YOUNG PEOPLE AND WORK IN JAPAN: FREETERS, NEETS, TEMPORARY WORKERS AND SHY ABOUT WORKING ABROAD

FREETERS AND NEETS

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Freeters (derived from the English word “free” and the German word for worker Arbeiter) is a term used to describe young part time workers. Comparable in many ways to Generation X slackers, they like to hang out and pursue interests like snowboarding and surfing, work only when they have to and reject traditional Japanese values such hard work and company loyalty.

There were 1.78 million freeters in 2009 according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. In 2006, 48 percent of those between 15 and 24 and 26 percent of those between 25 and 34 were described as freeters. The number of freeters between the ages of 19 and 30 rose from 1.83 million in 1990 to 4.17 million in 2001, more than a fifth of the population between the age of 15-34, excluding students and homemakers. In that same time period freeters between 25 and 34 tripled.

There are basically three types of freeters: 1) the dream-chasing type (13.7 percent), those who are pursuing dreams in things like pop music and manga drawing and don’t want to be burdened by a real job; 2) hiatus type (46.9 percent), those who have yet to decide what kind of career they want to pursue; and 3) no other choice type (39.4 percent), those who have tried but failed to get a regular job. One survey found that 72 percent of freeters would like to work for a company and have a regular job.

An official in the government Quality of life Bureau told the Los Angeles Times, “From the 1980s to the mid-1990s, most people chose to be freeters for the purpose of living their lives according to their own interests. But now many have no choice because of the difficult job market. As the economy worsened people who became freeters in the “90s found they could not escape and cannot acquire job skills. Being a freeter was once a stage, now it is possibly becoming a condition.”

NEET (not in education, employment or training) is another term used to describe young people not in regular jobs. A survey in 2005 counted 640,000 NEETs.

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Freeters Wikipedia ; Japan Times Article on Neets japantimes.co.jp ; Day Laborers in Osaka in the 1990s subjectivite.net ; 2009 New York Times article on Temporary Workers nytimes.com ; NPR Story on Unemployed Temporary Workers www.npr.org ; Foreign Workers in Japan (2003) pdf file idbdocs.iadb.org ; Chinese Migrant Workers in Japan pdf file gsti.miis.edu

Links in this Website: LABOR, UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WORKERS AND THEIR COMPANIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FREETERS, TEMPORARY WORKERS AND FOREIGN WORKERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WORKING WOMEN IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SALARYMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Freeter Jobs

null Freeters earn around $7 to $10 an hour working at 7-11 convenience stores, budget restaurants and clothing shops and are employed as sales people, lifeguards and warehouse workers. Some sell jewelry or other stuff on the streets or pass out tissues with advertisements on them at subway stations. Their career ambitions include becoming a professional DJ, playing in a band, designing video games and working as a manga artist.

The average freeter earns only $14,000 a year. That doesn’t go far on one of the world’s most expensive countries. Typically they change jobs 4.3 times in a three year period. More than 50 percent do not contribute to the state pension system.

Many freeters want jobs that are flexible, give them free time, are not too demanding and allow them to wear the clothes and hairstyles they like. One study of freeters found that many lack career goals and "tend not to have any means of connecting their present situations to a future career."

See People; Families, Women, Children; Teenagers and Young Adults

Temporary Workers in Japan

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In 2004, labor laws were amended to allow companies to give temporary workers less pay and fewer benefits. This came as a response to company’s saying the needed such changes to remain globally competitive. The move was part a larger trend under Prime Minister Juichiro Koizumi to make Japan’s economy more flexible and responsive. Companies responded by making many new jobs temporary ones. Numerous temp agencies opened up. For several years there was plenty of work and no one complained. Some even preferred the temporary jobs.

