 70s, to work together as one through Kagura. Thanks to this activity, people in the community now pay more attention to preservation of their local culture (e.g. active participation in Kagura unit practice, training of trainers). The Kagura performance also brings more people in the New Year and summer concerts, contributing to community revitalization.

  1. Gakuyu Club Ginga (Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture)

Gakuyu Club Ginga started in 2000 and has 35 members.
The club was started by the graduates of “Zeni-Daiko” (traditional music and dance in Izumo region) course, one of the classes at “Kobe City Silver College (a lifelong learning program for seniors).” The group practices once a week and performs over 100 times a year at welfare facilities for older people, local festivals and events, to promote Zeni-Daiko.
The group also teaches Zeni-Daiko to people with intellectual disabilities and children. It also organizes an event called “100-player performance” to promote communication among players.

4.Preserving and passing on the environment and history

(1) Hinui’s Group to Pass on the History (Ohnan Town, Shimane Prefecture)
The group was formed by people who were interested in local history to collect old documents, to collect folklore in their community and to pass them on to future generations. It started in October 2012, has 12 members, and is based at a community salon.
This community once flourished with iron-making and Japanese paper. However, its population has been decreasing recently, and traditional stories and documents are disappearing. In response, the group is engaged in various activities, feeling that it needs to (1) listen to and record the stories that have been passed on in the community, (2) collect old documents, and (3) present them to children, people in the community and people who think of Hinui as their home.
More specifically, the group’s activities include the following:

  • Creating “Hinui Hometown Card Game (Karuta)” and distributing it to local residents, community halls and schools. Contents of the card game include history of the community and are based on the ideas by local residents and the group members.
  • Creating a picture-story show based on the local history, especially the traffic situation and local specialties during Edo Period (17th to 19th centuries). Since some information was unknown to or forgotten by local residents, this activity was a wonderful opportunity to revisit the local history.

(2) Fujimi Tsurukame Kai (Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture)
This group has 59 members, of whom 72% are aged 65+ (as of April 2013).
Traditionally, people in this community have cleaned the neighborhood before the festival at a local shrine. The community decided to build a park in 1991, and it was the great opportunity for local residents (a neighborhood association) and a senior citizens club to start closer communications to make the community a better place to live. They discussed what kind of activities they could organize to expand the circle of friendship. Meanwhile, the senior citizens club members were also discussing what to do to promote Ikigai (i.e. meaning of life) among older people, and some members suggested that they could do something that would benefit a community. Therefore, in 1994, the group decided to start activities to maintain the beautiful environment in their community, mainly at the new park, as part of their community activities.
Their main activities include cleaning streets, the park and the shrine (once a month); replanting flowers (several times a year); and watering flowers (every day from May to October). At the sports ground where people of all generations (e.g. children and older people) use for sports and fun, the group members work with children to weed.  The intergenerational communication through cleaning activities have gradually expanded to other activities, including watching children’s safety when they go to or come from school and activities to learn traditional children’s games.

(3)Firefly Village (Yokohama Town, Aomori Prefecture)

The village, established in 1993, consists of 60 members, of whom 67% are aged 65+ (as of April 2013).
This area is known as the northern limit of some insects (e.g. Genji fireflies, unicorn beetles, grasshoppers). “Yokohama Firefly Association,” established in 1989, approached a senior citizens club in Fukkoshi District, the community suited for breeding fireflies, to jointly establish “Yokohama Firefly Village” by volunteers to build “the best firefly village in Japan” as the northern limit of Genji fireflies. The village protects and breeds fireflies, protects environments and organizes intergenerational activities.
As soon as the village opened, under the guidance of experts, the group started building breeding grounds for fireflies, using abandoned rice fields. They also started activities to improve the environment around rivers where they would release firefly larvae. These activities were developed not only by the village members but as intergenerational programs, in collaboration with local children’s club and senior citizens club.
The activities even expanded beyond the prefectural border, and the village now has active communication with similar groups in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures. A number of people, including not only children and older people in the community but also those from outside the Prefecture, join the 3-day “Firefly & Spring Water Festival” at the village, enjoying mini lectures, rice-cake making, quiz on fireflies, tea parties, tours to breeding grounds, and many other programs.
The village also organizes a wide variety of intergenerational programs. For example, elementary school students and senior citizens club members transplant rice seedlings together. Elementary school children are also involved in artificial breeding as “Firefly Rescue Squad” at an indoor breeding site. School children also plant vegetables at greenhouses in the village. The village members also visit elementary schools within and outside the neighborhood to introduce their activities and to promote intergenerational activities.

