Posts Tagged ‘aging population’

Where there’s a will: Attitudes toward inheritance change

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Who'll be the next in line?

Who’ll be the next in line?

About a million people die every year in Japan, and 10 percent of them leave wills (yuigonsho). That’s a smaller portion than in the English-speaking West — the BBC says about a third of British adults have wills and USA Today reports 59 percent of American baby boomers have written them — but it’s still larger than other Asian countries (about 1 percent in South Korea) and the number is growing every year.

Legal experts advocate wills as the only effective means of properly disposing of one’s assets after death, but in Japan they’ve traditionally been seen as disruptive. Japanese law outlines methods of inheritance and even stipulates shares for specific family relationships. But family ties have been strained in recent decades owing to shifting social demographics and economic trends. A recent article in the Asahi Shimbun reports that more and more people are dying without any clear beneficiaries. In 2012, ¥37.5 billion left behind by people who died was taken by the government because the deceased had no family willing to claim the body and the person’s property. According to the Supreme Court, this amount is three times what it was a decade ago.

When a person dies without spouses or children, or when those heirs have forfeited their right to the deceased’s assets, the proper court appoints an administrator to dispose of the estate. If the deceased had debts, the administrator repays them out of the available assets. If the deceased had a caregiver, the administrator may offer the person part of those assets. But for the most part the unclaimed money and proceeds from property goes to the central government.

One Yokohama lawyer in the Asahi article talks about his experiences as an administrator, which starts with going to the home of a person who has just died and “cleaning up.” He says he often finds large amounts of cash hidden behind or inside furniture, and now conducts seminars where he tells middle aged and older people about the importance of wills, partly as a means of showing their gratitude to those who helped them in life, regardless of whether or not those people are relatives. When the reporter talks to people who attend the lawyer’s seminar, some admit to having no contact with family and one says he feels compelled to draw up a will because he’s afraid of what might happen to his legacy if it all goes to his irresponsible son.

People in the West who don’t write wills are usually intimidated by the cost of lawyers or just plain scared of thinking about death. In Japan, while speaking of death is still a taboo for most people, the scarcity of wills can mainly be attributed to ignorance. The lawyer in the Asahi article implies that the authorities don’t promote wills because they make money when people die without heirs.

A recent trend that has boosted the status of wills is “ending notes.” Popularized by a hit 2011 documentary about a dying man’s last days, ending notes are books that help people think about their deaths. They explain different processes and often have diary-like features so that readers can write down their thoughts about death and what they want in terms of late-term care, a funeral and the disposal of their remains.

Ending notes actually compel readers to think about their lives right now by making them face the inevitability of death, and so rather than push away such thoughts they force the reader to consider measures such as DNR (do not resuscitate) declarations and last wills and testaments. Ending notes have also been commercialized to a certain extent, and some non-profit groups now hold seminars on the subject of shukatsu (final activities). Funeral homes participate in ending note plans and some banks even have programs to help people think about what they want to do with their assets after they die. According to a survey of people over 60 conducted by Research Bank, 49 percent said they wanted to write ending notes.

But ending note diaries are not legal documents. A will needs to be notarized if it is to hold up in court. One reason wills were previously unpopular in Japan is that when they were contested by family members, courts often sided with the plaintiffs, but that isn’t necessarily the case any more. According to one will-writing website, 7,767 wills were notarized in 1966. The number in 2009 was 76,436. Moreover, in 1985, Japanese courts heard 2,661 inheritance-related lawsuits. That number increased to 9,800 by 2008, and in the same year family courts nationwide received 154,160 requests for advice with regard to inheritance problems. More than 70 percent of all legal disputes over inheritance involve assets of more than ¥50 million. Obviously, you can’t take it with you, but older Japanese are now wising up to the fact that they don’t have to let it pass on to people they can’t stand.

Diaper manufacturers get them coming and going

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Checking out the merchandise

Ever since Japan emerged as a manufacturing giant it has concentrated a great deal of sales efforts on exports, but in the past decade or so, as the country’s population has begun to contract, foreign markets have become even more important to sustain corporate growth. And nowhere is this dynamic felt more acutely than in the disposable diaper business. Japanese are having fewer babies. In 2011 the domestic market for disposable baby diapers was about ¥140 billion, but according to one major manufacturer, Unicharm, that market is shrinking at a rate of about 2 percent a year. However, in many other Asian countries,  population is increasing along with average living standards.

