Virtual reality helps Japan’s elderly travel the world

(CNN) — Traveling from the canals of Venice to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a group of elderly people in Japan is seeing the world — without even leaving their seats.

It’s all thanks to virtual reality, as well as a team at the University of Tokyo led by Kenta Toshima.

As a therapist, Toshima traveled the globe capturing 360-degree videos to show his senior patients. His aim was to help them find joy and motivation in life, using VR technology to allow those who are unable to travel satisfy their wanderlust and see the world again.

“They wanted to see even more of the places from their memories, therefore I felt that I could show them more by using virtual reality and showing them [these places] in 360,” he tells CNN Travel. “With VR, they can look around however they’d like to and experience the footage actively.”

A class at the University of Tokyo gives seniors a chance to both watch and create VR travel videos.

A class at the University of Tokyo gives seniors a chance to both watch and create VR travel videos.


Toshima then teamed up with University of Tokyo lecturer and assistant professor Atsushi Hiyama, whose field of study focuses on geron-informatics.

Together they are applying technology, such as VR, to support Japan’s hyper-aged society while also teaching active senior citizens to film and edit 360-degree videos from their travels to give to their less mobile peers.

“90% of people who are over 65 years old are very active,” says Hiyama. “They don’t need support to live alone. For the active elderly, it means that they are participating in society.”

‘It takes them to a different place right before their eyes’

We attended one of their sessions at the university. Our classmates ranged from 53 to 90 years old and had been learning about VR technology for about a year.

There, we met 82-year-old Takeshi Maki, who told us he had traveled to Hawaii with his 360 camera.

“I have [friends who cannot travel], because I am over 80 years old,” he explains. “When I showed [the footage] to my friends, they were so surprised. You know most of the senior people cannot move or travel, right? This camera can help them.”

According to Hiyama and Toshima, the VR travel project works in conjunction with physical rehabilitation in nursing care facilities.

They are hoping these virtual reality vacations can help the elderly patients with matters of the body — and the mind.

“Those who have lived to 80-90 years, there aren’t so many things they haven’t personally experienced,” Toshima tells us.

“When they see the VR, [it] takes them to a different place right before their eyes. I saw people stand up who don’t normally stand up, who then start walking. It was so shocking.”

“Even if our physical and mental conditions decline because of aging, we can still experience and participate in society by using VR technology,” adds Hiyama.

This article originally appeared here