The number of the year, if there is such a thing – or at least the number of the current news cycle – is 20 million. Twenty million yen, the Financial Services Agency seemed to say in a report issued in June, is what an average elderly couple will need to fund a 30-year retirement. Finance Minister Taro Aso rejected the report, deeming it misleadingly pessimistic – which did nothing to calm the anxiety it aroused.
Actually, says Spa! (July 16-23), the report’s message did get a big simplified in transmission. “Nowhere in the report is it written that you can’t survive if you don’t have 20 million yen,” explains Meiji University professor Yoshiyuki Iida. It bases its calculations on the assumption of a household of retirees receiving pension benefits and possibly other income worth 210,000 yen a month – and spending 260,000 yen a month. The 50,000-yen-a-month deficit, extended to the end of a lifetime that can now easily span 100 years, can swell to 20 million yen. The report’s intention, says Iida, was not to cause panic but to encourage investment in private pension funds and safe stocks.
How reassuring is that? Spa! notes the plight of the “lost generation” – the roughly 900,000 people who graduated from high school or college during and after the mid-1990s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst. Full-time hiring froze, forcing legions of graduates to settle for part-time work that led nowhere and paid minimally. This “lost generation” now faces old age. Twenty million yen? Many of them have no savings at all. They struggle to make ends meet even now, still in their working prime.
Let’s be optimistic, Spa! seems to be saying, in the face of many reasons not to be. “Lost generation” is a label like any other – a useful guide to how things are generally. There’s no need to be chained and bound by it.
“If you’re afraid of taking risks, you can’t do anything,” says Kensuke Miyazaki, expressing the spirit needed to overcome lost generationhood and survive the long retirement the times increasingly demand. Does Miyazaki’s name ring a bell? He was a rising political star, a Liberal Democratic Party rep first elected to the Lower House in 2012. He was 31. In 2015, age 34, he became the first lawmaker ever to request paternity leave.
Suddenly he crash-landed. An extra-marital affair he’d been having while his wife was pregnant surfaced, soiling his father-of-the-future image. He resigned his Diet seat in 2016.
“I had no income. I had just bought a new home; there was the baby…”
He rallied. “I never gave in to despair.” With political experience and connections as his prime assets, he opened a consultancy. Then he took to currency trading. It’s chancy – “but the biggest risk,” he says, “is doing nothing.”
Then there’s lightweight kickboxer Yuta Kubo. He’s 31 – still young, but he knows how short an athlete’s career is. He has a sideline – a highly profitable one, as he tells it – as a day trader. Up at 5 a.m. to check the New York stock market, he’s at it off and on throughout the day. Why, he says, “any salaryman can do what I do on the train to and from work!” Really? He claims to have earned 500 million yen trading. You have to be good to do that – or very lucky.
Spa!’s point is that there’s some skill or knowledge or connection or something that you can exploit for profit – some corner of some market or other that you can ease into and make pay, against the day when the pension system caves in and leaves you high and dry in your old age.
The bleak alternative is represented by the pseudonymous “Kenji Omoto,” 70. He used to run a coffee shop, retiring five years ago on a pension of 65,000 yen a month. He’s alone, having divorced his wife 15 years ago. He began retirement with 3 million yen in the bank. He now has 1.8 million.
Rent is 27,000 yen a month. It’s not much of a place – shared toilet, no bath. Two spartan meals a day are all he’ll allow himself. He’d work if he could, but his back and legs are giving out. He never sees a doctor, though he feels he should. Letting things take their course is all he can afford to do. His biggest fear is falling seriously ill. What will he do then?
He has no idea.© Japan Today