5.Individuals active in passing the culture on to the next generation: Winners of “Ageless Life Practice Examples” by Cabinet Office

The examples so far are about group activities to promote intergenerational relationships through passing the culture on to the next generation. Meanwhile, many people are also engaged in similar activities at an individual level. The following introduces a couple of such examples, based on the information on “Ageless Life Practice Examples” organized by Cabinet Office (see below for the details on this initiative).

(2)Mr. Yoshimi Seino (aged 80, Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture)

Mr. Seino, a former farming instructor, had worked on a family farm since he retired in 2001. He would enjoy voices of children in the neighborhood while working on a farm, and he started to think it would be nice if he could do something with these children together.
One day, a student of a neighborhood kindergarten fell on the street in front of Mr. Seino’s house while taking a walk. While his wife was treating the student’s wound, the kindergarten teacher asked her, “Is there anyone who can teach how to grow sweet potatoes?” Mrs. Seino said her husband could, and that led to the interaction between Mr. Seino and kindergarten students.
He started with growing sweet potato seedling at his backyard farm. Then, he planted seedlings and harvested with children. He also assisted when children cooked these sweet potatoes. Later, he expanded the program so that children could grow a wide variety of vegetables, such as potatoes and soybeans, throughout the year. He hopes that children will learn how interesting and important farming is through this experience.
People also ask him about how to grow flowers at kindergartens and elementary schools. In 2000, he started planting sunflowers at a kindergarten garden. Based on this experience, he created “Sunflower Kingdom (a sunflower maze)” at an abandoned rice field near his house. By mid-September, children would run around the maze filled with sunflowers, enjoying themselves. Watching these children, Mr. Seino would think his hard work was worthwhile.
Moreover, Mr. Seino founded a group called “Fukushima Folklore Teahouse,” visiting kindergartens, nurseries, and events for older people to present folk tales. He travels not only within the prefecture but also other places to compile stories, while communicating with other similar groups. Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he visited evacuation centers to present the stories, giving children a break from the disaster. He also continues to visit temporary disaster housing to share these stories. Where does his passion for folk tales come from? “We can preserve the intangible cultural heritage by presenting human lives that are illustrated in the stories and presenting them in the local dialect.”
Mr. Seino also works with his colleagues at a senior citizens club to organize activities at nurseries, kindergartens and elementary schools to pass Japanese culture on to future generations, such as rice-cake making, kite-flying, spinning tops, and origami.

(3)Mr. Tsuyoshi Maeda (aged 78, Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture)

After the retirement, Mr. Maeda took several courses at the local community and a college for senior citizens. With his classmates, he founded “Miyazaki District Planning Committee for Seniors’ Social Activities” in 2003, and he has been the representative since its foundation. Since many members of the group had excellent skills and experiences (e.g. sport instruction, cooking), he decided to play “backstage roles (e.g. planning, PR, arrangements)” so that other members could make the most of their skills.
The committee organizes a wide range of activities, including programs to pass the food culture on to the next generation. For example, in Japan, Miso is an essential seasoning for Japanese cooking, and the committee organizes an event where older people and children make Miso together. After making Miso, they cook Japanese dishes with it together and enjoy the meal.
Another example is “handmade plate-spinning.” This is also a traditional children’s game in Japan. Children enjoy spinning the plate they made by themselves. They can also bring these plates back home, showing them to their families and friends. Such activities not only teach children about traditional children’s games but also foster their creativity.
The committee also organizes tours to local historic sites (e.g. shrines, trees) so that people of all generations can learn together about the local history and culture.
Promoting Activities to Pass the Culture on to the Next Generation: Measures by Governments and Associations

As mentioned above, many groups and individuals are engaged in intergenerational activities to pass the culture on to the next generation. Yet, governments and associations are also active in promoting such activities. The following describes some examples of such efforts.

