Mass despair permeates working class


“I work on an auto parts assembly line. I attach one part to another -- day after day, over and over. I learn no skill; I perform the same operation thousands, tens of thousands of times, until I begin to think of myself as a machine.”

The speaker is a 33-year-old temporary worker whose only consolation is that he is not -- for now -- unemployed. What he symbolizes, Spa! (Oct 14) seems to be saying, is no longer the plight of an oppressed but numerically small underclass, but a “citizens’ disease” that can be summed up in two words: mass misery.

Its symptoms have spread beyond the workplace. Whatever aspect of life you consider -- friendship, love, family -- despair, if Spa! is to be believed, is rampant. Here, for example, is a would-be lover’s voice: “It’s infuriating to think of all those ‘Arasa’ girls out there.” Arasa is a popular women’s magazine whose readers’ boyfriends are said to earn on average 10 million yen a year. How can that not rub salt in the wounds of a freeter -- one of a rapidly growing number of short-term part-time workers -- condemned to scrape by on 2 million yen?

To return to the workplace. “I do temp work at factories, usually for six months at a time,” says a 31-year-old man. “Often enough, I don’t get my six-month contract renewed, or else the factory suddenly shuts down. Never mind the long-term future; I can’t even plan six months ahead! It’s terrifying.”

It’s not just blue-collar workers who are in that situation. “I do the same work as a full-time employee, and yet I’m liable to be laid off any time,” complains a part-timer in the financial sector. “I’m 31 years old; I want a regular job, but employers don’t consider the part-time work you’ve done as real work. It’s as if the work I’ve done up to now has no value at all.”

In difficult times we seek the consoling warmth of friendship. It must exist, somewhere -- perhaps on another planet; certainly not the one Spa!’s interlocutors live on.

“Ever since the expression ‘KY’ started going around,” says a 27-year-old receptionist (she means “kuki yomenai,” which describes a person unable to “read the air;” in short, someone tactless and out of touch), “I’m afraid to open my mouth, for fear that what I say will be considered KY.”

“People beat up on me because I’m a public servant,” grumbles a 27-year-old municipal employee. “They say, ‘You’re living high on my tax money.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Friendship on a freeter’s pay is not easy. “When I go to a class reunion or a wedding,” says a 30-year-old, “I feel terribly inferior among all those people I used to know who got somewhere in life.” The joy of joining an old friend’s wedding celebration is dashed by thoughts of how big a chunk of his weekly wages the wedding gift consumed. “I go around with a forced smile, wondering, ‘What on earth am I doing here?’”

A cheerful neighborhood bar, surely, takes the sting out of life? Not always. Sometimes it sharpens it. “There’s this bar I go to regularly,” Spa! hears from a 31-year-old freeter. “Lately, though, everybody there seems to form couples. It’s just me and this one other loser who end up alone. The last time I went there, I opened the door and saw everyone together in couples -- I just turned on my heels and walked away.”

Yes, the nameless, faceless city is a harsh backdrop for those lacking in easy charm. Fortunately that same city is awash in commercial sex establishments and “adult videos.” But even they are a double-edged sword, Spa! finds. They soothe some people’s loneliness while amplifying others.’

“There are so many adult video actresses out there, so many sex club girls,” sighs a 24-year-old juku (cram school) teacher. “Maybe the woman I happen to meet on a given night has been one or the other, doing it with actors, or with who knows how many customers? Just the thought is enough to make me impotent. Honestly.”

© Japan Today

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Shocking news. Spend 1 min on any platform in Tokyo on any morning and you can see the tired faces of workers here. Then take a late train back on a Tuesday or early weekday and see just how many people are coming home from the office at 11, 12 or on the last train.

Wage slavery is the only phrase I can think of to describe life for many people here. They work 6-7 days a week from 8 or 9am to 10pm or later. They don't have time to see their family members or be with their kids. Family cohesion suffers, personal interests are impossible and health is even a challenge to maintain, both mental and physical.

And there is no way out. Change jobs and it will be more of the same. Stop working and fail financially. And for most Japanese they cannot escape to places with more rational work life balance. So what else is there but gambarro and despair?

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Here's some advice for Japanese people. Go and get yourself a working holiday visa for any of the countries Japan has an agreement with. Them your eyes will open up about the world, and you will be able to find yourself a reasonable job.

