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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010
A giant salamander sermon
By AMY CHAVEZ
Japan has the world's longest life span. Even their animals live to be elderly. Japan' oldest giant salamander, who lived in Okayama, passed away in August this year — at 100 years old.
The fact that I read his obituary in the newspaper indicates that his death has been recorded in the Salamander Death Registry. This is important because if his relatives had neglected to register his death, they could have, technically, continued receiving salamander pension payments.
But no, his children, Sally and Sammy, who were twins, were honest salamanders and registered their father's death. They had no scheming, dishonest intentions of living off dad's pension, because Sally and Sammy were upstanding salamanders. Instead, they'll live in salamander poverty for the rest of their lives.
It is heart-warming to hear such stories of honest Japanese citizens, when recently so many dishonest Japanese have been exposed as milking the pension system by hiding the death of their relatives, and collecting the pension payments themselves. This is allowed to happen because, apparently, the government continues providing pension checks unless they receive a death notification.
But Sally and Sammy, despite their poverty, had no intentions of trying to live off dad. Even though they did receive a small inheritance, they spent it on their father's funeral. Imagine having to order a special giant salamander casket! And while they were waiting for the 1.5 meter casket to be made, they probably had to embalm him. I hope the funeral was elaborate because everyone knows that funerals are really for the living. And of those of us who are living would like to see, once in our lives, a giant salamander burial.
Which makes me wonder what the zoo does with most of their deceased animals? Burial or cremation?
This is just a hunch, but with land as scarce as it is in Japan, and being that I have never seen a zoo cemetery before, I suspect you might find a lot of animal graves in the foundations under their cages. Even with cremation, the "remains," as they are so appropriately called, have to go somewhere.
Officials at the Giant Salamander Center, where the elderly salamander lived, suspect he died of old age, but I wonder if it wasn't death from overwork. At 100 years old, he shouldn't have even been "on display" at the center anymore. In addition, he was on display at the town's giant salamander festival just a week before, where visitors reportedly "gasped" when seeing his size.
Around the same time, another giant salamander in Hokkaido, who was by the way, a National Treasure, reportedly died at 55. The zoo director there said, "It wasn't that spectacular in appearance but amazed us for living so long." Come on, let's have some salamander respect! These are some of our most upstanding citizens.
Getting back to why pension checks go out to "technically still alive" people, the government says this happens because it is hard to keep track of people to prove they are alive. But rather than buying a few stethoscopes and demanding a yearly pulse check either at the person's home or the pension office, instead they send out a form with questions. I can't imagine what this form would ask. Perhaps, "Are you alive?" If the answer comes back negative, then the pension checks are stopped.
The problem was, even when they were dead, some relative checked "Yes, alive, thank you," and their pension checks got delivered to them because they were a relative and presumably the pensioner's caretaker should the pensioner be incapacitated.
The government admitted their previous system was not working so, rather than buying stethoscopes, in 2006 they stopped asking people to submit proof of being alive.
And, can you believe it? This still did not stop people from abusing the system!
Yamaguchi Prefecture proved that, with the proper combination of "lax bookkeeping" and "slack record-keeping" a person can be "technically still alive" at 186 years old. No wonder the pension system is going bankrupt. If you ask me, I think we ought to put the salamanders in charge. This is how they plan to reform the pension program if voted into office: Stethoscopes Buy stethoscopes. Monthly pension checks or lump sum withdrawal For those who pay into the pension program, we ought to have an option of a lump sum withdrawal once we reach retirement age. Especially since many of us don't plan on living to 100, we shouldn't be denied the benefits of not doing so. Alternative currencies for pension payments Many of us would be just as happy to receive our pension payments in alternative currencies, such as frequent flier miles or, for those more environmentally conscious, "eco points." Replenishing pension funds — with beer If all taxes currently collected for beer and beer-like beverages went into the pension system, we would have an unlimited supply of funds that no one would mind contributing to. As a matter of fact, people would enjoy contributing, because they would know their money is going to a good cause — to help pay for their golden years with sclerosis of the liver. As it is, people voluntarily drink to excess. Imagine what it would do for the country if all this were put to a good cause.
And just for the record, should I reach my golden years and should I ever become incapacitated, since I don't have children, I want my pension checks delivered to my closest living relative — the chimpanzee.