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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Harnessing the power of grey Japan
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Hiroshi Ebihara could have retired three years ago. He is 63, but he keeps on working. It is not because he has to. He wants to.

"I want to work until I turn 70 or so," he said. "The company allowed me to work until I was 60, so now it is my turn to show my gratitude and work for the company as long as they let me."

Utako Ohoe
I don't want to become dependent on my daughter - I want to stay independent
Utako Ohoe, 82

The firm he works for needs him. The millions of baby boomers who rebuilt this country after the war are starting to retire now. It is not going to be easy to replace them.

Many companies - like the one where Mr Ebihara works, Mycom, which makes compressors for use in freezers - are encouraging their workers to stay on; 99% of workers here choose to stay on past the age of 60.

The man in charge of the older workers scheme at the factory, Nobunori Kamoda, is 76.

"The young workers have strength rather than skills," he said. "The older generation is more skilled.

"So if we are looking for quantity, it's the young generation, but if we are after quality, it's the older generation. I believe we can do better when the two generations work together."

Katsusuke Yanagisawa of Japan returns to Narita airport, east of Tokyo, Thursday, May 31, 2007
Japan wants to harness the energy of its older generation

This kind of arrangement is becoming more common here. In fact in some companies retirement has been abolished altogether.

Japan is ageing faster than any other country in the world, so people here are already having to adapt to the new reality - more elderly people, fewer youngsters to care for them.

Utako Ohoe, 82, still lives in her own flat. She says she does not want to become a burden on anyone else.

"I want to continue living here by myself," she explained. "I don't want to become dependent on my daughter. I want to stay independent."

A clever device helps her let her family know she is still OK. When Mrs Ohoe uses her electronic kettle it sends a text message to her daughter's mobile phone.

Twice a day it sends a summary of how many times it has been used. Any change to what is a pretty regular pattern would warn her that there might be a problem.

Utako Ohoe's special kettle
Mrs Ohoe's kettle acts as a monitoring device

"My mother likes living alone," says Mrs Ohoe's daughter Keiko Shimada. "I don't want to disturb her but at the same time I don't want to have to worry about it all the time either. So when I found out about this service I thought it was ideal."

The Japanese are not just looking for new ways to look after older people. They are also trying to find ways to make money out of them.

The new consumers the companies really care about are those who have decided to retire and have money to spend after working all their life.

Ted Adegawa, 64, is a silver-haired surfer. "Not many people were happy with their jobs before they retired," he pointed out.

"I am sure there were some who hated their jobs, but had no choice but to continue with them. Now at last I think we should enjoy life by doing what we like to do."

Ted's generation is larger that those that have followed so it has always had more influence.

That is why as they reach old age, the Japanese baby-boomers are changing so much more in Japanese society than those who came before them.

Japan's elderly are urged to work
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18 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
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30 Jun 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan's toys for the elderly
30 Apr 06 |  Business

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