Whether it foresaw these changes or not, Unicharm entered the foreign market early and started selling diapers in Taiwan in 1984. It now has a presence in 80 countries and territories, in the form of factories or sales channels. This summer the company plans to open a plant in Egypt, its first on the African continent. Unicharm’s strategy is to adjust quality and price for specific local markets. For instance, it offers three price grades of diapers in Thailand and Malaysia, each price targeted at a specific income group; while in Indonesia it sells diapers individually rather than in packs since that is the way most retail sales work in the country.

Japanese disposable diapers are generally considered to be of high quality, and many manufacturers, such as Kao, which makes Merries, the best-selling diaper in Japan, simply target parents in foreign countries who can afford to pay a little more for diapers. Merries is quite popular among middle class parents in China, where they are 20 to 30 percent more expensive than “regular” disposable diapers. Meanwhile, Daio Paper, which is also considered high quality and sells 40 percent of its disposable diapers outside of Japan, seems to be particularly popular among the well-to-do in Shanghai.

But the real news in the diaper business is at the other demographic end. In 2011, for the first time, sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded sales of baby diapers. According to Yano Research, sales of adult diapers in 2011 increased by more than 100 percent from 2010, with revenues topping ¥160 billion. Unicharm alone recorded sales of ¥60 billion. Growth in the adult diaper market is propelled by more than just the aging of the population. Purchases of adult diapers can be subsidized in part by the Long-term Nursing Care Insurance system (kaigo hoken), and while babies usually need diapers for three years, four at most, older people could conceivably need to use them longer. And as advertising becomes more widespread the hazukashii (embarrassment) factor will continue to abate.

Doctors afraid new fee will reduce customers … er, patients

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

At the end of September the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare released figures for medical care expenditures in fiscal 2009. Based on national insurance records, Japanese people spent ¥36.67 trillion on medical care that year, a 3.4 percent increase over 2008. That boils down to ¥282,400 for each man, woman or child, which is a 3.6 percent increase over the previous year. Broken down demographically, patients between the ages of 65 and 74 accounted for 55.4 percent of money spent (¥19.94 trillion) and patients 75 and over 32.6 percent (¥11.73 trillion). Per capita, Japanese under 65 spent ¥163,000 for the year, those between 65 and 74 ¥687,000, and those 75 and older ¥855,800. In terms of sources of revenue, 48.6 percent (¥17.5 trillion) came from premiums for both the Kokumin Kenko Hoken (National Health Insurance) and the Kenko Hoken (Employees Health Insurance) systems; 37.5 percent (¥13. 49 trillion) came from national and local taxes; and the remaining 13.9 percent (¥4.99 trillion) came from patients’ pockets.

The kid stays in the picture: JMA ad against proposed ¥100 fee

These amounts were the highest since MHLW started keeping track. Japan’s Gross Domestic Product went down in 2009, but the portion of GDP accounted for by medical care, 7.6 percent, was higher than the previous year’s portion, which means that not only is more money from premiums being spent, but more people are paying out-of-pocket for medical care, since 10-30 percent of a doctor’s and pharmacist’s bill is paid for by the patient. This portion can be extremely large when hospitalization or special treatments are involved, and in many cases where patients’ expenses are exceedingly high (kogaku iryohi) the government will reimburse them depending on their individual incomes. The MHLW has decided that the current pay schedule for this excessive medical expense system is obsolete, and has restructured it to allow more income brackets and higher reimbursements. The problem is that as the population ages revenues from premiums are going down since people over a certain age pay less, even as they use more insurance. So where are they going to get the money to fund this new excessive medical expense system?

The provisional answer is something called the madoguchi futan (literally, “window burden”), a ¥100 fee that will be added to every doctor’s visit and paid by the patient. The Japan Medical Association has roundly condemned this fee, saying that it penalizes older people and others on fixed incomes, effectively widening the gap between rich and poor. In the long run, it will discourage lower income people from seeking medical help.

