Books on politics are rarely runaway bestsellers. But it does happen. The success of one written by freelancer Shizuka Wada in collaboration with Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan rep Junya Ogawa is explained in part by its very lengthy title: “If My Hourly Pay Never Rises Above Minimum Wage, is it My Fault? I Asked a Diet Member.”
Wada’s plight – for it’s her own situation she’s describing – is so widespread, explains Spa! (Nov 9-16), that its audience was ready-made.
Now 56, Wada began professional life 30-odd years ago as a freelance writer specializing in music and sumo. Things went well until they began to go badly – her market sagged. To survive she took a part-time job at a plant producing onigiri rice balls. Wage: minimum. Job security: shaky. The coronavirus pandemic hit and she was laid off. It’s not just me, she thought: “My plight is Japan’s.” What would her Diet rep have to say? She decided to ask him
Ogawa, who represents Wada’s home base of Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, was welcoming. Their talk flowed – and became the book.
It ranged over the myriad social problem Japan faces – rapid aging, shrinking economic growth, career-based employment giving way to part-time jobs that lead nowhere and pay little (40 percent of Japan’s current work force is employed part-time), and a social safety net that doesn’t come close, argue Spa! and Wada, to meeting the growing need for it.
Japan alone among developed countries, OECD research cited by Spa! shows, has seen wages stagnate over the past 30 years. They have risen in Germany, England and France; soared in the U.S., and in Japan are almost exactly what they were in 1990 – on average, 4 million yen a year. Many part-timers survive on half that.
Wada translates this into concrete terms. Fifty years ago, she says, 5 percent of an average household income sufficed for rent or mortgage payments. Now it’s 25-30 percent.
Fifty years ago – and 40, and 30 – the vast majority of employment was full-time and, for men at least, lifelong. Lifetime employment was the first casualty of the financial crash of the 1990s. Employers, feeling pinched, curtailed hiring. Such jobs as were available were overwhelmingly part-time, producing a “lost generation” of which Wada counts herself one. That lost generation, now in deep middle age, faces an old age of near-zero savings and helpless despair.
Aging and destabilizing economic change are common to all developed nations, though Japan’s aging outpaces the rest of the world’s. European countries, Wada points out, have expanded their safety nets accordingly; Japan, she says, hasn’t. Japanese government support for essentials like housing and education, she tells Spa!, is less than half Germany’s and Britain’s.
People are being driven into the streets. It’s a cold welcome they receive there. Mention is made of the apparently random murder last November of a homeless woman at a bus stop in Shibuya. She was “an eyesore,” the alleged killer reportedly told police.© Japan Today