After a life of dedication to a corporate cause that in Japan means long hours and few holidays, retirement might be seen as a well deserved rest, but for some, it is a chance to launch a new career.
With opportunities at home few and far between, a scheme offering Japan’s seniors the chance to work abroad is increasingly seen as a good way to keep active during a retirement that can last 20 years.
As Toshio Hirouchi approached 60, he began to wonder what life would hold for him when he left IT services giant Fujitsu, where he had been working for more than three decades.
He joined the company in 1973, programming the large-size all-purpose computers that made up the bulk of the industry at the time.
“With the emergence of personal computers, the company wanted younger engineers for PC development. Our generation was forced out from development to administrative branches,” he said. “That change helped me to think about doing something completely new” after retirement, the 66-year-old said.
The answer came in the government-run Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a scheme that recruits volunteers between the ages of 40 and 69 to work abroad.
The program sees up to 470 people sent to more than 60 different countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East every year, where they are tasked with “accelerating cross-border friendship and understanding,” according to the organization’s Web site. They are also there to “contribute to the economic and social development” of recipient countries, doing work required by their host communities.
In Hirouchi’s case, this meant editing a history book for newly-arrived Japanese immigrants to Paraguay.
So at the age of 58, he hit the books, brushing up his rusty English and learning Spanish from scratch.
Interviewing, writing and negotiating with a printing company were all new to him, but Hirouchi relished the challenge.
“I discovered that volunteer work is a world where your will and enthusiasm can carve out a new dimension,” he said.
Hirouchi is one of Japan’s post-war baby boom generation that helped engineer the economic miracle of the 1960s and 1970s, catapulting the country into the top ranks of world economies.
As Japan developed, the birth rate fell and now stands well below replacement level.
Currently those aged 65 or over account for more than 23 percent of Japan’s 127 million people — one of the highest proportions of elderly in the world.
That figure is expected to rise to 40 percent by 2060, as Japan’s population shrinks, further stressing public finances already hard pressed by two decades of economic stagnation. By 2060, the average man will live to be 84; the average woman to nearly 91, government estimates suggest.
More — and longer living — retirees inevitably means more spending on social security at a time when Japan’s public debt stands at around twice GDP.
A government report last month said Japan needed to harness the skills of its greying workers, warning the nation’s economic prospects depend on making them productive.
Japan “needs to realise a society where aging people can participate in the labor market or in social activities” to boost economic growth, the Cabinet office said in a white paper.
The paper said many older people were keen to remain economically active.
However, it added “that strong desire among aging people is not resulting in actual job opportunities.”