Masako Wakamiya is a bright-spirited, talkative lady who just launched her first smartphone app.
She’s also 81 years old.
Masako-san felt compelled to take action after noticing that there weren’t many fun apps aimed at people her age. “We easily lose games when playing against young people, since our finger movements can’t match their speed.” The retired banker asked several people to create games for seniors, but soon discovered that no one was interested. So Masako-san took matters into her own hands and achieved something many people half her age haven’t managed.
“I wanted to create a fun app to get elderly people interested in smartphones,” she said. “It took about half a year to develop.” Wakamiya began using computers at age 60 when she was caring for her elderly mother and finding it difficult to get out and socialize with friends.
Twenty years ago, computers weren’t as user-friendly as they are today. Speaking at a TEDx conference in Tokyo in 2014, an energetic Wakamiya recalled how it took her three months to set up her computer and get online. “My face was covered in sweat and tears,” she said.
She joined what’s known as a “silver club” to learn how to use the internet and connect with other senior citizens online.
Her app, Hinadan, is an iOS game based on Japan’s traditional festival Hinamatsuri, or Doll’s Day, which is celebrated in early March.
During Hinamatsuri, ornamental dolls representing the emperor and his entourage dressed in traditional clothing are displayed in a specific arrangement. The game is simple – players must arrange a series of dolls in a specific order, and the app beeps in approval or disapproval depending on the player’s inputs.
She calls herself a technology evangelist and even wrote her own PC textbooks because she found the options available to her were too boring. “You don’t have to be a professional,” she said. “If you have creativity, if you have a playful mind, you can create teaching materials.”
Wakamiya now gives computers classes and blogs regularly in Japanese (and English with the help of Google’s translation tool). Although Hinadan was her first app, it won’t be her last. “I have lots of ideas and want to create new apps, but my programing skills are poor,” she said. “I need more time to develop them.”