Japanese pension system

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The National Pension is a public pension system with compulsory coverage for all registered residents[1] aged 20 to 59 years.

There are two main systems and at any point in time an individual will be in either system.

  1. Base Pension System. Typically referred to as Kokumin Nenkin 国民年金 (The official name is 老齢基礎年金)
  2. Employee’s Pension Insurance System. Kousei Nenkin 厚生年金. This supplements rather than replaces the Base Pension system.

A minimum period of 10 years of contributions, exemptions or postponements is ordinarily required to receive either Kokumin or Kousei Nenkin pensions.

Basic Pension: Kokumin Nenkin

Kokumin Nenkin (国民年金, 老齢基礎年金) is the base pension system. All registered residents[1] of Japan aged 20 to 59 years must be covered by the National Pension system.

Those registered in Kousei Nenkin (厚生年金) and dependent spouses of Kousei Nenkin-covered individuals automatically have their contributions covered.

Other individuals need to register for Kokumin Nenkin and pay directly. In such cases, a monthly contribution (¥16,610 from April 2021 to March 2022; subject to annual change), is to be paid by the individual.

480 months (40 years × 12 months) of contributions are required to receive the full Base State Pension of ¥780,900 per annum (as of 2021).

120 months (10 years x 12 months) of contributions, exemptions or postponements are ordinarily required to receive a pro rated pension if the full 480-month period is not met. There are some exceptions to this 10-year rule.

The quoted full pension amount is applicable to those starting to draw their pension aged 65. However, the pension needs to be claimed, and can be received at any age from 60, with the rate adjusted according to the starting age. At 60, the rate will be 70%, and at 70, the rate will be 142%.

Exceptions

The following are the very limited exceptions to Japan residents requiring compulsory coverage:

1. Foreign nationals with either of the following status of residence[2]:

2. Individuals whose circumstances mean that a Social Security Agreement deems them liable for social insurance contributions to another country rather than Japan (this includes people seconded to Japan from relevant countries for short to medium term)[3]

Excepted periods are different from exempted periods. Time with exceptions does not count towards the 10-year qualifying period.

Exemptions

There are possible exemptions to contributions covering circumstances including low income, periods of maternity leave, childcare leave, etc.

An exemption, if awarded, will be granted as a full exemption, 3/4 exemption, 1/2 exemption or 1/4 exemption. Exemptions need to be requested via the Pension Office who will asses each application on its own merits. For circumstances such as maternity leave and childcare leave, the application for an exemption may be completed via the employer rather than directly with the Pension Office.

Exemptions to kokumin nenkin
Type of exemption Monthly contributions (2021) Benefit calculation factor for exemptions up to March 2009 Benefit calculation factor for exemptions from April 2009
Full exemption - 1/3 1/2
3/4 exemption ¥4,150 1/2 5/8
1/2 exemption ¥8,310 2/3 3/4
1/4 exemption ¥12,460 5/6 7/8

For example, an individual granted a full exemption in 2021 will pay no contributions, and this exempted period will count for half the level of benefit of a non-exempt period.

Those who are awarded a full or partial exemption are able to retroactively make contributions for exempted periods within 10 years if they wish to qualify for the full benefit level rather than the partial benefit level associated with that exempted period.

See here for further details about exemption and postponement, including an annotated application form in English.

Postponement

The following groups of people may be able to apply to a postpone their contributions:

  1. Students in full time education (with income below a threshold)
  2. Low income individuals aged 50 or below who were not granted an exemption

This protects your status in the national pension system. Should you become disabled or die, the relevant payments to yourself or next of kin would happen as normal. These postponed years count as qualifying years (towards the 10 years of contribution threshold necessary to receive a pension), but do not count for benefit purposes. Postponement is different from exemption in this respect. Individuals who have been granted a postponement will have 10 years to make the contributions if they wish to qualify for the benefits. An indexed rate of contributions will be applied if the contributions are not made within three years of the postponed period.

See here for further details about exemption and postponement, including an annotated application form in English.

