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Sun Aug 26, 2012, 06:30 PM Aug 2012

Willing Wrinkled Workers Help Defuse Pension Time Bomb In Japan

The thought of retiring after more than four decades made Hirofumi Mishima anxious. Instead of looking forward to ending his three-hour daily commute, Mishima wanted to work, even if it meant another hour on the train.

“Keeping a regular job is the most stimulating thing for me,” said Mishima, 69, who spent six months trawling the vacancy boards at a Tokyo employment center after retiring from his $77,000-a-year job as an industrial-gas analyst in 2009. “If I was at home all day, I’d get out of shape and my wife would fret about all the extra chores she’d have to do.”

Mishima is one of 5.7 million Japanese older than 65 still in the workforce for money, health or to seek friends -- the highest proportion of employed seniors in the developed world. While European governments struggle to convince their voters to sign up for longer work lives, Japan faces the opposite issue: how to meet the wishes of an army of willing elderly workers.


Still, keeping senior workers can save on health costs. Nagano in central Japan has the highest proportion of working seniors of any prefecture and its elderly spend the least on health care, according to a 2007 white paper from the Japanese health ministry. In contrast, Fukuoka in the southwest has one of the lowest ratios of working seniors in the country and the highest health costs.


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