Japan is now facing huge challenges of economic growth and sustainable development under the situation of increasing aging population and rapid declining birth-rate. In this context, the social participation of the elderly has been promoted by the Japanese government and society. Meanwhile, new findings of academic research on the changes in human development physically and psychologically provide the potential to promote the social participation of the elderly.
However, the environment for social participation, including ageism and employment discrimination, has not improved. The elderly are facing various difficulties during the actual participation process. There is also a tendency of seeing “active” participation as a panacea to solve social problems, which may lead to the exclusion of participants and narrowing the definition of social participation.
Therefore, this study reveals the fundamental question of what is the social participation of the elderly in Japan, by focusing on the actual living experience of individuals during their participation process, which is to rethink the social role of the elderly in the era of the knowledge-based society.
By in-depth analyzing the social participation behavior and narrative discourse of the elderly in different case studies, this study illustrates the mechanism of which the elderly acquire subjective initiative and creative capacity of knowledge through social participation. This finding indicates that the shift of social-economic structure from expanded reproduction to qualitative development requires us to change the thinking model on human value. Building a social environment with diversity, inclusivity, and equality is an essential condition to achieve this goal.