Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday vowed to strengthen the country's social security system to better prepare for the "100-Year Life" .
The promise was made on the same day the Welfare Ministry said the centenarian population had hit a new record of 69,785.
Mr Abe was speaking during an election debate with former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is challenging his bid for a historic third straight three-year term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In Japan, the leader of the ruling party usually becomes the prime minister.
"I want to use the next three years to work towards realising a life-long active society in which the elderly, who are abundant in experience and wisdom, can play an active role no matter how old they are," Mr Abe, 63, said during the debate at the National Press Club.
Among the measures being mooted is raising the retirement age to above 65, and to allow the elderly to defer their pension payouts beyond 70. Japan, which has been struggling to lift its birth rates, is the fastest ageing society in the world. Its population has shrunk for seven straight years, to 126.7 million last year, and about one in four persons is aged 65 and above.
The government's population research arm predicts that the number of Japanese citizens aged 100 and above will exceed 100,000 in five years, and 170,000 in a decade.
Mr Ishiba, 61, who also addressed the issue, called for more to be done to help uplift the elderly.
"There are six million elderly living alone, half of whom are surviving on income levels that are the same as or lower than people on welfare protection," he said.
"It is absolutely essential for Japan to give them hope by enacting work-style reforms so as to better tap their abilities."
Yesterday, Mr Abe vaunted the track record of his economic policies dubbed Abenomics - combining ultra-loose monetary policy, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms - that have led to Japan's tightest job market in decades, fewer corporate bankruptcies, and rising tax revenue in both the national and municipal governments.
Mr Ishiba countered that Abenomics had served only to widen the chasm between Japan's rich cities and struggling rural areas.
The two LDP politicians also locked horns over the premier's desire to revise the country's war-renouncing Constitution. Mr Abe has said that, if re-elected party leader, he will put a proposal before Parliament this year.
Mr Abe wants to erase any doubt about the legality of the country's military by codifying in writing that the so-called Self-Defence Force (SDF) "protects the peace and independence of Japan", while at the same time retaining the clause stipulating that the armed forces will "never be maintained".
Mr Ishiba, who is more hawkish, prefers a more drastic review and has said there is no need to rush through an amendment for the supreme law.
Mr Abe, who has been Prime Minister since December 2012, is widely expected to win the internal party vote next Thursday, given his immense influence. This will put him on course towards becoming Japan's longest-serving premier.