“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