Women living in poverty face bleak future


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.

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The current watershed figure is 84,899 yen per month. Below that is poor. Marginally above it is also poor, in all but name.

It's true that you can be over the line, not just marginally, and still be poor. You can also be below it and not be poor, e.g. an elderly woman on a pension with no housing costs and savings to run down. Many of the 1/3 of single women on below 85,000 yen a month will be elderly and their situation will depend on savings/assets more than income. A young woman living alone with no assets could be comfortably over the line and still be poor.

The example cases given in Japanese news stories often do a bad job of illustrating the point they are trying to make, but the common thread between the two here is women being unable to restart their lives in their early to mid thirties. Japanese female life expectancy is 84! A society cannot throw people on the scrapheap for 50 years. Aside from being morally repugnant, the ensuing problems will only end up costing society more.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I frequently talk to women in their late 30's still looking for a soulmate after turning down 2-3 offers of marriage in their younger days. I asked one late 30's woman who lived with her parents, traveled overseas and wanted to marry, why a guy would want to marry her? I asked you must have at least 5 million saved to get a house in case you get married? But she had zip savings. It seems most women have a few chances at love and if they turn them down most older guys are wise enough to know that the older ones want to marry for his money.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

“life’s bare essentials – utilities, instant bread, Origin bentos.”

What in the world is instant bread?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Dang!! That’s messed up. If her husband was cheating on her, why didn’t he have to pay her + monthly child support?

5 ( +8 / -3 )

“life’s bare essentials – utilities, instant bread, Origin bentos.”

What in the world is instant bread?

What the heck is Origin bentos?

I'm glad the last woman had a fairly pleasant ending, relatively speaking.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Pucky 2, “What the heck is Origin bentos?”

That one was going to be part of my original question but I was able to google and find it’s the name of a chain that sells cheap boxed bento meals. I’ve lived in Japan more than 40 years and don’t recall ever seeing one. I don’t believe they are in my part of Tohoku and perhaps they didn’t yet exist when I lived in Tokyo.

Instant bread is still a mystery to me.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Women in the middle class face onerous burdens, too:

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The figures are not too far off what we have to live on here. When I die my wife with her meager pension will probably be one of these. This fits together with a trending BBC article on increasing numbers of old pensioners male and female in Japan who are choosing to end up in prison to save money.

Recommended to me by two unrelated people.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The current watershed figure is 84,899 yen per month. Below that is poor. Marginally above it is also poor

Especially when your 2DK is more than that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Dang!! That’s messed up. If her husband was cheating on her, why didn’t he have to pay her + monthly child support?

Because she got the kid. Such is the 'clean break' system of Japanese divorce. The western system is not much better, allowing women to fleece their ex husbands for a good chunck of thier wealth for the rest of thier lives.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The first husband may have been a jerk, but then we don't know what the wife, home life was like, that part tends to get glossed over, forgotten a lot

Lets face Japan treats most of its population horribly!

2 ( +2 / -0 )


That one was going to be part of my original question but I was able to google and find it’s the name of a chain that sells cheap boxed bento meals.

Oh, I just googled it, and I recognized it from the original logo in katakana. Just couldn't form an image of it in my head with romaji. Couldn't find it before becuase I used duckduckgo instead of google

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

sorry, I dont understand this...

most low pay jobs today pay 1200Y an hour

that makes it 192000Y for 5 days 8 hour week

after taxes its about 150000 ( depends where you live )

so the numbers above are not credible to me.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

“Because she got the kid. Such is the 'clean break' system of Japanese divorce.”

Not accurate. The husband is still obligated to pay child support for minor children even if the wife gets sole custody. However there are many deadbeat dads and many women are too reluctant or fearful to take the necessary legal steps. If they do press the issue, wages can be garnished etc.

Alex Einz, “most low pay jobs today pay 1200Y an hour”

In Tokyo maybe. Around here the minimum wage is several hundred yen less and many jobs pay less than ¥900 per hour.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For reference, many prefectures have a minimum wage less than ¥800 yen.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Not accurate. The husband is still obligated to pay child support for minor children even if the wife gets sole custody.

No he is not. The husband is under no obligation to pay child support under Japanese law. Child support and visitation or worked out within the family.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Women in the middle class face onerous burdens, too:

That's an interesting article. It blames men for not doing household chores like in the West, which it then lists as:

Taking and recording a child's temperature, according to day care rules.

Making elaborate bentos in the shape of cartoon characters.

Writing detailed dairies, according to day care rules.

Doing a craft project on a weekend as homework from daycare.

I'm sorry but men in other countries do not do those things. They may cook, clean, wash dishes, etc., things that are productive and support the family, but they do not do pointless tasks that merely fill in a Japanese housewife's day. You cannot blame Japanese men, especially those who come home at 10pm, for not doing them. These tasks only exist or remain because Japanese women tacitly consent to them. No Japanese man is out there insisting that daycares operate with archaic and time consuming rules. Western women would have got rid of them years ago.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Huh, the only job she could find acceptable was working in the AV industry? You telling me there were absolutely no other options for her condition even though there are plenty of working mothers who somehow manage to survive doing "normal" jobs? Not exactly the best role model for your kid although with the mental breakdown afterwards I'm sure she wasn't exactly the most stable person to begin with.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

if they pay 800 ,work harder

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

besides, the article is about tokyo women

most other prefectures , rent is way cheaper hence even 150000 should be well enough

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Alex EinzFeb. 4  09:50 pm JST

if they pay 800 ,work harder---------------------------------------------------------------

Working harder does not make the minimum wage go up.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

it makes salary go up

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Alex Heinz - the minimum wage in my area is around ¥760 / hr at last check.

