“Yui Koizumi” (a pseudonym) was doing pretty well for herself. A college graduate, she’d landed a job with an advertising firm and was on her way.
In March there came an email from her employer. The company was shutting down temporarily. She needn’t worry. She’d receive some monetary compensation, and once the COVID-19 pandemic abated, they’d be back in business.
Fine, thought Koizumi, 23. She’d take it easy for a while, maybe take a course or two to raise her qualifications, and then make up for lost time.
In May she got another email. There was no end in sight. She was being let go. “My mind went blank,” she tells Spa! (July 21-28). What now? “My first thought was, ‘It’s so easy to fire people by mail.”
The economic ruin wrought by COVID-19 falls hardest on women, Spa! finds. A Cabinet Office survey released in April shows part-time job holders down 970,000 from a year earlier. Seventy percent of the lost jobs were held by women. Also – unlike the Lehman Shock of 2008, to which the current crisis is often compared – the hardest-hit sector is the service industry, staffed mainly by women.
Koizumi lives in Tokyo with her younger sister, whose college tuition she’s been paying. Their mother lives alone in the country. She hasn’t heard the bad news. Her daughters can’t bring themselves to tell her.
Koizumi got busy. She needed income, a job – anything. She sent applications to 100-odd companies. When nothing came of that, she took whatever offered itself. She was a waitress in a maid cafe, a mover for a moving company, an office worker in an office. Grueling work, long hours, low pay.
Now she’s more comfortably situated, working at a “girls’ bar.” The money’s not bad – 1,300 yen an hour plus “drink back” bonuses: 10,000 to 15,000 yen a day. Still, it’s hard. The hours are 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., and, since a mask would impede interaction with customers, she works maskless, afraid all the while of the risk she’s running.
And there’s another fear at the back of her mind. When the epidemic does finally end, will she ever find her way back into the mainstream economy? Habits acquired where she is now may be hard to break, and besides, there will be a lot of “corona-unemployed” flooding the job market. She knows there won’t be room for everyone.
“Ayumi Sekiguchi,” 31, is a hair stylist. She works in a beauty parlor in Aichi Prefecture, operated by a large chain. Her working day begins at 8 a.m. and ends 12 hours later. Most of the time she’s alone in the shop. “I do everything,” she says – hairdressing, office work, cleaning, disinfecting. She gets five days off a month. Her monthly take-home pay is 200,000 yen – or was, before her employer began deducting 10,000 yen a month for undefined “coronavirus expenses.”
She calls her employer a “black company,” but stays because she has nowhere to go. “It’s better than being unemployed,” she says. A “working poor” underclass was growing in Japan long before the epidemic, but now there’s an added edge – the fear that just doing your job involves risking your life. A Kyoto hairdresser died of the virus, Sekiguchi heard. She could be next. Moreover, her life isn’t healthy. Her house is dirty and she’s not eating right. Her job leaves her no energy to attend to such things. Feeling unwell, she took five days’ sick leave. The lost pay left her barely making ends meet that month.
Consider another set of coronavirus victims, says Spa! – homeless girls. There are more of them lately, it hears from Jun Tachibana of the NPO Bond Project, which extends aid and counseling to them. With people staying home more, there’s more domestic violence. It’s not the only thing that drives girls to leave home, but it’s a major cause. The net cafes or pubs where they might find refuge or work are mostly closed, leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of predators – molesters, pimps, extortionists and so on. It’s a long list. And it’s looking like a long epidemic, likely to get worse before it gets better.© Japan Today