Early this year “Mikako Masuda” (a pseudonym, like all the names in this story) quit a low-paying job and went back to school. She was 31 and tired, after eight years of irregular, precarious and meaningless employment, of going nowhere in life. Her heart was set on change. She would become a nurse, she decided. She’d be of use to society, while at the same time steadying her own finances.
Working part-time at a café and a supermarket, she earned 150,000 yen a month, enough for nursing school tuition and the necessities of daily life. Then in spring came the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her hours were shortened, her earnings halved.
What could she do? It’s a plight shared by millions nationwide, reports Spa! (Dec 15), the brunt falling disproportionately on women, many of whom work part-time and underpaid. Masuda couldn’t appeal to her parents – they’d opposed her plans from the start. Her back to the wall, she took a plunge that went very much against her grain. Her solution was papa-katsu – offering paid companionship to an older and well-heeled man. The arrangement may or may not involve sex. She made up her mind that in her case it wouldn’t.
She trolled online for “papas” and did well enough. Dinners (usually at expensive restaurants) aside, she takes home on average 150,000 yen a month. She’s not happy, however. The role doesn’t suit her. Now she faces another dilemma. Again online, she made contact with a club that specializes in bringing people together. Sex is optional, but she feels pressure. She could charge 50,000 yen per encounter, she’s told – and why not? she thinks. “Shouldn’t I earn as much as I can while I can?” She’s still hesitating, she tells Spa! – it’s a line she would rather not cross. But she wonders how squeamish she can afford to be.
“Akie Mizuno,” 24, “Yumi Sato,” 26, and “Shizuka Kanamori,” 32, share a suburban Tokyo “share house.” Spa!’s visiting reporter finds it a cramped mess – dining-room-kitchen plus one bedroom – three people and much clutter. Rent is 100,000 yen a month – cheap for Tokyo. Mizuno is a temp worker, Sato a restaurant employee and Kanamori a systems engineer. All suffer from depressed earnings, and the enforced togetherness of long hours at home tell on their nerves.
Mizuno was earning 150,000 yen a month before the pandemic, down now to 130,000. She teleworks out of necessity – certainly not by choice. Cabin fever aside, she had nothing to work on. She had to buy herself a desk, which cost, she says resentfully, 50,000 yen out of her own pocket.
Sato works reduced hours at her restaurants, taking home 70,000 to 80,000 a month. It’s hard to live on that no matter how many corners you cut. Government assistance is available, Spa! reminds her. She is aware of that, she says, “but the application procedure is complicated, I don’t understand it.” Complicating it further are the facts that she’s never filed a tax return and the share house rent isn’t paid in her name.
The women buy groceries in bulk on line – whatever’s cheap and keeps without going bad. Pasta, for instance: 5 kg for 1,700 yen. It’s not health food, but two pasta meals a day at least keep you going.
Kanamori, the third member of the group, is the best off. She’s skilled, and employed full-time, though her earnings too are down. Spa! doesn’t tell us whether friendship or mere happenstance and convenience binds these women, but Kanamori is plainly not happy about paying 40,000 yen toward the rent while the others pay 30,000 yen each. She pays the utilities too.
Spa! wonders if living this way – poor, stressed, irritable, with too little fresh air and exercise and little hope of much changing anytime soon – isn’t as destructive of health as the virus.© Japan Today