Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Low-income over-40s: How it happens and how they live with it

25 Comments

Life is so easy for some people. And so hard for others. What, for example, sets Shigeki Kanamori apart from “Masashi Iino”?

The latter’s pseudonym, for one thing; the former has no need to hide his identity. Fifty-eight million yen, for another. That’s the difference in their annual incomes, Iino’s being 3 million yen, Kanamori’s 61 million yen.

The fundamental difference is this: Kanamori had a brilliant idea and the boldness to act on it. Iino didn’t.

The 1980s are known as Japan’s “bubble” years. Growth was robust, employment was full-time, pay rose steadily with seniority, a rough middle-class equality prevailed, and everyone was happy. Not entirely, of course, but generally speaking.

Iino’s story is typical of how things have changed. It’s presented by Spa! (August 16-23) as one of several examples of how working men in their 40s are sinking into a state very close to poverty.

He wasn’t doing badly – 6 million yen a year – at the company he joined out of college, but others were doing better; why not him? He changed jobs, changed again – and got laid off after the bubble burst in the mid-1990s. Now, the best he can do for himself is a part-time job earning him 3 million a year. You might say it’s his own fault, and to some extent it is, but not entirely: 40% of Japan’s workforce now works part-time.

“It’s kind of a black company,” Iino says of his current employer – meaning ruthlessly exploitative and penny-pinching. Lots of companies reportedly fit that description nowadays. It’s what weaker firms feel they must be to survive in a weak economy. “I suppose I should look for another job, but at my age…” He’s 49.

He’s got a home loan to pay off, kids to educate, and various other expenses. His wife, working part-time, brings in 40,000 a month, and he himself moonlights occasionally at a shipping company. Sometimes he works until 5 a.m.

It’s still not enough. “I have no choice. I swallow my pride and ask my parents for help.”

Kanamori started off in real estate, but he’s a restless type. Why earn a mere living when you can get rich? His brilliant idea was to buy a barge, which he rents out to construction companies that use it to carry gravel and such things. If Iino had thought of that, would he be rich too? Maybe, maybe not.

The generation now in its 40s is in particularly sad straits, Spa! finds. They had “bubble” childhoods but reached the job market just as it was turning cold – “hiring ice age” was a common phrase of the time. Part-time employment surged as full-time hiring fell. Even working full-time, you could no longer count on the promotions and pay raises that accompanied seniority. A new concept had taken over: merit pay, pay based on ability and results. That’s fine for those who had conspicuous ability. Obviously, not everyone does.

Spa!’s success stories are of entrepreneurs who break the mold. Yoshifumi Inoue, then in real estate, came to the aid of a Vietnamese in Tokyo getting the worst of a street brawl. The two became friends, and now Inoue brokers Vietnamese seeking work in Japan. He bought up apartments which he rents to them. He sends them back to Vietnam, when their time here is up, with suitcases laden with Japanese products – clothing, cosmetics and so on – to sell at home, Inoue drawing a cut. His turnover, he says, 500 million a year.

“Masaru Tanaka” earns 3.5 million. He’s 41 and has worked for the same company – a travel agency – for 18 years. His salary peaked a few years ago at 4.5 million – not bad for a single man – but business dropped off and his pay was cut, and cut again. If only that had happened before he’d splurged on the condominium of his dreams! Now he’s saddled with repayments of 95,000 yen a month. His one hobby, raising tropical fish, he has given up in the name of economy, which leaves television as his sole relaxation. Like Iino, he considers looking for a new job, but “I’m comfortable here, and not particularly rich in marketable skills.”

With the economy looking a bit up of late, full-time hiring is staging a comeback. That’s good for the young generation. For the middle-aged, it’s too little too late.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
Login to comment

The difference is that working for oneself allows the individual to surpass the limitation on pay that a salaried worker receives. The road to riches depends in this.....

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Now, the best he can do for himself is a part-time job earning him 3 million a year.

First off, part-time making 3 MILLION YEN a year? Dude consider yourself lucky! Down here that is more than 500,000 yen per year OVER the average pay in Okinawa for FULL-TIME employment!

There are plenty of middle-aged/late 40's to early 50's folks that do not have stable employment, many got out of college as the bubble burst and few found decent paying jobs and many were forced into fields of work that they had no experience in or were unprepared for.

The system here is screwed in that the colleges and universities focus on academic training, versus technical training. I believe the number is close to 80%. Point is that people are not trained nor have the skills needed for the current market and many can not or choose not to get the training or education needed to find better jobs.