Nonregular workers accounted for 38.7 percent of Japan’s total workforce and part-time workers made up 22.9 percent of all workers as of October 2010. Regular workers accounted for 61.3 percent of Japan’s total workforce

The number of temporary workers increased from around 100,000 in 1990 to 1 million in 2000. In early 2006---after the Koizumi government changed laws to allow companies to hire more temporary staff at lower wages---there were 5.95 million irregular workers, an increase of over 340,000 from the same period the previous year. In 2007, 40 percent of Japanese workers were employed in non regular jobs. In the 1990s they were still considered rarities. The number of temporary workers climbed 4.6 percent to 4 million in 2008.

The trend towards hiring temporary and part time workers at low pay has led to a widening income gap between these workers and permanent workers. Most of those affected are in their 20s and 30s, with the low pay making them unable to afford to get married or have children. The marriage rate of irregular workers between 20 and 34 is about half that of regular workers the same age.

Temporary Workers get paid much less than regular workers, get far fewer benefits and protections and are easy to lay off, and can be easily shed during bad economic times. They often work as hard and as long as full time workers but receive less money and are denied opportunities for advancement. Some people prefer temporary workers to full time work so they could work the hours they wanted and change jobs when they pleased. Some people have even quit secure company job and gotten jobs through temporary agencies. Robert Feldman of Morgan Stanley Japan told the Los Angeles Times, “People took these jobs because they didn’t want to get trapped in Japan’s lifetime employment system...They wanted to have their jobs and go home rather than work late at night or do whatever their bosses demanded like full-time workers.”

Temporary agencies are forbidden from finding jobs for anyone who has graduated from university within the previous year. There are also rules that limit temporary workers to one year contracts. Even if a company and an employee like each other the employee has to look for a new job after the year is up.

Teenage Temporary Workers, See Freeters, Above

Female Temporary Workers in Japan

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Many female employees are part time workers who receive low pay. Even in relatively high income households with working women, the women often have low-paying jobs.

The majority of part time or temporary workers are women. They often work as hard and put in long hours like full time workers but receive less money and are denied benefits and opportunities for advancement. The slang word for a part-time work is a "throw-away" because they are repeatedly hired and fired. Many women sign contracts that only allow them to work for three years.

Women often fill in gaps for companies that cut costs by hiring part time workers. Women often have no choice but to take such jobs because they still have family responsibilities and regular workers are expected to work overtime without pay.

The central government has a tax system that encourages married women to earn less than $10,000 a year to take a tax deduction from their husband’s earnings.

Problems Faced by Temporary Workers in Japan

Temporary day workers have a tough go, They often changes jobs everyday and often don’t know what job to go to until they get a phone call in the morning. Often they don’t get any work at all. It is not unusual for a promised job to be canceled at the last minute.

Many young people find themselves unemployed or living in “entrenched poverty” because policies that protect middle-aged workers have left only poorly-paid, temporary jobs for them. The youth unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in 2005, almost double the 4.4 percent for the population as a whole.

The working poor include 4 million people between 15 and 34 who work part time or in temporary employment. The minimum wage for a month’s work in Tokyo is about $1,000---which many temporary workers don’t get---is lower than the $1,400 they get on welfare.

A kind of lost generation is evolving that is unable to gain full-time employment, can’t earn enough to get married, seem unlikely to produce children and trapped outside the pension and health care systems.

Internet an Manga cafes, charge ¥100 per hour and ¥880 for eight hours from midnight to 8:00am, are often filled with “working poor” who have nowhere else to sleep. Interviews have found that typical Internet café sleeper was a young man doing dispatch work but unable to earn enough to pay rent and young women who had divorced their husbands and worked part time. earning ¥90,000 a month.

In May 2009, a government panels urged the government to do more to help nonregular workers by providing them with unemployment insurance, employee pensions and public health insurance.

Effects of the Economic Crisis in 2008 on Temporary Workers

Many of those who lost their jobs were nonregular, temporary or part time workers who were let go aid off after their contracts were finished or even before then. In some cases these workers lived in company dormitories and were told to leave when their jobs were terminated. Some ended up on the streets as they had little saving and unemployment insurance didn’t provide them with enough to get pay for new housing.

