Emperor Akihito has had to wait until the age of 85 and the passing of a special law to step down from his job, but for the rest of us, formal retirement typically comes in our 60s.
退職 (taishoku) is the common term used to refer to retirement, while the act of retiring gets suru treatment: 退職する (taishoku suru). The verb can also be used when you want to quit a job in general, though, so to be more specific just add 定年 (teinen, age of retirement) to make it clear that someone’s career is coming to a close: 田中さんが定年退職するので、送別会を開きましょう (Tanaka-san ga teinen taishoku suru no de, sōbetsukai o hirakimashō, Ms. Tanaka is retiring so let’s throw her a farewell party).
The kanji 退 has the meaning of retreating or withdrawing, and you’ll also see it in media coverage of the Emperor’s 退位 (taii, abdication) this week. Us common folk, however, have more chances to use it via the word 退社 (taisha). You’ll see it on Japanese 履歴書 (rirekisho, resumes) tacked on the end of a company’s name. However, in daily conversation the verb 退社する (taisha suru) can be used to mean both “quit a job” or to simply “leave the office” at the end of the work day.
It can be a little hard to pinpoint the exact age for 定年になる (teinen ni naru, hitting retirement) in Japan. Based on a survey in 2016, some 95 percent of Japanese firms follow a 定年制 (teinensei, a set age for retirement) and nearly 81 percent have designated that age as 60. However, ちょっと困ったことになる (chotto komatta koto ni naru, this becomes a bit of a problem) because 年金 (nenkin, pension) doesn’t kick in until the age of 65.
A workaround is provided through the 再雇用制度 (saikoyō seido, re-employment system) followed by many companies. Upon retiring at 60, employees are then hired back but typically at a lower position and for less money and shorter hours than previously.
Japanese companies will often throw a 送別会 when someone retires, a perfect opportunity to practice your Japanese. You can wish the retiree well with a polite (and pretty standard), “ご定年、おめでとうございます” (“Go-teinen, omedetō gozaimasu,” “Congratulations on your retirement”). Useful phrases for both the retiree and the coworkers seeing them off include: “長い間、お世話になりました” (“Nagai aida, o-sewa ni narimashita,” “Thank you for all your support [for such a long time]”) and a more general “今までありがとうございました” (“Ima made arigatō gozaimashita,” “Thanks for everything up till now”). It doesn’t hurt to add “どうぞ、お体に気をつけてください” (“Dōzo, o-karada ni ki o tsukete kudasai,” “Please take care of yourself”) for good measure.
Once you’ve left the rat race to start your 第二の人生 (dai-ni no jinsei, post-retirement stage of life) many things will change, including the amount of income you have coming in. Everyone in Japan between the ages of 20 and 59 must be registered for the 国民年金(kokumin nenkin, national pension system), while 厚生年金（kōsei nenkin, the employees’ pension insurance system) is additional coverage for those employed by a company or school, whereby both employee and employer make contributions. If you were employed by a company or school, you might also be lucky enough to get 退職金 (taishokukin, a retirement bonus) when you leave.
Those who are retired and receiving the pension become 年金生活者 (nenkin seikatsu-sha, pensioners) but the term is a bit technical and there are a slew of other ways to refer to the elderly in Japan. One such word is お年寄り (o-toshiyori), which comes complete with an honorific at the start of it. The term 老人 (rōjin) has the nuance of “aged,” and is used in the term 老人ホーム（rōjin hōmu, home for the elderly).
English is the source for a lot of positive-sounding words such as シニア (shinia, senior) and シルバー (shirubā, silver) and these are often seen in ads and catch copy aimed at the older generations.
And on the topic of English loanwords, I was surprised the first time I read about senior citizens attending デイケア (deikea, day care). They’re not attending a center for toddlers, which is more often referred to in Japanese as a 保育園 (hoikuen, nursery school). A Japanese デイケア is a program for the elderly that includes rehabilitation services. With the 高齢化社会 (kōreika shakai, aging society) well under way in Japan, デイケア might be a word you’ll be seeing more often.
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