The Japan Pension Service (JPS) has been hinting about easing eligibility requirements for receiving the old-age pension for a few years. Lifelines first covered this issue way back in 2014 (bit.ly/lifelines10yrpension).

The change finally became effective from last month, when the fact was announced with little fanfare on the JPS website. Basically, you can now receive a Japanese old-age pension if you have paid in for a total of at least 10 years, rather than 25 years, as was the case.

This applies to both the national pension (kokumin nenkin) system, which covers everyone, and the employees’ pension insurance (kōsei nenkin) system, which covers salaried employees.

This will be very welcome news for many foreign nationals who were obliged to pay into the pension system while working in Japan but fell short of the 25-year mark. For more information in English, check out this PDF: www.nenkin.go.jp/international/english/index.files/leaflet.pdf. There is a phone number especially for inquiries from overseas, too.

As to how much you will be entitled to, that all depends on how long you paid in for. According to the JPS site, someone who contributed for the standard “full period” of 40 years to the national pension system is currently entitled to ¥779,300 a year, but expect far less if you paid in for only a decade. Even so, something is better than nothing, so if you think changes in the law will allow you to quality for pension payments, now or in the future, it is well worth the time and effort to check out.

For foreign nationals who don’t meet the 10-year mark but who paid in to the pension system for at least six months, the “lump-sum withdrawal payment option” remains in effect. Essentially, this allows you to claim up to 36 months’ worth of pension contributions in one lump sum. Certain conditions apply, including filing your application within two years of leaving Japan, and no longer being enrolled in any Japanese pension system.

Note that once you elect to take advantage of the lump-sum payment, the slate is wiped clean and any payment over and beyond 36 months becomes void. Should you return to Japan to work in the future, your pension payments would start again from zero. For more information, see www.nenkin.go.jp/international/english/lumpsum/lumpsum.html.

Desperately seeking sumo

Next, a query from sumo fan Kim, who is coming to Japan later this month. She writes:

I will arrive late on Sept. 24, completely missing the fall sumo tournament. I know that most sumo stables take the following week off.

As I will be in Tokyo from the 24th to the 28th, I was hoping I might still be able to catch at least one morning practice. I have not seen live sumo since I left Tokyo 10 years ago and really do not want to miss any opportunity to see it during my upcoming visit.

Unfortunately, Kim is arriving at the worst possible time from a sumo fan’s point of view, as all the stables will be giving their wrestlers some time off to rest and recuperate following the September tournament. I put in some calls to a few stables and the Japan Sumo Association, but the answer was the same everywhere: Sorry, but everyone is taking a break.

Although it won’t help Kim, the Arashio Stable (Arashio-beya) welcomes foreign fans wishing to view morning practice and even thoughtfully provides information in several languages. The stable is a quick walk from Hamacho Station in central Tokyo (www.arashio.net/tour_e.html) For general information on sumo, tournaments and tickets in English, visit www.sumo.or.jp/en/index.

Michi Aoyama, 1949-2017

Finally, an update on the search for Michi Aoyama, a singer who was active in the ’60s and ’70s and noted for her bluesy delivery. Her American father lost touch with his daughter in the 1970s.

In recent years her half sister had been searching for news of Aoyama and reached out several times to The Japan Times, the last occasion being in 2014. (bit.ly/lifelinesmichi). My inquiries at the time via Aoyama’s former record company and other media contacts didn’t turn up any new information.

Lifelines was recently contacted by university lecturer and author Shin Aoki, who has written about music in and around U.S. military bases in postwar Japan. A fan of Aoyama, he reported the sad news that she passed away in January of this year. According to her Japanese Wikipedia page, she died of acute pneumonia at 67 years old. Poignantly, the entry also mentions the fact that her American family had been searching for her.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20 years old. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send all your questions and comments to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.

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