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An elderly man receives food aid handouts in Tokyo on May 9. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
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Japan's elderly workers suffer as pandemic closes businesses

51 Comments
By Daniel Leussink

On a recent Saturday in Tokyo's Shinjuku district more than 100 people, many of them elderly men, stood close together in a long queue waiting for food hand-outs.

One of them, Tomoaki Kobayashi, said he was fearing the day he would lose his home as his pension alone was not enough to pay the rent. Still spry, the 72-year-old said he lost his job cleaning pachinko parlors after many of them were shut in a state of emergency imposed because of the coronavirus.

"This is the final month. I can't pay any longer," Kobayashi said of his rent, clutching a small sack of groceries - snacks, instant curry and hashed-beef rice that would feed him for the next few days. He said he had paid pension premiums for just 15 years, unlike the 33 years for most pensioners, meaning he is eligible for only 54,000 yen every two months.

Elderly Japanese became an increasingly important part of the labour pool after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his"Abenomics" policies in 2012 to revive the world's third-largest economy.

In a country with the world's oldest population and lingering unease about immigration, elderly workers fill roles as shop clerks, cleaners and taxi drivers. For some, the work provides an additional boost to a pension and considerable savings. But for lower-income workers like Kobayashi, part-time jobs are a lifeline.

Now, the coronavirus has shuttered shops and offices and left some of the most vulnerable members of the labour force untethered, even as they are more at risk from the disease than other age groups.

"Elderly who have to work because of low pensions are facing tough conditions," said Takanori Fujita, who co-heads a network of non-profit workers, lawyers and academics tackling social issues caused by the outbreak.

"We're holding consultations (with elderly) no longer able to pay their rent or electricity bills," he said.

About 13% of the labor force are aged 65 or older, up from 9% when Abe returned to power in 2012, according to government data. More than three-quarters of elderly workers are non-regular employees, part-timers and contract workers who are the first to lose their jobs when business is under pressure.

HARD TO START OVER

"I think it's hard for them to start working again if they lose their job once," said Taro Saito, an executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute.

The jobless rate hit a one-year high of 2.5% in March, a rate that is the envy of many nations. Still, an increase would further dampen demand and more elderly out of work could put greater strain on social services as Japan braces for its worst postwar economic slump.

"Japan isn't a country like the United States where the unemployment rate rises and falls greatly," said Saito. "The negative impact is big even if it rises by just 1%."

Nearly a fifth of elderly Japanese live in relative poverty, meaning their income is less than half of the national median household income. The average for over 65 across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is just shy of 14%.

Single-person households that consisted of unemployed people aged 60 and over in 2018 had on average about 123,000 yen in real income per month, coming mostly from pensions. Compared to their expenses, those households had a shortfall of about 38,000 yen a month, government data shows.

Tsuyoshi Gonda, 60, applied for unemployment benefits after he was laid off from his full-time job as a hairdresser in Tokyo's Katsushika area in mid-April.

That was not long after Abe called for the state of emergency because of the coronavirus, urging people to avoid crowds and prompting many businesses to shut.

"The number of customers dropped to zero a day after the emergency was in place," Gonda said. "It was a shop where people decided to come on the day. It was very harsh."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

51 Comments
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Nearly a fifth of elderly Japanese live in relative poverty, meaning their income is less than half of the national median household income.

This, in the world's #3 economy.

22 ( +23 / -1 )

The jobless rate hit a one-year high of 2.5% in March, a rate that is the envy of many nations. 

Yeah Japan is the envy of the world. The many nations that believe the numbers are taking the cool aid provided by the J-government and is having an effect on their ability to think.

Who are they really trying to deceive ?

15 ( +15 / -0 )

And the fallout continues from the unnecessary lockdowns that resulted in so many job losses and heartaches.

-2 ( +13 / -15 )

Wow, that's giving me a whole new perspective on Japan and this lockdown.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Yes, but at least the impoverished elderly will get their two masks from Mr Abe! Let's be thankful for small mercies.

17 ( +21 / -4 )

He said he had paid pension premiums for just 15 years, unlike the 33 years for most pensioners, meaning he is eligible for only 54,000 yen every two months.

WHich sounds like he is on the kokumin nenki program and not shakai hoken, which would be paying more.

He is also probably eligible for welfare too, and I wonder why he doesnt apply or why it's not mentioned here.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Yes, but at least the impoverished elderly will get their two masks from Mr Abe! Let's be thankful for small mercies.

Yeah right, such empathy, I suppose next you will suggest they eat the masks to survive too!

-21 ( +4 / -25 )

@yubaru, so true. And he is eligible to be in a govt housing. One thing is really unfair. There are people who are receiving more than 20 man every 2 months but who haven't worked all their lives. Life's unfair!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

He is also probably eligible for welfare too, and I wonder why he doesnt apply or why it's not mentioned here.