With the economy looking a bit up of late, full-time hiring is staging a comeback. That’s good for the young generation. For the middle-aged, it’s too little too late.

BULLSNOT....the economy is hardly looking up, and full time hiring is still a pipe dream for many. While companies are adjusting to the reality of a shrinking workforce, they still are focusing on contracted employees which keeps their overhead down.

For the younger generation is will be a sellers market, even today many jobs are left unfilled, and businesses are loathe to do what is necessary to get people to work for them.....increase pay and benefits, Yet that too will change as they come to realize that people will not work for nothing, nor will they be willing to die working as their parents did either.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Now he’s saddled with repayments of 95,000 yen a month.

95,000 yen a month on a 3.5 million salary for a bachelor is not bad at all. I'll be paying 130,000 yen a month for my new house after a 5 million yen down payment.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

There is genuine poverty in Japan. There are genuine working poor.

Unfortunately, the media are not very good at getting out there and finding real examples and have a tendency of throwing up borderline or bogus examples, who misrepresent the needy and turn people against welfare provisions. It sounds like NHK have also just done a special on child poverty, but according to articles people I know have linked to on Facebook, they showed a high school girl whose Twitter account reveals a DS, a PSP, some art pens that cost over 10,000, multiple lunches at trendy cafes that cost 1000 yen plus, and a 9000 yen ticket to an Exile concert. NHK showed her mother saying she couldn't afford a PC and couldn't afford to go to university. There was a fuss a couple of years ago about another mother who was getting 250,000 a month from seikatsu hogo but seemed to think the world owed her much more.

Maybe the genuine poor are too embarrassed to go on the media, which leaves the door open to narcissists with entitlement issues to carry the flag.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

95,000 yen a month on a 3.5 million salary for a bachelor is not bad at all. I'll be paying 130,000 yen a month for my new house after a 5 million yen down payment.

Agreed. It really isn't that bad. Outside of having rich parents to bail you out, a major factor in financial security is living within your means and saving: cutting back a bit on stuff now to have more later on. Sounds simple really, but it's something I really wish I realised in my 20's.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The generation now in its 40s is in particularly sad straits.... They had “bubble” childhoods but reached the job market just as it was turning cold – “hiring ice age” was a common phrase of the time. Part-time employment surged as full-time hiring fell.

The generation that entered the labor market from the early 1990s to 2010 had it rough. Before that until the end of the bubble years there was a massive labor shortage, followed by the "hiring ice age."

Luckily for the current generation entering the labor market the labor shortage has returned since about 2010. However, this time around the labor shortage isn't because the economy is booming (it's not), but instead it is because the huge population of highly paid early post-war baby boomers comfortably locked into lifetime employment careers has retired, which has freed up HR budgets to bring in a much greater percentage of the dwindling population of entry level workers in their 20s.

Many in Japan's "lost generation" who entered the labor force during the early 1990s to 2010 never gained the skills they needed to make a livable wage, and as a consequence are doomed to a life of low income.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In the perfect world, there will be jobs available for over 40s. However Japan has been almost zero growth since 1990. Unlikely it will get back the prosperous and glorious days of 1980s. Therefore Entrepreneurs or risk takers will prosper if thy have foreign connection.in right place and right time. Someone who has been depending on the employer mercy and generosity will be left behind.

Made in Japan is not the big deal in Japan. However many developing Nations worship Japanese made products. If these products will be sold in those nations, seller will make more freedom and higher income.

Someone who dares to risk for success and failure will get the dividends.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

95,000 yen a month on a 3.5 million salary for a bachelor is not bad at all. I'll be paying 130,000 yen a month for my new house after a 5 million yen down payment.

I was paying at least that much for a rental house in Yokosuka (non SOFA contract). But what will take a toll will be the utilities costs and taxes. How much of that 3.5 million yen does he actually take home after taxes? That is what I have seen drive people into financial issues in Japan (among other issues).

3 ( +3 / -0 )

He should retrain as an eikaiwa teacher. I hear they rake in the money these days.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

He should retrain as an eikaiwa teacher. I hear they rake in the money these days.

Seriously though, people mock English teaching in Japan, but the money is just as good if not better than a lot of other jobs in Japan. Security and promotion opportunities aren't really any better or worse sometimes either.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

@Yubaru - I suspect there is a slight mis-translation here. "Part-time" probably means "full-time temporary".

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Yubaru - I suspect there is a slight mis-translation here. "Part-time" probably means "full-time temporary".

