Happy New Year, readers.
2014 is the Year of the Horse and while we are still in the grips of the cold winter, things aren’t nearly as chilly as they are in parts of America right now.
We wanted to start off the year with a little write-up of this interesting-looking and very timely documentary we heard about.
Japan’s Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis is directed by photographer and multi-media journalist Shiho Fukada and focuses on the workers who have no social safety net.
Often dubbed the Precariat overseas, the growth of this new generation of workers without lifetime employment was originally deplored as a post-Bubble, Heisei-era phenomenon. Needless to say, that was a gross simplification, as the economic heyday was built on the back of day laborers and others whose situations were very uncertain. Homelessness didn’t started in 1990.
The film looks at three main areas:
Overworked to Suicide
After the recession of the 1990′s, Japan’s white collar salarymen increasingly must work arduous hours for fear of losing their jobs. This often leads to depression and suicide.
Net Cafe Refugees
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers began using these spaces as living quarters. Internet cafe refugees are mostly temporary employees; their salary too low to rent their own apartments.
Kamagasaki, Osaka, Japan used to be a thriving day laborer’s town. Today, it is home to approximately 25,000 unemployed and elderly men, many of whom are also homeless.
As someone who used to live near Kamagasaki, I am particularly interested to see that section of the film.
It already screened in Washington DC last September at the Pulitzer Center Film Festival.
Here Shiho Fukada talks about her project in 2012 before she had finished making it.
It’s a cold time of year to be hopeless or poor in Japan (or anywhere). Here’s hoping the final film gets screened in Tokyo to raise awareness of the issues.
December 1st marks the beginning of job hunting for all college students across Japan currently in their third year of study. They are expected to graduate in March 2015, and start their jobs in the following April. Over the past few decades, many companies have either decreased the number of hires or abolished the entire recruitment system of new graduates. The new recruits who get job offers in this process are called shinsotsu (literally, “new graduates”) and in most cases considered the ultimate “winners” of a long academic competition, as they secure their seats in a company a year before actual graduation.
For them, job hunting is a continuation of the dreadful college admission system, yet the great majority start their career without knowing what to expect. Some of them end up sending their applications to more than a hundred companies, in a desperate attempt to get the offer of permanent employment which still remains the most respectable social status in Japan.
For companies, this is a great chance to pick the most potentially competent students out of hundreds of applicants. While permanent employment itself is gradually losing its appeal, as many companies can no longer afford the system, job hunting is the final stage of college education which completes four years of academic life and leads to a new start in the real world of work.
This year, some companies are taking different approaches. Dwango, a major IT company, has announced that they will charge an application fee of 2,525 yen (the amount here — nigo nigo — by the way is a pun for their video streaming service Niconico Douga) to anyone wishing to get a job in the company as a new graduate of 2015.
Why would anyone pay to get hired, you might ask. Yet this is the exact reason why they decided to charge all applicants, making sure that Dwango is the company that they really want to work for. In other words, the application fee is the first question that they face, in the long process of recruitment – is it worth the money? Am I serious enough to apply to Dwango?
In terms of physical commitment, job hunting has never been easier. With the simple click of a button, we can apply for multiple jobs at multiple companies. If the 2,525 yen fee scares away a few dozen of people who swear that they would never go near Dwango’s services ever again, that’s completely understandable. The new rule applies only to those living in the so-called metropolitan areas (the four prefectures in the Kanto region): Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. All the money collected from applicants will be donated to an organization (which has not been decided yet) that hopefully helps young students keep up their motivation to live through the recession believing there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
But the story doesn’t end here. Bark to Imagine, a startup company, has announced that they will do the exact opposite of what Dwango imposes on young applicants. Shuhei Ezaki, the company CEO, is offering a reward to “thank you for applying to such a small venture company like us”, promising to pay 2,525 yen to the first 25 applicants who make it to the first interview with him.
He says that a small startup has to call attention to itself and more importantly, the annual recruitment of new graduates is a chance for them to reevaluate their business from the perspective of someone who’s about to make one of the biggest decisions in life. Is our company worth working for?
The 25 applicants will be asked to have their pictures taken to be posted on the company website with their names. Yes, there is indeed no such thing as a free lunch, but there’s also no gain without risk either, right?
What’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever done at a part-time job? If there was such competition, we would probably never run out of participants. This past summer, we saw a great number of young part-timers posting embarrassing pictures of such acts on Facebook and Twitter. Some of them made their way to TV news and enjoyed the fifteen minutes of fame in one of the most shameful ways possible.
If they are so desperate to get people’s attention, why don’t they show off something they can be more proud of instead?
