JAPAN’s centenarians are no longer to depart this life with a silver dish in their mouths. This month the health ministry said it would stop giving commemorative silver cups for drinking sake as 100th birthday gifts, because Japan’s super-ageing population has made the tradition too expensive for the state. Each silver sakazuki dish costs around ¥8,000 ($64). Now Japan’s cup runneth over(budget). The ministry plans to downgrade to a cheaper material such as wood, or just to send letters.
In 1963, when the practice began, the government sent out just 153 of the little dishes, which are officially from the Prime Minister, and are engraved with the Japanese kanji for celebrating longevity. The cups are sent every year on Senior’s Day on September 15th to thank the aged for their achievements in society. Most go to elderly women, for whom life expectancy is highest of all. It startled the government that over 29,000 were called for last year, costing ¥260m ($2.1m), and it calculates that around 39,000 will be needed by 2018. There are now more than 55,000 living centenarians in Japan, up from just a few hundred for most of the 20th century.
A few silver cups to cheer up centenarians hardly cost much, thundered many on social media this week. They compared the outlay to the massive ¥5 billion the government squandered on work on a stadium design for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics that was abruptly cancelled in July. They have a point. But heavily indebted Japan already spends too much on the elderly. Four-fifths of the country’s social-security benefits currently go to aged households. And the sake should taste just as good out of wood or tin.