Voluntary coverage

Three categories of people are eligible to make voluntary contributions:

  1. Registered residents of Japan aged 60 to 64 years
  2. Japanese citizens aged 20 to 64 years who reside outside of Japan
  3. Persons born on or before April 1, 1965, aged 65 to 69 years who have not satisfied the minimum qualification period

The first category might be relevant to foreign nationals or naturalised citizens who moved to Japan after age 20 and will therefore not have accrued 40 years of contributions by age 60.

Voluntary coverage should be applied for at the municipal office of your place of residence for those resident in Japan. For those not resident in Japan (ie case 2), the application should be made at the Japan Pension Service office with jurisdiction over your last place of residence in Japan, or at the JPS Chiyoda Branch Office in Tokyo for applicants who have never been resident in Japan.

Exceptions to the 10-year qualification period

Ordinarily, at least 10 years of record in the system (ie contributions or exempted periods or postponed payment periods) are required in order to receive benefits.

However, there are a range of scenarios in which ‘empty periods’ (between ages 20 and 60) can be counted towards this 10-year qualification threshold. Colloquially these may be referred to as カラ期間 (‘’karakikan’’, empty periods) in Japanese. Full details can be seen here (Japanese), but readers’ attention is drawn to the following cases:

  1. Those who have acquired Japanese nationality or permanent residency after May 1, 1958: the period of overseas residence before the acquisition of nationality or permission of permanent residency
  2. Japanese citizens: the period of overseas residency after May 1, 1958 (if not making voluntary contributions)

Such ‘empty periods’ do not increase the benefit amount. If an individual qualifies for pension benefits via 8 years of contributions and 2 years of ‘empty period’, their benefits would be based upon 8 years of contributions.

Additional Pension: Fuka Nenkin

Fuka nenkin (付加年金) is a small top-up to the pension available to individuals enrolled in Kokumin Nenkin. Contributions are ¥400 per month, and the benefit will be an extra ¥200 yen per month (per month of contributions). This equates to annual contributions of ¥4,800 and an annual benefit of ¥2,400.

Further details can be found on the Fuka nenkin page.

Employee's Pension: Kousei Nenkin

Kousei Nenkin (厚生年金), employee's pension, is actually part of the 厚生年金保険 (Employee’s Pension Insurance) which covers employee pension payments in the event of death, disability or retirement.

Kousei Nenkin is in addition to the Kokumin Nenkin therefore contributions also contain the required contribution to the Kokumin Nenkin. Deductions on salary statements will not show how much went to each.

Employee income for calculating contributions is currently capped at ¥650,000 per month salary and up to two annual bonus payments of ¥1,500,000 each.

Any Salary or bonus payments in excess of those amounts will not form part of the calculation for Kousei Nenkin contributions.

Contributions into Kousei Nenkin are borne equally between the employee and the employer.

The calculation is 18.3% of in scope remuneration. Standard employees will see a deduction of 9.15% from salary. Monthly salary up to the ¥650,000 limit is split into 32 bands as detailed in the below table.

As an example, an employee earning ¥300,000 per month would be in Band 19. The total contribution would be ¥54,900 and the employee would see a deduction of ¥27,450 each month.

Kousei contribution table for regular employees
Kousei contribution table for regular employees

The latest tables can be navigated to on the Japan Pension Service🇯🇵 Website.

FAQ

Q1 Do I have to pay Kokumin Nenkin?

If living in Japan aged between 20-59 then yes. You may also speak to the Pension office to discussion exemptions..

Q2 I've not been paying Kokumin Nenkin. How far back can/should I pay?

Two years is the limit for back payments.

Q3 How do I find my nearest pension office?

See the link below.

See Also

Work in progress

Annuity rate -- useful, or potential confusion point? Thus, annual contributions are approximately ¥200,000, and each year of contributions acts to increase the pension by approximately ¥20,000, giving an approximate annuity rate of 10%.

Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Exceptions are available in limited circumstances, see #Exceptions
  2. Japan Pension Service website: National Pension System
  3. If you leave the agreement country to work in Japan: Japan National Pension website