He’s not eligible if he owns a house.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Where is the bs Abemasku money??? These people need it. Why do we need to wait for some application form to get it. Hasn’t come yet. Filing tax should be evidence enough. Even Trump USA has given me my aid money already three weeks ago and I live here as a resident.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There are people who are receiving more than 20 man every 2 months but who haven't worked all their lives.

Yes, housewives and married women who deliberately work few hours to ensure they qualify for spouse benefits. Due to them, women (and men) who do pay in get a lower pension.

Even if you get it, the kokumin nenkin is not enough to live on. This is not a secret and means you have to save for old age or continue working. Every gets old and not planning for it does not stop it happening.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Only strong and rich can survive in Tokyo. Concentration of population in big cities have to change. There are easier life waiting for them in country side.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Third biggest economy,Senshinkoku,GDP etc are just words that keep being thrown around and do not mean anything when it comes to an individual level

I have lived here for a long time and so have many foreigners but to be honest,life in Japan is very harsh for most Japanese people I've known over the years and it will get worse in the years ahead.

A few people in corporations get a good pay but that applies to every country but majority are in SME's,Baito,keiyaku shain,and whatnot,surviving on cup ramen and onigiri year in year out,drinking happoshu,saving nothing and dreaming of takarakuji.

If you do not have plan B esp as a foreigner here,your future is doomed.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

@Bububu4

I doubt he owns a house -

" One of them, Tomoaki Kobayashi, said he was fearing the day he would lose his home as his pension alone was not enough to pay the rent. "

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Oldman 13

100% agree!

Now we can see the impact of this lockdowns.

More and more people will suffer from the Lockdowns much more than from the Virus itself.

Many many people predicted that and saw that coming. But nobody was listening.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

What surprises me is to work during your whole life and did not think about buying a home, anywhere. Especially in a country that has known a golden age.

Except if you were unlucky to have had serious health issues, there is no way one life savings cannot bring you a shelter above your head for yourself and family.

It does not have to be in one of the most expensive place on Earth like Shinjuku. Countryside is fine surely very very cheap, where one can grow vegetables and keep chickens.

You reap what you sow.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Abe san cares about the elderly in Japan. They are in need of care and I am sure that with Abe sans track record so far during the pandemic, he will be sure to give them much needed money. I am sure of it. He takes care of everyone in Japan.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

The elderly Japanese, in their youth labored under the understanding that their nation would equal America.

They also believed that the land on the which the imperial palace stands would have been equal in monetary value to the state of California.

The truth has now come home to them-I am hoping that the young generation won’t be as gullibile...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

If the government has taxpayer funds for the Olympics, corporate welfare, increasing the military budget and weaponizing space, why can they not provide a level of pension that keeps people from starvation?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The pandemic has been a flashlight exposing the weaknesses of various countries and their leaders.

A great orator and leader has recently observed and noted: that some presidents and prime ministers around the world are not even pretending to be in charge!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Jonathan Prin

What surprises me is to work during your whole life and did not think about buying a home, anywhere. Especially in a country that has known a golden age.

I have never owned a home and have never had the desire to own one. I have moved a great deal and owning a house would have been a chain around my neck.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Zichi

Glad for you. Sincerely.

But don't expect some to pay for your "for the rich choices" in life. I know by reading you have enough wisdom to mkae it whatever happens. But people with less, common sense should be the norm especially in Japan.

Think about owning a house that one can rent if one wishes to remain without "chains" , then when life takes it toll, one can carry on enjoying life in your home sweet home.

Very simple.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

it is indeed hard for the japanese specially poor people to survive in a country like japan.

japan benefit system is not like other e.u or well-off countries benefit system.

As a result ,The japanese will suffer the consequences.This means that things get hairy for japan and the japanese.You can be one of the car makers or high-tech in the world ,but question is who will need cars or high-tech today???

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Jonathan Prin

I survived 70 years without owning any property. I guess I will manage the final step. Even in Japan over 30 years we have lived in six locations.

I do have family property in America from inheritance but that will be sold.

Owning a property in Japan can also be a major problem. Couple with children but then husband/father is transfer to another prefecture for work. What happens. Does the entire family move with him or more commonly they remain and husband/father visits when he can afford it. I have known families where that happened for more than 30 years.

I have been an artist with a home studio which means a portion of my rent is claimed against my tax. Can't do that if I own it. Can not claim for a car I buy but can for one I lease.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

You reap what you sow.

@Jonathan Prin

Leaving aside the highly debatable notion that buying a home provides security, we are in no place to judge others. We do, but we shouldn't. You may think that you haven't had any special advantages in life, but you most likely have. Important life-success factors include having loving and supportive parents, for example - far more so than being born with money. There are far more poor people than wealthy people in the world, even in rich countries like Japan. Sure many made bad choices, but those choices were influenced by their circumstances, which you cannot know.

