Elderly women are finding more opportunities for part-time jobs as employers are increasingly willing to provide short shifts and work that is not physically demanding.
Many of these jobs, which are made possible by a lack of younger workers, allow older people to use their experience from former careers or running households.
At 8 a.m. on a recent day in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, 64-year-old Masuko Tsuchiya was stocking shelves at a branch of the Mega Don Quijote discount store chain. Tsuchiya is part of what the company calls a "rising crew," groups of employees who prepare the store for opening. She works four days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Last autumn, she retired from full-time work at a medical facility for physical reasons. But she felt her daily rhythm would break down without a job, so she joined the rising crew in December.
"It's just for a short time so I don't overdo it. And my afternoons are full, with shopping and meeting friends," she said.
The Don Quijote group started recruiting for its rising crews in July last year, and now have them at almost half of their 295 domestic stores. Because the displays are already set up, a company official said, the other staff can focus on helping customers when the store opens, which has improved service.
The company is actively recruiting people in their 60s and older by allowing them to work as little as two hours per day, twice a week.
Of the eight members of the Kasukabe rising crew, five are women in their 60s. "Many senior citizens want to work in the morning, so we took that into consideration," the official said.
Part-time jobs with short working hours are becoming more common.
Recruit Jobs Co., which publishes a job listings magazine, said that job offers with shifts of three hours or less per day, or two days or less per week have risen 70 per cent since last year.
The main reason for this increase is an overall lack of workers. The shrinking younger population has made it difficult for 24-hour fast-food chains and discount stores to find staff, so they started looking to senior citizens. By offering flexible work schedules and simplified duties, companies are trying to create environments where senior citizens can thrive.
Changes in consumer demographics are likewise having an impact.
"The number of elderly consumers is also increasing, so some retailers and other companies have recruited elderly women for customer service jobs because they can explain products from the same point of view," said Kuniko Usagawa, chief of Recruit Jobs' JOBS Research Center.
Domestic help, tutors
Job opportunities for elderly women have expanded to a variety of industries.
Kajione Co., a Tokyo-based company founded in 2013, provides domestic services such as cleaning, and picking up children. It has registered about 180 workers, mainly women in their 60s and 70s who work part-time.
Many clean two houses per day, spending about two hours on each one, and work around 10 days per month.
One 72-year-old woman who has worked for the company since its founding works about two hours per day, four or five days per week, often for families with children in which both parents have jobs.
Until her 30s, she worked for a publishing company and later did part-time jobs in the industry while taking care of the home and raising her children.
"I know how hard it is for mothers in dual-income families. Being able to help out is fulfilling," she said.
Meiko Network Japan Co. used to rely mostly on university students for its individual tutors. But in areas where it is difficult to find student workers, the company actively recruits homemakers and other people.
"They're great with the students, and parents trust them," a company official said, adding that some elderly women have also been hired recently.
Cloud sourcing, in which people receive work from companies over the Internet, is another source of senior employment. The cloud-sourcing website shufti said it has seen a rise in users aged 55 and older. About 2,700 of these users had registered with the site as of August, and about 80 per cent of them were women. Some write simple posts for lifestyle websites, while others do data entry.
"Many elderly women are diligent and have worked hard raising children and in other areas. They also have strong communication skills, so they're suited for sales or handling complaints. They can get good results in a short time," said Miyuki Sakiyama, representative director of the Nippon Sangyo Gerontology Association and an expert on using elderly people in the workforce.
The employment rate for women 55 years old and older, including part-time workers, is increasing, according to a labour survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
The employment rate for women aged 55 to 59 rose from 58 per cent in 2004 to 66 per cent in 2014. For women aged 60 to 64, the employment rate was 48 per cent, up from 38 per cent in 2004, while it was 31 per cent for those aged 65 to 69, up from 24 per cent 10 years earlier.
The Cabinet Office surveyed people aged 55 and up in 2011 about criteria that were important to them when choosing jobs. With multiple answers allowed, 41 per cent of women wanted work that was not physically demanding. This was followed by working hours at 37 per cent, the chance to use their experience at 29 per cent, and the salary they would receive at 28 per cent.
In contrast, men emphasised the chance to use their experience and the salary they would receive.