Japan’s government scrambled yesterday to defuse the latest row sparked by its gaffe-prone Prime Minister Taro Aso who said at the weekend that “elderly people have no talent other than working.”
With just over a month until key lower house elections in Japan, a country where seniors represent a large and growing bloc of voters, opposition parties were quick to seize on the comment.
Aso on Saturday told a meeting of youth leaders that elderly people should keep working and paying taxes as their only talent was the ability to work. He later said the comments “appear to have caused a misunderstanding.”
Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii called the phrase “insulting to elderly people” while the head of the Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, said “It’s absolutely wrong to say ‘no talent other than working.’”
Yesterday the top government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, told reporters that “what the prime minister really meant was that building a vigorous aging society requires job opportunities for elderly people.”
“He meant his words as a compliment. I’m sorry that his words invited some misunderstanding. He meant that he respects people who work or wish to work,” he said.
The latest controversy from Aso — who last week apologized for a series of previous verbal slip-ups — came as his conservative Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition gear up for a key election on Aug. 30 that is expected to see the ruling party swept from power.
People aged 65 and above make up 22 percent of Japan’s population and are a fast-growing demographic because of the country’s high life expectancy and low birth rate, which has dipped to about 1.3 children per woman in recent years.
Addressing a forum of young entrepreneurs in Yokohama, a port city neighboring Tokyo, on Saturday, Aso also said that more than 80 percent of people aged 65 or older in Japan were able-bodied and needed no nursing care.