There are so many ways one’s life can go wrong – especially, says Spa! (Feb 5), if you’re a woman. Glass ceilings, low pay, potential single motherhood dog women. One-third of Japan’s single women are poor, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. “Poor” means, officially, living on less than half the median income. The current watershed figure is 84,899 yen per month. Below that is poor. Marginally above it is also poor, in all but name.
“Yuki Ikeda” (a pseudonym) lives on the 129,000 a month she gets from welfare. She gets by, but it’s a life of no pleasure and much hardship.
At 45, as Spa! tells her story, she’s known adversity in all its awful variety. And yet she began well. She graduated from a junior college in her native Aomori, worked for an insurance company, married, quit her job when her husband was transferred to Tokyo, and began the life of a full-time housewife. She had a daughter. Ten years flew by.
The only shadow on her happiness was her husband’s womanizing. That would pass, she thought. But it didn’t. The couple divorced. He had his job and his women. She had nothing. She was 35, 10 years out of the work force, and a single mother.
Her daughter was in elementary school. She took the best job she could find – as a part-time waitress at a coffee shop, earning 100,000 yen a month. The combined pressures of work and child-raising were too much for her. She couldn’t go on this way. Was there an alternative? One: the sex industry.
It paid better, but she was not cut out for it. She endured it for four years all the same. Then came the nervous breakdown. In treatment, she gave up her daughter to her ex-husband’s parents and sank into unrelieved solitude. It was at this point that she went on welfare.
She lives in a tiny room in Tokyo, paying 49,000 yen a month. Everything left over goes into life’s bare essentials – utilities, instant bread, Origin bentos. She has one hobby – fortune-telling. She spends her time browsing the relevant websites. “Maybe someday I’ll open a booth,” she muses.
Every person is different, but every person’s poverty is the same drab gray. “Emi Hayashi” seems a most unlikely candidate for it. She’s 38. Long ago she’d been pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. She was going to help others cope with the problems she’s coping with herself. How did it happen? Her career failed to materialize. She was shy, couldn’t approach people. She left school, married, her husband left, and suddenly at 33 she found herself adrift in the world, never having done full-time work in her life. “I was actually homeless for a time,” she tells Spa!
The experience shook her out of her shyness. She managed somehow to get back to school and qualify – but then, qualified, found herself unable to latch onto anything solid. The best she seems to have been able to do is part-time counseling. Three jobs in that line earn her 140,000 a month. Salvation, such as it is, came in the form of shared housing. The apartment she shares is none too clean and no stranger to rats, but the rent is only 24,000 a month, and her roommates, strangers at first, have become friends. “We help each other out,” she says. It’s fulfillment, after a fashion.© Japan Today