Japan’s seniors work on into retirement

Updated 18 November 2012
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Japan’s seniors work on into retirement

SIX DAYS A WEEK, winter or summer, 73-year-old Mitsumi Kobuna gets up at 5 a.m. to go to Tsukiji fish market to stock up his family-run stall.
He will be at work for around 15 hours, in a job he has done for 55 years. He has noticed his body slowing in the last decade or so, but would really like to carry on for two or three more years.
While governments in Europe have struggled to convince their populations to delay retirement, Japan has found no such resistance, and people like Kobuna are not unusual.
Men in Japan work until they are 69 on average, five years longer than the developed countries club of the OECD and a full decade longer than their counterparts in France.
Japanese women retire at a mean age of 67 against an OECD average of 63.
Observers say people prepared to work longer and later in life are increasingly necessary in Japan, where shrinking numbers of taxpayers find themselves supporting a population of elderly that is both growing and living longer.
Already around a quarter of Japan’s people are over 65, a figure the government estimates will rise to 40 percent within half a century.
Without the immigrant workforce that many developed countries have, getting people to stay at work is seen by many as one of Japan’s only options if it is to pay for its own population.
But for many of those in the autumn of their lives, their jobs are not merely a chore to be endured but rather a source of pride, and something that gives them energy.
“If I stopped work, I would feel old,” said Koji Sato, who runs a tea shop in Tokyo.
At 75, Sato says he works 12 hours a day and frequently seven days a week.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said. “I’m slowing down gradually, but the day I stop, that will be the end of me.” This attitude is common in many Japanese who grew up in the austerity of the post-war years, when a devastated shell of a country was transformed by the sheer effort of its people into a booming, world-beating economy in less than two decades.
For Kenji Wada, a 73-year-old lawyer who specializes in industrial patents, his job is about so much more than the pay he brings home.
“Money is secondary,” he said. “The key is to be doing something useful in society.” He said that in the 40 years he has been running his practice he has worked for many different companies.
“They entrust me to handle things, no matter how old I am.”
Shigeru Oki, director of the Business Policy forum, a government-backed think-tank, said working longer was a way to feel useful.
“Some seniors cite economic reasons but it’s not the only reason. According to our surveys, they often said they wanted to have something to live for, remain connected to society and maintain health.” In August and without much fanfare, the government passed a law that comes into effect in stages requiring companies to let their employees continue working until they are 65. They also raised the age at which pension payments begin, to 65, by 2025.

People are allowed to continue working beyond that age, provided their employer is willing to employ them.
“Seniors know that the pension system has become a burden on younger generations due to the decline in childbirths,” said Oki.
“They feel they can accept delays in pension payments up to the age of 65 or so in the face of the country’s bad financial situation. Besides, people in their 60s are (today) much more vibrant than those in the past.” Months of protests greeted then-president Nicolas Sarkozy when he raised France’s age of retirement progressively to 62 from 60 in 2010.
Moves in Greece to hike to 67 the age at which people can retire have been part of a wildly unpopular austerity package that has seen sometimes-violent street protests and a series of strikes.
The outcry in Europe stands in marked contrast to Japan, where there was barely a murmur. Work is just something one does, and does not complain about it.
“I’ve never really considered if my work is fun or not,” said Seichiro Fukui, who for 41 of his 64 years has worked as an insurance broker, an estate agent and a vendor of rice cakes.
“My father toiled until he was 80 years old and I intend to work until I drop. My life is built like that and it’s not going to change now.” And here, for many ageing Japanese, is the nub of the problem: in a society built so firmly around work, where is meaning to be found in retirement? For Fukui, the answer is to carry on.
“I don’t know what I would do with myself if I retired.”


Twin brothers reunited 74 years after WWII death at Normandy

Family members lay flowers on the casket of WWII US Navy sailor Julius Pieper during a reburial service at the Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Twin brothers reunited 74 years after WWII death at Normandy

  • The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today’s military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for
  • "They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be,”

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France: For decades, he was known only as Unknown X-9352 at a World War II American cemetery in Belgium where he was interred.
Today, he has recovered his identity — and was being reunited with his twin brother in Normandy, where the two Navy men died together when their ship shattered on an underwater mine while trying to reach the blood-soaked D-Day beaches.
Julius Heinrich Otto “Henry” Pieper and Ludwig Julius Wilhelm “Louie” Pieper, two 19-year-olds from Esmond, South Dakota, will rest in peace side-by-side later Tuesday at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, 74 years after their deaths on June 19, 1944.
While Louie’s body was soon found, identified and laid to rest, his brother’s remains were only recovered in 1961 by French salvage divers and not identified until 2017.
They will be the 45th pair of brothers at the cemetery, three of them memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery. But the Piepers will be the only set of twins among the more than 9,380 graves, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Julius, radioman second class like his brother, was being buried with full military honors at the cemetery, an immaculate field of crosses and stars of David. The site overlooks the English Channel and Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the Normandy landing beaches of Operation Overlord, the first step in breaching Hitler’s stranglehold on France and Europe. Family members were in attendance.

Twin brothers Julius Pieper, left, and Ludwig Pieper in their US Navy uniforms.
Twin brothers Julius Pieper, left, and Ludwig Pieper in their US Navy uniforms. (AP)

“They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be,” said their niece, Susan Lawrence, 56, of California.
“They were always together. They were the best of friends,” said Lawrence. “Mom told me a story one time when one of the twins had gotten hurt on the job and the other twin had gotten hurt on the job, same day and almost the same time.”
The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today’s military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for.
The Pieper twins, born of German immigrant parents, worked together for Burlington Railroad and enlisted together in the Navy. Both were radio operators and both were on the same unwieldy flat-bottom boat, Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), making the Channel crossing from Falmouth, England, to Utah Beach 13 days after the June 6 D-Day landings.
The LST-523 mission was to deliver supplies at the Normandy beachhead and remove the wounded. It never got there.
The vessel struck an underwater mine and sank off the coast. Of the 145 Navy crew members, 117 were found perished. Survivors’ accounts speak of a major storm on the Channel with pitched waves that tossed the boat mercilessly before the explosion that shattered the vessel.
Louie’s body was laid to rest in what now is the Normandy American Cemetery. But the remains of Julius were only recovered in 1961 by French divers who found them in the vessel’s radio room. He was interred as an “Unknown” at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville, Belgium, also devoted to the fallen of World War II, in the region that saw the bloody Battle of the Bulge.
Julius’ remains might have stayed among those of 13 other troops from the doomed LST-523 still resting unidentified at the Ardennes cemetery. But in 2017, a US agency that tracks missing combatants using witness accounts and DNA testing identified him.
The Pieper family asked that Louie’s grave in Normandy be relocated to make room for his twin brother at his side.
The last time the United States buried a soldier who fought in World War II was in 2005, at the Ardennes American Cemetery, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.