Some temporary workers were told to clear of their dormitory on the day they were notified they were laid off. One construction workers told the Los Angeles Times he slept in a subway and camped out ay Denny’s and finally pitched a tent in a Tokyo park after he was suddenly laid off.

A January 2009 survey counted 124,800 nonregular workers who lost their jobs, with only 10 percent of them able to find new jobs. Homeless shelters filled up with young people. Some women that lost their jobs lost their homes and were forces to sleep in all-night restaurants and Internet cafes.

A tent village made up of so-called “employment refugees” was set up in park in central Tokyo. Many of those there were temporary workers who lost housing with their jobs. A 49-year-old man in the villager told Kyodo, “I felt relief staying here as I had no food and housing, but I’m at a loss now and don’t know what to do next.” In Osaka, a 49-year-old temporary worker starved to death. The man was found dead in his apartment about a month after he died by apartment manner trying to collect overdue rent.

Labor lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya told the Los Angeles Times, “Suddenly workers were caught with no savings, nothing their pockets, because companies treated them as mere objects they could get rid of at their whim. People believed the government would take care of them. Now they know that’s not true.”

The number of temporary workers declined 24 percent in fiscal 2009-2010 to about 3.02 million . After the “Lehman shock” many companies terminated or did not renew temporary worker contracts.”

One Day Workers in Japan

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“One call” day laborers refers to workers who let employment agencies know when they are available to work and wait for calls or e-mail messages on their cell phones that let them know if work is available. If they respond quickly enough the can get work for that day. The workers worker eight hours and are paid ¥6,000 to ¥7,000, after train fare in subtracted. The employment agencies that contact the workers are paid ¥12,500 yen by the company that provide the work.

The workers are often paid in cash on that day. Many are fretters or older workers who have lost their jobs. The service is a lifeline for workers who don’t have jobs but the wages are low and there is no guarantee of work on a given day. In a good month a worker may work most days and earn ¥130,000. In a bad month he may work only 10 days and earn ¥70,000. Such workers get no unemployment insurance and generally don’t earn enough to pay into the pension system.

In 2004 a ban on dispatch temporary workers doing manufacturing jobs was lifted. In 2008, a total of 5,631 dispatch workers were injured and 31 were killed in work related accidents. In 2007 there were 254 more injuries and five more deaths. The high number have been blamed on inexperienced workers placed in dangerous manufacturing jobs.

Discouraged Young Workers in Japan

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Kenichi Horie was a promising auto engineer, exactly the sort of youthful talent Japan needs to maintain its edge over hungry Korean and Chinese rivals. As a worker in his early 30s at a major carmaker, Mr. Horie won praise for his design work on advanced biofuel systems. But like many young Japanese, he was a so-called irregular worker, kept on a temporary staff contract with little of the job security and half the salary of the “regular” employees, most of them workers in their late 40s or older. After more than a decade of trying to gain regular status, Mr. Horie finally quit---not just the temporary jobs, but Japan altogether. He moved to Taiwan two years ago to study Chinese.” “Japanese companies are wasting the young generations to protect older workers,” said Mr. Horie, now 36. “In Japan, they closed the doors on me. In Taiwan, they tell me I have a perfect résumé.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, January 27, 2011]

Employment figures underscore the second-class status of many younger Japanese. While Japan’s decades of stagnation have increased the number of irregular jobs across all age groups, the young have been hit the hardest. In 2010, year, 45 percent of those ages 15 to 24 in the work force held irregular jobs, up from 17.2 percent in 1988 and as much as twice the rate among workers in older age groups, who cling tenaciously to the old ways. Japan’s news media are now filled with grim accounts of how university seniors face a second “ice age” in the job market, with just 56.7 percent receiving job offers before graduation as of October 2010---an all-time low.

“Japan has the worst generational inequality in the world,” said Manabu Shimasawa, a professor of social policy at Akita University, told the New York Times. He has written extensively on such inequalities. “Japan has lost its vitality because the older generations don’t step aside, allowing the young generations a chance to take new challenges and grow, he said.

