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Women sinking into poverty face bleak future

46 Comments

It’s early morning rush hour. Everyone’s off to work. Yumi, 27, is among them but not, in spirit, with them. She’s also hurrying along, but the establishment she ducks into is not an office but a Net café. For 1,000 yen – the special “day use” rate – she can sleep more or less undisturbed until evening. “Compared to a hotel, it’s pretty cheap,” she says.

She’s been living like this for five years, one of a growing underclass Spa! (May 19) calls “the invisible homeless.” Spa!, a persistent observer of deepening poverty amid Japan’s tentative economic resurgence, focuses here on women. Roughly one-third of all women living alone, the magazine says, sink into poverty.

Hardest hit, arguably, are single mothers, but most of the women Spa! profiles are either childless or not assuming responsibility for their children. Among the latter is Yumi.

She was 18 when she gave birth – “so the child would be nine now.” Unmarried, she left the baby with her parents and drifted to Tokyo. What she expected to find there she doesn’t say; anyway, she didn’t find it. She tried sex work but couldn’t adjust to one of its main premises: you don’t choose your partners, they choose you. She does occasional dating club and hostess bar work, and survives, barely, by living as stripped-down a life as a big city allows. She has 3,000 yen on her, and nothing anywhere else. Everything she owns that’s not in the bag she carries is in a train station coin locker.

She’s not happy. The marks on her wrists and neck suggest failed suicide attempts.

Satomi, 31, does office work but earns little more now than she did 10 years ago fresh out of school – 140,000 yen a month. You can live on that in Tokyo – barely. Half her income goes into rent. “My friends were all finding other jobs, but I had no skills, no confidence. Suddenly I woke up to find I’m past 30.”

She likes her work and her company’s atmosphere, but the hand-to-mouth living is wearing her down. What can she do? Nothing – except, maybe… get married?

The idea occurred to her; she dismissed it but it kept coming back. If nothing else, it was a way out of the rut she was in – quite possibly the only way out. Having talked herself into it, she now devotes all her free time and her meager savings to “konkatsu” (literally “marriage activities”) – organized gatherings of various sorts for eligible singles. We wish her luck, and join her in the hope that something comes of it.

Mayu, 45, is a florist. After 15 years she was made store manager. It’s a nice title, but work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week nets her a mere 180,000 yen a month. “I like my work,” she says, “but things are very tight, and beyond this there’s no hope of upward mobility.”

She’s single, does not see marriage on the horizon, and is starting to feel her age. She’s tired in ways she never used to be. “I started taking weekends off and was getting a bit more relaxed; then somebody quit, so I’m back to six days again.”

She looks into the future and is filled with anxiety. “What’ll I do,” she wonders, “10 years, 20 years from now, with no energy and no money?” It’s a question many people are asking themselves.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

46 Comments
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It's no wonder Japan leads the youth (aged 15 to 40) suicides in the world. The poor people are the young ones with no futures.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Almost anyone who sinks into poverty has a very hard if not impossible time of ever recovering. There are only a few first world industrialized countries where this is not so.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan's not "dying", however, it is clearly contracting. There is a difference.

The population in the 1940s was around 70 million, if it ends up back at that point - with all the benefits of the wealth and technology existing today on the foundations of Japanese culture as a whole - it'll be a more pleasant place to live in.

That's on a par with the UK which is hardly "dead".

People tend to become too exaggeratedly apocalyptical about this change.

Hopefully we will be able to clear away an equivalent 40% to 50% of the junk properties, have larger homes and gardens.

Women's position and the status of temporary workers needs to be resolved. Thank the Bush-Koizumi love affair for that.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan is definitely dying. Wait for more private universities to fold.

But on that note, it's also sad that so many people went to junior colleges and university to still end up with low wages.

Also more people could either live at home with their parents, or share accommodation with others.

As for the 18yr old, if we had a system where 18 year old single mothers lived comfortably without working - then we'll see a lot more 18yr old girls getting pregnant. It's pretty much a given that this girl will have a tough time.

For those of us who were here in the 80's, it's just amazing the way this place has changed.

The only thing that hasn't changed is women wanting to latch onto a guy with a good income so they can live the good life as a housewife.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

She’s not happy. The marks on her wrists and neck suggest failed suicide attempts......There has to be a safety net..... My criticism of the UK dependency on the welfare state does not suggest there shouldn't be provision for the most vulnerable.... It is where to set the balance...

