At the age of 75, Mikiko Kuzuno found herself recently laid off and applying for a job at a factory near Tokyo. She insisted on making the application in person.

"I asked them to please take a look at me," she said. "I wanted to show them how healthy I am. Some people are very frail."

Kuzuno, 78, is now three years into work at the small plant in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, where she helps launder and package steamed hand-towels given to customers at restaurants. It's demanding work where she stands throughout her three-hour shift, but she doesn't think of retiring — partly for financial reasons and partly because she hates hanging around at home.