(1)Shizuoka Prefecture: Grant for Model Projects 2014: Passing the Culture on to the Next Generation by the Elderly

This grant aimed to further extend healthy life expectancy by promoting social participation among the elderly and promoting new “activities that contribute to a society” through initiatives to pass the culture on to the next generation. Private organizations and senior citizens clubs can apply for the grant. It covers activities to pass traditional arts in a community and/or manufacturing activities that pass the local culture on to the next generation (for the purpose of securing the future manpower). The grant would be awarded up to 200,000 yen (no matching fund required).

(2)Yamaguchi Prefecture: Project to Support Activities for Sustainment of Regional Culture

This project, commissioned to Yamaguchi Prefectural University by Yamaguchi Prefecture, aims to promote revitalization of communities and intergenerational communication by supporting various activities to sustain regional culture that fully utilize older people’s rich experience, knowledge and skills.
Eligible applicants for this grant are projects by a group in Yamaguchi Prefecture which consists of 5+ people, over half of whom should be aged 60+, meeting all of the following criteria:

  1. It is an activity to pass the culture and tradition in a community on to the next generation, with a proven record and capability to sustain it.
  2. The group is not receiving a grant from any other public/private organization.
  3. The group has never received this grant.
  4. The group is willing to participate in a local event “Yamaguchi Health and Welfare Festival.”
  5. The activity has the potential as tourism resources in a community.

The grant would be awarded up to 100,000 yen, usually to 3 groups.

(3)Shimane Council of Social Welfare: Shimane Ikiiki Fund Grant Project

While the above two initiatives are organized by prefectures, this program is organized by a prefectural association of Social Welfare Councils, a private organization that promotes local welfare. This program aims to vitalize communities by supporting initiatives by groups of middle-aged or older people that will contribute to community development.
This grant program has 2 categories:

  1. Dream Factory Support Program: This program helps middle-aged and older people to contribute to health promotion, creation of Ikigai (i.e. meaning of life) and community development through production and services with their rich experiences, knowledge and skills. Eligible groups must have 10 or more members who are middle aged or older (50+). The grant will cover up to 80% of the total program cost, with the maximum at 2 million yen.
  2. Support Program for Local Activities: This program helps middle-aged and older people to contribute to health promotion, creation of Ikigai and community development through social and volunteer activities in their communities. The group can work independently or collaborate with local residents. The activities include: health promotion for middle-aged and older people, long-term care prevention, intergenerational programs, activities to pass the culture on to the next generation, child-care support and support for independence of people with disabilities. Eligible groups must have 10 or more members, of whom over half should be middle aged or older. The grant will cover up to 80% of the total program cost, with the maximum amount at 1 million yen.

(4)Yamagata Prefectural Association of Senior Citizens Clubs: Senior Supporters for Yamagata Hometown School

This program is organized by Yamagata Prefectural Association of Senior Citizens Clubs. The program recruits people who are willing to support initiatives to teach and learn wonderful culture, wisdom and traditional performing art in Yamagata. It provides senior citizens with opportunities to actively contribute to a society, to fulfill themselves and to create value.
This is not a grant program. Rather, older people with skills and interest in volunteer activities register on the Association’s website (http://www.kirara-yamagata.or.jp/modules/tinyd1/content/index.php?id=7) and are engaged in the following activities upon request:

  1. activities to teach and learn skills,
  2. activities to preserve and pass on technique,
  3. activities to promote Ikigai and health among older people at local events,
  4. activities in an educational field as special instructors, and
  5. volunteer activities for youth development.