It is right to criticize our politicians whoever, wherever. Abe san is no shrinking violets, a career politician, democratically elected, Abe san expects to be challenged on the rhetoric.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Abe government also is primarily helping the big corporations (who generally discriminate against women) instead of smaller businesses.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The global economy is not very sound. Former industrial leaders have moved into undeveloped nations for cheap labor. It's not passed onto the consumers it's an increased profit margin move. Why in the world we have allowed China to become a major industrial power is beyond me. They (the leaders) are not friendly to the region and further. All inning with Russia it seems. Russia being another power which the world would be better off without.

Return good paying jobs to the consumer nations and life standards could improve.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This is not just the women but the whole society is facing the low income problem, when we look around to other countries in asia pacific and middle east their per capita income went up, while in japan it came down and the future looks more disappointing, the huge debt, the low birth rate,tough trade competition in the world and the refusal of the japanese politicians for change painting even more gloomy picture.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nathalie's advice is good, but easier said than done. There must a way to reach out to people like this - to make them aware that they have alternatives.

In some countries there is a tradition of local charity that help many people like these ladies. Somehow I am not well versed on this type of thing in Japan. In many cases there are substance abuse issues involved that are very difficult to overcome. It doesn't appear to be any of that here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@25years in Japan

Surveys show that the USA is just as bad as Japan but at least your food and other products are much cheaper

Actually, food and other products in the US are no longer much cheaper (maybe they were '25years' ago...). Of course it depends on the actual product, but in general I was surprised on a recent trip to the US how expensive it's gotten, not just in dollar terms but especially when looking at it through the 120yen/dollar exchange rate.

Restaurants- generally more expensive in US and you then need to tip.

Food- most staple products (grains, veg, sugar, oli, etc) are comparable to J-prices, but junk food is cheaper in US (though even that is getting pricier).

Transport- long haul definitely cheaper in US but more expensive (or non-existant) for local public transport. Also, its worth remembering that J-companies pay for commuting costs and this is unheard of in the US, which is also a significant part of some people's income.

Rent- this is almost incomparable. It is literally impossible to get a basic, old, run-down one bedroom or even one room apartment in most major US cities for less than $1000/month but nice new places abound in central Tokyo for such prices (remember, that's 120,000yen) and can even be gotten for half that amount. In NYC, San Fran, DC, LA you need to raise that bar to $2000+. Yes its cheaper if you are 1 hour out of downtown, but then in the US you need to pay commuting costs.

Consumer goods -again, depends on product, but prices are pretty similar if comparing major shared chains like Ikea, H&M, or Forever21, (but Uniqlo, Muji, and Montbell are more expensive in the US). I will say though that the US has more sales/discounts. But the 100yen shops are utterly amazing compared to the dollar stores.

Cars (both new and used) are mainly cheaper in Japan. Basic insurance (shaken) is also cheaper, but extended coverage is comparable. Gasoline though is bout half the J price and highway tolls in the US are few, but I was surprised to see that the bridge tolls into NYC are now $14.

Health care- this is even more incomparable than rent.

Overall, I was amazed that so many people could live with a low income. Life must be hard getting by and I feel for you @Patrick Kozak.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

New Zealand has a good system I agree, what Japan needs to do is ensure fair enforced labour standards as at present tgey have laws, but unenforced ones.

The main issue is unpaid overtime, forced overtime and the minimum wage being too low.

You see many men and women just getting by these days unable to save because of a system tgat has unenforced labor laws and allows employers to get away with paying peanuts...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@tontou, there are stories behind those homeless men and women in poverty. For one, the govt is kind to people who are laid off hence they are allowed to apply for govt housing even if single. On this premise, there shld never be homeless people. But as it is, there are stories behind those homeless people so they just stay like that until perhaps death and to those women who are under the poverty line they , too, have untold stories. In between the now and then, they've probably wasted a lot of money, a lot of their energies, wasted a lot of emotions and relationships. Frankly Iam poor too but maybe on the poverty line even if I work for 10 to 13 hrs each day since I have to share my earnings back home. Staying poor because unskilled is no excuse since the govt has skill building programs where one can receive allowances around10 man for several months and augment it by working for 3- 4hrs everyday. No need to blame the govt nor PM Abe. The raise in tax was already in plan long before PM Abe came into power. And one of the reasons is the increase of welfare recipients and applicants who are just content in receiving alms!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Patrick KozakMay. 23, 2015 - 05:25PM JST Does any commenter live in the US ?? What do you think is happening everywhere. I just passed 10 years at my factory with no raise ever, at 11 an hour, that's 1400 a month,, welcome to Soylent Green,,, its not a just Japanese problem

Patrick, I am not American but I certainly sympathise with you. Surveys show that the USA is just as bad as Japan but at least your food and other products are much cheaper.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How about the other half of the same problem? The majority of the homeless are men.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Simply, a lot of people, men and women both, lack the confidence and knowledge to climb out of a rut. People aren't taught the needed skills by their parents (who may have even helped crush their confidence) or buy schools (which never teach the basics of staring a business, managing money, self improvement, etc.).