“These disparities manifest themselves in many ways....There are corporations that hire all too many young people for low-paying, dead-end jobs---in effect, forcing them to shoulder the costs of preserving cushier jobs for older employees. Others point to an underfinanced pension system so skewed in favor of older Japanese that many younger workers simply refuse to pay; a “silver democracy” that spends far more on the elderly than on education and child care---an issue that is familiar to Americans; and outdated hiring practices that have created a new “lost generation” of disenfranchised youth.

Reluctance of Japanese to Work Abroad

A 2007 Web-based survey by the Nomura Research Institute revealed a growing reluctance to live overseas among younger Japanese. While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s.

Ikuo Mori, President of Fuji Heavy Industries told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Ther;s a tendenacy for young employees to shy from working overseas.” An official with a major oil firm says that in the old days workers wanted to work in the Middle East because it was kind of an adventure and gave employees a chance to negotiate big money deals with the oil-producing countries but today he says young people refuse to work in the region, saying “I want to have an ordinary life in Japan---or “I don’t want to work hard in a foreign country with a time zone differences.”

An official at a large bank told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The lifestyle that balances work and private lives is in vogue. “An official at a major trading firm said, “As the number of double-income households has increased, working overseas means family members would have to live separately.”

This has left many companies with large interests overseas littl choice but to hire non-Japanese. An official at Lawson;s Inc said that foreigners now account for one third of new employees, “Their positiveness and dedication are better than those of Japanese students,” he said.

Young People Abandoning the System

An online survey by students at Meiji University of people across Japan ages 18 to 22 found that two-thirds felt that youths did not take risks or new challenges, and that they instead had become a generation of “introverts” who were content or at least resigned to living a life without ambition. “There is a mismatch between the old system and the young generations,” Yuki Honda, a professor of education at the University of Tokyo, told Bloomberg News. “Many young Japanese don’t want the same work-dominated lifestyles of their parents’ generation, but they have no choices.”[Source: Tomohiro Ohsumi, Bloomberg News]

Tomohiro Ohsumi wrote in Bloomberg News: “The result is that young Japanese are fleeing the program in droves: half of workers below the age of 35 now fail to make their legally mandated payments, even though that means they must face the future with no pension at all. “In France, the young people take to the streets,” Mr. Takahashi said. “In Japan, they just don’t pay.” [Ibid]

“Or they drop out, as did many in Japan’s first “lost generation” a decade ago. One was Kyoko, who was afraid to give her last name for fear it would further damage her job prospects. Almost a decade ago, when she was a junior at Waseda University here, she was expected to follow postwar Japan’s well-trodden path to success by finding a job at a top corporation. She said she started off on the right foot, trying to appear enthusiastic at interviews without being strongly opinionated---the balance that appeals to Japanese employers, who seek hard-working conformists.” [Ibid]

“But after interviewing at 10 companies, she said she suffered a minor nervous breakdown, and stopped. She said she realized that she did not want to become an overworked corporate warrior like her father. By failing to get such a job before graduating, Kyoko was forced to join the ranks of the “freeters”---an underclass of young people who hold transient, lower-paying irregular jobs. Since graduating in 2004 she has held six jobs, none of them paying unemployment insurance, pension or a monthly salary of more than 150,000 yen, or about $1,800. “I realized that wasn’t who I wanted to be,” recalled Kyoko, now 29. “But why has being myself cost me so dearly?” [Ibid]

After University in Japan

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Graduate enrollment is 3 percent of the total higher education enrollment compared with 11 percent in the U.S. Only 6 percent of college seniors continue on to graduate school, compared to 15 percent in the United States and 38 percent in Britain. The number of Japanese students studying abroad in 1997 was 162,257, triple the number in 1987.

More and more college graduates are continuing on to graduate schools. Some do it get better credentials. Others do put off finding a real job. College graduates have traditionally started working for companies immediately after graduating. The number of Ph.D. candidates doubled between 1991 and 2001. The number of people getting Masters degrees has also risen dramatically.