Townwork, one of the biggest recruitment sites in Japan, is now hosting an event for part-timers, calling for submissions of pictures and videos in response to the question, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever learned from your part-time work?”
They are asking for submissions that show the most unusual and extraordinary skill we have all acquired as part-timers, something that can be considered a performance to wow the audience. Viewers can click buttons to either “qualify” the submission as the best performance in Japan or “pass” it, and those who have received ten votes will get the official title and their own web page. With a hundred votes, they will get their own business cards. With five hundred votes, they will be entered into a lottery and thirty of them will be chosen to receive the pure gold business card. Voters also have a chance of winning Amazon gift certificates, provided that they have voted at least ten times.
It seems that the majority of posts so far have been submitted by celebrities, presumably for promotional purposes. This is my favorite so far.
In general, part-timers in Japan are known as the least responsible labor force due to unstable employment status (with almost no employee benefit provided) and lower wages, but it certainly doesn’t mean that their work experience is worth the least.
In general, most Japanese people are known as hard workers. While work, by definition, is something we do to make a living, the great majority of salarymen in Japan seem to consider their work to be the whole purpose of life itself. In a way, they have a rather complicated relationship with work which would probably make them all admit that they both love and hate their jobs.
Given that, perhaps it was this fear of losing oneself in work that urged two particular individuals, Sota Amaya and Shiina-neko (this is definitely a nickname but Sota Amaya could be a pseudonym too) to establish such a unique organization called Japan Extreme Going to Work Association.
Their mission is to promote the idea of finding the extraordinary out of the ordinary by encouraging people to commit themselves to the most unusual, extreme, and often tiring activities — all before going to work. They believe that such activities would distract people from harsh reality (i.e. that they have to go to work), help them relax and eventually boost morale – it’s two hours of summer vacation on a weekday morning, they say.
You might choose sightseeing, swimming in the sea or mountain climbing. A morning picnic in front of Tokyo Tower? An a.m. wander around backstreet shrines in Ginza? You’re free to do anything as long as it’s extreme enough to make you feel that you are out of touch with reality, but NOT to the point where you forget about work. At the end of the day (or maybe I should say, at the beginning of the day), you still have to get to work on time. This is ironically the most “unusual” part of this activity because no matter what you do and how you spend the couple of hours before going to work, the ultimate goal is to get to work as usual as if nothing unusual happened.
This group of people below decided to go mountain climbing before work. Their ultimate goal was not to reach the top of the mountain but to arrive at their office on time. In this kind of situation, mountain climbing is no longer a leisure activity but proof of their willingness to show just how “tough” they can be.
A few weeks ago, there was even a competition to decide the most extreme commuter in Japan. The winner of this competition boasted of his adventure to Japan’s longest stone stairway in Misato Town, Kumamoto, which consisted of 23 kilometers of bike riding from home to the site, climbing 3,333 stone steps and 30 kilometers of bike commuting to work. Sound extreme enough? Maybe.
The whole idea of extreme commuting reminds me of one TV commercial I saw a few months ago. The depiction of a working mother in this Ajinomoto’s food commercial shows yet another group of overlooked extreme commuters in Japan who never get to boast about their early morning “activities.”
On July 30th, in Yoyogi, Tokyo, a group of people gathered to talk about business. At first glance, it might have looked like a typical business conference, with more than a hundred people getting together to discuss their future business plans. Yet there was something different — a bit unusual — about the participants. They all represent the group of what has now become the most condescending word to describe people who, according to some, deserve the label of “spoiled grownups,” also known as NEET.
All participants are prospective directors of the company they are trying to establish themselves, named tentatively NEET Inc., a rather literal name for a business firm that doesn’t even have any vision of its product or service yet.
NEET stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training and often refers (negatively) to those who go about and do their own things without making money on their own. In other words, it’s another way to describe someone who CAN spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week doing nothing but still manage day-to-day survival with full access to food, clothes and shelter. Of course, everyone has the right to decide how they want to live their lives. If they have all the means to continue living a life of NEET, why would they want to change it now?
From a social perspective, however, many have criticized NEETs for bringing no benefit to society and possibly discourage otherwise “hard-working” people to question their way of life, though the definition of “hard-working people” itself is highly debatable in itself.
But there is one thing that everyone (perhaps the NEETs themselves, too) knows for sure. They could all be part of productive labor force, if someone or something could stimulate their inner desire to become one and kick them into action. This is the concept behind NEET Inc., a company-to-be, where a group of NEETs meet together to make, not find, jobs on their own.
Yujun Wakashin, the coordinator of this project, believes that many NEETs have great potential but need a little help finding a chance to explore and exercise their interest and hidden “talent.”
