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Things look bleak for Japan: Rising layoffs, AI taking jobs, crumbling infrastructure


Japan Inc is stalled and its engine trouble may be irreparable, Shukan Gendai (Dec 7-14) fears.

No one wants bad news now. It’s a happy season: ring out the old, ring in the new. And bonuses are up this year – way up, in fact; very near a peak level not seen since 1959. While spoil the celebration, as Shukan Gendai seems intent on doing? Because, it says in effect, the sober reality we’ll awaken to once the celebrating is done is very grim, and preparations to meet it, owing to incurable optimism, appear less than adequate.

The rising bonuses suggest a flourishing economy – misleadingly, the magazine claims. Citing a Nikkei Shimbun survey of 1712 major Japanese companies, it finds year-on-year profits down across the board – 14 percent overall, worth some 17 trillion yen altogether. The steepest drop is in the electronic appliance sector – down 54 percent. Chemicals are down 22 percent; automotive, 16 percent. Why? Simple: failure to adapt to rapidly changing times.

The blame generally placed on the U.S.-China trade spat is a face-saving canard, Shukan Gendai says. We’ll soon see, the superpowers having worked out a compromise. It won’t get Japan out of its rut, the magazine is sure. Consider electronics. China in particular, and other Asian nations as well, are marketing good, inexpensive computers worldwide. U.S. maker General Electric (GE) took note, saw it couldn’t compete, and got out of that sector, shifting instead to industrial software and medical equipment. Here’s a lesson Japanese firms might learn, but don’t – they plod on regardless, and suffer the inevitable consequence: growing global irrelevance.

The Japanese solution, Shukan Gendai laments, is not innovation and adaptation but “restructuring,” a euphemism for mass layoffs. Panasonic has announced ongoing restructuring through 2021. And that’s just the beginning.

The junior baby boom generation, born in the 1970s, is about to turn 50. They are in their prime, at the peak of their earning capacity – to the despair of their employers. They are vigorous and experienced – and very expensive. Eliminate them, and overhead shrinks, giving struggling corporations a bit of breathing room. Over the first six months of this year, major corporations have called for a total of 8,200 employees aged 50 and up to take early retirement. That’s the near equivalent of last year’s figure for the full 12 months. Kirin Holdings reaches down even farther – to age 45 and up. And this at a time when the government is actively promoting work to age 70 and beyond to keep the strained national pension system solvent.

There are other threats to the harassed and struggling worker. Foreign labor is one, artificial intelligence another. Leading clothing firm Uniqlo, for instance, hires half its specialized IT staff from India and one-third from China and Taiwan. As with IT, so with marketing: Japanese specialists compete not only with each other but with counterparts from all over the world.

Individuals can win that battle with diligence and training, but against AI a mere human has no fighting chance. Predictions of 40 percent to half of today’s jobs being computerized and dehumanized within a decade or two abound. “So long white collar,” says Shukan Gendai.

A separate but related issue is infrastructure. Japan’s, the magazine says, is crumbling rapidly. Transport ministry figures show 40 percent of the nation’s bridges and 31 percent of its tunnels will be 50 years old come 2021. An estimated 68,000 bridges are potentially dangerous. Reinforcement and replacement will require enormous manpower and cash. Where are they to come from? Nobody seems to know.

 2020 is mere days away. The Olympics and Paralympics are the year’s scheduled main events. Japan will shine on the global stage. National pride will soar.

It looks like Japan’s last festival, Shukan Gendai concludes bleakly.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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bonuses are up this year – way up, in fact; very near a peak level not seen since 1959

Not for the millions of non-regular / part time workers.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

More than a third of the Japanese workforce were working in non-regular positions in 2017. For that year, non-regular employees made up 37.3% of the overall workforce. According to research conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the number of non-regular employees increased to 20.4 million in total in 2017. There were 17.2 million non-regular employees aged 15 to 64 in 2017. The number of workers 65 and older with nonregular jobs rose to 3.2 million.

As Serrano notes, these employees do not receive bonuses. Or for that matter, many other benefits that regular workers enjoy.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

The infrastructure issue is definitely a time bomb. That bridge collapse in Minneapolis should be a warning to everyone worldwide that you cannot just build it and forget it. Lots of stuff was built in Japan when the economy was better, the debt was smaller, the workforce was bigger/easier to recruit, and the fossil fuels underpinning it all were more affordable. Some or all of these conditions may not necessarily hold when it's time to do maintenance or rebuilding.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

On top of the bridges and tunnels, are elevated highways, water/sewage treatment plants, power plants, dams, etc.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Reads more like a description of the US than Japan. American friends tell me that blowouts caused by potholes are a fact of life in the US. Stores of companies outsourcing their IT to India or bringing in lower cost foreign workers are a staple of Silicon Valley publications.

--More than a third of the Japanese workforce were working in non-regular positions in 2017.

Japanese regular employment is similar to US civil service or military employment. Most of US employment is contingent.

For example, it has just been announced that US Steel is dumping 1545 workers. British companies do the same thing.


These people are "regular workers." How often do you hear of large firms in Japan dumping a thousand or more regular workers at short notice?