If it really is PT and not a FT contracted or temp, the dude is barking up the wrong tree. The average yearly income in Okinawa is 2.045 MILLION yen per year, Tokyo is highest at roughly 4.6 Million and everywhere else somewhere in between with Kyushu being on the lower end under 3 Million.

A PT or FT Temp at that rate is not bad really.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, a lot of small-minded "it's worse over there, so suck it up" mentality here in the comments. I hear it often from Japanese as well when this topic comes up. It's a shame, because it stops real discussion about underemployment and low wages dead in its tracks.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Instead of just depending on your day job, use your nights being an internet auction hustler. It is much more beneficial than watching TV with SMAP and Arashi on every channel.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

A new concept had taken over: merit pay, pay based on ability and results.

How preposterous! Being paid for the amount of work you do, and not just for the amount of time you have leeched on in a company!! Its the old system that he was relying on, the one that is still at work in so many companies here that is draining the life out of the economy. People promoted to manager, VP then president just because they have been around for a while. No management skills, no people skills. These are the ones that run their employees (and then the companies) into the ground because they have no actual abilities...

I have no sympathy for these guys. They are doing better than many with no jobs, or labourers/workers who do actual hard work and get paid less than them.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Dudes who make excuses to not look for a better job or feel content watching TV everyday to relax don't exactly make me feel any sympathy for them.

A little more motivation might go a long way.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If you are interested in what it is like to be poor in Japan, have a look at this BBC / NHK documentary:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QH-kNnq7mFM

A fascinating insight on what it is like to scrape by on a pittance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I was making 300,000-480,000 yen a month as a part-time English teacher in the mid-90's with private lessons. If I had applied any business ideas, such as larger classes, renting a small school and hiring teachers, branching out into business English and translation I am sure I would have done well. I took the company path, but English still is a decent way to make a good living in Japan, and will be in the future.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I left my law enforcement job in America because I didn't like the work, and because I needed to work overtime and details to earn $70k per year. Getting any higher in the department required political connections that I didn't have, and the ability to brown-nose those who had the authority to grant promotions.

At 40 years old, I gave it up. I hated the state where I lived, I hated working in a large inner city. I hated the mindless violence, the complete disregard of personal responsibility, and the people's refusal to make the necessary choices to improve their lives. I got tired of chasing the same stupid people who kept doing the same stupid things, and spent at least one-third of their time behind bars.

I sold everything, paid off my bills, and moved as far away as I could. I didn't have much money left over, but I used it to look for opportunities and finance ideas. Most of these failed, but some of them succeeded, and I am far better off financially than I ever was. My greatest regret is wasting so many years working for someone else.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I bet if I bought a barge the need for barges would suddenly drop and I would be financially ruined.

Or else the barge would just sink.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

How are bad economic conditions and lack of enough jobs for everyone the individual's fault?

I know many people with not only good and relevant skills and experience, but with many skills as well and they still struggle.

If one thinks "social darwinism" should be the social norm, then they are wishing for a society to collapse and become a 2nd or even 3rd rate nation. History shows this is always the destination when choosing that path.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Made in Japan is not the big deal in Japan.

Yes it is. Go and buy white goods or a TV from any of the big retailers and all their mid-high end products will have "Made in Japan" plastered over them to distinguish from the lowly foreign assembled items. Nihonsei is a big deal with locally made watches too, especially for Seiko who pins their reputation on it (less so Citizen).

The only area where made in Japan isn't a big deal is with vehicles, as almost all local brand models are made in Japan anyway, with a few exceptions (eg: the new Honda NSX).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ah_so - Saw this documentary some years ago, very revealing, showed an aspect of Japan most of us simply did not know existed. Almost never seem to see this sort of insight documentary on Japan, certainly not on the English language version of NHK accessible in Britain (saw it on BBC).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am 48 right now and struggling to find a job that pays a decent wage, not into working part-time for KFC, Mickey D, etc.

Same for my J-Ftiends who are 40+ no office jobs and part time is for the under 35 crowd, yet the jobs for the silver crowd don't start till you are 50+.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kanamori nets 61 million yen a year from renting out one barge?

That's all the article says about him, but there's someone of the same name who was once COO of Portek Intl, and who til last year was on Portek's board of directors.

https://www.portek.com/about-us/about-portek/

Headquartered in Singapore, Portek has offices in over 9 countries throughout Africa, Europe and Asia, with staff strength of about 2200 employees.

Portek’s unique combination of port engineering, port management and port information technology expertise has enabled Portek to ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites