For 50 years, Japan has performed a quaint annual tradition, presenting each new centenarian, every person who turns 100, with a silver sake cup and a congratulatory letter from the prime minister. This year, however, Japan's government has decided that as the population ages, the country can no longer afford this custom. The country may end the gift-giving entirely, or find a cheaper way to continue the tradition. 

When Japan began to give out the sake dishes in 1963, there were 153 centenarians in the country. In 1998, the number was 10,000. At last count, the number of centenarians was at an unprecedented 59,000. That number is expected to jump even higher in the next census. 

Last year the Japanese government spent 260 million yen, or $2.1 million, on the dishes for centenarians. Each individual cup costs approximately $65. 25,000 of last year's 30,000 recipients were women. 

Image: The Guardian. Image 1.Image: The Guardian

The government has not yet reached a decision on how to alter their gift to reduce the cost. The diameter of the dish was reduced several years ago to defray the price. In the future, the silver may be replaced by a cheaper material or a cheaper type of gift may be chosen. “We are reviewing it, but we have not made any firm decisions,” a health ministry official said.

Japan has the largest centenarian population of anywhere in the world, a fact that's attributed to the population's healthy diet and universal health care.

Cover: Flickr