Hiring New Employees, See Labor, Economics

Difficulty Getting a Job, See Labor, Economics

Looking for Work After University

University students often begin their search for work a year or so before they graduate. Around April 1 has traditionally been the time when university senior began their search for work but in recent years it has been getting earlier and earlier. The early job hunt is said to be a distraction to students’ academic work.

Universities are trying to do more to help students and former students find jobs. Some universities such as Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka offers mentoring programs in which seniors who already have jobs assist juniors and other students looking for work. Others like Kanazawa Institute of Technology, have set up cheap bus service, with tickets to Tokyo costing as little as $17 and tickets Osaka costing as little as $11 to Osaka to help students get to job fairs and interviews without going broke.

Difficulty Finding a Job After Graduation in Japan

University students sometimes describe the job choices waiting for them after graduation as a barren "ultra-ice age." A record low university graduates received job offers in 2010. As of October 2010, 57.6 percent of university graduates due to graduate the following spring had not been able to find jobs, an all-time low for that time of the year.

In the summer of 2010, 20 percent of recent university graduates had not secured or job or had enrolled in further education according to the Education Ministry. An estimated 79,000 university seniors who couldn’t find jobs decided delay graduation and a repeat a year of college even though they had already finished their studies. Some blamed this trend on the custom of large corporation hiring students en masse in March, leaving students who can’t find jobs few options other than waiting around until next year

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, Nagisa Inoue, a senior at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said she was considering paying for a fifth year at her university rather than graduating without a job, an outcome that in Japan’s rigid job market might permanently taint her chances of ever getting a higher-paying corporate job. That is because Japanese companies, even when they do offer stable, regular jobs, prefer to give them only to new graduates, who are seen as the more malleable candidates for molding into Japan’s corporate culture. And the irony, Ms. Inoue said, is that she does not even want to work at a big corporation. She would rather join a nonprofit environmental group, but that would also exclude her from getting a so-called regular job.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, October 16, 2010]

In 2009, the Welfare Ministry responded to the situation of graduates being unable to find work by advising employers to recognize someone as a new graduate for up to three years after graduation. It also offers subsidies of up to 1.8 million yen, or about $22,000 per person, to large companies that offer so-called regular jobs to new graduates.

One of the problems experts say is the match between students and firms. Many students only want government jobs or to work with big well-established companies, and many small and mid-size firms with good business performances have a hard time filling their positions. According to a 2010 survey by Recruit Co, companies with 300 employees or less offered 300,000 jobs but only 70,000 students said they wanted to work for such companies.

A survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun in May 2011 found that big-name firms were planning to hire more recent graduates. Of the 105 companies surveyed, 74 said they planned to hire 30,000 graduates in the spring of 2012. Company representatives said the decision was based on an improved business outlook and efforts by the companies to boost global business.

In February 2011, a 22-year-old student apparently upset by his inability to find a job, tried to commit suicide by grabbing the wheel of a bus traveling on an expressway and causing the bus to overturn. The two drivers and ten passengers sustained only minor injuries.

Jobs on the Minds of Entering University Students

In January 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A growing number of university entrance examinees are aiming to join universities that will help them acquire a teachers license or other vocational qualifications likely to improve their chances of finding a job amid uncertain economic times. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16, 2011]

Kota Matsuura, 19, said he wants to study law and become a public servant. "At any rate, I want to be a public servant," he said . "Civil servant jobs are stable even in a recession, and are quite popular among my friends." Misato Toyoda, 18, said she wants to get a qualification she can use as a child care worker. "When considering the universities I want to apply to, I closely checked if I can get a qualification and if graduates of those universities have good employment rates," Toyoda said.

Ippei Maeda, 18, who took the test at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, said his first choice is a state-run university in Kanto. "I heard there are more job opportunities in Kanto than in Kyushu," he said. "That's one reason why I chose the university." The number of university students receiving tentative job offers before they graduate has been particularly low in Kyushu.

