About The Wisdom Years

Ageing is a universal, biological process that begins from the moment we are born. As we age, we change. Some faculties decline over time while others, like wisdom, expand. Ageing is fundamentally a social phenomenon. We age together and cultural and societal conventions greatly influence our life expectancy.

This documentary explores ageing in Japan – one of the richest, most technologically advanced and urbanized societies in the world. With over 30 000 centenarians, Japan is struggling to cope with a large and growing proportion of elderly in the population and declining birth rates. Having the world’s longest life expectancy ironically deepens the struggle. One common explanation for Japan’s top ranking is its strong health system and urban planning that creates a safe and comfortable living environment. But we need to look deeper in order to fully understand what is going on.

The Wisdom Years offers glimpses into the lives of elderly people of different social and economic backgrounds. We begin to understand that ageing is relative – two people may be of the same age, but differ in their mental and physical capacities. Scientists are beginning to explain these differences and to understand the characteristics of long, healthy lives. These come down to a combination of personality, lifestyle and – crucially – the strong human ties between family, friends and community.

Set in Japan, the documentary provides space for reflection on our individual journey through life and reminds us of the importance of respecting and honoring our elders as the guardians of society.


The purpose of the e-case study and video documentary is:
- To provide resources to policy-makers and academia to form comprehensive health policies around ageing.
- To stress the importance of building and strengthening relationships with family and other members of the community as a method to improve and maintain good health.
- To increase awareness of the importance of addressing  a wider range of factors impacting health – called social determinants of health.
- Provide practical suggestions for how countries can implement some interventions to respond to determinants.

Learning Objectives

Having completed this e-case study and after watching the documentary we anticipate the following outcomes.

- A much deeper understanding of what is meant by the term ageing society and the different definitions.
- Understand how the social deteminants of health relate to ageing and the health of the elderly.
- Relate the concept of healthy urbanization to the need to provide a suitable urban environment for the elderly.
- Appreciate the complex issues involved in ensuring that the elderly remain active post retirement.
- Explore the diverse range of opportunities for care provision for the elderly, and their pros and cons.
- Understand the implications of scientific breakthroughs in the area of regenerative medicine and the implications for society.

Intended audience

The primary audience of this e-case study and video documentary will be local, provincial, and national policy makers in multiple sectors including health, social welfare, city planning, finance and education. The secondary audience will be academia involved in research in the areas of ageing populations and social determinants of health, educators involved with the training of workers in the health sector, and the students taking graduate programmes in health related studies. Third, we anticipate that this e-case study and video documentary will be of interest to the general public, since ageing is something that affects everyone.


“Healthy Urbanization: Optimizing the impact of social determinants of health on exposed populations in urban settings” is a project of the The WHO Centre for Health Development in Kobe, Japan (WHO Kobe Centre). Through its ongoing initiative, the Centre hopes to contribute to the generation of new knowledge and stimulate action to confront the issue of health inequity in urban settings in both developing and developed countries.

The Library of e-case studies is a project of the UNU Media Studio based in Tokyo, Japan. As part of this project, the UNU produced an e-case study in 2005 entitled Saving the Ayuquila River and in 2007 launched a web-application that enables academics to build their own e-case studies – Fieldtrip.

In 2007, WHO Kobe Centre and the UNU Media Studio agreed to partner in the production of a video documentary and e-case study. The Wisdom Years is the outcome from this collaboration and explores the issue of ageing in an urban context in Kobe, and more widely in Japan.

About WHO Kobe Centre

As part of the World Health Organization, the WHO Centre for Health Development in Kobe, Japan, also known as “WHO Kobe Centre”, conducts research into the health consequences of social, economic, environmental and technological change and its implications for health policies. This research enhances WHO’s capacity to address priority health issues that require coordinated multidisciplinary and intersectoral action.

The Centre, established in 1995, is part of a worldwide network of research institutes that support technical cooperation, capacity building and the exchange of information on science and best practices. While fulfilling its global mandate, the Centre also responds to local interests and needs, utilizing international knowledge and experience where appropriate, as well as drawing on local and national expertise for global application.

About the UNU Media Studio
The UNU Media Studio was established in March 2003 and works in collaboration with a global network of partners to develop and share open educational resources. Through a small team based in Tokyo, the UNU promotes innovation in the building of interactive content and video documentaries that engage, entertain and educate.