Being honest, I admit I can be judgmental as well, but have to remind myself that I might do no better if I had been given that person's same life circumstances.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

We are all also a product of our social environment and since not all are born equal many never reach the level of a high paid job or owning a home.

Less than 50% of the Tokyo people own their home. Overall about 60% of homes are owned.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It seems most want the others to take care of their financial needs because they wanted to live the life they wanted, not the one that they could afford. Japan is no different from other countries.

To compensate for the ones who did their best in life (disabled persons) is very ok for me. The others, well, think better next time about the society interest of the job you have learned and learn to have more strings in your bow.

Anyway, Japanese don't complain and I am everyday impressed by that capacity.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

You reap what you sow.

What does this mean?

Some kind of retribution for not being advantaged?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Funny to judge me wrongly while I am just giving advice for that sad situation not to happen to some people.

It is also hypocritical for anyone to surmise I was among the lucky ones to have loving wealthy parents.

You were thinking bad situations do not happen. Please do your best to give food to those needy now but don't "require" from others. Ask them respectfully.

Give a fish, and the person will eat once.

Give a fishing rod, and he will eat everyday.

I learned most in my life from my grandma who was very naive and had lived a very miserable life when young. But she had common sense.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Now we can see the impact of this lockdowns.

More and more people will suffer from the Lockdowns much more than from the Virus itself.

Many many people predicted that and saw that coming. But nobody was listening.

Indeed, months ago when all this started I said here in these comments on JT that the cure would be way worse than the disease, and I got nothing but downvotes and deletions. Well, here it comes, the recession that is heading this way is going to be awful, and for what? Fewer than a 1000 people died in Japan from the virus. Many times that number will die from the fall-out. I said it from the start, so did a few other people, and we were told we were heartless and stupid. What is heartless and stupid is destroying the world economy because of a disease that so few people get. All you had to do was protect the most vulnerable.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Except if you were unlucky to have had serious health issues, there is no way one life savings cannot bring you a shelter above your head for yourself and family.

I feel you are single and have no responsibity and never had one.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

To compensate for the ones who did their best in life (disabled persons) is very ok for me.

Not all disabilities are visible - lots of people carry deep disabilities inside themselves that are not immediately evident to others.

Funny to judge me wrongly while I am just giving advice for that sad situation not to happen to some people.It is also hypocritical for anyone to surmise I was among the lucky ones to have loving wealthy parents.

I never said wealthy - and I used loving parents as an example of a powerful advantage that is often overlooked. Your grandma was an advantage, then. Many people never had even one adult figure in their life that gave them any decent guidance or support. Many people are physically unattractive. Or they had misfortunes or mistakes early in like that dogged them the rest of their life. The list is endless...

Advice is great when people are ready to listen, and when it's timely. I think advising this guy to buy a house (whether it's good or bad) is not really helpful at this point in his life. I just commented because the "you reap what you sow" comment sounds rather heartless. "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Fewer than a 1000 people died in Japan from the virus. Many times that number will die from the fall-out. I said it from the start, so did a few other people, and we were told we were heartless and stupid. What is heartless and stupid is destroying the world economy because of a disease that so few people get. All you had to do was protect the most vulnerable.

Many more will die from the fallout, can you give us numbers and how you arrived at the numbers.?

How do you protect the vulnerable ?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@Tokyo m

Yes you are right and I remember your posts.

You are one of the few people who saw that coming.

I didnt understand why people always downvoted your posts.

Here in my neighbourhood there are many elderly people living and struggeling a lot now and dont know how to survive the next 2 months.

One elderly couple have a very nice izakaya. I support them every weekend by Take out order.

At least I can do a little to help them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I have been an artist with a home studio which means a portion of my rent is claimed against my tax. Can't do that if I own it. Can not claim for a car I buy but can for one I lease.

Is that true? I've been incorporated since 2008, but I remember claiming for a car I owned before that. Depreciation (genka shoukyaku) is mentioned as something a kojin jugyou (easy-to-form individual business) can claim for. The article says it can be advantageous to buy a used car, because you can write their paper off faster.

https://www.all-senmonka.jp/moneyizm/5406/

I'm pretty sure a kojin jugyou can also rent a room in your home as an expense, shifting money from highly taxed company profit to not-so-taxed personal income.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Regarding the lockdown, I think it was the right thing to do as a precaution. Just because you didn't fall off roof doesn't make it a mistake to have bought and used a safety rope. The way Japan could have avoided lockdown would have been to aggressively test from the get-go, but for a nation of hypochondriacs clinging to the hope of holding the Olympics during this, that may not have been a practical option.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This guy Kobayashi san just does not know the support from the the gov. They will support your rent for 3 month up to Max 9 month. pls give him call center number

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Regarding the lockdown, I think it was the right thing to do as a precaution. Just because you didn't fall off roof doesn't make it a mistake to have bought and used a safety rope. 