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Hey! 180 degree from "Top 5 contract employment myths".

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that fixes everything here doesn't it?

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Pathetic countries produce pathetic people and pathetic results.

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But you just have to feel pity for workers here too. Culturally their hands are tied. Peer pressure, social taboos against speaking out or fighting back and the social backlash of taking an different route keep a lot of people chained to their work oars. Add to that a government that simply does not see the problem or does not care, and you have something very much like institutionalized slavery.

Just how does a normal salary man escape from that other than under the wheels of a train? Answer, they can't so they turn to alcohol, hostesses and tech gadget distractions to keep themselves going. It is really sad.

What's more, alcholism is a national past time here. Try drinking yourself until you can't walk with your US co-workers and watch how many interventions for help come your way. People drink massive amounts of alcohol here to escape their pain. It is really sad.

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I don't feel pity for them at all. If they want things to change then they should do something about it! Peer pressure, social taboos, social backlash? They need to say 'Sod all that! This is MY life!' and do something about it instead of moaning.

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Let's get something straight here - Being a freeter in Japan is by and large a choice. Unless your personal situation is extreme, you have to pretty much make a conscious decision to opt-out of the rat race here. These freeters who decided to extend their childhood into their 20s are now finding, 10 years on, that maybe they didn't make the best career choice.

I remember reading an article a few years ago, perhaps on JT, perhaps on another Japan-related board (apologies on forgetting the source!). They interviewed a number of freeters who had an across-the-board disdain for their corporate peers. They were enjoying their freedom. They were quoted in the article as saying things such as "I can do what I want!", "I don't have to work overtime," and "I will never submit to a company's rules," etc.

Sounded like a good path to follow when they were 23 years old. Now, pushing 30, maybe not so much. Freeters are basically backpackers who don't have the guts to step foot outside of their home soil.

Sorry, no sympathy. It was their choice. They have to live with it.

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neverknow2. if they take a working holiday, they wont be employable upon returning to japan. working holiday for the japanese: easier said than done and done mostly by women.

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Zzonkerr. It isn't as often a choice as you imagine. A lot of the non-full time jobs out there are aweful. Plus I think we are seeing a lot of people simply short circuit from the traditional work model because they can't deal with it. This is almost like having a national depressive disorder.

And what choices do they have? Full time slavery, contract slavery, temp staff slavery or freeter work. Anyone wanting more for their lives than massive hours at work have no other choice but to do part time work just to eat and get by.

As for Japan saying Sod it and moving on. That just isn't Japanese culture. Gambaro is Japanese culture. Or the alternative, despair.

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you think salarymen have it much better than freeters, both I dead end imo, not much of a chance at having a life in either case

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It doesn't start from work in Japan... it's all about society. they can cry about it as much as they want but just try to give them a 24 hours with out the system & their laws, they will start moving around clueless with out knowing what to do next. what other people in the world call commonsense, in japan it dose not exist & the system control everything from the day you are born.

this systematic way of life has many bad points but it also getter some good points that no other country in the world has.

the big question is: dose it worth it?

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Coup d´etat, anyone?

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find a plot of land near a river; build a commune; squat; farm; fish & live of the land. civilization is not for everyone.

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onewrldoneppl: Great advice! Except for the squatting, it's almost exactly what we've done up in Niigata. No despair here.

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When hasnt despair been themotto` of the working class. This is nothing new.

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TKO and GW - Look, nobody said that working life was going to be whipped cream and gumdrops. It's hard, yes. Not a lot of fun. I pull the salaryman thing and that life is not easy. But, I do it because I have a sense of responsibility; a critical something the freeters lack. Both of you sound like your groove is avoiding work. Either that, or you guys are single and living in some gaijin house. Hate to break it to you, but, unless you hit the Lotto, you're gonna have to swallow your pride and slave away in order to give you and your loved ones food and shelter.

GW - interesting comment. If I hear you right, you say being a freeter is a dead-end, and being a salaryman is a dead-end. I hear you complaining, but I hear no solutions from you, which means you have nothing to offer but whining. You tell me the right path to take, then. Living in an urban area, what do you do? For the record, I do NOT think salarymen have it better than freeters; I am simply saying that freeters are slackers. Being a salaryman ain't that hot, but at least I can have a family and provide for them.