If a child depending on you isn't enough of a motivation, then I really can't imagine what could help. For the others, they need to learn new ways of thinking, about themselves and their potential.

Nathalie's advice is good, but easier said than done. There must a way to reach out to people like this - to make them aware that they have alternatives.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I agree with whoever said there is an atmosphere of hopelessness here. The rules that worked for Japan in the past simply dont work anymore, but people are slow to change and still feel bound by them. Miserable, abusive marriage? You have to gaman. Cruddy job? But you must stay because loyalty is important. Even if its one way. Holiday days stacking up? But you mustnt take them - how would that look? Entitled to benefits? But claiming them would be shameful. Better to starve.

Satomis comment is particularly telling: "I have no skills, no confidence". I have met so many women in Japan so completely down on themselves. Theyve been raised to feel they are worthless.

Lets take the three examples: Yumi - what is stopping her from getting a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop? Shes in Tokyo. There is plenty of work there. Low wage but it would still be an improvement on what she has now.

Satomi - get a better job! Ask your employer for a raise, or some training. Network. Get out there. Yes you are shy, lacking in confidence. So fake it till you make it. No one can help you except you.

Mayu - set up your own business. Hire someone new to take the pressure off.

And for all 3 - there are many like you out there - get together, start a group, pool your resources. Live together, share an apartment, help each other out. Become each others family. Oh. Thats right. Japanese dont share rooms and apartments....

I find it amazing that in a country as supposedly developed as Japan these old ways of thinking that keep the population down still perpetuate.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

@Jimizo

Criticizing the leadership of any country for allowing the gaps between rich and poor to widen to the extent that those 'who play by the rules' can't afford a reasonable standard of living is justified

Basically, I agree with you. But people should be more active in not only critisizing their governments, but in doing something for themselves. Just look at the first girl in the article, Yumi. Is it the government's fault that she dated a dude who knocked her out and run away? Is it government's fault that she tried no work but prostitution and hostess? Damn, try something decent, just normal OL work, even part time at convinience store would be good for starters.

@SenseNotSoCommon

You have data to support this myth that Japan remains (as was once the boast) a middle class country?

A couple of yeas ago I read an article which said that 80 percent of Japanese considered themselves middle class. I can try to find according data, but by your wording ("myth") I see that it would be pointless, you already have your opinion. Enjoy it.

@BurakuminDes

Women having to hope for a wealthy husband to escape poverty - in a supposedly "modern" G7 nation in 2015? What a shameful and discriminatory idea.

Have you read the article carefully? It is not MY idea. Especially for you, an extracts from the article:

What can she do? Nothing – except, maybe… get married? The idea occurred to her; she dismissed it but it kept coming back. If nothing else, it was a way out of the rut she was in – quite possibly the only way out.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Asakaze:

These women, at least in theory, can (and they hope) to find a wealthy husband as a way out of poverty.

Women having to hope for a wealthy husband to escape poverty - in a supposedly "modern" G7 nation in 2015? What a shameful and discriminatory idea.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@ Asakaze- third world countries? Have-nots? LoL. Japan Inc created the "high maintenance lifestyle" for J-gals. The comparison is getting very slim.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Asakaze,

In Japan the difference between "havs" and "havenots" is still rather small in comparison to other countries.

You have data to support this myth that Japan remains (as was once the boast) a middle class country?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

In Australia 15.95 is the minimum hourly rate for both male and female. On top of that Hourly rate 10 % of that hour rate 1.60 per hour go into Super plus your medical is free. Single mother on minimum wage get a concession card which allows for very cheap public transport and free car tax and rent subsidiary . Income tax of the Minimum rate is about 12%. Really this should be better for Japan minimum wage rate seeing that they are a member of the G7. . 15.95 per hour is what Macdonalds workers are pay in Australia and the service is bad.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It sucks the only "good" jobs are AV idol, hostess bar girl and Soapland girl

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Does any commenter live in the US ?? What do you think is happening everywhere. I just passed 10 years at my factory with no raise ever, at 11 an hour, that's 1400 a month,, welcome to Soylent Green,,, its not a just Japanese problem

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"And I can't understand the emphasis on "the women plight" in this article. These women, at least in theory, can (and they hope) to find a wealthy husband as a way out of poverty. What about plight of men, who hang on in the same circumstances, but without even a hope of catching a wealthy wife?"

