Japan Today



Things you'd better not do upon retiring

By Michael Hoffman

Finally! Your work done, your kids raised, your responsibilities fulfilled, “Now I can live!” you think, turning a bold face towards the “sunset years” – retirement, “second life” and all that. Sunset? Sunrise!

Hear a cautionary tale or two before you go off the deep end and drown, warns Josei Seven (Dec 8).

Visiting her mother in the country, “Ryoko Kato” (all names in this story are pseudonyms) was shocked to find the halls and living room crammed full of boxes.

“They keep coming!”

“What keeps coming?”

Health foods. Health supplements. The mother had retired at 70 and, with time on her hands, took an interest in such things. She ordered one, then another, then saw that if she ordered in bulk she’d get bargains, or points. She ordered more and the more she spent the more she saved; the more she saved the more she spent. She signed year-long contracts without reading the fine print and before she knew it, had gone through 500,000 yen of her savings.

Living retired is very different from living employed. Two differences stand out: pension aside there’s no money coming in, and time, suddenly, is an ocean.

With life spans stretching into the second century, retirement can take up half a lifetime. The financial challenge that poses came to be known as “the 20 million yen problem” after the government’s Financial Services Agency issued a report in 2019 naming that sum as what an average elderly couple would need, in addition to pensions, to sustain a 30-year retirement.

What do you do if, like most people, you haven’t got that kind of money?

You walk on egg shells. You keep very careful accounts, eschew superfluities, trim necessities, and think twice, better thrice, before undertaking anything you’re unfamiliar with – like cooking, which, says Josei Seven, though innocent enough and apparently economical, will cost the novice more than it will save. You end up buying ingredients you don’t need, or too many perishables at one time, forgetting that they rot. Food thrown away is not money saved, it’s money thrown away.

The kids are gone, the house is empty, so why maintain such a large property? Why not sell and move into a small condominium in the center of town, near the train station and shopping facilities?

It’s a great idea until you consider – which few do until it’s too late – that property taxes in such locations are much higher than back in the old suburb. So much for the economy of compact living.

Or maybe sell and move to the country, where the cost of living is cheap? Many do, among them “Yoko Mori,” 62, who found too late that the cost of living is anything but cheap. “After we retired,” she tells the magazine, “we sold the house and settled into a beautiful country place where we’d loved to vacation.” But the vacationer’s beauty is the resident’s nuisance; a vacationer’s quiet is a resident’s boredom. Bugs swarm, new friendships take time, there’s nothing to do, the city with its conveniences and distractions is far away – “and the only food that’s actually cheap,” Mori winds up sourly, “is local produce” – with no nearby supermarket offering budget-stretching bargains.

Another clever idea: move in with one of the children. Of course you wouldn’t force yourself on a son or daughter, but if the son or daughter is sincerely open to the idea of a two- or three-generation household – why not? You’ll save money, you’ll have company, the grandchildren will dote on you and you on them.

Why is real life so different from imagined life? Because our spectacles are rose-tinted, and there’s no such thing as being old enough to know better. Sometimes it works, of course. But the generation gap at this end of the life spectrum can be wider and deeper than at the other end, where teenage swagger confronts midlife weariness. At 80 your children are 50; at 90, 60. They have their own problems: economic and psychological. Facing old age themselves, they may see their future selves in you and recoil. It’s not your fault, but not theirs either. And at the purely practical level, Josei Seven points out, those living with family rank lower on the priority list of resource-strained care facilities, should care become necessary.

Maybe retirement is not the answer. Is there an alternative? Keep working. Past your employer’s retirement age? How? By stepping down a rung or two (or three) of the career ladder. Less prestige, less pay, subordination to people younger than you, maybe even former subordinates. Such was the choice faced by “Megumi Yoshida’s” husband – who said no. He’d done his part, met his obligations, had been a good worker and a solid earner. Now he’d earned his rest and owed no one any apologies – certainly not his wife, who is not happy to have him home all day long and says so. It’s not only that. Finances grow tighter year by year. The cost of living is up, the pensions don’t cover it and may cover less and less as the system buckles under the strain of a rapidly aging population.

It is possible, no doubt, to make the last phase of life the best phase. Possible, yes. Easy, no.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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How depressing.

