In a Japanese Nursing Home, Some Workers Are Babies

They get paid in formula and diapers, and their work hours are flexible, in a program that connects people across generations and brightens lives.

Hikari Hida
John Yoon

By Hikari Hida and John Yoon

Sept. 1, 2022

TOKYO — Cooing, giggling and the patter of tiny feet mix with the sound of walkers and wheelchairs at a nursing home in southern Japan. In this graying nation, one home has been recruiting an unusual class of workers to enliven its residents’ days.

These are “baby workers,” as the nursing home’s head calls them: 32 children so far, all under 4 years old, who spend time with its residents, who are mostly in their 80s. Residents strike up conversations with the young helpers. The babies, accompanied by their parents or guardians (usually mothers), offer the residents hugs.

The visitors’ reward? Diapers, baby formula, free baby photo shoots and coupons for a nearby cafe.

The facility, Ichoan Nursing Home, is in Kitakyushu, a city of 940,000 in Fukuoka Prefecture that is aging and shrinking like the rest of Japan. As families have become smaller and older people more isolated, the nursing home’s baby worker program has helped people connect across generations.

“I don’t get to see my grandkids very often, so the baby workers are a great treat,” said Kyoko Nakano, 85, who has lived at the nursing home for over a year. While she enjoys knitting and watching TV, she said she drops everything to spend time with the babies and toddlers when they arrive.