TOKYO – On a recent Saturday in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district more than 100 people, many of them elderly men, stood close together in a long queue waiting for food hand-outs.
One of them, Tomoaki Kobayashi, said he was fearing the day he would lose his home as his pension alone was not enough to pay the rent. Still spry, the 72-year-old said he lost his job cleaning pachinko parlours after many of the gambling halls were shut in a state of emergency imposed because of the coronavirus.
“This is the final month. I can’t pay any longer,” Kobayashi said of his rent, clutching a small sack of groceries – snacks, instant curry and hashed-beef rice that would feed him for the next few days. He said he had paid pension premiums for just 15 years, unlike the 33 years for most pensioners, meaning he is eligible for only 54,000 yen ($500) every two months.
Elderly Japanese became an increasingly important part of the labour pool after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his “Abenomics” policies in 2012 to revive the world’s third-largest economy.
In a country with the world’s oldest population and lingering unease about immigration, elderly workers fill roles as shop clerks, cleaners and taxi drivers. For some, the work provides an additional boost to a pension and considerable savings. But for lower-income workers like Kobayashi, part-time jobs are a lifeline.
Now, the coronavirus has shuttered shops and offices and left some of the most vulnerable members of the labour force untethered, even as they are more at risk from the disease than other age groups.