A record number of Japanese seniors are re-entering the workforce to combat an aging population–but also because they just want to.

The third September in Japan is a public holiday known as Respect for the Aged Day. It seems that holiday will only become more and more important as the population continues to age at a rapid rate, with the government employing various strategies to account for the worker shortage such as encouraging the older generations to re-enter the work force. Revised legislation that came into effect in April 2021 allows companies to abolish their previous mandatory retirement age (a typical feature of Japanese worker contracts; it’s typically set at or around 60 years old), raise the age of retirement to 70, and/or introduce a subcontracting system for those up to 70 so they can remain working.

In fact, this year’s latest government report reveals that the number of Japanese people aged 65 and up who are working is now at its highest number ever, with 9.27 million people–making up 13.4 percent of the labor force aged 15 and up–employed throughout the country. That percentage is double what it was when the traditional working-age population, considered to be ages 15-64, peaked in 1995.

▼ Seniors aged 65 and up are becoming an increasingly visible part of Japan’s labor force in a variety of workplaces.

Despite the drastic government measures to combat the aging society, it seems there are some seniors who embrace their working role long past the typical retirement age. This sentiment is no more apparent than in 90-year-old McDonald’s employee Tamiko Honda, who cheerfully shares that working is the key to her health and her biggest hobby now that she’s a bit hard of hearing and has cataracts that make her longtime hobby of sewing difficult. Many of her friends have already passed away or are battling dementia, which makes work a welcome distraction as well.

Tamiko was born in 1933 in Uki City, Kumamoto Prefecture. Her youth was shadowed by World War II, which ended when she was 12 years old. She was employed as nursing staff at a hospital in Kumamoto City for the majority of her career until she reached the mandatory retirement age of 61 in that role. However, she then began working as cleaning staff at a local university until she was 67, once again meeting the mandatory retirement age for that position. Still bitten by the desire to actively work, in 2000, she applied for a position at McDonald’s after hearing about it from her only daughter, who noted that there were no age restrictions. Sadly, this daughter passed away from cancer 12 years ago at the age of 58. Tamiko always makes sure to say “I’m off” to her daughter in a photo before leaving for work.

▼ Tamiko shares that she’ll aim to keep working until she’s 100 years old.

These days, Tamiko commutes 20 minutes by bus from her home in the city’s Nishi Ward to the McDonald’s location in Kumamoto City’s Shimotori shopping arcade. She works five days per week, excluding Sundays and Wednesdays, beginning her three-hour shift at 7:30 a.m. by sweeping the interior and storefront of the restaurant. Called “Tamiko-san” or “Tami-chan” by her coworkers, she works hard, has an infectious smile beloved by everyone, and enjoys coffee breaks and sharing her homemade pickled Japanese leeks with younger coworkers. She has a strong appreciation for the convenience of food today, noting how people can order anything at the touch of a button–a far cry from the scarcity of food in the postwar years, when sweet potatoes and taro were the staples of her diet. The 51-year-old store manager of the Shimotori branch, who’s of the same generation as Tamiko’s grandchildren, shares, “I can relax when I hear Tamiko’s ‘good morning’ at the start of the day. She gives everyone around her energy and comfort. She’s a stable and indispensable presence in our store.”

According to McDonald’s Japan, while Tamiko is the oldest female worker at one of the country’s approximately 3,000 restaurant locations, she isn’t even the oldest worker. That distinction goes to a 95-year-old man who works at a branch in Toyama Prefecture. However, he hasn’t been employed by the fast food chain for as long as Tamiko’s 23 years. With the highest number of Japanese seniors than ever before continuing to hold a job, we will likely spot more and more workers like Tamiko in the years to come.

Restaurant information
McDonald’s Kumamoto Shimotori branch / マクドナルド 熊本下通店
Address: Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Chuo-ku, Tetori Honcho 5-17
Open: 7 a.m.-12 a.m.

Source: Livedoor News
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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