In the past, he hosted a recruitment event titled “Outlaw Recruitment & Geek Recruitment 2013.” The event was intended for job-seekers who had given up on getting job offers through conventional route (finding job posts, sending resumes, going to interviews in business suits etc) and corporate recruiters looking to hire some new talents.
If all things work out the way he hopes to, we will see the official launch of NEET Inc. by the end of this year.
Among many English speakers, spoken Japanese is often said to be fairly easy to learn. This is probably because conversational Japanese in large part is a language of omission which doesn’t require one to know much about grammar or sentence structure when communicating with others orally.
Writing Japanese, on the other hand, is incomparably difficult not only for non-native speakers but for the Japanese as well.
Over the past few decades, computers and smartphones have become a major device for communication, depriving us of many opportunities we used to have to handwrite just about anything. But why is it a big deal? For some (myself included), writing by hand Japanese can be an extremely fearful experience because every time we look up a forgotten kanji on the web we are reminded of the painful fact that we are getting dumber and dumber each and every day. Not only does it greatly damage our self-esteem but the latest trends show that being able to write neatly by hand is a valued skill in itself — which is why a penmanship workbook can become a bestseller in this age of digital revolution.
This particular book, Penmanship Practice Book: Become Able to Write Beautifully by Hand in 30 Days by calligrapher Suitou Nakatsuka, promises readers that they will improve their handwriting in a month. They are advised to complete a certain amount of exercise daily, starting from the most basic hiragana.
On the web, there is also this app that helps people practice their handwriting directly with their mobile devices.
First you type to specify any letters or words you want to practice and simply trace them with your finger or a stylus pen. You can also choose between either script (on the left) or cursive (on the right) style.
We should note here, though, that the penmanship (shuji)) practiced in the above book and app is different to calligraphy (shodo), which is considered more of an artistic form of Japanese writing, so there is no cultural value attached to it. Some companies, however, still ask their prospective employees to handwrite their resumes and demand that they be mailed to the office, which creates yet another occasion to showcase one’s handwriting (and by extension, their aptitude) by writing the address on the envelope as well. The assumption here is that one’s personality is somehow reflected in their handwriting.
We know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but what about our handwriting? Does the same lesson apply here as well?
If you ever think that Japan is a country of great hospitality and politeness, you should know that behind their happy face might reveal deadly diligence and sacrifice.
For a long time, the terms karoshi (death by work) and suicide have been used interchangeably in many workplaces because there no direct cause-and-effect link can be established between the alleged murderer (the company) and the deceased worker. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has set the deadly line of overtime work as either 100 hours a month or 80+ hours for two consecutive months or more. The implication here is that if an employee suffers from either mental or physical illness or both, it can be attributed to their work conditions, although the number alone cannot be a sole factor in determining whether or not such conditions are the direct cause of illness or vice versa. (For example, some people can develop such illness with less than 80 hours of overwork a month, calling for a more comprehensive review of work environments.)
To raise awareness of such labor exploitation by pinpointing the most notorious companies in existence, a group of people formed a special committee last year and decided to give an award to the most evil corporation of the year — or the Black Corporations Award.
A black corporation is defined as a company that operates its business on sweatshop practices such as unpaid overtime work, power harassment, use of violence as a means of training or discipline, or just about anything else that does not adhere to labor laws. On June 17th, the committee announced eight nominees for the 2013 (their second) award. All the nominations are made on the basis of actual public records on occupational injuries and/or illnesses confirmed by authorities.
Here are the eight nominees:
Watami Foodservice Co., Ltd (Restaurant Chain)
Cross Company Inc. (Clothing Retailer)
Benesse Corporation (Education and Publishing)
Sun Challenge Corporation (Steak Restaurant Chain)
Ohsho Food Service Corporation (Restaurant Chain)
Seino Transportation Co., Ltd (Transportation Service)
Tokyu Hands Inc. (Department Store)
Watami Foodservice was nominated for the second time in a row.
In 2008, Mina Mori, a Watami employee, committed suicide at the age of 26, just two months after joining the company — she was reportedly working 141 hours of overtime a month. While committing suicide might sound like a matter of individual choice which a company cannot be held liable for, the fact that she chose to kill herself tells us the forced mentality of a diligent worker who sought her last comfort in death.
Miki Watanabe, founder of Watami, is now running for the House of Councilors election, to be held on July 21st, with the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party. With more and more people (especially the younger generations) losing interest in politics, the only way to increase voter turnout might be to go for the elimination route, which is to vote for ones that we believe should not take office but which will then work against the votes of the worse candidate. (This was Matsuko Deluxe‘s comment in a recent TV show, though he was not referring to a particular candidate.)
