- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Nobuyuki Kanematsu, director of the Association Against Ageism, a nonprofit organization near Tokyo, brought a lawsuit against the Japanese government over ageism. He hit the wall of ageism at 45 and spoke to Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about the age discrimination that permeates Japanese society.

Question: You have demanded since 1998 that the government enact a law against age discrimination. Why is ageism prevalent in Japan?

Answer: Age discrimination comes from a prejudice against middle-aged and older people. Companies tend to think people in that age group are stubborn, inflexible, weak and forgetful. Regardless of age, there are capable people. Another aspect of discrimination is rejection. Many people tend to reject those seen as “different.” So a younger boss and an older subordinate are thought to feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence.

What increases such discrimination is a fear among Japanese people of “rocking the boat.” Most Japanese try not to change the status quo. They just accept it, saying, “Because that is what companies are doing or what government is doing, we have very little choice.”

Q: Aren’t older people supposed to be respected in Japan?

A: That’s not true. Only when you belong to some organization, like a company, do you have a hierarchical relationship between seniors and juniors, with age being given precedence. But if you don’t [have rank in the company], you are not respected even if you are in your 40s or 50s.

Q: Your group has been working on this issue, but most people are still unaware of ageism, aren’t they?

A: The government has told companies not to prescribe an age limit at job-placement offices. But it is public offices that spearhead such discriminatory practices, so many wonder why only companies have to comply with it. That does not make sense at all.

Some say more companies have no age limits on employment these days. However, there have been cases in which, as a matter of fact, some of them still discriminate against job seekers on account of age.

I looked into the laws of other countries regarding age discrimination. The United States and Canada made it illegal early on, followed by countries like Australia and New Zealand. Since the late 1990s, more and more European countries have begun to enact similar laws. Thus, this has been established as a global standard. So I’ll continue to insist Japan move closer to that global standard.

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