Regular workers in the US get treated like contingent workers in Japan.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

With the Olympics on in 2020 the Government will be doing everything it can to make sure things are "looking" good, but it doesn't answer why so many Japanese are now working abroad 10 yrs ago in Australia I knew one Japanese person now they are everywhere we aren't talk high skilled employees just your everyday person.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Regular workers in the US get treated like contingent workers in Japan.

Incorrect. Sure, many are. More and more, like in Japan. And, that is a serious problem. But, plenty of employees, if not most, have full-time jobs with benefits.

In fact, it's the benefits that keep people tied to their jobs in the US, because there is no public health system in place. Lose your job, and you lose your health insurance. It's disgusting and offensive, and has no place in a modern, first-world nation.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I was driving on the west side of Biwako a few months ago. The highway there looks like it has been abandoned for years, although the road is still okay, but trees and plants grew into the road covering up road signs whose writings are barely visible. If you live in the big cities, things may look okay, but once you go outskirt, the deterioration of infrastructure is real.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Bonuses are great this year end. Things are looking great here at the moment, much better than the past decade.

-15 ( +0 / -15 )

"American friends tell me that blowouts caused by potholes are a fact of life in the US." 

OK, but do your American friends ever tell you anything positive about life in the U.S.? If so, are you skeptical about such positive assessments of life in the U.S.? If so, why are you skeptical about positive assessments of life in the U.S. but willing to accept at face value negative stories about life in the U.S.? It sounds to me like your skepticism is selective and geared towards portraying life in the U.S. in as negative a fashion as possible.

And as usual with comments like yours, what any of this has to do with life in Japan is lost on me. I suspect most Japanese don't care that life in the U.S. may be worse than life in Japan. Most Japanese seem to compare what life is like in Japan today compared to what it was like 30 or 40 years ago during the years of Japan's Cold War era "Golden Age." That is their major point of comparison.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Japanese regular employment is similar to US civil service or military employment. Most of US employment is contingent.

The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training: In Japan, the term Regular Employee is generally considered as an employee who is hired directly by his/her employer without a predetermined period of employment, and works for scheduled hours. In other words, it can be summarized as open-ended, full-time, direct employment.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent data describes 128 million US workers as full-time and 27 million workers as part-time.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Here's the, much longer, Japanese article this was based on, for those who wish to read it.


Quite a depressing read.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At least somebody in Japan knows Japan is in a severe and perpetual decline with no recovery possible.

This has been obvious to Japan observers outside of Japan, only Japanese, especially Abe supporters, didn't see it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'm an American, I live and work in Australia and China. I'd disagree with the conclusion of the article. As an example, some infrastructure may be 50 years old. And? The argument is: Bridges and Tunnels are old. Old infrastructure is decrepit. Therefore Japan has decrepit infrastructure. The conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. Firstly, old infrastructure is continuously maintained to meet regulatory standards. Secondly, China has a lot of new infrastructure - much of it is decrepit. I read this exact argument about the USA in comparison to Europe. But actual analysis showed Europeans have overbuilt and were wasteful. Their infrastructure was not superior to that in the USA. As for AI, I've yet to see "artificial intelligence" lower the employment rate in the USA once immigration was slowed there's actually a lot of work to be done. AI may end up creating a lot more better employment.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Its bleak if you are a half cup empty defeatist yes, either that or you don't think about what the world may look like in say 10 or 20 years from now. The writing is on the wall plain as day. those that read it will survive, even thrive. Those that don't, well good luck with that. I wouldn't turn around and expect any government to look after you in this coming social landscape.


1 ( +1 / -0 )

JT - Thanks for posting this story.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

VERY SORRY, it is bleak not because of all the points , U wrote. Japan has become a too greedy self serving society for their own good. i personally feel very sorry for all good Japanese people who had worked very hard.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Pundits have been writing this story for over 2 decades, and guess what,? Japan has not collapsed or disappeared. Life in Japan is generally pretty good, if not improving. Housing is better quality and more affordable than before. Infrastructure in the cities, at least, is way, way better.

year-on-year profits down across the board

The problem with that state is that 2018 was the most profitable year on record for corporate Japan. Profits are still extremely high by historical standards.

“restructuring,” a euphemism for mass layoffs. 

I'm curious to know when in recent years Japan experienced a "mass layoff," as in firing thousands of workers in a single go?? The problem is there are too many jobs, and that greed corporations won't pay more, and that's thanks to the recent "market reforms."

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What Happened to Lifetime Employment?

The Japanese study from birth to attend prestigious schools and universities to be offered lifetime employment at Japan’s Top 50 corporations. They leave for work at 7am and don’t return until midnight so they never see their kids. They must wake up at 5am on the weekends to play obligatory corporate golf, or head to the office to work, then dine out Sunday night with board members or colleagues in town on business. They only share one or two meals with their families a week! If they’re transferred to a different city or country (and they can’t say no), their families usually remain in Tokyo for their kids schooling, work, or to look after their parents They rarely take days off and don’t always take their annual one week vacation- which is always taken at the very last minute so airfare is sky high, and the good hotels are sold out. In their forties they discover their beloved company that promised lifetime employment will retire them between ages 50 - 53. The company will offer them a job at a smaller firm, with less pay and fewer benefits. A job in a completely different field that doesn’t take into account their work experience or expertise, and oftentimes require them to move to a different city so their families remain in Tokyo. An entire generation of kids raised without fathers...Mr. Salaryman, was it worth it ?
3 ( +3 / -0 )

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