The pilot in the cockpit? In Japan, he might be a retiree
the United States are raising the age where people can collect pensions to 67, there’s no reason Japan shouldn’t go to 70,” said Atsushi Seike, an expert on labor economics at Keio University in Tokyo. “We’re reaching a point where a 40-year career is just half the average life span, and having people become inactive early is unsustainable.”
Older workers may also partly explain the puzzle of Japan’s stagnant wages, which have barely budged despite low unemployment. Older workers generally earn much less than at the peak of their careers, offsetting increases among the young and middle-aged.
Oriental Air Bridge had never hired a pilot Miyazaki’s age before, but, with skilled pilots in short supply nationwide, it has been expanding its recruiting.
For Miyazaki, the choice to keep flying was a luxury. As a captain at All Nippon, where he flew Boeing 767s, primarily to Southeast Asia, he earned the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars a year plus a generous pension. Oriental Air Bridge pays him only about a third of his peak salary, but he says he does not mind.
“The jets I used to fly were highly automated,” he said. “But now, with the propeller planes, I can enjoy a freer, more visual kind of flying. It means getting back to the basics as a pilot.”
Some jobs in Japan are becoming distinctly gray. More than half of Japanese taxi drivers are over 60, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, while less than 10 percent are under 40.
Morimasa Mizunoya, a retired jeweler, recently signed up for work at a Tokyo seniors’ center, under a government-sponsored program that matches older workers with employers offering short-term and part-time jobs. It is a “gig economy” platform without the smartphone app: Seniors register in person, while would-be employers call or email the center with offers.
“My eyes started going, so that was the end of jewelry,” Mizunoya, 69, said as he pasted a sheet of fresh white paper onto a traditional Japanese sliding door. A building owner needed 60 extra-large doors repapered, a job Mizunoya and another retiree hoped to finish in about two weeks. Normally they made 1,400 yen a door, or about $13, but the bigger ones paid more.
“The money’s not great, but it’s something to do,” said Mizunoya, who said he spent most of his nonwork days playing Go, the ancient board game, and lived off money from a real estate investment and the extra he earned with the doors.
Yoshimitsu Hori, who runs the job program at the seniors’ center, said demand for workers exceeded supply. Not all jobs were popular, though. The maximum requests were for people to clean apartments and offices, which few wanted to do. Stuffing envelopes, affixing labels to empty bento boxes and taking tickets at museums were viewed as better gigs.
At Oriental Air Bridge, snagging a pilot of any age from a big international airline is a coup. The company’s office is a corrugated tin building at the edge of Nagasaki Airport, and its outdated hangars are too small for its two planes to fit completely inside. It is planning to expand, with new routes and a sharper focus on tourism.
Miyazaki said he swam twice a week to maintain his health, and he underwent more physical testing than younger pilots — MRIs, electrocardiograms, treadmill tests for stamina. Under current Japanese regulations, he will have to stop flying commercially at 68, but the government has started examining whether to extend the maximum age to 70.