An interesting point! It still seems that in Japan women hope to improve their financial situation in life by getting married and this is certainly implied by some of the women mentioned here. If they expect some guy to "rescue" them from their predicament they first have to think about what they themselves will bring to the relationship. It is not a one way street.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Was the situation really any better before Abe came in? Not an Abe fan but what we are seeing here comes from further back than him. If Abenomics is really bad though, the future is going to be a lot worse than now.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Abenomics! Making Japan better for women, just as he said.** this has been happening long before Abenomics came along

1 ( +4 / -3 )

She was 18 when she gave birth – “so the child would be nine now.” Unmarried, she left the baby with her parents and drifted to Tokyo.

What I hear from a lot of young single mothers nowadays is they are fine to have a baby by someone and not continuing the relationship with them. It used to be the man who would leave the woman and child behind. Now it is getting to become the woman getting rid of the man as if single motherhood is no biggie.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

If the people truly cared they would fix it. Democracy after all isn`t it?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

the government doesn't just magically send you money you deserve if you don't ask for it

Yes, it does. Every December.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

'Oh, God, here again, "let's Abe (or Japan)-bashing commence!!".'

Criticizing the leadership of any country for allowing the gaps between rich and poor to widen to the extent that those 'who play by the rules' can't afford a reasonable standard of living is justified. I make a point of being more critical of my own country than anyone else's and the UK is now shelling out much more money in benefits to those who are working rather than the layabouts the right love to rail against. Japan is still lagging behind countries like the US and UK in terms of inequality but with Abe in charge you can rest assured the gaps between the rich and poor will continue to widen.

Rather than talking about 'Japan bashing' or basking in the complacency of Japan's less feral capitalism, I'd be very concerned about the direction Japan is headed. It isn't heading for a nice place for the majority.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Part of Abe's "beautiful Japan" for women, I guess.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Many men also are also slipping into poverty. Japan is a dying country. The motors have been cut and we are running on momentum but that is going to end in about 10 years. It's going to get ugly, folks.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Is it that different for men and young students? I doubt it as man struggle yo find a job if they over 40, pert work usually prefer young and hardly look at appp Icants 40-35.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Oh, God, here again, "let's Abe (or Japan)-bashing commence!!". While I sympathise with these women, I should say that literally tons of such stories can be found in every country, even most advanced and prosperous. A lot of such women live at Switzerland, Denmark, UK, US or France. That is the ugly side of capitalism - some people have a lot, a lot of people have nothing. In Japan the difference between "havs" and "havenots" is still rather small in comparison to other countries.

And I can't understand the emphasis on "the women plight" in this article. These women, at least in theory, can (and they hope) to find a wealthy husband as a way out of poverty. What about plight of men, who hang on in the same circumstances, but without even a hope of catching a wealthy wife?

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Very disheartening. Can one-third of all women living alone being in poverty be accurate?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

While I can't say the government and/or society does much to empower women, I would wonder if there is an ignorance situation for many of the poverty stricken ladies at play here.

Firstly, the single mother with the kid at her parents house should be getting child support by her local government of about 150,000+yen per month (different amount with each location but only by a couple mahn at most).

Secondly, tax withholding is automatic in Japan if you aren't self employed and most people have no idea what they should actually be paying. The tax removed from one's paycheck by their company is calculated on a monthly basis to be more than enough to cover what one owes, and always skewed to the government's favor. For example, if you make 150,000 per month usually (1,800,000/year), but one month out of twelve you put in crazy overtime and get 250,000, then for that month you are taxed a higher percentage as if you are suddenly making 3,000,000/year, even though at the end of the year you net just 1,900,000. Yes, you should get that extra tax you paid back, but very, very few people file a tax return in Japan, and no, the government doesn't just magically send you money you deserve if you don't ask for it (also the case with the single mom stipend).

Third, one's pension, health insurance, and local tax is calculated based on what you earn as taxable income, and someone with such a low income (140,000/month) should be able to claim deductions -if they did their tax return- to the point that those other taxes aren't a burden (or even non-existent).

Fourth, the woman at the florist should be getting sweet overtime pay, not to mention that she should be getting lots of paid vacation (I assume she's been there for 7+ years so is entitled by law to get 20 paid days off per year. If not, she should be reimbursed for these untaken days in the form of payment by her employer). It seems she doesn't.

And lastly and most problematic, even if people know all this (I've pointed it out to friends, co-workers, and even people here at JT) people have such an apathetic outlook that they never do anything about it. They've already given up and prefer to be disillusioned, even when there are options to be otherwise. They feel un-empowered. They see making an application for financial support or a tax deduction as feeble characteristic, as if unspokenly pressured by society, their company, and/or themselves to not utilize what they deserve. This takes effort of a different kind but again, they've already given up. If there is one thing that unifies these people here it isn't their gender or pay scale, its their sense of futility. And that's the thing, because even men feel this way, even people earning more feel this way, even foreigners feel this way.

