Learning computers at 60, making handheld games at 82 Visiting the world's oldest game developer

"Is it too late to learn so-and-so skills at XX years old?" If this were heard by 82-year-old Grandma Masako Wakamiya, I'm only afraid she would spit out the idea that it's so out there.

Learning English at 40, buying a computer at 60 and creating a game app at 80, Japanese grandmother Masako Wakamiya, who turned 82 this year, has explained what it means to live and learn. As the world's oldest female programmer, she participated in Apple's Developer Conference in the United States last June and was invited by the United Nations to speak in English at the UN headquarters in New York in February this year.

Today, she makes the senior-oriented handheld game "Daisy Tan" which has 80,000 users worldwide. In an interview with Nikkei Business a few days ago, Masako Wakamiya said, "Do what you want to do now and go where you want to go now. "

I'll do what the young people won't do

Back in the fall of 2016, I got the idea to create an app for seniors. I've always felt that older people should use smartphones more, but my peers around me keep saying "they're too hard to use". I once asked a young app developer, "Can you develop a handheld game that will make older people happy to play? "We don't know what kind of handheld games older people would like," they replied. "In that case, I'll have to do it myself.

I had a general idea of what older people might like in a game, and taught myself the necessary programming in order to get the game made. Although the basic programming knowledge I have is not comprehensive, it's enough to get Daisy Tan (a handheld game developed by Masako Wakamiya) made.

Now, the game is available in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese, and the number of users under the global has exceeded 80,000. Last June I received an invitation from Apple to attend the Developer Conference as the oldest female app developer in the world. In February this year I was invited to deliver a speech in English at the United Nations.

Learn from scratch if you have no experience

I have no programming experience. I bought a lot of books that taught programming at the bookstore near my residence and started from scratch. The whole process of making "Daisy Altar" took about six months, and when I encountered something I didn't understand along the way, I would ask my younger friends for advice.

My pre-retirement job was as a bank clerk and I was introduced to computers when I was nearing retirement. At that time, I had to take care of my mother who was bedridden at home, and since I was worried that I might not be able to leave the house to take care of her and that my contact with the outside world might gradually diminish, I purchased a computer and began to learn how to access the Internet. I crave interaction with the outside world, or simply put, I want to find someone to talk to.

With no prior exposure to computers, the initial plug and play assembly was all a bit of a struggle for me. It took 3 months from getting the computer back to being able to access the internet. I joined the mellow club, a senior citizen's salon, in order to interact with others. I still remember the first time I saw "Ma-chan, welcome" (Ma-chan is Masako Wakamiya's term of endearment) displayed on the page.

After that I learned to use the computer to communicate with people and gather all kinds of information, and it all made me very happy. Technology has made my retirement very fulfilling.

It's not hard to keep up with technology

I really like new things and whenever the latest tech comes out, I actively try it.

Wakamiya Masako's own necklace design, made using 3D printing

For the elderly, technology can compensate for the effects of declining physical functions. Memory, for example, is something that happens when you get older, whereas I can leave the job of remembering things to the computer and just use it to search for it when I need it. Wouldn't that be easy?

When you're out and about having a conversation with someone and can't think of what to say, you can use your phone to do a quick search. The other day, I suddenly forgot the word "Bagna càuda" (an Italian-style vegetable dip), so I searched for it by typing "steamed vegetables", "sauce", and "dip" using a voice search app. As a result, detailed information on the preparation of Bagna càuda, the history of the dish, and the etymology of the word came up, and I learned a lot of new things with it.

Last year I was contacted by foreign media for an interview and they said they wanted me to answer some questions on the day. I used Google Translate to translate the Japanese into English and sent it to them. While Google Translate isn't completely accurate, it at least conveys the meaning. Google's photo translation also helped me a lot when I was traveling in Russia. It's so convenient to just open the app on your phone, take a picture of the Russian menu or flyer, and the Russian on it will be translated into Japanese.

I used Airbnb to book a B&B with a kitchen when I was invited by the United Nations to visit New York in February this year. Fellow travellers simply buy fresh fish from the nearby market and we can use the kitchen to cook fish dishes. It's amazing how technological advances have made traveling overseas so easy and enjoyable.

A constant challenge

"If something of interest comes up, don't hesitate to launch a challenge. It's never too late to start no matter how old you are. "That's what I believe in. I would say to middle-aged and older people over 40: "The idea that 'it's only ...... now' is a big no-no. "Don't worry if it's too late, try even a little bit, and please don't give up on challenging yourself to something new.

Incidentally, I didn't start learning English until I was 40. Although I couldn't reach fluency, at least by trying, I felt that learning English wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Without that attempt at age 40, when I received an invitation to speak in English from the United Nations in my 80s, I probably would have given up for fear of not being able to do it.

The idea that "you have to put up with it now for the sake of your retirement" is long overdue. The future can't be predicted, not to mention the fact that society is changing so quickly now that it's pointless to "live with" it.

Nowadays, young people are very busy with their work, and many of them think that "they can talk about their hobbies and interests after retirement" and "they want to earn more money for their retirement". I want to say to them, do what you want to do now, go where you want to go now. It is only by making the "now" more fulfilling that we can enhance our value as human beings.

The age of AI is coming soon, and the value of people in the new age is the most important thing. In the future era, you will be able to create apps even without programming knowledge, but you can't create value if you don't know what people need and what will bring convenience to their lives. It is our good fortune to live in an age of rapid technological advancement, and it is the greatest waste not to enjoy the bounty of technology.

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