A work-related story from Japan I came across that I like to write about out of personal affinity. It’s about regular full-time employment known as Seishain (正社員・せいしゃいん) or Seishokuin (正職員・せいしょくいん) and part-time employment, referred to with the English loanword Paatotaimu (パートタイム) or its abbreviated version, Paato (パート).
Having some working experience under my own belt in the country, I’m always interested in topics related to work and developments, even though there are obviously more fun activities to do in Japan 😉.
I didn’t Aim For Gods, but sometimes I caught myself playing with the thought of becoming a ‘Japanese’ salaryman (サラリーマン) 💼. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish though, not for a native Japanese, not less so for a foreigner as the story will show. So I had to stick to ‘full-time’ part-time jobs during my stay. What this means and what’s it all about with the part-timers (パートタイマー; パートさん; 短時間で働く人; 短時間労働者) in Japan anyway? Well, here is my latest article:
The idea for this article came from the below Manga no Koragazou (漫画のコラ画像・まんがのこらがぞう; Manga image montage by adding own text) strip with Mr. Freeza (フリーザ; Frieza in English) in the main role. Who would be more suitable than this mean manga antagonist to hammer in the content of this message and they like to hammer 🔨 well in Japan. A socio-related expression that can be often heard, is Deru Kui Wa Utareru (出る杭は打たれる・でるくいはうたれる), or the nail that sticks out ought to be hammered in, applying to those who are not conform with social norms, to which theoretically also the freeters may count because they evade their expected share of contribution to society from a public kind of viewpoint, so it seems.
Popular as they are, manga characters are often used in Japan to convey messages of any kind because the audience tends to engage more with topics, since it’s commonly acquainted with the characters. So Freezer is possibly just as effective, especially with this generation of youngster, like any human instructor could be in bringing across the point. Succinct, but efficient. Albeit this is a ‘photo-montage’ somebody came up with, also the Japanese government has officially resorted to manga to raise awareness among the populace, for instance with Golgo 13’s Japanese Safety Manual for Abroad. The freeter pictory in the Dragon Ball setting below discusses the differences between permanent employment and part-time employment, which I’m going to further illuminate right after the picture slides.
There has been a fairly recent change by the Kouseiroudoushou (厚生労働省・こうせいろうどうしょう; Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) and Nihon Kinnenkikou (日本年金機構・にほんねんきんきこう; Japan Pension Service) to regulations concerning people who worked less than 30 hours per week and were not covered by the national insurances, the Kouseinenkinhouken (厚生年金保険・こうせいねんきんほけん; welfare annuity insurance) and Kenkouhouken (健康保険・けんこうほけん; health insurance). With the amendment, the scope of insurance coverage has expanded, including now workers that work less that time, but above 20 hours, in other words also freeters. This is a favorably development, nonetheless in terms of one’s own Jinseisekkei (人生設計・じんせいせっけい・life plan/perspectives) one should think twice of becoming a freeter or any kind of part-timer. But let’s rewind first and start from the beginning…
… but wait, didn’t I just forget something important?! Oh yes, what’s a freeter at all!? – Before going into the Manga Koragazou, for the reason of completion I ought perhaps to explain the term Freeter (フリーター) a bit more because before I went to Japan I didn’t know it either.
The general perception is young people subsisting on part-time work for their livelihood. The coined word as it exists, is an abbreviation and a Japanese 3-word-construct made up of the English word ‘free’ (i.e. in free time), the German word ‘Arbeiter’ meaning worker and the suffix ‘-er’, which means the same in both languages for people, who are doing something, in other words ‘(Do)ers’.
As there was no appropriate definition at first, when the coinage first appeared in the mid 80’s the image was fairly broad, encompassing the conception of young people and doing a form of part-time work. Nowadays it defines people between the ages of 15 to 34 that fulfill the conditions of being either called part-timer by nature of the jobs they perform at the workplace or are currently Mushoku (無職・むしょく; unemployed), neither in education nor running an own household, but wish to do Arubaito (アルバイト; side job), another loanword widely used to describe part-time work.
Freeters can be unemployed, but they are not to be mixed up with Neeters or NEET (ニート; young people not in education, employment or training), a name sounding alike and often occurs in the same context. While freeters are considered a form of irregular employment, neeters don’t do any work at all nor do they actively look out for it, which is the big difference to discern the two.