0 ( +9 / -9 )

@Moonraker, it's not that depressing. I actually got a laugh out of it, and I'm 68, retired early at 50, and certainly not bored or spending beyond my means. It's all a matter of perspective.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

quote: pension aside there’s no money coming in, and time, suddenly, is an ocean.

Not entirely true. Many people continue working after hitting pension age and retiring from a career. You aren't banned from earning cash, and there are more opportunities than ever to work from home now.

Self-employed people may have no pension beyond the basic state pension (and they never go far). We don't retire. We keep going until we drop.

But don't expect to have as much time as you think you will, as you will start slowing down, mentally and physically.

One big mistake is to move somewhere rural. You suddenly depend upon your car for getting everything. Inevitably it becomes harder to drive, petrol costs money, and you will eventually be stranded, miles from shops, doctors and services, reliant on others.

If you move in with family, get a granny flat. Don't share the house. Generational differences can make that very difficult for all.

We should really have a year off, every 5-7 years, when we are young, so we can enjoy it. When you are old you will have limited mobility, poor health and won't be able to enjoy doing very much. Don't say you weren't warned.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

The only error is trying to change a lot or everything your body and mind got used to for decades. Don’t touch your working system and do the same things at the same or similar place. Of course you have to adapt the percentages to your health and mind situation a little bit. So continue to work a few hours, relax, travel, do some hobbies like before if you had some, and sleep sufficiently. You probably won’t become happier or healthier if you change everything, also don’t move to places you are not used to, rural places or into vivid cities respectively depending where you were living before. And even those hobbies, don’t overdo with many new ones if you had no time for a hobby before. And finally don’t put too much changing pressure onto your body. Doing the contrary of what you had done all the many years before will just make you sick and dead. Sports, drinking, smoking, traveling, outdoor activities and such, don’t do the extreme opposite of what your body and mind are used to. Change it only slightly and slowly if necessary for any reasons

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This is a pointless article. Everyone I know here believes that the gov will raise the retirement age. By the time I can retire, I'll probably be in my 70's, and probably by then more than half of Japan's population will be in the same bracket as I. I don't think I will get a pension. Most likely, I'll end up getting a baito or starting my own business, but I don't think I will be able to retire.

Japan is screwed, and so are we. I can only hope to be able to send my kids away for college so they have a better chance at a happy life somewhere else.

-7 ( +7 / -14 )

Do something that is transending and dharmatic in nature and retirement is not needed. You love what you do and you have a purpose to do it and you wont stop even in your old age. Find your Dharma because its the truth of who you really are.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The devil is in the details. Some people make good choices, some don't.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

JFC, this is SERIOUSLY depressing.

From the boredom because you never cultivated a actual life or personality beyond work, to having to live on shoe leather and cup ramen cause you’re going to live too long, suggestions of moving an even SMALLER home (Japanese homes are too small IMO), now cramping your kids lives?

What’s the point of living so long of you’re “golden years” are bleaker than the Dark Ages?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

People with white collar jobs in Japan get a big retirement bonus, plus a company pension. So, they don't have to rely on the meager J-gov pension plus PT work. I know quite a few few retirees living comfortably here. But, if they haven't developed a life outside of work, retirement can be pretty boring, I imagine.

Personally, I love it. There's always stuff do do around the house and yard. Plus, hobbies, movies, strolls, cafes, our dogs...etc. Sure beats the crap out of working.

And, because we planned our finances with retirement in mind, we don't need to pinch pennies. Although, we do try to spend wisely, as we aren't "okanemochi". The extremely favorable exchange rate of late sure hasn't hurt, either.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I'm already in that stage of life. Love it. In the morning I exercise in slow motion in the park. In the afternoon I ride my bicycle. In the evening I play the piano. At night I sleep like a baby.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Why does Kuchikomi always talk about the worst of the worst. The first example - most people will not be as stupid as that woman, ordering one thing after another.

And people can work after retirement if they really want, but it should not be seen as something we have to do. Are we really going to work until we reach our death beds? Then what is the point in living?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've been living like a retired person since uni.When I become frail, forgetful and inefficient,the world of work will be my oyster here.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Stephen Chin

I'm already in that stage of life. Love it. In the morning I exercise in slow motion in the park. In the afternoon I ride my bicycle. In the evening I play the piano. At night I sleep like a baby.

