I’m looking for the English counterpart to the Japanese word, “ショッピング難民” - shopping refugees by verbatim translation.

Because of the rapid graying of Japan’s population, the population in the remote rural areas is in sharp decline, and retail shops such as grocery stores, supermarkets and gas stations are all closed.

Not only old people, but the healthy residing in depopulated places are now suffering difficulty / inconvenience in shopping.

I don’t know if there are similar situations happening in other corners of the world, but I would like to know how to describe both these people - those who are unable to shop due to old age and those who cannot shop due to the disappearance of shops in two or three English words.

  • Although it's not close enough to your term to be an answer, this book coined the term "elderburbia" (referring to how suburbs trap the elderly due to their layout).
    – Laurel
    Mar 14, 2018 at 23:24
  • 1
    I don't know of a term to refer to people but in the United States, areas where it is difficult or impossible to get a good or service get referred to as deserts. Areas without fresh food are referred to as food deserts and areas that lack financial services are called banking deserts.
    – BSMP
    Mar 14, 2018 at 23:26
  • 1
    Also "book deserts" @BSMP Mar 15, 2018 at 0:03
  • @Yoichi Oishi - are you looking for a word to describe "those who are unable to shop due to old age and those who cannot shop due to the disappearance of shops" (i.e. people who are isolated/marooned by circumstance and dependent on others). Or are you wanting to describe people who are "suffering difficulty / inconvenience in shopping" due to the disappearance of shops (i.e. people who are able to shop for themselves but have to make a bigger effort than most).
    – Dan
    Mar 15, 2018 at 1:31
  • 1
    @John Go-soco. “refugee” in “shopping refugee” implies that weak elderies and morooned rural area residents where all retail shops and gas stations disappered due to depopulation are placed in the constrained and miserable living conditions like refugees thrown into a refugee camp, where they cannnot otain even daily necessities. It might be a bit exaggelation, but still applies. Mar 15, 2018 at 23:51

8 Answers 8


tl;dr we don’t really have a common idiom for this in British English; others have answered from an American viewpoint (food desert in particular, which term has shown up here — originally in ‘so-called’ quotes, then later without — but I’m still not hearing it used in everyday speech).

In UK English, at least, we’d sometimes refer to such people simply as housebound (for those with “mobility issues, a.k.a. the “elderly and infirm”; where the difficulty is high rather than absolute we’d temper it slightly and say virtually or almost housebound), or (@mari-lou-a’s word choice :o)) isolated. The difficulty shopping part is taken as read, in both cases. There is social awareness of this which is reflected in the existence of specific charities who help people with access to (primarily food) shops.

As Mari-Lou noted, this (isolation, difficulty shopping, &c) is the normal state of affairs in rural communities such as those in Italy (for example), and so isn’t really remarked upon (thus isn’t usually featured in the language in a special way). It’s normal in many parts of Britain, too.

Finally, we don’t really seem to have the problem to such a degree here in my neck of the woods. There was a trend over the last twenty years or so towards large, out-of-town supermarkets, which did make life awkward for those without cars, especially for poorer people who struggled to pay the higher prices of small urban retailers; but the current trend is now for the large chains to aggressively target urban and suburban areas with smaller versions of their stores (that suffix their branding with words like Express, Local or Metro). These have higher prices than the large stores on some items, especially in the capital, but still tend to undercut the more traditional local retailers.

I’m aware that blanket statements are almost always wrong somewhere, so please treat all of this with a healthy degree of skepticism.

It’s also possible the difficulty of finding a good term is compounded by the British tendency to understate things (“can’t get out so much these days” versus “bedridden”), where the Japanese term is rather a (slight) exaggeration.

I found little with Google, possibly because the words are too common, but a search for elderly people who can't go shopping turned up this gem (Cambridge University Press, via Google Books).

  • Care to explain the downvote, when I (a) provided a common term for the people concerned (as OP asked for) and (b) cited an example that was aimed specifically at English learners? Mar 15, 2018 at 0:37
  • Although both your words can apply, neither makes any reference to the reason why the people are housebound/isolated. You can be housebound and isolated in a city-centre apartment with shops on the street below. The OP is wanting words that will make clear that people are isolated because amenities around them have closed (not my downvote, btw).
    – Dan
    Mar 15, 2018 at 1:41
  • @Dan Again, he asked for words for both, and I’ve answered that (here in my country at least) it’s common to refer to people who are unable to get out of the house (whether to shop or for other purposes) as housebound (or virtually housebound when it’s in the can-but-it’s-very-hard territory). I admit it’s an incomplete answer, at this point; I should either revise or delete it. Mar 15, 2018 at 1:50
  • I think ‘housebound’ is a good word to use. ‘Housebound elderly shoppers’ or ‘housebound shoppers’ might be good.
    – Jelila
    Mar 15, 2018 at 1:59

People, old and young, who live in areas where amenities have withered away have been marooned - 'lost and separated from companions', in a 'desolate' place 'from which (they) cannot escape"(OED).

So Japanese 'shopping refugees' might be odescribed more accurately in English as marooned shoppers.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 15, 2018 at 16:06

I think that, being a typical Japanese phenomenon, shopping refugees is the new coined term you have to refer to as suggested in the following article:

A new term being tossed around by the media is kaimono nanmin (shopping refugees). It refers to people who have been cut off from the retail sector. Usually, it describes older people on fixed incomes living in remote areas, which over the past decade or so have become even more remote with the shuttering of traditional local retail districts (shotengai).



Analysis of Shopping Behavior of Elderly People considering the Satisfaction of Quality and Distance to Grocery Stores

Focusing on the "Latent shopping refugees"


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 15, 2018 at 16:01


The problem with using the Japanese phrase “shopping refugees” is that it is unknown outside of Japan. In fact, if we Google the phrase in quotation marks, Japanese websites are among the first results: The Japan Times, J-Stage, a website dedicated to science and technology information in Japan, and a paper written by three Japanese academians, entitled Web shopping support system for elderly people using WebRTC

If we search the expression refugee shoppers on Google News, we receive exactly three results, one of which is a false positive. It's worth citing these two excerpts to illustrate why the coined expression “shopping refugees” would be misunderstood.

  1. But for the immigrant and refugee shoppers at the farm, cooking bitter melon and foods such as okra, mustard greens, long beans, and red roselle is second nature

  2. … humanitarian funding means much-needed relief for refugee families but also a considerable boost for Djibouti's economy, with thousands of refugee shoppers buying food in local shops and markets.

Oxford Dictionaries define refugee as “someone who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.”

Consequently, from a native speaker's point of view, the term "refugee" conjures up images of immigrants, of all different ages, fleeing from political or religious persecution and oppression, people in desperate need of shelter, and protection. Not the elderly who live in towns or regions where small grocery stores have been forced to close. So @user2922582's answer, which recommends adopting verbatim the Japanese phrase won't work unless the context is provided and/or its meaning explained. Likewise, the answer the disenfranchised, which was suggested by @Bread, fails to describe the social phenomenon in Japan unless its author preemptively explains its meaning.

There is no established English counterpart to “shopping refugees”

This is reinforced by the following scaremongering newspaper headlines, articles that describe the demise of retail shopping often due to the rise of online commerce. Journalists and editors tend to focus on the loss of profit and jobs in the retail sector, rather than its effect on the poor, the infirmed elderly, and the semi-invalid

  • The retail apocalypse
  • Streets without shops
  • The death of brick-and-mortar
  • Retail Meltdown
  • Walmart Is Ruining America's Small Towns
  • War of convenience
  • High street gloom

On the socioeconomic front

  • Barriers to food shopping for older people
  • Food Shopping in Later Life
  • Small towns fight to save grocery stores

The disappearance of the grocery store — more than an inconvenience to the elderly, the poor and those who don’t drive — speeds the plummet of home values and any other lingering retail activity.

I did find one American English expression that had some affinity with the Japanese one, it's not one I am familiar with, so I don't know how well-known it is among British English speakers but the term food desert is about the availability of grocery stores and supermarkets or lack thereof, especially, in rural areas.

  • More than 18 million people, including almost 5 million elderly, lived in a food desert in 2010. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as a low-income area where many residents do not live close to a supermarket.

  • Residents of food deserts face many obstacles in consuming nutritious food, ranging from fewer local stores with healthy food, higher food prices at smaller local grocers, and the time and expense of travelling to a supermarket.

  • As a result, living in a food desert may not only affect the quality of one’s diet, but also the ability to purchase food and other necessities and the need for public food assistance programs.

  • Compared to other groups, elderly individuals may be particularly affected by food deserts: strong neighborhood ties encourage them to stay in a community even after businesses leave, fixed incomes make paying higher food prices difficult, and physical limitations limit travel.

The Impact of Food Deserts on Food Insufficiency and SNAP Participation among the Elderly by Katie Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor of Economics at Seattle University

"Food desert" is also mentioned in The Kansas City Star

Two out of every five Kansas counties include a food desert, an area at least 10 miles from the nearest grocery.

Brief description

I would suggest that the OP explain to visitors coming to Japan that "shopping refugees" are basically

the elderly without means of transport who live in food deserts

I know it's not snappy–it's eleven words–but it is understandable.

  • 4
    I'm sorry Mari-Lou A, I say this because it's true and not because you harshly criticized my answer -- but the OP asked for a word or phrase to describe the people involved, not the situation causing the problem. "I would like to know how to describe both these people - those who are unable to shop due to old age and those who cannot shop due to the disappearance of shops
    – Bread
    Mar 15, 2018 at 0:26
  • 2
    @Bread harshly criticised? Wow... so "disenfranchised", your answer, specifically refers to people who cannot shop due to old age or lack of facilities, does it? I didn't read that in the dictionary definition. Again, not my DV.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2018 at 0:28
  • 2
    Food desert is one of the terms I thought of, but it too has problems as it is usually used to refer to a lack of availability of healthy foods in urban areas. But the fact that I know the word (as much as I want to forget the class I learned it in) is a point in its favor.
    – Laurel
    Mar 15, 2018 at 0:41
  • @Bread While it may not literally answer the question, it’s a helpful answer (and often enough “here’s another way to look at your problem” is the only answer most of us can see!). For example, describing the situation allows one to then refer to the people as those trapped in food deserts. Mar 15, 2018 at 1:00

I would go with a simple term: displaced elder consumer.

It's short, it describes being elderly, being a consumer, and being out of the reach of accessible shopping. It's not literal to shopping/kaimono nanmin, but I think fits the description the best.

As for being a consumer in a low availability area despite being not elderly, I may go with simply underserved consumer.

The area in which this situation occurs is commonly known as a retail desert, or, more specifically when relating to foodstuffs and groceries, a food desert.

  • Isn't it the amenities that have been 'displaced' rather than the consumer? And while it's true that the 'shopping refugees' are 'underserved', underserved gives no indication of the process (i.e. shops etc closing down) that has lead to them being underserved.
    – Dan
    Mar 15, 2018 at 0:41
  • @Dan Good points. It is certainly the amenities that have been displaced, not necessarily the consumer, as the consumer has been there through the departure of the amenities.
    – psosuna
    Mar 15, 2018 at 15:29

"retail services in rural areas" is a good search term.

Housebound describes not only the elderly who may be unable to get to stores (if they exist), but also the temporarily or permanently disabled.

Areas not served by retail establishments is not a new, although the problem of retail establishments leaving remote areas because of online competition is relatively new.

Here are three articles on retailing in rural markets (in India, Scandanavia, and Japan):




There seems to be no phrase that comes up to describe those underserved or no longer served by retail outlets.

The U.S. Constitution gave the Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads partly to ensure communications and also to make it possible to deliver goods (e.g., seeds) to farmers and others in rural areas. The Sears-Roebuck catalog sold just about everything. The modern version is Amazon. In this environment "dessert" seems more like a plea for a government subsidy than a statement of fact.

  • 3
    Did you not notice I'd already suggested this exact term? Mar 15, 2018 at 1:07
  • 2
    Yes, actually, I did notice, but I had already written some of the above. Great minds. . .
    – Xanne
    Mar 15, 2018 at 1:22
  • You do appear to have put a lot of effort into what looks like a rather unnecessary polemic about United States history [you could just link to Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road for that ;o)] Mar 15, 2018 at 1:47
  • As the current population ages, online shopping will be an option for the (new) elderly. As they will know how to use technology. Individual craft making and local sharing and online sites such as Etsy may also fill the gap, where we buy from each other, not just from chain stores. As globalisation took over from local community everybody learned that ‘stuff comes from shops’ not ‘we can make it ourselves ‘. In the process we lost a lot of our ability to make craft - and to share it on the village green. Scary then, if the globalisation rug is pulled out from under... pushing on ‘survival’...
    – Jelila
    Mar 15, 2018 at 2:07
  • Oh, online retail is a Godsend for the elderly (and those with busy lives :o)). Mar 15, 2018 at 2:34


See for example:

New SNAP Pilot Provides Grocery Delivery for Homebound Disabled, Elderly:

It’s a difficult problem that USDA’s new homebound food delivery pilot aims to alleviate, not just for the more than 4 million nonelderly adults with disabilities participating in SNAP, but also for the nearly 5 million seniors, who often face similar challenges and who may face disabilities, as well.

Also shut-in

For example, form Aging Comes of Age: Older People Finding Themselves:

For example, no qualifications other than goodwill and faithfulness are needed to buy groceries or pay bills for shut-ins.

  • Isn't the meaning of "homebound" the same as "housebound", which was already submitted in two answers?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2018 at 13:11
  • @Mari-LouA I've never heard anyone say "housebound". At my church we always say "homebound". Like the pastor might visit the homebound people who can't come to church.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 15, 2018 at 13:16
  • @Mari-LouA yes, I guess you are right, I just never heard it that I can remember. "homebound" could also mean "on the way home", but otherwise they seem to have the same dictionary definitions.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 15, 2018 at 13:23
  • @Mari-LouA in my paper Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the first definition of "homebound" is "(ca. 1625) going homeward: bound for home". And the second definition is "(1882) confined to the home".
    – DavePhD
    Mar 15, 2018 at 13:26

People who have been disenfranchised have been deprived of a right or privilege. That seems like a good English counterpart to shopping refugees. Of course, it can apply to many kinds of situations, and would need to rely on context in order to be meaningful.

[from] disenfranchise verb ~ 1.1 Deprive (someone) of a right or privilege.

  • The disenfranchised are those people who have been deprived of the privilege of shopping (even for necessities like food) due to circumstances beyond their control, such as living too far away from stores or being housebound for any reason.

The disenfranchised is a noun phrase that has sharply gained usage in recent decades, particularly since around 1980:

enter image description here

Etymonline, for disenfranchise: "deprive of civil or electoral privileges"

"A privilege is a particular benefit, advantage, or Immunity enjoyed by a person or class of people that is not shared with others." ~ What is the difference between civil rights and civil privileges?

A Structural Definition Of Social Privilege

civil ADJECTIVE 1 attributive: Relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 15, 2018 at 16:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.