Millions of people are working as "part-timers" with little or no extras such as sick pay, holiday pay, pension schemes etc. Many are looking after or contributing to elderly parents and or other family members.

My younger daughters close friend worked every weekend for 3 years of highschool and gave all her money to her mum a single mother to help. There's one younger sister as well. She made it into uni and now works many hours/days a week and gives most of her money to her mum. LDP's "free" education poli-speak has yet to benefit this family.

So many are doing it tough. Anyone who thinks otherwise moves in vastly different circles. Sure many are doing ok, but the millions who are not offer a frightening prospect for the next 2~5 decades of Japan's "Shining" economy/society.

When the govts own stats say 1 in 6 children live in poverty, you know there's a real problem out there.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

first, not sure what part timers or younger daughters have anything to do with discussion at all.

Second, as the article above talks about Tokyo resident ,there is no reason bringing up 760Y an hour wage, there is no such thing in Tokyo unless you are severely disabled ( mentally or otherwise ) and doing supplemental income , hence I dont understand why is she allowed to receive 130,000Y at all .. go work like the rest of us - 40 aint that old to do much more paying work., if she really wanted to , I am sure she could make at least 20man a month easy. , even the guys that stand and direct traffic on roads make better living.

The second woman talked about in article pays 24,000 a month rent out of 140,000 salary .. I would say she has got a nice thing going and she is definitely nowhere near "poor" , and at 38 , can again get way better paying job

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Yes there is actual poverty, but then again in Japan , with all this screaming around about lack of workforce and so on.. it is more about desire of people to not work and complacency to being poor as the state of things., can be quite nice to just lie under futon and open another chuhi instead of going to work.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

oh and the 1 out 6 living in poverty, thats what happens when two uneducated "yankees" allowed to procreate and actually keep the children.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Alex - thanks for your reply.

Well it seems you've got most angles covered.

People lack motivation - essentially are lazy I suppose.

And your yankee comment I guess just showed your true colors. Blame it all on low IQ or the like - that's the problem. Nothing to do with the structure of society, it's expectations, it's faults, it's rules etc or the simple fact that peoples lives sometimes take a twist for the worst and some just can't get back on top of it. We are not all built the same. If millions of the average workers in "cushy" Minimum input, Maximum gain jobs found themselves on the scrapheap @ 45yrs, I'm sure many couldn't climb back into good jobs, social standing and ease of life again.

And my reference to partimers & daughters - well if that was lost on you - then it was lost on you. Get out a bit more.

No one expects society to be perfect and run like the proverbial oiled cog, but the reality is there are people suffering. It's not an opinion, it's a fact supported by a wealth of data. And the Gap between those doing well or OK to those not, is surely widening, without doubt.

Some could "get off their butts" and work harder - yes, but I hardly think these people are the main cause of the poverty grind many find themselves in.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Minimum wage in Tokyo is ¥958. The national average is ¥874.

Remember that many basic-pay jobs tend not to provide health insurance, pension, etc - these must be paid for out of the pittance.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

ah yea i definitely think that low iq and and inability to provide while procreating is the main poverty cause.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Alex - good to have an opinion. I'm always telling my students that.

Any data to support your thinking? (I esp mean here in Japan - - like on topic.)

I'm always telling my students that. Opinion, Reason, Support.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

if they pay 800 ,work harder

A couple of days ago my wife showed me a job ad: 12 hours at Y800 per hour, with a single 45 minute break (which is probably illegal, but that doesn't matter in Japan). Anyone taking up that offer will still have to pay their medical insurance, pension, taxes etc. How much harder do you expect those people to work? 16 hour days, 7 days a week?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

you can analyze this :

then again, its quite an easy deduction

low education or IQ ( education does not in itself is the major cause, yet higher education with small exceptions of liberal and art skills would mostly lead to higher employment renumeration yet low IQ will most definitely lead to low income ) - translates into high or low income which subsequently translates to poverty / criminality.

its not rocket science. .

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

192,000 , medical insurance will be low enough, you dont have to pay pension if the job doesnt deduct and if you live in cheaper area, city taxes will be dirt cheap or even none ( depends on area specification )

moral of the story, live according to your needs and abilities.

if you make minimal wage and unable to procure the skills to advance , dont live in middle of tokyo in 10man yen apartment.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I think Alex's point is that there are a lot of able bodied lazy people who prefer to complain rather than work and end up bleeding the system. Having never even taken a sick day in my life I cannot imagine how boring and demoralizing it would be to lay around every day watching tv and eating conbini food waiting for the next welfare deposit and any excuse to complain. Stand straight not held straight.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Reckless, exactly... I do admit to taking sick leave days.. but those were never about laying around ... time not well spent is a time wasted and there is nothing worse than wasting time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Alex, report after report and fact after fact shows that upward mobility is harder than ever no matter how hard someone works or education they have.

Your lack of compassion and ignoring facts is appalling.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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