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Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

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Japan's pension program


Today I'd like to explain to you Japan's pension program, where you put in ¥14,660 per month in the hopes that later when you retire, you will receive monthly payments of around ¥60,000 until the day you die. Or so the theory goes. Remember the chain letters that say if everyone sends a dollar to Joe, then Joe will become a millionaire and you'll be next? Those are the people who came up with this pension scheme. They'll also sell you swampland in Florida.

For those of us who will not retire for at least another 20 years, there isn't much hope that the pension system will still be belching out such payments. In the meantime, and these really are mean times, our pension payments will rise and so will the retirement age. And never mind that the pension program is run by "government officials," some of whom have been involved in false financial reporting, bid rigging, absconding of funds, and other horrendous misuses of money. Undeterred, we still make those faithful deposits.

The moral question becomes: Should you pay into this system when honestly, you could do something far better with that money, such as party every night for the rest of your life? For the same ¥14,660 per month you could buy 60 cans of Asahi beer, or 97 cans of happoshu. Every month! That should enable almost anyone to forget about saving for retirement.

Consider this: The life expectancy in Japan is 83 years (86 for women and 79 for men). So at the current retirement age of 65, you can enjoy 18 years of retirement on average. And since Japan has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, that's a longer retirement than people in some other countries. Salarymen are not included in the longest livers in Japan since so many salarymen drink to excess that their livers actually shorten their life spans. Nonetheless, 79 years is a pretty good average for men in a country known for karoshi, where people literally work themselves to death.

And with amakudari, a system where certain extra-special retired people can continue working with a decent salary, lifetime employment takes on a whole new meaning. I've never understood amakudari myself. Why would anyone want to continue working after 65? A second chance at karoshi perhaps? Now you know the origin of the phrase: "He worked till the day he died." Well, of course he did — he couldn't have worked after.

If you're not Japanese, your life expectancy is likely much lower. Some of us shouldn't even consider living until 65. Because of this, you'd think the Japanese government would look at immigration more favorably.

Wouldn't it be nice if we knew how long we were going to live? Well, we can! I will share with you this top secret formula that has never before been exposed to the public.

Take the total number of years worked, plus the years spent in working overtime, minus one day for each cup of instant ramen you've had, minus two years if you smoke, four years if you smoke and sing karaoke at the same time (taking into consideration hyper inhalation of cigarette smoke), and another decade for errant, unaccountable shochu-induced behavior, minus 20 years for exhausting yourself trying to keep the harmony, and that's how many years you'll have left after retirement. If you're not Japanese, then further subtract a day for each Big Mac you indulged in. Now you know why they're called Big Mac attacks.

With this formula, if you came up with a negative number, you're already dead, or nearly so and you don't need to worry about saving for retirement. Only if you fared well with this formula do you need to even think about having a pension to draw from.

Of course, the best thing would be to put people in charge of their own pensions. But that's not how the pension system works. Instead, you pay into the system where they hold your money for you until retirement. In the meantime, they give your money to some already retired person so she can use it up for you. And what is she using your money for? Nothing! She's hoarding it because she has a part-time job somewhere on the side anyway, just for something to do. Besides, this extra pension money can be used by her grown son to play pachinko. Or maybe she gives it to her grandson for a trip to Tokyo Disney since every child in Japan has the unalienable right to Food, Disney and Shelter.

I envy people who believe in living for the moment and not worrying about the future. They believe in the "3 Anys" — that after you're dead, you won't be able to enjoy Anything Anymore Anyway. So why save? And since the government doesn't seem too worried about my pension either, maybe I should join the beer pension plan instead. Cheers!



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