Senior citizens being wooed back into workforce


At age 68, virtually everyone in Japan is retired. But not Setsuko Katayama, who is dishing out crisp, golden French fries at a Tokyo McDonald's.

As Japan's population rapidly ages, Katayama is one of a growing number of elderly people finding themselves in new roles -- everything from working in fast food to being wooed by the cosmetics industry.

"I want to continue working as long as I'm physically fit," Katayama said as she prepared to start her morning shift.

"If I stayed at home, I would just be watching TV all day. I could take some lessons every day or see friends to chat, but it would be boring," she said, sporting a hat with the Golden Arches of the fast food giant.

"Since I have no children, I hardly see young people around me," she said. "It wasn't until I started working here that I understood what they are like."

Japan long rigidly enforced a retirement age of 60, hoping to let the next generation of workers fill the corporate ranks.

But as the workforce shrinks, people are staying at their jobs for longer, mostly in part-time or advisory roles.

Katayama is one of 3,500 part-timers aged 60 or older at 3,700 McDonald's outlets across Japan. Some outlets have employees in their 80s. "Some workers in this store are older than me. I think I'm still young," she said.

One in every five Japanese is aged 65 or older and the ratio is expected to rise to almost one in three by 2025 as the country's birth rate is among the lowest in the world.

Japanese women, thanks partly to a traditionally healthy diet, are the world's longest-living people with an average lifespan of more than 85 years.

McDonald's Co (Japan) Ltd believes senior workers have special attributes. "We have regular customers who come in at the same time of the day. Senior workers are good at having chats with them," spokeswoman Miwa Yamamoto said.

The chain's youngest employees, aged 15, are also picking up good habits from their older colleagues, she said.

Other industries are also recognizing the crucial contribution that older workers can make, both to businesses and the retail economy.

At 60, Bibari Maeda may have thought that her modeling days were over. But not in Japan. The country's top cosmetics maker Shiseido this month mobilized Maeda -- a poster girl for the company 42 years ago -- to promote its skin-care brand Elixir Prior for women in their 60s.

"Many senior people have hearts strikingly younger than their actual ages and are leading fulfilling lives physically and mentally," Shiseido president Shinzo Maeda said as his company unveiled the new product line.

However, he is also no doubt mindful of commercial realities in his industry that saw Japanese women aged 60-69 spend 670 billion yen on cosmetics in 2007. This was up 4% from the previous year and now accounts for nearly one-fifth of the total market, according to Shiseido.

Targeting seniors also makes commercial sense as those born in the late 1940s baby boom are entering their 60s at a time when Japan's overall population is shrinking.

Convenience store giant Seven-Eleven last year doubled the size of price tags on shelves of its 12,000 branches across Japan to help its rising number of elderly customers read them more easily. The company also delivers calorie-controlled health-conscious meals to elderly customers.

But Japan's aging society has also raised massive problems for the government. The country's pension scheme has been under intense pressure with more payouts and fewer younger contributors. Medical costs are also rising, an issue that helped bring down a prime minister earlier this year.

In another trend that is often overlooked, crime by the elderly has risen four-fold from a decade ago because of money worries, loneliness and difficulty caring for elderly, sick relatives.

© Wire reports

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Wow that's amazing, a 60 plus year old dishing out fries at McDonald's, and even older workers elsewhere. I agree, as long as one is physically and mentally able to work whatever job, let them. I praise companies that allow much older workers that are able to work, work.

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It's nice that the old folk like the example in this story have the chance to work if they want to.

But I assume the majority of old people you see working are doing it because of slashed pensions, compulsory early retirement and increased welfare costs. This suggests they are not being "wooed back," but rather "forced back."

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How sad that she sees sitting in front of the telly the only alternative to dishing fries all day. If I didn't have to work, there are so many other things I'd want to do....

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I agree that is nice if they want to do it, but it sound to me like they work because they have no family. They lack children and grand children, under normal conditions they take these free time for enjoy their family and spoil the little ones. I guess that that is what means chose work, before family.

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Why don't cities set up day care centers using part-time or volunteer elderly staff?

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“Some workers in this store are older than me. I think I’m still young,” she said.

That's the attitude!

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Such irony!