Sorry, you two, but as I see it, the freeters made a choice in their early 20s to opt-out of the rat race. Yeah, maybe they had a bit more fun than me when they were younger, but now, they have to deal with the cards they have. Tough.

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The Freeters and contract workers are miserable, so are the middle manager, traders, and everyone else. Not just Japan but eveywhere the global economy is a sh*%tty place and time to live. I'd share a beer with these guys and agree life is being a trained monkey to earn your crumbs even if mine happen to be a lot more than 2 million yen.

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tkoind2 I agree with your post except for the part comparing drinking here to the US. It's bad here but it was in the US too. I have dried out in Japan. Drinking till you can't walk with superiors abd peers was an everynight occurence when I was in a high level sales position in the States. It is a sad life everywhere, if you want the buck, everything else comes second.

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A land of robots incapable of independent thought. Sad.

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This is exactly the same in the US along the Rust Belt. Only difference is that in US, they rather blame others for their misery. It used to be against Japanese, but now more towards Chinese or anyone who work harder and complain less.

Unless you find a work you are compelled to do and can grow on for your whole life, anyone's life can be a misery. Too bad, even these people are too smart to totally accept the meaningless existence.

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all humans are masters of their own destiny..however for some reason many people fail to grasp this fact.

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And Japanese banks are sitting on a "mountain of cash" from household savings. So says CNN and the New York Times...but they only report what "Japanese in the know" tell them. There seems to be a huge disconnect from this story and what you read about Japan's banks.

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Wage slavery isn't just a Japanese problem. This is not so different from workers on low wages in other industrialised countries. How many people come home exhausted every night for a salary that barely covers their basic expenditure? They don't have enough money or spare time for a social life and no hopes for the future.

At least in the EU we have the European Working Time Directive. Japan desperately needs to enforce a similar legislation. I can't see it happening in my lifetime though.

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Sad pathetic Japan.

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Wage slavery? Pfft.

Try: "If you sleep through school and don't bother to acquire any useful skills, it shouldn't come as a big surprise when your only job options involve something repetative and boring."

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interesting comment. If I hear you right, you say being a freeter is a dead-end, and being a salaryman is a dead-end. I hear you complaining, but I hear no solutions from you, which means you have nothing to offer but whining. You tell me the right path to take, then


ok you asked here it is, find some way to be self employed. I landed on these rocks in 1991 by 1996 i was self employed, I live out Narita way in what Japanese call a beso, I drive leasurely less than 30min to my office, I also work from home, I work year round, any time any place, no set hours I do all the admin work & my job is physically demanding as it involves logistics so my hands also get dirty, I dont wear suits so can work in shorts & T-shirts in summer.

Bottom line is I work hard & SMART & make decent money have a nice home large garden, enjoy a few hobbies, grow lots of my own veggies. Had friends over today & we BBQed, enjoyed good food & company.

My life is good but I damn well planned & work for it EVERY DAY, but I wud never go back to being a salaryman because its more deadend now than ever, same for freeters(but at least they have some more freedom).

ok there is yr solution, what ya gonna do.

BTW I know nothing is forever but again I WUD NOT ever be a salaryman, I wud rather try to become a rice farmer than put the suit on. OK thats harsh & a little over the top, but my point is valid for the vast majority crusing the yamanote line!

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Auto assembly line, there you go, maybe your job period is causing despair, not other issues.

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The root of the problem is that "shikata ga nai" attitude drilled into people from birth.

So now we have a nation of people who don't stand up to these companies who force illegal labor.

I am a foreign worker in Japan disgusted at how my rights are abused by the system.

For example, all people in Japan including foreign workers have to enter shakai hoken, which is really expensive, about 2,3 man en a month.

To offset this expense, companies are required to pay shakai hoken for their full time workers. However all temp workers in Japan are excempt from coverage. This includes 95% of foreign workers because our visas are short term, despite renewing it year after year.

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Mass despair permeates working class.

Hah! Love it. Best headline this year.

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moonbeams, foreigners like you and all the Japanese temp workers can enter Kokumin Hoken (National Health Insurance) regardless your employment status.

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yes, and I have entered. The problem is that I pay 100% on my own. Companies should be paying for it.

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