The definition of the freeter changed over time due to environmental influences of two economical periods with the Baburu Keizai (バブル経済・バブルけいざい; Bubble Economy from 1986-1991) and the Job Search Ice Age (就職氷河期・しゅうしょくひょうがき; especially severe in the years of 2000-2005), which followed right after. Freeters during the bubble years, had the luxury to refuse regular employment out of own will, since they could still sustain on the decent salaries paid out at the time. It did’t have the air of an insecure employment back then. The freeters of the later area however, even if they have been interested in a permanent working relationship, the significant drop in the Kyuujinnbairitsu (求人倍率・きゅうじんばいりつ; job opening-to-application ratio) for such positions left them little choice but to become freeter or part-timer.
Let’s face it!
With this background in mind we can now move forward to the Freezer … I mean Freeter story. There are certain places in the comic strip, where the Japanese text is a bit hard to decipher. For this purpose I re-wrote everything again below the images along with the English translations, so it can be read in either language:
Freezer (EN) ①: “It looks you didn’t quite understand!”
Freezer (EN) ②: “Did you but think I was talking about the annual income!?”
Freezer (full-time worker) ③: “You pitiful one, you seem not to know that regular workers get a salary raise every year…!”
Piccolo (Freeter) ④: “What was that!?”
Freezer ⑤: “You too, shall be granted that same fear netters have of regular workers…”
Piccolo ④: “When you say pay raise…?” What’s that suppose to mean
Freezer ⑦: “Alright then! Let’s first create that sense of desperation for you…”
Freezer ⑧: “An overwhelming feeling of hopefulness…”
Freezer ⑨: “Regular workers receive twice a year, in summer and winter, a gratification…”
Freezer ⑩: “Which is worth about half of the annual income…”
Freezer ⑪: “Do you get what that means?”
Piccolo ⑫: “W-what did you say there!?”
クリリン（フリーター）：な なんだって!? あ あいつなんていったんだ!!
Krillin (Freeter; right side) ⑬: “W-what was it, he just said!?”
Krillin (Freeter) ⑭: “H-he said what!!”
Vegeta (Freeter; middle): (trembling)
Son Gohan (Freeter; left side): (trembling)
Son Gohan (Freeter) ⑮: “R-regular workers, if they work 1 year, they will (effectively) receive a year and a half salary…”
Freezer⑯: “With this (my friends)!!!”
Freezer⑰: “The average yearly pay of a first section employee raises above 7,000,000 JPY (1-to-1 = 70,000 USD)!!!”
…(power level up)…
Vegeta ⑱: “Are you listening, are you! Did you get it! We freeters receive nothing but about a (lousy) half of a regular worker’s yearly salary!”
Vegeta ⑲: “Hurry up! Before graduating!”
Vegeta ⑳: “Quickly go about your job hunting, will you! If you let the new grads get away with it, there is no meaning! You must do your job search right now, hear me!”
Krillin ㉑: “N…not really, even after graduating the job search will be…”
Vegeta ㉒: “Let me tell you something good now, so listen up… Until not long ago, a comment written by one of the universities to encourage job hunting, was too provocative, so it had to be removed…According to that (statement), it was said that if students failed job hunting as new grads, they are considered ‘defective products’ and that any company will just turn a cold shoulder on them…”
Krillin ㉓: “N-no matter, if they were from the placement office, (using) ‘defective products’ is awful…”
Krillin ㉔: “S-soon it’s (anyway) the time the economy will recover and also…”
Vegeta ㉕: “(In case you didn’t know) Japan is a society of new grads! Even in good times, as former graduate you can’t find a permanent position!!”
Freezer ㉖: “Very well so…!”
Freezer ㉗: “Hohoho (evil laughter)…even just with what I talked about so far, letting you (maggots) all despair, has been a child’s play, but…”
Freezer ㉘: “At last, let me explain you the problem of pension, a thing more dreadful than death!”
Krillin ㉙: “What the…!?”
Krillin ㉚: “Pension is…what he said?”
Freezer ㉛: “At the national pension, where you freeters are in, although you pay in the full amount, you can’t get nothing more than a 60,000 JPY monthly.”
Freezer ㉜: “(On the other hand) with the welfare pension the regular workers belong to, you can get as close as to 200,000 JPY monthly!”
Freezer ㉝: “In other words, when a regular worker, even if you don’t work in your old age, you can receive 200,000 JPY per month!”
