TOKYO - Japan said Thursday it is eyeing a cheaper alternative to the pricey gift that it gives to people turning 100 each year, in a nation famous for its long-living population.
The welfare ministry pointed to the growing cost, as Tokyo wrestles with one of the world's biggest national debts and faces spiralling social and health expenses to look after its legions of retirees.
"We are reviewing it, but we have not made any firm decisions," a ministry official told AFP.
More than half a century ago, Japan decided to celebrate longevity by presenting centenarians with a silver sake dish that now costs the equivalent of US$65 (S$91.20).
That was fine in the first year of the programme - 1963 - when Tokyo gave just 153 dishes to those who passed the century mark.
But the number of old folks in Japan has ballooned since with nearly 30,000 people eligible for the annual gift in 2014, at a cost of 260 million yen (S$2.9 million).
And some die before the gifts are handed out, requiring that they be scrapped.
Local media said the welfare ministry may pull the plug on gifts from next year, or just send letters to recipients every September 15, when the country marks "Senior's Day".
In all, Japan last year had nearly 59,000 people who were 100 or older, with almost 90 percent of them women.
Japanese women boast the world's longest life expectancy of 86.83 years, while men on average live until 80.21-years-old.