“Hiroshi Nishiyama” (all names in this story are pseudonyms) was working part-time for a food processing plant when coronavirus struck. He’s 46, single and living with his parents. His needs are few, his wants minimal. His 150,000-yen-a-month pay, wretchedly inadequate under other circumstances, sufficed for him. He liked his job, and even more the free time it allowed him. He’d work his four-hour early-morning shift, and the rest of the day was his.
The state of emergency declared last March derailed him. His company sold prepared bentos to schools and offices. As they closed, his workload fell. His hours were reduced. What if he were laid off altogether? At his age, once unemployed could mean permanently unemployed.
His story is part of a report by Spa! (Feb 16) on “corona job change hell.” Nishiyama appears in it as an exception. Things worked out rather well for him. A neighborhood gas station was looking for a full-time night-shift staffer. Nishiyama applied. Luckily, back in high school, he’d obtained a license to handle dangerous materials. He got the job. He now earns 350,000 a month.
A more typical story is “Ken Kimura.” All his life he’d been interested clothes, fashions. The job he landed fresh out of school suited him perfectly. It was part-time and low-paying – 200,000 a month – but in a clothing store, in rural Iwate Prefecture. He’s 34, married, no children. Low cost of living and modest ambitions, combined with an agreeable work environment, can make for a happy life. Kimura was happy. Then came the virus, the emergency, the abrupt layoff: “Your services are no longer required.” The world went black before his eyes.
It was so sudden. What was he to do? Depression set in before he could start to think seriously. Finally he pulled himself together. He’d better start job-hunting.
That’s always painful – doubly so during an epidemic. Iwate back then had zero infections. “I didn’t want to be the first,” he tells Spa! – and so he confined himself to remote searching. He found something – part-time work in a smartphone shop. His knowledge was thin, his qualifications non-existent, but there was the opening, and he took it.
He floundered through his days. The virus drove sales down. His boss was irritable. “I was always getting chewed out,” he says. There was in addition the constant fear of infection as he dealt with customers face to face. His depression deepened. He quit. What next?
This part-time job, that part-time job, each more short-lived than the last. He’s now making 900 yen an hour at a cell phone repair depot, hoping eventually to be taken on full time. “All I’m asking,” he says, “is for a little stability in life.”
“Reimi Tajima,” 29, was a nurse. The hospital she worked at did not admit coronavirus patients, but did provide PCR testing for infection, and besides, any patient coming in – she worked in the emergency ward – was a potential risk, as she was well aware, perhaps hyper-aware. Other nurses were quitting but she was determined not to. She had chosen her line of work, and loved it. But it was all growing too much – the increased work load, long hours, the impossibility of any family or social life, and the constant fear of infection. She cracked at last under the strain. She quit – with tears in her eyes, thinking of her lost career and of the burden her absence would impose on her colleagues.
She signed up with a job dispatch agency and became a temp worker, taking whatever short-term office work turned up. As a full-time nurse she’d earned 480,000 yen a month. Now she makes 280,000.
“I didn’t quit because I wanted to,” she stresses to Spa! She dreams of going back to what she feels is her true profession. With an anti-corona vaccine here at last, she may soon be able to.© Japan Today