!!! Reality hits hard !!!
A dire outlook that many young and middle age Japanese are confronted with in the labor market these days. Freezer is relentless, but he has a point. One mustn’t necessarily be a freeter per se, even if working longer hours than the before mentioned, it’s tough to get by in life with what is earned as a part-timer in Japan. To that same group that is the Hiseikikoyou (非正規雇用・ひせいきこよう; irregular employment), one can also count the so-called Hakenshain (派遣社員・はけんしゃいん; temporary staff that is placed by an job agency) and Keiyakushain (契約社員・けいやくしゃいん; contract employee), which vary only in formalities and relationship to the employer. In principle though they are all pretty much the same when it comes to the pot at the end of the rainbow and the pension, thus part-timer (パート) will be the term I’m going to globally use to describe the labor condition.
Differences between the two Employment Forms
In Japan, it’s that if one can’t secure a position as seishain (permanent worker) after graduation, the person is either a Shuushokurounin (就職浪人・しゅうしょくろうにん; jobless graduate) or automatically falls in the group of part-timers when performing a job, regardless whether working even up to a 100% pensum a month for a company. So one can work like a full-timer, but is still considered a part-timer in terms of the work relationship and what it means what will be in on wages and other social security benefits. This can be frustrating at times, especially if a person is hard-working, as it feels like a dead-end job. In some cases it can even plainly mean that one end’s up as a Waakingupua (ワーキングプア; working poor) with little carrier perspectives in sight.
Japan knows really only the two ‘extremes’ of either permanent employment as seishain, which has been traditionally interlinked with the concepts of Shuushinkoyousei (終身雇用制・しゅうしんこようせい; the life-long employment system) that Japan is known for around the world and Nenkoujoretsu (年功序列・ねんこうじょれつ; seniority by length of service for the same company), or part-time jobs that basically cover everything else. There is no grey zone as it exists in other countries, like proportionally equal pay and benefits for the same job even when working lesser hours and so forth. It’s really get it all or nothing kind of situation, yet part-timers seem to be further on the rise. This has different reasons, but also brings various challenges ahead for society.
For one there is not too much choice, yet the model of permanent employment generally seems to come out of favor with younger people due to obligations it brings for the individual towards the company. Becoming a seishain may contain, but is not limited to longer hours in the office or service on weekends, which can also be the attendance of private events. In other words the person becomes part of the corporate family that can call upon one, whenever deemed necessary. In certain cases this means being transferred to other parts of Japan or even overseas, which is known under the term Tenkin (転勤・てんきん; job relocation).
On the other hand one can rely on the full range of benefits with largely decreased chances of dismissal, stable income and pay raises, yearly bonus payments (which can be substantial as mentioned above manga strip), generous retirement welfare plans and secure healthcare insurance. A system that made many Japanese wealthy and is also partially responsible, why the country has second most millionaires in the world. Financially it seems to pay off across the board to be a permanent worker, one could assess, expect for that precious private time that goes away.
It was the employment standard for decades and especially cemented during the years of the Koudokeizaiseichouki (高度経済成長期・こうどけいざいせいちょうき; time of fast economical growth) in post-war Japan in 1955 until the Baburu Houkei (バブル崩壊・バブルほうかい; collapse of the bubble economy) in 1992. The burst of the bubble in the domestic economy forced companies to Risutora (リストラ; corporate restructuring or downsizing) and laying off people in great numbers, who later on could not be hired back because firms could simply no longer afford the high labor costs that such an employment system comprised. An accompanying effect was also the sudden drop of part-time wages, which were reasonable before thanks to the record-breaking booming years.
While the crisis didn’t end the era of the existing permanent employment system, companies started to regulate it stricter and the need for a more mobile workforce has emerged since then, especially in the manufacturing sectors. Instead of paying out wages all year around regardless of workload, companies have become to embrace the advantage of hiring human resources on demand for less the pay and without expensive bonuses. Less costs spent on workers also meant increased competition between firms and stimulation of the economy. If not for major companies, mid-sized and small businesses seem reluctant to sign a permanent contract nowadays. It’s like it imposes too much on both parties and their is anyway no longer the guarantee that people effectively stay in the same firm until they retire. As a result young Japanese hop jobs just as frequent as their peers in abroad. A fact perhaps surprising to outsiders, does the image of loyal workers in Japan firmly remain in the minds of people in abroad.
