The ageing society and care (emergency) – a comparison of Japan and Germany

Report by Sebastian Auer, M.Sc. International Economics and Public Policy and Adam Josef Will, M.Ed. English and French

Japan and Germany - a distance of 9,000 kilometers. Japan is a foreign advanced civilization that is thousands of years old and yet there is an enormous similarity to German structures on various levels, be it in terms of economic power, legislation or university structures. Another similarity between the two countries is their demography. Both countries face similar challenges of an ageing population combined with a low birth rate, which have an impact on the social systems and labor markets in both countries. This makes the dialogue between the two friendly nations all the more important in order to develop ways and solutions for the common challenges.

The Q+ study program aims to respond to this by inviting lecturers from the renowned German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo, Japan, to Mainz every year as "Q+Fellows International".  Through this newly established cooperation the Q+ study program will provide space for international and interdisciplinary exchange.

To kick off the seminar on May 25th and 26th 2023, 14 Q+ students from 11 different disciplines were able to listen to a fact-filled, highly informative lecture by Prof. Dr Franz Waldenberger, Professor of Japanese Economics at LMU Munich and Director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies, on the topic of "Social ageing and care in a German-Japanese comparison". Prof Waldenberger, who opened the "official cooperation" between the DIJ and Q+, gave a first overview of the respective healthcare systems, the respective challenges Germany and Japan face as well as financing problems from a macroeconomic perspective, surprising the participants with striking parallels in both countries. Later that day, Prof Dr Renate Stemmer, Professor of Nursing Science and Nursing Management at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, described the current situation of informal and professional nursing care in Germany. The interactive presentation stimulated an intensive discussion with the seminar group about working conditions in the German care sector. Afterwards, the seminar participants developed keynote speeches on the German healthcare system and had a lively discussion about possible solutions.

On the following day, Prof. Dr Hiroko Kudo, Full Professor of public policy and management at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, Tokyo/Japan, who had travelled from Japan, presented the shortage of nursing staff in Japan. It was important for her to emphasize that Japan is actively working on solutions to tackle the nursing shortage and sees approaches in the areas of robotics and digitalization in particular. Nursing robots are already being used on a large scale in Japan. Nursing robots are particularly helpful for lifting/placing/moving patients, as heavy patients can normally only be moved with the help of several caretakers. In order to meet the social needs of patients, robots such as the therapy robot "Paro", which can support dementia patients in expressing and experiencing emotions, are increasingly being tested in Japan.

After the seminar group had discussed this and other possible solutions during the lunch break, Prof. Dr Claus Zippel, Professor of Business Administration and Management in Healthcare at Mainz University Hospital, gave a presentation on the potential of process optimization in the healthcare sector. Another highlight was the following discussion with Daniel Seidler, a nursing management student, who reported on some very practical impressions from his daily work. From his point of view, work in the care sector could be optimized e.g. by dismantling hierarchical structures.

In the concluding discussion round, the findings of the seminar were discussed and reflected on by the group participants. The impressions from theory and practice, the deepened understanding of the situation of care workers and the approaches presented and discussed emphasized once more the relevance of the topic. Furthermore, the international view of the problem did justice to the dimension, as looking beyond the horizon can enrich the exchange in Germany. Japan has interesting approaches and further intensive co-operation is important and desirable.

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