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