At Nagoya University, Masaki Sato said his first choice is an education department of a state-run university. Sato, 19, hopes to become a physical education teacher. He said competition among job seekers on the employment front and concern about the gloomy economic situation were reasons for his choice. "A school teacher is a stable job. I want to be a good teacher," he said. Besides science, engineering, agriculture and medical departments, university departments that offer qualifications as teachers or nurses have received considerable interest, according to several major cram schools.

More women turning to science. Science courses have tended to be dominated by male students, but venues conducting the National Center Test said more female examinees than usual were among the test-takers this year. Some universities have even set aside rooms exclusively for women students to make them feel even more welcome.

Japanese Female Graduates Get More Jobs

Among those who graduated from universities this past spring, 66.4 percent of women found full-time employment, surpassing 57.7 percent of new male graduates who secured regular work, according to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey.The survey showed that women tend to make more realistic choices than men, not restricting themselves to their first-choice companies, but rather looking for jobs patiently. [Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 7,2011]

Among newly graduated females, 71.6 percent of those from home economics-related departments found regular jobs, following those from medical and dental faculties at 80.5 percent. As most graduates from the medical and dental departments are usually employed for training at a clinic after graduation for a set period of time, females from the former category hold the de facto top position.

Japanese female graduates appear to have more of a “never give up” attitude. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “By mid-June, major companies had almost finished hiring new graduates for fiscal 2012. However, more than 100 students gathered at a job fair hosting about 30 companies in a hall at Chuo University in Hachioji, Tokyo. Most of them were female students in black skirts and jackets.

"I wanted to work in 'sogoshoku' [career position] in a financial company as my top priority. But now I'm not sticking to sogoshoku, and want to take a look at companies in other industries. Small and midsize companies are also acceptable," a 21-year-old female senior student in the economics department of the university said. Another 21-year-old female senior student in the commerce department said, "I want to get an informal appointment, even in the 'ippanshoku' [nonmanagerial position] category." Yukio Tonomura, head of the career development center at Chuo University, said: "Women are enthusiastic about finding a job, and they also have a flexible way of thinking. They had a more difficult time finding jobs [than men], so they haven't given up even at this time of the year."

A similar situation has been seen at other universities. A female senior student from the literature department of the University of Tokyo initially wanted to work in an advertising company, but she decided to look for a job among manufacturers. Continuing the trend, a 22-year-old female senior in the humanities and economics department of Kochi University sought a sogoshoku job. However, she finally got an informal appointment after expanding her choices by including the ippanshoku category. "I wanted to find a job before my graduation [next spring] anyway," she said.

The persistence and flexibility of female graduates have been remarkable.According to Keiko Hirano, a researcher at Bunkahoso Career Partners' job information research center, "Women tend to think they should avoid graduating unemployed in order to seek for jobs more suitable for them. In consideration of the future possibility of marriage and childbirth, they don't want to waste time. As a result, they start looking for jobs early and seriously."

Jobs for Japanese Students Returning from Abroad

The number of students going overseas to study at universities has been declining in recent years, with many holding back out of fear they will not be able to find a job when they return. However, is it true that studying abroad could impede their job-hunting efforts? The Yomiuri Shimbun has looked into how companies view the matter. [Source: Hitomi Seki, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 16, 2011]

Many major Japanese companies recruit newly graduating students around April to May, when students studying abroad are not in Japan. This, however, does not necessarily mean overseas students are at a disadvantage.

Companies are keen to adapt to the globalization of business activities, so many of them prize students who have gained foreign language abilities and international perspectives by studying abroad. An increasing number of companies, therefore, have facilitated acceptance of job applications from students returning from overseas.

In addition to conventional recruitment methods, many firms hold recruitment exams in summer and autumn, and some even recruit around the year. Furthermore, to make it possible for students studying overseas to join them after graduation, a number of companies now allow newcomers to start in autumn, while others allow them to start anytime in the year.

