OP 1

There are certain privileges that come along with adulthood. For example, if I decide I really want to eat a bag of cookies for dinner or stay up until sunrise playing video games, there’s really not a whole lot any other person can do to stop me (even if my body is likely to eventually break down in protest of the unhealthy lifestyle).

Likewise, one you hit the age where you stop getting an allowance from your parents and start earning a legitimate paycheck, you’re generally considered to have earned the freedom to spend your money however you want. And just like you wouldn’t take kindly to someone trying to reinstate a bed time for you, seniors in Osaka aren’t too crazy about a government offer to check up on how they’re spending their government-administered pensions.

It may not be Japan’s biggest city, but there are a couple of things Osaka can claim to be number one in. Aside from its reputation as producing the tastiest takoyaki octopus dumplings and funniest comedians in the country, Osaka also has more seniors receiving a government-administered pension than any other municipality in Japan. As of last November, members of some 117,500 households in Osaka were eligible to receive such funds.

Given such a large pool of recipients, there’s obviously a lot of money being circulated as part of pension payments in Osaka. As such, the government would prefer that seniors use their pensions responsibly, and to that end recently proposed a new wrinkle to the system, in which recipients could opt to receive 30,000 yen (US$252) each month not in cash or as a bank deposit, but in the form of a prepaid debit card.

Planners saw two potential benefits to such a system. First, recipients wouldn’t have to carry so much cash, providing them with extra convenience and more time for things other than running to the bank or ATM. Second, the Osaka government would be legally allowed to access the card administration company’s data and review what the cardholders were buying. This information would then be put to use in providing financial counseling to the cardholders, helping them to make smarter spending decisions.

▼ “Hmm…Mr. Tanaka, at your age, do you really think you should be buying so many green bananas?”

OP 3

Deciding to do an evaluative test of the system, case workers in Osaka started spreading the word in early February that the city was looking for volunteers willing to give the card-based system a try. Obviously, not everyone would be instantly on board with the idea, so they set what they felt was an achievable goal of less than two percent of the eligible household, hoping to find 2,000 volunteers.

They got five.

▼ On the bright side, they could form a basketball team (provided no one ever needs to take a break or twists an ankle).

OP 2

“The number was less than we had expected,” commented a spokesperson for the city, in a display of overwhelming understatement.

Still, the city isn’t ready to scrap the idea just yet. Instead, Osaka has extended the volunteer recruiting period until March 24, and is considering carrying out a six or 12-month trial even if it’s unable to round up 2,000 interested seniors. However, officials have expressed concern over the ability to properly evaluate the system’s effectiveness without significantly increasing the number of users.

In retrospect, it’s not too hard to see why Osaka received such a tepid response. It’s only been within the last 20 years or so that credit cards have become commonly accepted at Japanese retailers, meaning that pensioners have likely had their whole lives to get used to using cash, making them unlikely to see any benefit in eliminating it. There’s also the implied stigma to consider. In the words of Kansai University of International Studies sociology professor Ryu Michinaka, “Accepting the prepaid cards is the equivalent of being labeled as someone who can’t manage his own finances.”

He’s got a point. Really, after making it through school and decades in the workforce, frankly it’s a little embarrassing to have a civil servant look over your receipts every month and give his opinion on whether or not you’re dropping too much yen on canned chu-his, dried squid snacks, or granny idol CDs.

▼ The grandkids have their AKB48, and Granddad has his KBG84.

OP 4

Source: Sankei West via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Ha-Chi
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