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Monday, March 8, 2021


Bridge the generation gap with respect


Professor David Nakamoto said Japanese customs surrounding respect for the elderly differs between the United States and Japan. | Henry Sturm/The Cougar

The elderly of this nation, and of all nations, possess vast amounts of wisdom, experience, passion, love and understanding. However, the elderly are often not treated with the respect and care they deserve due to some individuals’ beliefs that the elderly are senile or ill-tempered.

According to, we live in a “time when the global population of people ages 65 and older is expected to triple to 1.5 billion by mid-century.”

The article states that the United States is one of very few countries where many people believe individuals are primarily responsible for their own well-being in old age.

Thinking about the elderly sometimes gives one thoughts of one’s own aging and the accompanying troubles. This pushes people to look at age as a bad thing. Because of this view — which is widely shared as more and more people avoid and forget cultural rituals of respect — people, especially in Western civilizations, view their elders as a source of disgust and worry.

This situation is not just related to economics. A whole array of subjects, ranging from money, marriage and general respect, are involved in the deterioration of society’s admiration and respect for their elders.

Japanese professor David Nakamoto of UH’s Modern and Classical Languages department is 73 years old and said he has lived in America for almost 40 years. Because of this, he said he’s seen how differently Americans and his fellow Japanese treat their elders.

“You know, young people, they don’t know how to behave before elders in America,” Nakamoto said. “Now it’s all breaking down, all these orders: respect, traditions … people don’t have any patience.”

The situation is changing slightly in Japan. The youths are becoming less respectful toward the elderly — just as they are in America — but due to the strong cultural rituals, such respect still exists quite strongly.

“In Japan, we take care (of our elders) very well. That’s why I might return when I get a little older,” Nakamoto said.

All of this probably isn’t a shock to most; age is a large cause of discomfort these days. Nobody wants to feel as though death will soon be upon them — at least, that’s the way it is in America.

According to the “National Textbook Company’s Dictionary of Japan’s Cultural Code Words” by Boye Lafayette De Mente, “Buddhism taught the Japanese that life is a fragile thing, and should be cultivated to the fullest … out of this philosophy … came the concept that age — in all things — is to be venerated.”

This perspective understands and respects death, and in doing so erases the fear that is associated with the elderly. Get rid of the death aspect, and these folks are just older people who have been through life and have a lot of wisdom to share.

This isn’t an easy philosophy to embrace, especially among denizens of the West, who often view death as something to be feared.

But in this manifest destiny-style philosophy, the younger generations gain their own kind of senility: we forget to ignore death and celebrate life. We forget to honor those who have trudged up the long hill and reached the top, no matter the number of scars, and we forget how to treat older human beings with respect, love and justice.

The years have weighed heavy on the human race, and personal baggage has somehow become more deserving of more attention than the open arms and hearts of our elders, who faithfully paved the way.

“If you visit older folks in America, wow, they are lonely,” Nakamoto said. “Kids visit (their) older mom or dad once a month (and say), ‘Mom, we came to let you sign a check.'”

Lafayette De Mente also wrote that “respect for age, in things as well as people … played an important role in Japanese life from ancient times, and although considerably weakened now by the insensitivities of mechanized civilization, it is still a vital factor in Japanese society.”

What this all comes down to is that younger people have been trained to wear their individuality on their sleeve. As such, they now possess as much disdain as they do resourcefulness, and this disdain is directed at none other than those who taught them to be individuals.

But when does individualism become isolationism? Perhaps people could choose their own destiny and make their own way while still turning to their elders for love and wisdom. The way through life is only lonely if one chooses it to be that way.

“There’s a (Japanese) proverb: Oite wa fo ni shitagae,” Nakamoto said. “As you get older, you obey your children. When you get older … (you) let your kids take care of you. And you obey them.”

Just as “The Lion King” taught us, there is a circle of life. When it comes to aging and wisdom, that circle — if properly adhered to — results in one gaining wisdom while also being able to repay one’s elders for the care they gave.

There is nothing cool or punk rock about avoiding, disliking or ignoring the elderly. It is almost the same as biting that hand that feeds you.

Opinion columnist Henry Sturm is a journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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