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