We all dream of aging with dignity. If seniors were asked about their perfect place to grow older and retire, I believe most of them would pick an idyllic place in nature, surrounded by friends of the same age.
Two Japanese women thought of the same when they opened a private retirement home.
The magical residence has been designed by Tokyo-based architect Issei Suma, after his mother, Nobuko Suma, and her friend Sachiko Fujioka, decided to have a place where they could live out their days comfortably.
Named “Jikka”, or “parent’s house”, it consists of five small hut-like structures that join together.
After working for ten years in the welfare sector in Tokyo, the two women started worrying about their future and eventually thought of this place as an opportunity to help the elderly in the community.
“We were worried that in the future someone would have to take care of us. Considering we were like-minded and had worked together in the past, we started talking about how our two families could help each other out and care for the elderly.”
Over 15 years ago, with the idea of the retirement home already in mind, they came across a plot of land that was up for sale, so they decided to buy it.
It is located in Shizuoka, home to Mount Fuji, and a popular retreat destination for people leading hectic lifestyles in Tokyo.
“It’s warm, the air is fresh, the water is delicious and there are plenty of vegetables. The land is old, but there are a lot of people who emigrated here so there are a lot of aspects of this place that charmed us.”
Even though they have moved to their retirement home, the two friends are still active. They run a food delivery service for the elderly, with Nobuko baking breads and cakes, and Fujioka cooking meals.
There is an astonishing dining room in the heart of the five huts with a 26-feet (8-meter) high ceiling. It acts as a massive cooking space, with a stainless steel kitchen and a massive table.
The kitchen is open to the public, functioning as a lunchtime restaurant. They also deliver meals to seniors living alone in the local community.
“Perhaps 10 or so years from now, the elderly could stay here to be cared for.”
The shape of Jikka mimics the surrounding mountain range.
“When they approached me about this house and their concept, they told me this was going to be their final abode. They were going to serve the community and live here for the rest of their lives. They told me they did not want anything fancy — nothing embellished, (or) trying to be cool — but something that is down to earth.”
The living quarters include a shared bedroom, bathroom, and storage. Spaces are unembellished as a primitive hut, with concrete walls, floors, and tables.
The design contains a “back-to-nature” ethos, and Issei believes that the wood used will eventually blend in with the 820-feet (25-meter) high zelkova trees around the site.
The home has no stairs, as it was built with retirement in mind, and it even has a spiral-shaped bath, suitable for wheelchair access.
“I think it’s a trend (in Japan) for younger people to move outside of the city and have a happier life outside of the city. One thing I can imagine is that, after my mother, younger people can run the facility. If it’s good for older people it should be good for (others) too.
I came up with the spiral shape which enables you to use a wheelchair and go down it. At the same time, it’s a great pool for kids and it’s going to be a great jacuzzi for couples, too.
That’s my idea of universal design — it’s something that makes every generation happy.”
The high ceilings also create an abundance of natural light, seeping through them into the spa room.
For Issei, they are also symbols of old age.
“In that sense, it might make sense that a person that might move out here and live here in a primitive hut — by the end of their life they can somehow grow up to the roof to the ceiling to the sky. And maybe to heaven.”
Japan has the world’s oldest population, and it treats its senior citizens with respect, care, and love. Seniors account for a record 28.4 percent of the population, with 2.31 million people older than ninety, and 71 thousand people at least one hundred years old.
These two women seem to have found the ideal calm and scenic place to enjoy their final years and care for numerous other seniors.