No Nest Egg to Retire On

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No Nest Egg to Retire On
Author: Miu Kakiya
Specifications: ISBN  978-4120047657
295 pages
13.2 x 19.1 cm / 5.2 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Chuo Koron Shinsha Inc.
Tokyo, 2015
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As the Japanese population continues to age at an unprecedented rate—by 2025, one in five Japanese will be over 75, and one in three over 65—this novel portrays the ups and downs of one three-generation family, with particular focus on the trials of the sandwich generation burdened with helping support their elders and their children at the same time.

The point-of-view character is Atsuko Gotō, 53. Her husband Akira, 57, works for a mid-sized construction company; their daughter Sayaka, 28, works at a sundries store; and their son Hayato, 22, is a senior in college with a post-graduation job already lined up.

Atsuko, who handles the family’s finances, generally keeps a tight hold on the purse strings. By carefully budgeting her husband’s meager paycheck and what she herself brings home from a part-time clerk’s job at a finance company, she has managed to squirrel away ¥12 million (about $100,000) in retirement savings even while keeping up payments on the mortgage and putting her two children through four years of college. There’s still some time before her husband retires at 65 and they become pensioners, but she knows they are not yet prepared, and she continues to look for economies at every turn so she can set a little more aside. But then a string of unanticipated expenditures and unfortunate events strike the family one after another and her financial plan collapses.

The first hit comes when Sayaka suddenly decides to get married. Diffident and not very bright, their daughter had been unable to land a regular, full-time job, and there’d never been a hint of romance—all of which had caused her parents no end of worry over what was to happen to her. But now she brings Takuma Matsudaira to meet them and says they are engaged. He is four years younger than Sayaka, but has graduated from a top university, and his parents own a supermarket with multiple outlets in a regional city. Atsuko and Akira have no objections to the match, but the cost of the grand reception Takuma’s parents insist on holding at a top-name wedding facility—they have a reputation to uphold among business associates—comes to ¥6 million, of which they expect the Gotōs to pay half. Add in honeymoon and household setup expenses for the young couple and their part grows to ¥5 million. Atsuko hates the thought of raiding their savings to the tune of ¥3 million for one fleeting banquet—it feels like she is letting all her day-to-day economies come to naught—but she doesn’t want to embarrass her daughter, and any disagreement between the families at the start of her marriage could have repercussions down the line, so she grits her teeth and pays.

This is followed by the death of Akira’s father, with the attendant funeral expenses and purchase of a new family grave site coming to ¥4 million. In seemingly no time at all their retirement fund has dwindled from ¥12 million to ¥3 million. To make matters worse, Atsuko’s contract with the finance company runs out and she is terminated, while Akira’s company comes to the verge of collapse and he gets laid off without any severance. Meanwhile, there are signs that the daughter they sent off in such grand style is suffering from domestic violence; she no longer even comes to the phone. On top of everything else, Akira’s mother Yoshiko will need ¥90,000 a month from them for the senior living facility she is preparing to move into. Feeling beset on all sides and desperate to reduce expenditures, Atsuko decides to have Yoshiko come live with them instead.

Satsuki Kanda, 51, has been a friend of Atsuko ever since the baby classes they attended together as young mothers 30 years earlier. At Satsuki’s request, Atsuko agrees to “lend” Yoshiko to her: Satsuki’s own mother-in-law has gone missing, and she needs someone to stand in for her when an official from the National Pension Office visits her home to check on possible pension fraud. Satsuki runs a bakery, and Atsuko has always admired her for being even more focused on economizing than herself, but she, too, is apparently struggling to make ends meet. Thankfully, Yoshiko thinks it will be a lark, and the little gambit nets Atsuko a tidy ¥100,000. Now that she’s tasted the fruits of crime once, her ears perk up when Satsuki returns with another tempting opportunity . . .

In the end, Atsuko is too timid to repeat her crime. As time goes by, her fears that Sayaka might be a victim of domestic violence are dispelled, and in fact her daughter appears to have Takuma quite under her thumb. As the story comes to a close, Akira has managed to get his job back, Atsuko has found a new job at a convenience store, and their lives seem to be returning slowly but surely to stable footing.