The implication that dishing out fries under the golden arches must be more interesting than taking lessons or chatting with friends! And still healthy at 68, thanks partly to an allegedly healthy diet, she starts selling McJunkfood!

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Yah cheap labour :)

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As cleo pointed out there surely are lots of things retured people cud do with their time, Japanese on average just dont know how to enjoy themselves, man if I cud retire now I wud be so so done with work & I am my own boss!

And as others have said going back to work is the sad reality of a pension system etc that have all but broken down, & its only going to get worse

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Ironies and economic opportunism aside, for me, the most important aspect of this trend (which isn't limited to just the fast-food industry) was given only one short sentence:

"The chain’s youngest employees, aged 15, are also picking up good habits from their older colleagues, she said.

Besides the obvious truth that being 60 does not automatically negate one's worth to society, bridging the gap that appears to have widened of late between young and old in Japan might do well to counter some of the malaise that seems to be gnawing at the underpinnings of society here. Like a mentorship of sorts, this trend could result in a meeting of minds between Japan's youth and elderly and help mitigate the apparent purposelessness many of both groups feels. It can only result in good for Japan in the short and long term.

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fill the corporate ranks.

To me the 'corporate ranks' are above those that dish out the fries. In fact, corporate, for me, starts at the district manager level.

Also, it's interesting to note that in the US there are several groups that provide business skills to small businesses and all of these groups are manned by retired people. 65+ years old.

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not at my school.They have been told they cannot work as a casual after they retire,whereas they used to be able to work for 3 yrs.

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I know, why don't these grannies start babysitting for women in their 20's, 30's and 40's who have kids and let them go back to work? Win/win isn't it? Mind you, companies might have to start paying women fairly if that happened...

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I dont think Japanese understand the concept of babysitting, or pet sitting for that matter, a tiny portion do but it is tiny

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we are just watching them for allowing old women to work and refusing young foreigners from working.the time wil come they will need us and we will then give them our standards

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I love how these kind of stories always try to put a bright spin on still having to work in retirement. I guess they are warming us up for suffering the same fate.

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usaexpat: " I guess they are warming us up for suffering the same fate."

How true. But fortunately for us guys, most of us will be long dead from stress while granny becomes high priestess of Mac furaipotato to all the lonely sheeple well into her 90's. ...Oh & those fries... they are the worst thing you can eat next to stuffing yourself with spent nuclear fuel rods.

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Hear me now lads, you work till ye die. It's becoming the law.

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As Cleo said, I could think of other things to do, but I suppose it gets complicated at that age....other friends not as genki...I have seen how difficult it has always been to get MILs friends all together and many have gotten ill over the years, or they were babysitting grandchildren. A good bit of what she might be doing also costs money, maybe she's made the best choice for herself.

If I'm not watching my grandkids, I've thought I might volunteer somewhere part time.

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Senior citizen get to be wooed back, yet at the same time the young part-timers get booed out. Talk about a country standing on its head...

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I dunno, rather than disparaging the older lady who's working at McD's, we should be praising her. Because unlike the throbbing masses of other seniors who feel it is their unalienable right to enjoy their golden years without consideration for future generations, she's actually contributing economically. And even McD's deserves a nod for providing a work environment that's enjoyable and rewarding enough for her. Surely there are other angles to this story (economic hardship and whatnot), but if you look on the positive side, more companies ought to try to give seniors something productive to do.

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more companies ought to try to give seniors something productive to do

And more companies ought to try to give their regular employees something productive to do, too. JR making errant drivers cut the grass with teasers, anyone? On the other hand, I applaud all senior citizens who don't sit at home, watch TV, and complain about everything while sucking on their false teeth. Activity beats sloth, in my book.

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Senior citizen get to be wooed back, yet at the same time the young part-timers get booed out. Talk about a country standing on its head...

May very well be that seniors are being asked to fill traditionally youth-occupied part time positions because the kids who do these jobs nowadays lack a variety of skills, including communication skills, and are thus underqualified or detrimental to the company. In fast food, hard to believe, I know, but I've run into some really clueless kids behind the counters in my time here.

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This is great news! It may lead to more seniors going back to work, and thus stop clogging up my gym swimming pool (by walking in it).

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