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While reproaching the nation’s youth last year in a government-sponsored TV commercial for not paying into the financially pinched mandatory National Pension System, popular actress Makiko Esumi was keeping her own dark secret.

Esumi, like thousands of young people who do not believe the shaky pension system has a future, did not pay the obligatory premiums for the pension system, the Social Insurance Agency said Monday.

“It’s a stupid story, isn’t it?” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a news conference the same day, prompting laughter from reporters.

But it is not a funny story for taxpayers.

The ad campaign cost the government 380 million yen. The government-sponsored TV commercial was aired nationwide 3,913 times, and 29,600 posters featuring Esumi were printed.

People aged between 20 and 60 are required to pay pension premiums, and receive benefits after retirement.

But while there is no way for salaried workers to escape — their premiums are deducted directly from their wages — 37 percent of the nation’s 18 million self-employed people and students aged 20 or older who were required to pay the premiums failed to do so in fiscal 2002, Esumi included.

Esumi’s talent agency, Ken-on Inc., said she didn’t pay the obligatory premium until it was pointed out by the weekly Shukan Gendai.

The Social Insurance Agency asked in a written statement if Esumi had paid her premiums before launching the ad project, and Ken-on said “by mistake” that she had, a company official said.

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