TOYAMA — At age 82, when most men of his generation are retired, Mikio Honda successfully passed a prefectural test to become a registered door-to-door seller of household medicine kits.

Honda, who hails from the city of Toyama, has been peddling drug kits containing medicines for everyday ailments for more than 50 years. The kits have a relatively low risk of side effects.

Honda traveled periodically to Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures from his home in Toyama Prefecture as an itinerant salesman, supplying medicine sets to households and collecting money for drugs used.

There were around 34,100 door-to-door medicine salesmen across Japan in 1999, but the number had fallen to about 24,600 by the end of 2007. The history of traveling medicine peddlers in Toyama Prefecture stretches back 300 years.

The central government revised the pharmaceutical law in 2006 to make it compulsory for home drug kit salespeople to pass an examination set by prefectural governments before this June. Honda and others involved in the business are allowed to continue working without being certified for the time being.

Toyama Prefecture held the first exam last year for 1,104 people, including 460 itinerant salespeople like Honda. The results were announced in October.

Half of the door-to-door sellers were in their 60s to 80s and only around 40 percent passed.

“It’s very hard to get things in your head when you’re old,” Honda said. “There are many who want to call it quits.”

A Toyama prefectural official said the average age of door-to-door salespeople in the prefecture is 63.

Under the revised pharmaceutical law, the government divided nonprescription drugs into three classes according to their risk level. Only pharmacists can sell high-risk medicines, while registered salespeople can sell other over-the-counter medicines.

FamilyMart Co., a major convenience store chain, plans to train employees to become registered salespeople or to hire qualified people.

A FamilyMart official in charge of personnel training said it would take time to “secure human resources” because people taking the test need to have practical experience in medicine sales, adding that the firm will devise a long-term plan to develop salespeople.

Traveling medicine dealer Kokando Co., based in the city of Toyama, said the entry of convenience stores into the field will have a limited effect.

The revised law does not set a deadline for existing traveling sellers to take the test on condition that the industry strives for improvement.

But the law does allow them to supply a wider range of nonprescription drugs if they pass the exam.

The Yaku-Hi-Ren liaison council for organizations representing drug victims because of the waiver. It said door-to-door medicine salespeople should be qualified to prove they have accurate knowledge of medicines.

Chinoform, a medicine for intestinal disorders that was linked to a 1955 outbreak of subacute myelo-optic neuropathy, a neurological disease, was a nonprescription drug sold by itinerant salespeople, among others, the council said.

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