Young People in Japan Happy (But Maybe Lazy and Anxious) Despite Tough Economic Times

Noritoshi Furuichi, a writer and student at the graduate school of sociology at the University of Tokyo, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun , “Young Japanese are said to find themselves in a very unfortunate position. In addition to a drop in the percentage of university graduates who find jobs before graduation and an increase in the number of people employed as irregular workers, they also face an increasingly heavy burden in terms of the social security system. Due to the declining birthrate and aging population, in 15 years from now they will live in a society in which the social security costs of one elderly person will have to be sustained by two people of working age, rather than three, as has been the case. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 12, 2011]

So how do young Japanese feel about their lives? According to various surveys, their degree of satisfaction with life is the highest it has ever been for 40 years. A 2010 survey conducted by the Cabinet Office showed 70 percent of people in their 20s "are satisfied with their life." So young people are happy.

True, it would be possible for young people to lead happy lives in Japan today even without having much money. They could wear fashionable clothes, eat fast food, stay in constant touch with their friends via mobile phones and e-mail, and share hot-pot meals with their family. Their parents' generation has a certain amount of savings so many young people can fall back on their parents.

A Chinese friend of mine told me, "Japanese young people are like old men." If they live in a shared house in Tokyo, the monthly rent is about 30,000 yen. Rather than working hard, they find it better to be hired by the day for five days a month and then do what they want to do for the rest of the month. This way, they can lead a life similar to postretirement, even in their 20s.

The same survey showed that 63 percent of respondents in their 20s "have worries and feel anxious about daily life." More than half of young people are happy but also feel anxious at the same time. The truth could be that they fluctuate between fulfillment and anxiety.

Implications of Lazy and Anxious Japanese Youth

Although there is a disparity between the generations when it comes to employment and pension issues, we mustn't simply conclude that the elderly are treated favorably while young people get a poor deal. The young generation is being supported by their parents' generation. Since they are the ones who will look after their parents, they will be adversely affected if social security benefits paid to the older generation are cut. This illustrates the complex way in which the interests of the old and young generations are intertwined. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 12, 2011]

A society in which the elderly can lead comfortable lives should also be comfortable for everyone else. If young people feel confident about having children and raising families, the birthrate may recover and it may be possible to avoid a collapse of the social security system. Young people might be tempted to complain to older generations, asking them why they didn't do anything about the social security system, even though they knew it would one day become unsustainable due to aging population and chronically low birthrate.

If many young people cannot become either regular workers or full-time housewives, there will be no alternative but to make society one in which all healthy people, including women and the elderly, work and pay taxes. This would entail many reforms, including changes to the mandatory age-limit retirement system and tax deductions for spouses.

In the 1970s, when people's basic housing, food and clothing needs were beginning to be properly met, economist Yasusuke Murakami (1931-1993) pointed out in his 1975 book "Sangyo Shakai no Byori" (The Pathology of Industrial Society), that people want immediate happiness rather than working hard and economizing. They prefer to enjoy a relaxing life with their friends, using what they have already acquired, rather than aiming for a happier future. Such a lifestyle may be unavoidable in a mature society.

Young Japanese are not aware that they are disadvantaged. On the contrary, they are acutely aware of having been born in a wealthy country and feel guilty about that. In fact, there is a medical school student who built a primary school in Cambodia with his friends. I was once asked by a foreign reporter, "Why don't young Japanese get angry?" They feel guilt rather than regard themselves as disadvantaged. As long as young people remain gentle and mild, angry protests will probably never erupt in this country.

Young People Have Difficulty Establishing Careers

Fumio Otake, a professor and expert in labor economics at Osaka University, told Shigeru Ueda and Emi Yamada of the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Young people's living standards are substantially better compared with a few decades ago. Globalization has helped lower food and clothing prices, while technical innovations have made it common for young people to have personal computers and smartphones. This is tantamount to carrying a supercomputer in one hand a couple of decades ago, so they should consider themselves lucky in that respect. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 12, 2011]

Industrialized countries today must cope with the advancement of globalization and the penetration of information technology that is intensifying competition among unskilled workers in both industrialized and developing countries. This has shifted a variety of burdens to the younger generation. Consequently, the young are particularly conspicuous in riots and protests against social disparity in the United States and Britain.

