J-STORIES – In Arakawa City, Tokyo, there’s a coffee shop that offers something different to its elderly clients: electric wheelchairs and handcarts. The Mobile Care & Ocha Cafe has a space to allow visitors to try welfare equipment such as wheelchairs, senior trolleys and canes before they consider purchasing.
Technology has diversified the range of mobility equipment to assist people with weak backs and legs, including the elderly. However, many are still reluctant to use these devices for reasons like the lack of insurance coverage, prohibitive costs, and embarrassment that comes with using them. The cafe owners advocate the positive aspects of adopting these devices.
“I think it's better to use the equipment while you can still walk on your own, so you can think clearly and build up your physical strength,” said Yoshio Nakano, who manages the cafe with his wife Mayumi.
They are certified welfare equipment consultants who got their motivation for the cafe from their past work as ophthalmologists. Many of their patients stopped coming to the clinic in the middle of their treatment.
“At the start, the older patients were able to come. But as their health worsened and their bodies became rigid, they gradually stopped. Their children would bring them to the clinic, but they eventually gave up visiting,” Nakano told J-STORIES.
“I thought it would be beneficial if old people could visit the hospital or go shopping by themselves, even for just a short distance. That’s why I created this kind of cafe,” he added.
Beyond the special service they provide to the elderly, Mobile Care & Ocha Cafe is a normal cafe that also sells home-made chiffon cakes and additive-free sweets. It is open to the public, including those who do not plan to buy the equipment.
Nakano said he wants the elderly to at least try the equipment if they feel something is wrong and realize there are different options available.
Electric wheelchairs are gaining popularity, but one unit is still prohibitively expensive. Nakano hopes for solutions like government subsidies and sharing services in train stations (similar to bicycles). But there is one big social hurdle that remains, Nakano shared.
“When I asked, they said they were embarrassed to ride an electric wheelchair. Convertible cars are common in the U.S., but are rare in Japan. For the same reason, they said they are embarrassed because their faces can be seen,” he said. Though helpful, walking canes are also avoided because they suggest the user has a limp. So people use an umbrella instead.
But there’s one device favored by others: the silver car, or handcart. “The silver car has a grocery basket in the back or front. It is basically a portable seat, but the basket makes it seem like it’s for shopping. Also, the sidecar is less conspicuous, so it can be used without worries about being seen," Nakano said.
At the moment, the Mobile Care & Ocha Cafe is the only one of its kind in Japan, but Nakano said it would be great if the café concept spread all over the country. The couple also has a plan to have visitors test equipment currently under development.
”In Japan, welfare equipment tends to focus on indoor products like beds because of outside danger, but I think it is better for the elderly to go out and live socially with younger people as long as possible. I would be happy if our store could help in some ways," Nakano said.
Translated by Dedsiderio Luna
Photo by Alisa Okawara
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