The core creative team is comprised of specialists in web and graphic design, documentary and multimedia production, as well as educational technology and instructional design. In developing projects, this team collaborates with subject matter experts from within the UNU, from other UN bodies, partner universities and independent professionals.

Credits for the e-case study

Brendan Barrett
Kaori Brand
Frank Grenier
Lori Sloate
Citt Williams

Website design and conceptualization
David Jimenez
Sean Wood

Frank Grenier
Brendan Barrett

Richard Bradford

Creative Direction
Sean Wood

Graphic design
David Jimenez

Oleg Butuzov

Technical support
Jason Hall

Sunflare Translation Services

Taeko Okada

Credits for the Video Documentary

Appearances by:

- Mr. Yasujiro Yamaguchi, “The Perfect Centenarian” and 103-year-old kimono maker (Kyoto)
- Mr. Iwao Yamaguchi, president of Yamaguchi Textile
- Mr. Eiki and Mrs. Ayako Shigyo, retired couple at the elite Elegano retirement home (Kobe)
- Dr. Kazuo Tsubota, Vice-Chief Director of the Japanese Society of Anti-Ageing Medicine (Tokyo)
- Ms. Rie Umehara, Care worker at Yutaka Nursing Home (Tokyo)
- Dr. Nobuyoshi Hirose, Gerontologist and supervisor of key centenarian studies (Tokyo)
- Mr. Kazuo Sakamoto and Ms. Midori Sugihara, HAT Kobe community health volunteers (Kobe)
- Mr. Junya Fujio, founder of Elegano (Kobe)
- Mr. Katsundo Marugami, retired engineer, Second year student at Silver College (Kobe)
- Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, Director of WHO Kobe Centre, Japan (Kobe)
- Prof. Micheal Marmot, Director of Dept. of Epidemiology, University College, London
- Prof. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Profesor, National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, Tokyo
- Ms. Matsu Yamazaki, 103-year-old shopkeeper (Tokyo)
- Mr. Hikaru Inoue, Development Group, Olympus Terumo Biomaterials

Director and producer
Andreina Lairet
Kaori Brand
Citt Williams

Executive producer
Brendan Barrett

Ryo Murakami

Yoshiko Matsuda

Sound recordist
Naoto Nakamagoe

Music by
David Jimenez and Daniel Jimenez

Sound design & mixer
Junnosuke Okita(Okidesign)
Reone Yasuda

Additional camera

Kazutomo Iwata
Luis Patron

Additional sound recording
Shoichi Morishita

Japanese narrator
Saori Nishihara
(PINES Inc.)

English narrator
Rachel Smith
(IST Co., Ltd)

Additional music
by Hector Zarate
Cyan NetLabel CC

Assistant editor
Yoshiro Osaka

Graphic design
David Jimenez

Translator/co-ordinator who interviews
Junko Takahashi

Japan Video Translation Academy
Ayako Takahashi
Kayo Obara

Production accountant
Taeko Okada

Online editing and color correction

Equipment rental
Video Service

YS Location
AR Service co.ltd.

Archival photographs
Kyodo News

Osferion x-ray photographs
National Hospital Organization Utsunomiya National Hospital
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Takaaki Tanaka M.D.,PH.D.

with technical inputs from who kobe centre
(in alphabetical order):
Faten Ben Abdelaziz
Richard Bradford
Frank Grenier
Jaz Lapitan
Susy Mercado
Mojgan Sami
Lori Sloate
Hiro Ueda

Special Thanks to:
Miki Kuroda
Kobe Film Office
Elegano Kobe
Junzo Mizuashi
HAT Kobe community
HAT Minyou Club
HAT Nursery School
Silver College
Silver College Organic Farming Club
Silver College Internet Club
Yoshiaki and Kimiko Yamashita
Masatoshi Ebisu
Yamaguchi family
Yamaguchi Textile co.
Yamazaki family
Kazuo Okawa
Yutaka-en nursing home
Olympus corporation
Dr Kazuo Tsubota, Catherine Oshima, Eri Kubota
Kobe Mosaic Garden
Studio Mario Kitamura Group
Jason, Kyoko, Hana Hall
Miogi and Luka Takii
Tomomi and Yugo Endo
JR West Location Service
Kobe Portopia Hotel
University of Hyogo Research Institute of Nursing care
Takashi Miki
Richard Kipnis and Claudianna Blanco at Virgin Earth inc.
Nanae Bauldauff
Roy Wadia