Another one on the list, education company Benesse Corporation was recently reported as a company that ruthlessly encourages its employees to quit their jobs, while not using forcible methods.
In 2009, they established a new division in the company and started to send people who they want to let go. They gave them a “new assignment” — finding a new position in the company themselves. Yes, their new work was to do job-hunting within their own workplace while deprived of the most fundamental rights as company employees; they were not allowed to answer phone calls, carry business cards or access the company’s network system.
I was personally quite shocked to hear the news, because Benesse has been a leading force in the educational industry, helping millions of kids with their studies, myself included, through their correspondence education programs which to me made schoolwork less of a burden in so many ways. But maybe this is another part of the already corrupt education system in Japan.
Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the nominees attended the award ceremony last year, despite the fact that the committee had sent out the invitations to all beforehand. Will any of them be present this year when the award is announced on August 11th? If they do show up, surely they will all be welcomed with a great round of applause for their very own recognition of a well-deserved award.
April is the time of a new start. It’s the beginning of a new school year. It’s when new recruits start their first full-time jobs. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom. It’s a perfect time of a year to remind ourselves once again that there is so much to look forward to in life. But this might be just a myth.
In Japan, many college students start job hunting (shukatsu) over a year before graduation. They don’t get to find out their prospective positions or see their job description until after they get hired.
In exchange for taking this risk of not knowing what to expect, they get permanent employment which in itself seems to be the one and only respectable social status in Japan. In other words, being young and freshly out of college is the very qualification that most companies look for when hiring new recruits.
I got my first full-time job in Japan when I was 24, two years after college graduation. By definition, I was not a new graduate. I applied for the job because there was a position available. However, all the time I was treated as a new recruit whose primary duty was to get to work on time at 9 in the morning and leave quietly at 5 every day without bothering anyone around. At the interview, I was asked to deliver a speech in English, in response to what sounded like the most random question one can ask in the given situation: “Tell me about your most recent memorable experience.” While it was obvious that they simply wanted to see if I could speak English, the truth of the matter is that I did NOT get to speak a WORD of English in my job. To this day, I still wonder – did they hire me because I was “relatively” young and thus supposedly naive?
In fact, I have seen many job postings that openly declare age limits: We prefer candidates under 35, for career building purposes.
If this little comment on a job posting is not considered discriminatory, then what is age discrimination? If they have to give an excuse for only hiring people under 35, then it is strange that it doesn’t ever occur to them that there might be people over 35 who already have experience and a “career,” people who can start a job right away without any training for how a new recruit should act on the first day of work.
All problems aside, job hunting in Japan has never been this difficult, says the media.
It seems that new graduates still have room to enjoy the advantage of being young. However, the situation is certainly changing and the competition is getting tougher. While some companies have decided to completely shut the door to new graduates since they can no longer afford to train them, others have looked outside the domestic market, welcoming more and more foreign workers. In recent years, Rakuten and UNIQLO have even declared “Englishnization” of their business as a mission, in part because there is a growing number of non-Japanese employees in the workplace.
In sum, the term “job hunting” is no longer an exaggeration. We really DO need to “hunt” for it.
It’s a tough job market out there, especially in the current economic climate, with Japan recently posting a massive trade deficit.
We don’t envy people looking for work.
It’s common to have your own website to promote yourself and showcase your skills, especially if you work in the creative industries.
Right now in Tokyo we can see lots of identical-looking young men and women pattering along in their freshly bought black suits to the various corporate halls that are hiring new graduates. These Bambi-eyed whippersnappers will be in their third year of university, hoping to sliding along that well greased channel into immediate (life?) employment after they complete their final accreditations by next April.
This culture is changing slowly. Big companies are now hiring people at other times of the year and gradually having some “blips” on your resume — temping work, some time out traveling — is not the catastrophic stigmata it once was.
One inventive young gentlemen, Ryo Kikuchi, has come up with a great platform to promote himself. He created this great website called sokusenryoku.me (literally, “adaptable fighting potential” — and the top-level first person domain is surely deliberate!) to exhibit his originality.
And talk about going the extra mile — it’s a kind of exaggerated version of a personal website.
It is obviously partly tongue in cheek but the novel, comic approach itself demonstrates Kikuchi’s flair and imagination… which would surely be useful in many real jobs.
There is even a link to a booking form where you can ask for an interview with him. Check out this “exclusive interview” parody video he made too.
Kikuchi will be graduating in 2014 and we wish him the very best luck in his future career.
Recently Parisian Philippe Dubost’s fake Amazon page also went viral with its innovative style of getting employers interested in hiring him. Prospective buyers were encouraged to “order soon” as there is “only one left in stock”.