People are eligible to register if they live in the prefecture, are aged 60+ and are willing to pass their knowledge, skills and wisdom on to children.
As of October 2014, the program has 173 registered members. People can search these members on its website by where they live and what activities they can teach, including: local history and customs (e.g. war experiences, proverbs, etc.), traditional skills (e.g. traditional handicraft, straw craft, etc.), traditional children’s games (e.g. bamboo copters, spinning tops, kite-flying, etc.), and food culture (e.g. local cuisine, seasonal dishes, farming, etc.).

(5)Cabinet Office: Ageless Life Practice Examples and Social Participation Practice Examples

While Japan is the leading aged country in the world, it is essential for its older people to lead ageless lives, living freely and lively while being responsible for themselves and making the most of their abilities. In reality, however, older people can do so much more to take active roles in a society. In order to widely introduce social activities by older people, Cabinet Office calls for submissions in its Ageless Life Practice Examples (for individuals) and Social Participation Practice Examples (for groups) every year. Selected examples are introduced on the Cabinet Office website and at relevant events sponsored by Cabinet Office. Each winner will receive an award certificate and a winner’s plaque. While winners’ practices are wide-ranging (e.g. health, work, education, welfare, etc.), several of them are intergenerational programs to pass the culture on to the next generation, as mentioned above.


As Japan is now a universal longevity society and an aged society with declining births, intergenerational support has become an essential part of the society. Recently, Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA) submitted the following recommendation to the Japanese government: “… Older people in this age, just like their parents and ancestors, would like to pass a better society on to the next generation. To this end, it is vital for all generations in a community to be part of child care and elder care, so that they can build a community where people across 3-4 generations can live in harmony and help each other.” This statement is reflected in the revised General Principles Concerning Measures for the Aging Society (2013).

Against this background, the activities mentioned above to pass on the culture from older to younger generations are becoming even more important, contributing to the stronger intergenerational bond in a community and revitalization of a society. Moreover, intergenerational activities, having emerged from population aging with declining births, also reflect development and advancement of human society, where both provides and receivers of support can share the joy.

We, JANCA, promote activities to build a system so that not only older people but also all generations can support each other. Hence, we support the goal of this conference and have decided to co-host the event. We hope our experiences in Japan can be helpful resources for people in USA and other countries.

References (all in Japanese)

Cabinet Office. Results of 2013 “Ageless Life Practice Examples” and “Social Activities Practice Examples.” http://www8.cao.go.jp/kourei/kou-kei/h25ageless/index.html

Cabinet Office. Results of 2014 “Ageless Life Practice Examples” and “Social Activities Practice Examples.” http://www8.cao.go.jp/kourei/kou-kei/h26ageless/index.html

Cabinet Office. Results of a Study on Participation in Community Activities among Older People 2013. http://www8.cao.go.jp/kourei/ishiki/h25/sougou/zentai/index.html

Coop Tomoshibi Foundation for Promotion of Volunteerism “Gakuyu Club Ginga” HP.

Shizuoka Prefecture. Grant for Model Projects 2014: Passing the Culture on to the Next Generation by the Elderly. http://www.pref.shizuoka.jp/kousei/ko-210/choujuhozyo.html

Shimane Council of Social Welfare. Shimane Ikiiki Fund Grant Project 2015.

Shimane Council of Social Welfare Dream Factory Market. Shimane Ikiiki Fund Practice Examples. http://www.shimane-yume-factory.jp/jirei/index.html

Fukui Prefecture Department of Health and Welfare (2013). Intergenerational Programs with Children at Community Salons: Practice Examples.

Yamagata Prefectural Association of Senior Citizens Clubs. Senior Supporters for Yamagata Hometown School.

Yamaguchi Prefectural University. Project to Support Activities for Sustainment of Regional Culture 2014.