- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

TOKYO — After losing his full-time job at a shipbuilding company more than a decade ago, Hoji Fujita never got a second chance. Mr. Fujita took one part-time job after another to survive, but the older he became, the fewer opportunities he had, so he has had to live on the street for nine years.

“It can’t be helped,” he said with a vacant stare in the corner of an underground passage in Ikebukuro Station, where he often sleeps.

The station is a major Tokyo transfer hub where four private railroads meet.

Mr. Fujita is one of a growing number of Japanese who are victims of job-related age discrimination. Most companies in Japan, including American firms, set age limits on employment, and the practice goes unchallenged. Few political or business leaders have objected publicly to age discrimination.

The government and the press, two of the most influential institutions in society, have no qualms about age discrimination, and no laws prohibit it.

An official at one American insurance company said his firm finds it increasingly difficult to hire young people because of their decreasing numbers. At another American company, he said, only about 10 of the 1,500 employees are in their 20s.

“Japanese employees are concerned about their company’s future, but Americans are not concerned at all,” he said.

Many company officials acknowledge that age limits are a form of discrimination, but say they intend to continue the employment practice because laws do not forbid it.

One major American corporation explicitly said that it has no age limit, though its Web site noted one requirement for job applicants is to be younger than 30 or 35, depending on the type of work. A public relations official with the corporation said these are not age limits but “rough standards” for job seekers.

“That’s an illogical argument. Whatever he says, those are age limits,” said Nobuyuki Kanematsu, director of the Association Against Ageism, an nonprofit organization near Tokyo.

Mr. Kanematsu said business leaders and government officials must become more aware of the issue.

Yoriko Madoka, a Democratic Party member of the upper house of the Japanese Diet, who has been working on the issue of ageism since she was elected in 1993, said the government cares little for those who face discrimination because of their age.

However, as the population ages and fewer Japanese babies are born, the government and companies are bound to end age discrimination, she said.

“Unless we change our mind-set, we won’t be able to respond to the declining birthrate and the aging society.”

A precedent has been set in the city government of Ichikawa, near Tokyo. In 2003, the city abolished a restriction on accepting job seekers older than 29. The city found that the average age of those given city jobs was about 30 and three of those hired were older than 40. A 50-year-old man also passed the test last year.

Ichikawa has had to deal with more specialized and technical matters, said Hiroshi Hagiwara, a personnel manager at City Hall.

“So we thought we should make the pool of job candidates bigger. We believed there were capable people out there looking for a job, since we are aware of the increasing mobility of employment.”

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