"While traveling in India, a Japanese backpacker gave me a joint, and I got a great high," 27-year-old Masahiko Tanaka (a pseudonym, as are the other names in this article) tells Spa! (March 1-8). "Ever since then, I've been hooked on the stuff."
Back in Japan and unable to quit, Tanaka sought out fellow potheads for group sessions. "It's dangerous to do it in Japan, so I keep thinking of going abroad again for wild ganja parties."
Six months after his return to Japan, Tanaka was caught up in a police sweep and arrested. As he only had a small amount in his possession, the sentence was fairly lenient: eight months imprisonment suspended for three years.
Since then, he has been receiving financial support from his parents. Initial efforts to find employment via Hello Work failed as soon as prospective employers learned of his legal status. He's currently working at a pachinko shop, where he hopes to acquire status as a regular staff member.
"They don't investigate very thoroughly, and if I can support myself this way, it'll be good enough," says Tanaka.
Then there's Daiki Takada, 33. Since graduating from university, he has pursued the pattern of working at various jobs for a year or so, until he saves up enough for his next overseas trip.
"A lot of backpackers I know are system engineers, who don't have any problem finding work after they come back to Japan. But I don't have that kind of real experience, so I can't become a regular company staff member. The only jobs open are as a temp-help worker and the like."
Takada now works as a "freeter" in Okinawa, where his monthly salary is just 150,000 yen. "At least here, I can feel the fragrance of Asia," he says.
But these two examples may be luckier than most. At least they have found work. Others return from abroad and find there's nothing waiting for them. Ten years ago while on a visit to Southeast Asia, Hiroshi Sumida, age 42, was cheated out of his entire savings (about 1 million yen) and since then, he has subsisted as a NEET (not in education, employment or training). Sumida had managed to work sporadically until three years ago, but then while on a visit to India, he got turned on by marijuana, and, as he describes it, "either achieved 'satori' (enlightenment) or completely lost my desire to compete with other people anymore.
"Once my parents pass away, I plan to sell the house and use the money to take one last trip," he vows.
Surveys of overseas travelers purchasing tickets with an open return date that permit long stays abroad suggest that the average age of Japanese backpackers is becoming older. One agency says sales of such tickets has been growing at the rate of 1.3- to 1.4-fold each year, males in the 40 to 60 age group accounting for 70% of total demand. Some of these males are said to be visiting those destinations in order to find a marriage partner.
Interestingly, the destination of half of these long-stay travelers has been mainland China, with another 30% to Southeast Asia followed by 20% to North America. It is believed that because comparatively cheap carriers such as Air India and Biman Bangladesh Airlines have suspended their Narita routes, travelers on a shoestring now head for closer Asian countries and make the rest of the journey overland.
While the middle-aged backpackers make fairly frequent journeys abroad, vacation travel by students, by contrast, has reportedly been declining at the rate of 5% to 10% per year.© Japan Today