So if someone wants to complain about the government (hey, I'm no fan of Abenomics) they should first realize that there is already a vast system of social welfare, employee rights, government funded job training, government housing and various tax reducing options already out there, but few care to learn about it, and even fewer ever utilize it. So I ask, is this really the government's fault then?

10 ( +12 / -2 )

@25 years in Japan Good post. I shudder to think what things are going to look like for women and men joining the workforce in ten years time in many developed countries.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Japan really needs to start breaking down the "rules" in society and employment. There are ridiculous unwritten rules such as, only hire new graduates, only hire men, don't hire anyone after 40 and so on and so on. If these were done away with, a lot of people's lives and prospects would improve greatly. Japan is it's own worst enemy in many aspects. That, and maybe pay people a livable minimum wage.

Finally, in the case of "Yumi", not getting herself knocked up at an early age would've improved her lot in life substantially. She may have abandoned the kid already, but even if she isn't assuming any responsibility for the kid now, she would have at the start. This is a huge burden to any young, unqualified person.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Rik314May. 23, 2015 - 08:52AM JST Blaming Abe is pointless and jumping on that bandwagon. I am not fan of his but this problem is not of his creation, though he may not be helping.

... not of his creation? Are you kidding?

He raised tax by 3% - which created a ripple effect that has raised food prices by more than 10% across the board.

He blatantly protects energy companies that are completely irresponsible, passing on the cost of their mismanagement to taxpayers while passing laws that allow them to increase their prices by more than 1.4% in the last two years. And salaries in Japan?

Abe talks about raising salaries, but has shown no willingness to prosecute "black" companies and is pushing to increase the limit on the legally dubious "part-time" designation (which allows employers to avoid paying pension and medical aid contributions, instead passing these costs on to employees for a net decrease in the income of people earning the lowest salaries) from 5 years to 10 years.

... so don't come here with this "not of his creation" nonsense. Abe and his LDP are clearly and directly responsible for making life MUCH more difficult for the poorest of Japan's citizens while making the rich even richer. And since Abe falls into the "rich" category his motives are pretty transparent.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

This is on the same subject, published earlier this year i believe. Net Cafe Refugees | Japan's Disposable Workers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5bVWzTyJ7E

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's just not women who are ending in poverty in Japan. Anyone who is working the Japanese minimum wage is in poverty. Recent news - Australian minimum wage workers earn more than any other developed country according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, $15.96 ( Japanese Yen 1,500 app ) per hour after tax and other deductions.

New Zealand is not far behind. Take in to account that most goods and produce in these countries are far cheaper than Japanese. I consider Japan a third world country. I ask anyone who would be against a higher minimum wage in Japan, would they want to live on Yen 120,000 or so per month ?

Take in to account that a person has to pay out of their wage ( if they can ) pension payments, tax and health insurance. Does not leave much to live on. By the way, NZ monthly pension is much higher than the Basic Japanese one also.

I know that in New Zealand, everyone receives a government pension funded through the normal tax collection system. And why not ? It's everyone's taxes that pay for it. Public hospitals are free, there is an accident compensation system funded by the business sector. Sure, there are some things that are more expensive in NZ and Aussie, but overall a person can live a better life.

New Zealand GST, the equivalent of the Japanese consumption tax at 15% is higher but at least people get something back for it. Japan takes a lot of various taxes on cars, property etc., but gives little back to it's citizens.

Surely, can't the government see that raising the minimum wage in Japan would result in people spending more money and the government would reap more tax. Prices of some goods might increase but the benefits would far outweigh this.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Japan ranks 134th out of 188 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranking of female parliamentary representation, compared with Saudi Arabia at 76.

Women in Japan are an endangered species.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

She’s single, does not see marriage on the horizon.

Seems to be the plight for a lot of japanese, both men/women.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Blaming Abe is pointless and jumping on that bandwagon. I am not fan of his but this problem is not of his creation, though he may not be helping. Laws change but the expectation of Japanese society was and still largely is that women either do menial jobs or be at home and raise kids/husband and care for the elderly parents. It is a hard notion to remove quickly from deep culture. One thing I have found though is that Japanese women, and I know many through my work, are streets ahead of males on average. They could be a great and serious political influence if they get organized and politicized, and that may yet happen.

13 ( +18 / -5 )

Abe's third arrow?

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Abenomics! Making Japan better for women, just as he said.

12 ( +17 / -5 )

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