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Retirement: Different context and meaning – Japan and hip hop

by on August 11, 2016

Two stories about retirement caught my eye this week, not least because of their very different contexts and the different meanings of the term.

First, as reported here in The Guardian, Emperor Akihito of Japan (aged 82) has hinted that he wants to step down. And second, the hip hop artist Bow Wow (aged 29) also reported in The Guardian has announced that he is retiring from music, on the basis that he doesn’t see himself rapping as a 30-year-old.

The Japanese Emperor is apparently explicitly prohibited from retiring so possibly he may be intending some other arrangement such as the appointment of a regent who would be able to take on the more physically demanding duties with which he implies he is struggling. Of course our own monarch is some years his senior (90 to his 82) and still going strong.  The Emperor on the other hand has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, reinforcing how we can’t generalise on the health and fitness levels of older workers. Despite political difficulties, public opinion in Japan is apparently in favour of allowing him a rest, reinforcing the notion of retirement as a well-earned respite from the rigours of a lifetime’s work.

In the case of Bow Wow, this sounds like a case of internalising a social norm in relation to age and music, though the article also refers to his argument that he has already achieved all he wanted. He talks of retiring from a music career but pursuing other work such as acting and television production, so here the term indicates closure on one career but the start of another. His decision however contrasts with a quite different trend, which we’ve noted before in this blog, of musicians and singers who carry on performing well past their  60s, beyond any ‘normal’ retirement or pension age. Is it different for rappers? Is this seen exclusively as a young person’s activity?

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