It was a lot more than buying a rope as a precaution. A better metaphor would be shutting down your entire roofing business and laying off all your employees because someone might fall off a roof.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The others, well, think better next time about the society interest of the job you have learned and learn to have more strings in your bow.

And where do we get the time and money to learn these skills?

Funny to judge me wrongly while I am just giving advice for that sad situation not to happen to some people.

Not advice. You are judging people's lives and livelihoods here.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@Jonathan Prin

I would imagine most retirees in Japan are very glad they DIDN’T buy property during a certain period! Why would they want huge debts and a property worth 30% of the value they bought it for between 1988 - 2000 - if indeed it’s still standing!

That wouldn’t be very wise would it?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Abe san cares about the elderly in Japan. They are in need of care and I am sure that with Abe sans track record so far during the pandemic, he will be sure to give them much needed money. I am sure of it. He takes care of everyone in Japan.

LOL...:) ...love it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I think if I were a retired Japanese person and living off my pension because I don't have any savings, I'd be living in the cheapest place possible. There seems to be an abundance of vacant homes and agricultural land in rural Japan. The last thing I'd want to do is live in some small apartment in Tokyo and pay 10man a month in rent. I know that not everyone is into gardening and wants to move away from their family or friends, but wow, there are some incredible vacant properties in Japan that nobody wants to live in.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Owning a property is not for all but I am glad I did buy.

Property abroad purchased abroad has doubled and my house in Japan has not moved up nor down but to rent the equivalent property would be over 100 thousand a month.

Perfect neighbors and no restrictions on pets!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Whats with all the hate on the old people on here, if you are lucky enough or smart enough maybe one day you will live long enough to be old enough to know what being old is.

While many of the people you have known through your live time were not lucky enough or smart enough to live long enough to know, young people today have no idea .

It aint easy getting old , and I'm only 65 still in my prime.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

kumagaijin: I agree. I cannot understand the attraction of Tokyo: Crowds, pollution, noisy, and expensive.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

kumagaijin: I agree. I cannot understand the attraction of Tokyo: Crowds, pollution, noisy, and expensive.

Everywhere has positives and negatives - it just depends on what you prioritize.

Tokyo is the things you mention above. It's also, busy, fun, always something to do, always somewhere great to eat, always something new, new shows, theater, music, people, architecture, culture, parks, rivers, and it goes on and on.

Small towns don't have the crowds, or the pollution, nor are they particularly

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Accidental enter key. I'll try again:

kumagaijin: I agree. I cannot understand the attraction of Tokyo: Crowds, pollution, noisy, and expensive.

Everywhere has positives and negatives - it just depends on what you prioritize.

Tokyo is the things you mention above. It's also, busy, fun, always something to do, always somewhere great to eat, always something new, new shows, theater, music, people, architecture, culture, parks, rivers, and it goes on and on.

Small towns don't have the crowds, or the pollution, nor are they particularly noisy, and often cheap or cheaper. But the payoff is that you have a limited number of restaurants and shops, and they don't change much. Not much live music or theater. Shopping for some things can be more difficult. Less people from which to make friends. Gossip. And the list goes on and on.

I love Tokyo. It's my favorite city on the planet. But I can understand how it would be hell for people who prioritize the things that small-town life offers. That doesn't mean they're right, or I'm wrong. Just different priorities in life.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Government could start building more communal housing with shared bathroom and kitchen/dining space and charge nominal rent. Japan has enough dilapidated houses and buildings to be bought out, crushed and rebuild. At least it will give these people a roof over their head and relief of not becoming homeless during this difficult time. Government should do this now in anticipation of prolonged recession to follow even after pandemic.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Whats with all the hate on the old people on here, if you are lucky enough or smart enough maybe one day you will live long enough to be old enough to know what being old is.

Exactly, it's irrational, the discrimination against older people - maybe their religious beliefs dictate it?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Nearly a fifth of elderly Japanese live in relative poverty, meaning their income is less than half of the national median household income.

This, in the world's #3 economy.

Actually, Japan is already #3, behind the US and China.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love when one's trying to help and other's judging you. I am so over that level thanks to a lucky life full of experience. Everyone commenter is part of that here too !

Trying to help others by saying one should have savings before becoming old, is for some too hard to hear. I know that.

I never intended personal wrongs so never take personally general comments I write.

Japan social system is no good to helping its old people.

Please accept your choices in life but don't blame them on others. (Aka wise "La cigale et la fourmi"). Sorry, that is all I wanted to say to help peopl, any age.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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