Young people today also are confronted with the fact that the number of people with higher degrees is rapidly increasing in developing countries. Until about 20 or 30 years ago, as long as people were able to read and write, had language skills and enough academic ability, they were considered rare talents in society. But people with such abilities are no longer regarded as special. The older generation could encourage young people, by telling them to "stop focusing inward and go overseas." But it is also true young people today have to survive tremendously tough competition outside of Japan.

Additionally, technical innovations will reshape the job market significantly. Advancements in artificial intelligence and robot technologies will allow machines to take over large portions of work carried out by medical doctors and researchers. As a result, people skilled in fields that are significantly different from those today may become rare and valuable.

When global competition intensifies, people will probably reevaluate local talents. For instance, a baseball player may not be good enough to play in the Major Leagues, but it may be possible to be a valued player in domestic leagues and become important in their region, even if they earn a low income.In any event, the conventional career path--ensuring people a stable life as long as they graduate from top universities and enter major corporations--has almost collapsed. Today's younger and older generations both have concerns about the future, but I want them to take a more positive outlook: They live in a time when they can try many things.

Young Japanese Question the Meaning of Work

In January, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Chiho Takagi, 38, used to work at an information technology-related company in Tokyo, but came to question such work after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. "I wanted to work in a role where I could leave a mark and make people happier," she said. In October 2011 , Takagi moved to her parents' hometown in the mountainous Sangamura settlement in the city of Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture as she was chosen to become involved in a three-year program with a municipal group helping to revitalize local areas. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 13, 2011]

Putting her IT knowledge to good use, she is now helping to launch a website selling local specialities, and is helping locals make tsukemono pickles. "I hope I can put everything on track during my tenure here. It would be great if I could continue to stay here [after the program has ended]," she said. Takagi is just one of the increasing numbers of people who, in an attempt make a societal contribution, changed their workplace or job after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Many people are also believed to have moved from business companies to nonprofit organizations assisting developing countries, or working for local regeneration. Interest is also high in social entrepreneur seminars. "Many people came to rethink the relationship between their work and society after March 11, expanding the pool of people hoping to work at NPOs," said Haruo Miyagi, 39, president of ETIC, an NPO supporting entrepreneurialism and social innovation.

According to a fiscal 2011 survey of newly hired employees conducted by the Japan Productivity Center, 36.8 percent, or the biggest group of respondents, said they chose their workplace because they thought they could utilize their ability or individuality there. "The results show people are now more interested in the actual work they do, while their expectations in, or wanting to belong to companies has waned," said Natsuki Iwama, a visiting researcher of the center. Asked what kind of work they want to do in the survey, 96.4 percent said they want their work to be appreciated by society or other people.

Rikkyo University Prof. Jun Ishikawa, who heads the school's career center, says the number of students hoping to get a job in which they could contribute to society rather than help them achieve conventionally successful careers increased during the past three to four years, but the tendency accelerated after March 11. "However, it is sometimes difficult for young employees to understand in some cases, they are already contributing to society via their daily jobs," Ishikawa said.

Costs of Young People Without Careers on Japan

Otake wrote: The number of unemployed, low-income young people is rising. But if these people age without finding regular jobs and are unable to grow into useful members of society, Japan will definitely suffer. The current bracket of middle-aged and older workers will retire within the next few decades. They will find themselves unable to enjoy their retirement if the situation remains unchanged. So, for society as a whole, it is necessary to provide young people with employment opportunities and develop them into productive resources.

Specifically, we may be able to introduce a system that automatically reduces pension payments if the unemployment rate among young people rises and the percentage of young people enrolled in the national pension program declines.

Also, if the pension eligibility age were raised, we cannot simply extend the retirement age for middle-aged and older workers, robbing younger workers of opportunities. If the retirement age is lifted, salaries for middle-aged and older workers should be reduced and the savings used to hire young people.

Image Sources: 1) 3) 5) 6) Ray Kinnane 2) Jun at Goods from Japan 4) Hector Garcia 7) JNTO

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2012

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