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Japan's Baby Boomers Retire

I'm Lucy Craft, and this Letter from Asia comes from Tokyo. Japan is graying faster than any nation in the world, and 2007 marks a milestone, as seven million Japanese - the eldest of the babyboom generation - turn sixty.

Japan has a reputation as the cutting-edge of high-tech and funky pop culture. But it's also pioneering the aging frontier. This year, 2007, millions of workers - Japan's babyboomers - will start retiring.

The babyboomers were the generation that helped transform Japan from an impoverished and spiritually rudderless backwater, into a rich, manufacturing powerhouse, home of the super-fast Bullet Train.

Their lodestar -- America. The babyboomers couldn't seem to get enough of American culture, whether it was Ivy League casual, Hollywood glamour, or that vanguard of the British Invasion - the Beatles.

Japan's babyboomers were Type A workaholics, bred to be fiercely competitive, braving hellish commutes on overstuffed trains, and some of the longest working hours on earth. According to Katsuhide Hasegawa, "There was a sense of teamwork back then. We were all pulling together."

Katsuhide Hasegawa and Masazumi Fukushima have been best friends and drinking buddies since their mountain-climbing days back in college. This year, both will turn sixty - the mandatory age for retirement.

Over sake and grilled chicken, they talk turkey about their new lives. Hasegawa, a music producer, has already lined up part time work. But his pal Fukushima, an administrator at Tokyo's Narita airport, is still up in the air about his impending new life. In line with Japanese custom, his birthday, Sept. 12th, will also be his last day on the job. "I've got a few possibilities in mind," he says. "I can't just stay home and goof off."

What's the second act, for a lifelong workaholic? In self-help groups like this one, babyboomers search for answers.

The self-help group founder says, "Most babyboomers were such devoted company men, they completely ignored everything else. Now, if they start volunteering their time, it could revitalize Japanese society."

Japan's babyboom generation is blessed with unprecedented wealth, and choices. After decades spent serving Japan Inc., some corporate warriors say it may be time to start serving Japan - and the long-neglected communities where they live. Lucy Craft, CBS News, Tokyo.
By Lucy Craft

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