In his final New Year’s address today (2 Jan), Japanese Emperor Akihito spoke of his hopes for world peace.

“I pray for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world,” said the emperor.

On April 30 this year, the 85-year-old emperor will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in about two centuries after indicating his wish to retire in 2016.

He cited concerns that he might not be able to fulfill his official duties due to his advancing age. His eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the Japanese Throne on May 1 this year.

Declining physical fitness of Emperor Akihito

On 8 Aug 2016, in a message televised to the nation, Emperor Akihito told the people that he is now more than 80 years old and there have been times when he felt his physical fitness deteriorating.

“In the last few years I have started to reflect on my years as the Emperor, and contemplate on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come,” he said.

“As we are in the midst of a rapidly aging society, I would like to talk to you today about what would be a desirable role of the Emperor in a time when the Emperor, too, becomes advanced in age.”

“As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition. At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese Imperial Family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people,” he added.

Some years ago, he related that after his two surgeries, he began to feel a decline in his fitness level because of his advancing age. He started thinking about how the Imperial Household could continue to carry out its duties for the state.

“I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health. However, when I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now,” he explained.

As emperor, he said that there is a need to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts. “In this regard, I have felt that my travels to various places throughout Japan, in particular, to remote places and islands, are important acts of the Emperor as the symbol of the State and I have carried them out in that spirit,” he shared.

“In coping with the aging of the Emperor, I think it is not possible to continue reducing perpetually the Emperor’s acts in matters of state and his duties as the symbol of the State.”

As such, Emperor Akihito has sought for public support to allow him to abdicate so that a younger person like his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, could take over and continue to perform the state duties required of the emperor.

Many elderly Singaporeans can’t afford to retire

Emperor Akihito did not need to worry about losing income after his retirement as the Imperial Household continues to be funded by the state.

But not it’s not just royalty – the average elderly citizen in Japan is also well taken care of by the state. In 2000, Japan introduced a compulsory long-term care insurance system which can be used by the ageing population to pay for care at home, in day-service centres and in residential-care facilities. This means the elderly in Japan don’t have to continue slogging away at work all day to put food in the table and pay for their medication.

There are also different living options for seniors from condos with services, assisted living facilities, fee-based private homes, senior-only living facilities, inter-generational facilities, and full-fledged medical facilities such as nursing homes.

On top of that, Japan has also introduced senior-friendly malls and restaurants. An entire floor in a mall dedicated to the elderly will focus on things they like to do such as walking and hiking, luggage and books on travelling, a walking course, gym, rehab centre, and a bank with services targeted to savings and investments. These malls may even organised free exercise classes for seniors like yoga, aerobics, and tai chi. Even the supermarket is tailored to seniors with lighter shopping trolleys and products targeted at seniors all in one place.

As a society and state, Japan has invested in caring for their elderly together and ensuring that they live as comfortable a life as possible in throughout their golden years.

However, elderly Singaporeans with an advancing age and declining physical fitness may not be as lucky as Emperor Akihito and other elderly Japanese.

Unlike other first world countries, the PAP government of Singapore does not believe in implementing pension schemes for Singaporeans. Many elderly Singaporeans in their 60s and 70s with a deteriorating level of physical fitness can be seen working throughout Singapore, sometimes startling even foreign visitors to Singapore.

The main reason being many Singaporeans cannot afford to retire.

Even with the Lease Buyback Scheme offered by HDB, in the example posted on HDB website, a couple, both 65 years old, who are joint owners of a fully paid 4-room flat worth $450,000 in the market and with 65-year remaining lease, can only get a monthly payout from CPF Life of $430 each.

This is after the cash proceeds from selling back part of the lease to HDB, have been used to top up their CPF for CPF Life payouts. And do take note that the HDB example assumes that a 4-room flat can still fetch $450,000 in the market.

Hence, many elderly Singaporeans have no choice but to continue to work until they no longer can work anymore, like this 80 year old dishwasher who passed away inside a toilet at the ABC hawker centre while working:

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