The government is finding it costly furnishing Japan's growing number of centenarians with a token of congratulation in the form of an expensive sake dish.
Since fiscal 1963, the prime minister has traditionally presented new centenarians with a commemorative silver sakazuki, a flat saucer-like cup.
As their numbers have increased, the costs have soared, tarnishing the government's goodwill. It now plans to cease distributing the ¥8,000 silver cups and will instead select something cheaper.
The presentations are made every year on Seniors' Day, Sept. 15. The gesture is one few could quibble with: It praises the centenarians' contributions to society.
Officials admit that the program has become a significant budgetary burden. It cost ¥260 million in 2014.
Japanese people have one of world's greatest life expectancies. Last fiscal year, 29,357 people — 25,000 of whom were women — were inducted into the ranks of centenarians, compared with only 153 when the silver cup program began half a century ago, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The government knows it needs to act fast, as the ministry predicts the number of newcomers will reach 39,000 in 2018.
The ministry is looking at options for cutting costs, such as fabricating the cup from a cheaper material, adopting a different gift entirely or just sending a letter of congratulations, the officials said.
Average longevity in 2014 was 86.83 years for women and 80.50 for men, both a record high. Women had the longest life expectancy in the world for the third consecutive year, with men ranking third, up from fourth the previous year.