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Business trends

Japan makes it easier for grandmas to take fast-food jobs

BIG CHARACTERS on Mos Burger cash register displays and no stooping at 7-Elevens

The operator of Japan's Mos Burger chain is among a number of retailers that are striving to create senior-friendly workplaces.

TOKYO -- Japanese retailers and fast-food chains have found a new way to fight the labor crunch -- make jobs easier for seniors to do.

Mos Food Services, which operates the Mos Burger chain, has cash registers with large, easy-for-seniors-to-read characters.

The display "is easy to use if one becomes accustomed to looking at it," said a 77-year-old woman at the Mos Burger outlet in Osaki, in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward.

The register displays can show larger and bolder characters than those that they replaced. The 77-year-old employee said she no longer has difficulty seeing the register's touch screen when she enters orders.

Product names have been abbreviated so the displays can show the same amount of information. As for monitors indicating order status, the number of orders displayed on one screen has been reduced to four from 10 so that the characters can be enlarged.

The percentage of part-time employees at least 60 years old at a Mos Food Services subsidiary that operates about 200 burger outlets has more than doubled in the past five years to 3.3%.

Ten Corp., the Royal Holdings subsidiary that operates the Tenya chain of tempura-and-rice eateries, is taking into account the fact that memories tend to deteriorate with age.

Ten runs an experimental outlet in Tokyo's Taito Ward that uses an illustration to show how to cook tendon, a bowl of rice with tempura on top. Employees at the outlet can take a glance at the illustration and immediately know what ingredients -- shrimp, squid, pumpkin slices -- they should deep-fry and how many. They no longer need to memorize the menu.

Other retail and food service operators are also trying to make things easier for senior workers by taking into account their usually weaker physical strength.

Seven-Eleven Japan at the end of 2017 changed the location of plastic shopping bags at the Tokyo stores it directly manages so employees do not have to stoop to grab one from below the checkout counter.

Each 7-Eleven in Japan receives more than 1,000 customers on an average day. If all of these shoppers want bags, workers have to do a lot of bending down, a taxing burden for employees with knee problems.

Seven-Eleven Japan has also made the bags easier to open. As a result of these efforts, the company expects to have saved its employees an hour's worth of work every day.

According to a labor force survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there were 3.16 million people aged 65 or older working as part-time and other irregular workers in 2017. The number was more than double from the 1.41 million 10 years earlier.

Companies appear to be enthusiastic about recruiting seniors. According to Recruit Jobs, the number of job offers made to people 60 or older in the July-September quarter of 2018 through the Townwork platform surged 34.6 times from the April-June quarter of 2015.

In the past, companies have recruited seniors, but mainly for jobs such as sorting at logistics centers, cleaning and security. Now Japan's labor crunch is creating more opportunities for seniors to work.

The shortage of workers has also pushed Seven-Eleven Japan and other companies to develop unmanned stores, but it will take time before these outlets gain traction.

In the meantime, seniors are being counted on to keep fast-food restaurants and convenience stores open.

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