Continue reading about bump in doctots' fees →

Local governments crack down on health insurance scofflaws

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Enough to make you sick: monthly Kokuho payment schedule

According to an article in the Aug. 29 Asahi Shimbun, the number of asset seizures initiated by local governments in an attempt to recoup delinquent national health insurance payments has increased startlingly in the past four years. Asahi asked the pertinent sections of all 23 wards in Tokyo, as well as those in 19 major cities about seizures. They received responses from 37 local governments in all, and the data indicates that between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2010, the number of delinquent payments that led to actual seizures of assets increased by almost sixfold.

In this case, we’re talking about Kokumin Kenko Hoken, or National Health Insurance, which is paid by anyone who is not a member of the Shakai Kenko Hoken system, which is paid for by contributions from employers. Traditionally, National Health Insurance, known as Kokuho for short, was carried by people who are self-employed. And that’s still true. However, the ranks of Kokuho carriers has increased greatly over the past two decades as the employment situation has changed. With more people out of work and even more changing over from so-called lifetime employment to so-called non-regular employment, the number of people who are compelled to pay into the Kokuho system gets larger and larger. Kokuho is administered by local governments, and national insurance, whether paid for by the individual or by his/her employer, is mandatory in Japan. If the individual is too poor to pay the premiums, he or she should go to the local government office and tell an official. The only real way to get out of the system and still have insurance is to qualify for welfare. Other than that, in principle everyone has to pay. Some local governments have a system wherein someone who has not paid because of financial difficulties but needs medical care can pay the full amount of that care up front and receive at least partial reimbursement later, but those are exceptional cases.

Continue reading about health-insurance crackdowns →

Reported epidemic of elder shoplifting may not be what it seems

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

For the past several years the media has been reporting a marked increase in the incidence of shoplifiting among the elderly. Most recently, the Mainichi Shimbun ran an article focusing on the problem in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the percentage of arrests of people over 65 for shoplifting has exceeded those for minor males. According to local police, in 2000 43.3 percent of shoplifting arrests were of boys between the ages of 14 and 19, while arrests of people over 65 accounted for only 20 percent. In 2005, the portions were equal: 28 percent each. Since then, the percentages for over-65s has fluctuated between 30 and 40, while for minors it’s been between 20 and 30.

Chiba Prefecture's anti-shoplifiting poster seems to be aimed at people who are influenced by cute mascots

The police blame the increase on “poverty and loneliness.” All of the older people they arrest say they are on fixed incomes and have already spent their monthly pension allotments when they are caught shoplifting. Some spend all their money on gambling because, according to the police, “gambling is the only social activity in their lives, since they have no relatives or friends.” In almost all cases, elderly people steal food and alcoholic beverages. One supermarket told the Mainichi that 80 percent of the people caught shoplifting on its premises are over 65. In the past, the manager would call “the guardians” of the perpetrators in order to be reimbursed, because most were minors, but they can’t do that with old people. “They usually have no one.”

Nationwide, this seems to be a trend. The National Police Agency reports that of the 104,827 shoplifiting arrests made in 2010, 27,362 were of persons over 65, 343 more than in 2009. Minors still accounted for more arrests, 28,371, but the number has been steadily declining over the past decade, while the number of older people being arrested has steadily increased.

Alarming? At least one blogger writes that, statistically speaking, it’s to be expected. Masamizu Kibashiri (an obvious pseudonym) points out that the fatalist tone of the reporting on elder shoplifting hides a salient and very apparent fact: The number of old people has risen sharply during the past decade while the number of minors has declined at almost the same rate. In the past 20 years, the over-65 population of Japan has jumped from 15 million to 27 million. Given this increase, the slighter rise in shoplifting arrests could actually be taken as being encouraging: Not as many older people are shoplifting as might be expected.

Kibashiri proposes a different statistical model for gauging the phenomenon: Number of elder arrests per 10,000 population of over-65s. Using that statistical model, he finds that the percentage of elder shoplifters has, in fact, risen significantly, from 2.8 in 1989 to 9.5 in 2009, with the largest jump coming around 2005. Obviously, there is a meaningful increase here, but the media needs to qualify its reporting of an “epidemic.”

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