TOKYO -- There is a real estate agency in Edogawa Ward in eastern Tokyo that is open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In late July, the president of the company, 88-year-old Kyoko Wada, sat in front of a couple who were selling real estate they owned, at her office on the first floor of her home at 6 p.m. The couple are longtime customers with whom Wada previously had transactions.
The president took time to patiently listen to what the pair had to say. They ended their business talks at around 10 p.m. However, Wada did not seem tired. Rather, her eyes were sparkling. "I've learned to earn money on my own and live independently and I'm enthusiastic," she explained.
Wada is a typical active person in the current age where it is common for people to live to 100. She was a full-time housewife in the first half of her life. When World War II ended 73 years ago, she was 15 years old. She never had doubts about the idea that women should marry, have children and live their lives as housewives.
However, a turning point came about a decade ago. After the death of her husband Masatake, who had worked as a high school teacher, she tended to shut herself inside her home. Around this time, her grandson Masatoshi, 30, asked her, "Grandma, why don't you learn something?
Wada had often told Masatoshi when he was a student, "Even though I wanted to, I wasn't able to study because of the war." Now, she felt as if she were being asked why she wasn't studying when she no longer had to look after her children or grandchildren. It was a point at which she became aware of her independence.
Wada then attended a vocational school with young people in an effort to become a registered real estate transaction agent. At the age of 79, she obtained the license and launched her company when she was 80.
Wada herself had faced problems because her family had lived in defective homes. The home her family bought about 50 years ago had a vault toilet, but the hose to pump out the waste wasn't long enough. A floor caved in at another home where she lived, and the water supply frequently failed at another home.
Wada struggled to negotiate with real estate agents and local government offices over these problems. She thought she could take advantage of such experiences in her real estate business.
In principle, Wada receives commission only from those who sell real estate, without being bound by the industry's long-established custom of receiving such charges from both sellers and buyers.
Her grandson Masatoshi also became a registered real estate transaction agent and joined hands with her grandmother in her business. Their business has grown to the tune of 500 million yen in annual sales.
In addition to earnings from her real estate business, Wada receives about 160,000 yen a month from bereaved family pension for her late husband. The pension benefit is important for her because she regards it as proof that she and her husband shared all their joys and sorrows for many years. However, she is beginning to think she can't complain if her pension benefit were reduced because of her earnings from her real estate business.
When Wada was rearing her children, Japan's population was growing and the economy was expanding. The situation surrounding young people today is completely different.
"If there are young people who are worried about their future and cannot have children even if they want to, I feel sorry for them," Wada said.
Wada was able to carve a new life for herself after being inspired by her grandson. In fact, the practice of recurrent education, where people return to study later in life to renew the old knowledge they gained as students, is now drawing public attention.
The government has decided to take measures to support recurrent learning based on the assumption that Japanese people commonly live to 100 years in the current age. Also behind this move, however, is the fact that the levels of public pension benefits will continue to decrease because of the declining birthrate and aging of the population.
The average lifespan in 2017 was 81.09 years for men and 87.26 years for women -- about 15 years longer for both genders than in 1961 when universal public pension coverage was established in Japan. At the same time, the number of people in younger generations who are supposed to support the public pension system has kept decreasing.
The government apparently wants senior citizens to continue to work by promoting recurrent education. In other words, this policy can be interpreted as a desperate measure to make up for a possible shortage of financial resources for the public pension system.
This is Part 6 in a series.
(Japanese original by Takeshi Terada, Special Reports Group)