Old Age Unveiled in the Illustrated Book ‘Otoshiyori’

In this book that's like a travel journal created in a land of seniors, illustrator Isabelle Boinot depicts the daily lives of the elderly.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Isabelle Boinot

In 2020, 28% of Japan’s population was aged over 65 years. These senior citizens, who are increasing in number in a country where the birth rate is declining year on year, were the subject illustrator Isabelle Boinot decided to focus on. In her book Otoshiyori, trésors japonais (‘Otoshiyori, Japanese Treasures’), she sketches the figures of these elderly people, sometimes hunched and often accompanied by a pet, as they wander through the shopping streets or sit at tables in kissaten, old fashioned cafés that are fast disappearing. 

‘Free from the burden of false appearances that we impose on ourselves for almost a lifetime in order to stick to the norm of the time or to separate ourselves from it at all costs, the otoshiyori seem to truly be themselves, similar to newborns who have nothing to hide’, Isabelle Boinot explains. ‘Over the course of my trips to the country, I’ve spent an increasing amount of time observing them, identifying their habits, following them in the street, sitting near them in cafés. In this book, I’ve captured these fleeting encounters and brief subjective moments in everyday life in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto…’, she continues. 


The precariousness of old age

Otoshiyori, trésors japonais is therefore reminiscent of a travel journal for a country of the elderly. The illustrator recounts her walks and encounters, paying attention to the finest details which she sketches to support her comments. The reader follows the elderly into their favourite shops, which are captured perfectly by the illustrator, from the employees to the customers via the different products on sale or the décor. They take the underground and the train with them, scrutinising their posture, their routes and their reserved seats. Lastly, Isabelle Boinot’s gaze lingers on their clothing style, sketching the essentials for any self-respecting Japanese senior citizen. 

The author does not ignore the difficulties that can be encountered by elderly people in Japan, however. The precarious nature of everyday life and the need to continue working beyond the age of 70 are also highlighted in Otoshiyori, trésors japonais. ‘Many otoshiyori have to keep working after the age of 70 for financial reasons, and their vulnerability is all the more discreet due to the strength of the pressure not to be a burden on the rest of society’, Isabelle Boinot explains. Otoshiyori, trésors japonais is therefore a real journey and not an imagined one to the world of senior citizens, who remain one of the challenges facing Japanese society. 


Otoshiyori, trésors japonais (‘Otoshiyori, Japanese Treasures’) (2022), a book illustrated by Isabelle Boinot and published by L’Association (not currently available in English).

© Isabelle Boinot

© Isabelle Boinot

© L'Association