Right? It's so much better than working. I've never understood why retired people miss working. It just makes no sense to me.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If you're a normal salaryman, best thing you can do to prepare is learn to "want" less and focus your spending on things you really love. If you have nothing you love, it's important to find one before you retire.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is all down to forward planning and preparation. Be realistic about what you want from retirement and ensure you have the finances to support it. Most people do not have the luck to be doing a job they love nor physically able to continue working.

I agree the woman in the first example is not representative, few people are that terminally stupid.

Moving to the country on retirement is a common dream in the UK but few people do it successfully as they simply do not appreciate just how very different life is there. Not only is the culture, attitudes and lifestyle very different and the amenities vastly less or nonexistent thus making you reliant on a car to access services in the nearest town and you have at a stroke cut your self off from the friends you have possibly had for decades.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

We moved to the sea/countryside four years ago. Couldn't be happier. Food stores are five-minute walk. Hospital five-minute walk. Great dentist. Low-cost instant appointments. The nearest train station is 2km with a bus. Shinkansen is about 30 minutes from here.

No car. Plenty of kind locals are only too happy to help us out. Community bus ¥100 to all major places. Community taxi comes to the door goes to shops, hospitals, and others. ¥200.

Seaside 20-minute walk. Great local fish. People give us lots of organic vegs and fruits.

Moved from a city. Cheaper in our present location. Big houses. Wide clean streets with flowers. 100% quiet during the night and mostly during the day too. Great neighbors. Many young families with 3-4 young children.

Lots of internet ordering. Many friends come to visit even from far away Tokyo. 4-hour journey.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

wallaceDec. 3  10:41 pm JST

We moved to the sea/countryside four years ago. Couldn't be happier. Food stores are five-minute walk. Hospital five-minute walk

Better go to those places during the daytime because not many streetlights.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Japan's probably not a developed country at this point. One of the core values to assess development status is energy generation and stability, which Japan is barely hanging onto. The other category is also pension stability which now erodes worse.

-5 ( +11 / -16 )

Japan's probably not a developed country at this point.

You make it easy to ignore the rest of your post when you start of with such a ridiculously silly assertion, dripping with rhetoric, right up front.

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

@wallace "We moved to the sea/countryside four years ago. Couldn't be happier."

Sounds great. My wife and I have contemplated such a move. May I ask what general area has this seemingly ideal combination of services/conveniences along with countryside living in close proximity to the sea?

2 ( +2 / -0 )


We have sidewalks on both sides of all main roads. We don't have "just one road". We have hundreds. The smaller residential roads do not but many are wide enough for two cars to pass each other. The drivers in their cars are very respectful of others. Signs warning about children.

I guess you have never lived in the countryside for any length of time. Out of 30 years, 14 have been in the countryside.

We don't have 19th-century attitudes.

I don't live in a small town. Politically and from a point of government, I live in a city with 80,000 people. 50,000 sq km. 32,000 households. A population density of 350 persons per km². (Tokyo 6,500 per km².)

-1 ( +1 / -2 )



May I ask what general area has this seemingly ideal combination of services/conveniences along with countryside living in close proximity to the sea?

West Hyogo.

0 ( +2 / -2 )


Mistake with the area size which is actually 210.87 km2, not the 50,000 I posted.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Who belongs to a cult?

1 ( +2 / -1 )


what is the purpose of your last comments? Do you belong to a cult? I do not think we have any in our location.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

My half dozen years of retirement have been the opposite of this article. I am loving my golden years.

There is plenty of money to spend because we saved and invested for several decades. We moved from the suburbs to the middle of Tokyo, next to dozens of doctors, gyms, supermarkets, transportation options, restaurants, bars and vast greenery. How could there be any free time now with so much to do?

And we miss work like we miss having toothaches.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Sounds great. My wife and I have contemplated such a move. May I ask what general area has this seemingly ideal combination of services/conveniences along with countryside living in close proximity to the sea?

Me too, bit my wife doesn't like the suffocating attitude of some Japanese country neighborhoods and the social obligation to participate in certain activities at the behest of some local busybody or risk becoming a social outcast.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

West Hyogo

Thank you.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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