Masako Wakamiya: Not Your Typical App Developer

Masako Wakamiya


“Now is the time to get your wings!”

Everyone was waiting for Apple CEO Tim Cook to unveil the latest gadgets and software updates at the company’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June—but they had to wait, because first, Cook wanted to introduce an app developer who stood out from the assembled crowd. She was a woman. And she was 82. Hailing from Japan, Masako Wakamiya had recently launched her first app.

Wakamiya, a retired banker, was 60 when she first touched a computer. Now, having just taught herself to code, she’d built her first app—a game called Hinadan.

From Banker to App Developer

In 1997, after 43 years in the banking industry in Japan, Wakamiya reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 and now was expected to stay home and care for her 90-year-old mother. The future she saw before her didn’t match who she was—a self-described impulsive “chatterbox” who loves being around people.

In a presentation at TEDx Tokyo, Wakamiya explains that she happened to read an article in a magazine at that time about the benefits of computers; if she had one, she realized, she could chat with people everywhere. So, she made an impulse buy of her first PC and, she says, “it changed the second part of my life.”

Computers were not only far more expensive 20 years ago; they were also less user-friendly. Setting hers up was a struggle, but she persevered. “Yes, I did it!” she screamed when she saw the message pop up on her screen showing that she was finally connected to the internet—after three months of trying. “My face was covered with sweat and tears.”

How to Get Wings and Make a “Silver Life”

In order to learn more, Wakamiya joined an online club for seniors, The Mellow Club, of which she is now vice-chairman. She calls the online friends she’s found there the treasures of her life and says they share deep conversations about aging and the end of life.

Wakamiya’s computer exposed her to a world she never knew existed—or, as she puts it, it gave her wings—and when her mother died ten years later, she decided to become an evangelist to other seniors, encouraging them to use computers to create a more enriched, energized and fulfilling life. She writes a blog that offers instructions on how to have fun with basic computing.

“Seniors tend to be depressed as they age, because they lose their teeth, hair, and family members,” Wakamiya told Refinery 29. “By teaching them how to do new things it gives them an excitement, a motivation. I really like that feeling and being able to share that.”

She noticed that there were no study materials for the computer that were fun and interesting, so Wakamiya figured out a way to create beautiful patterns using Excel, the spreadsheet application. Her designs, some inspired by authentic Japanese patterns, can be seen in the Excel Art Museum on her website. Her Excel tutorial is now used in computer school classes across Japan and overseas.

Masako Wakamiya’s App

In an email to the tech site Mashable, Wakamiya explained what inspired her to create an app for older people:

“Many smartphone apps are for young people,” she wrote, and older adults generally lose computer games when they play against young people, because “our finger movements can’t match their speed.” She said she wanted to encourage old people to start having fun using digital technologies.

Hinadan shows people the correct way to place traditional Japanese dolls for display during Hina Matsuri, the annual Japanese Doll Festival in February. Players must position 12 dolls in their correct places on a display consisting of four tiers.

The game has already garnered 25 five-star ratings and positive reviews in the App Store and, according to Refinery 29, is especially popular among older women in Japan. You can catch a glimpse of Wakamiya demonstrating the game herself here:

Wakamiya has plans to develop more apps and encourages older adults to embrace technology—whether via computer, smartphone or tablet. “Now is the time to get your own wings!”


2 responses to “Masako Wakamiya: Not Your Typical App Developer

  1. I would like to get in touch with Ms Wakamiya in connection with an app for the elderly which I’ve had in mind for some years. I’m retired from the IT industry but not a developer (I managed the implementation of custom software in the newspaper industry) and this is a realistic and essentially simple concept.
    I hope that you may be able to assist. Unfortunately I have no Japanese language ability.

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