Shift to a mobile, part-time Workforce & its Social Implications
Working part-time gives people the freedom to work for as much as they like and they don’t carry the burden of responsibility on their shoulders like their full-time colleagues. Although some businesses may have been coming up with the canny idea of creating fictional ‘leader’ roles to take part-timers by their sense of duty. Also it provides part-timers with the chance to experience jobs in different fields, so to feel out what they like best or simply to indulge in their private time during their days off. That is certainly not a bad thing, however, as the short manga story of freeters illustrates, the choice of freedom could come at a high price.
Making the math with the above example of 60,000 JPY, this becomes evident, when familiar with the life costs in Japan. However, not only in later years when the pension is due, they might actually end up doing extra rounds to get them into the harbor of retirement, when others have long checked out to enjoy their much deserved sunset years of lifelong working, also it can mean considerable restrains while still part of the Seisannennreijinkou (生産年齢人口・せいさんねんれいじんこう; working-age population). Being a part-time worker, it’s nearly impossible to live an independent life in an own household, thus most of those people must depend either on their parents or someone else out of the family to provide them with housing.
With this it’s not uncommon that they live sometimes well into the thirties under the same roof should they not decide to move together with a partner. This is also not easily achieved though, given the low incomes to establish a family. To engage into marriage life, financial stable conditions are favored in Japan, therefore family planning will be delayed, if taking place at all, further straining the issue of the present Shoushika (少子化・しょうしか; declining birth rate). This brought about the expression in Japanese culture of the Parasite Singles (パラサイトシングル), which describes young and mid-aged singles, who basically live off their parents until they eventually decide or can afford to fly out the nest. This might be true for some, but the reality is that with a part-time income, one doesn’t make big leaps.
Until now this has been possible since the previous generations worked arduously and could make savings well, however people now working part-time won’t be able to do so for their own children. Even worse, children of the next generation borne into low-income households may see their hopes and ambitions thwarted before they even had the chance to take up a profession because their parents aren’t able to afford their education, which doesn’t come cheap in Japan. This has been intensifying the Kakusashakai (格差社会・かくさしゃかい; stratified society), with the gap of wealthy and poor further diverting.
Impacts on the Economy
At a shallow glance companies seem to be the big profiteers of this shift. At least short-time. In the light of dwindling spending power, also domestic demand gradually decreases alongside, which is already acutely accelerated with the Koureika (高齢化・こうれいか; aging of society), they may as well find themselves with the back to the wall, since people won’t buy their products or services. When people have a little bit of a surplus they are more likely to buy goods and services above the necessary, but if one has a hard time meeting ends each month with an hourly pay of around 800 – 1500 JPY, consumption and therewith demand will stagnate, harming the economy.
One such an example is the night industry, where first symptoms have become noticeable. In past years it has been taking quite a blow, incl. 24-hours restaurants and shops, night entertainment spots having to shut down or to take drastic measures to assure survival because the people just don’t have the spare money to go out at nights as they used to do. The decay in the night business brings then further implication on the day business. Businesses holding back could also be a stumbling stone for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (安倍 晋三・あべ しんぞう; current Prime Minister of Japan and President of the Liberal Democratic Party LDP) to meet his pledged policy targets to revitalize Japan’s economy because companies are not following foot with boosting wages.
Reading through the commendable vows in the Shakun (社訓・しゃくん; guiding precepts of a company or company credo) or Kigyourinen (企業理念・きぎょうりねん) of Japanese companies, one will find such noble goals as to contribute to revitalization of local society and to create values for all stakeholders, which should including creation of job opportunities and fair wages for employees. Fair in this sense, seems subjective because it is from a company standpoint and theories that once were true, may no longer be contemporary. If it’s reciprocal, a society can flourish as a whole and will counteract to the steadily widening social gap in the country. Fair recompense for what people work, regardless of whether being part-time or permanent employee, takes a key role and will bolster the financing of retirement provisions in return.
Even if it comes at a higher cost, instead of feeding them up with low-income part-time offerings, one would wish that Japanese companies would promote again more full-time positions for aspiring workers. With the increase of temporary and part-time work it runs contrary, what it held dear to for decades with seasoned, long-serving employees that built business success.
Rather than stockpiling money and aim for short-term profits, it’s perhaps desirable to look further ahead and turn those fictive ‘part-time jobs’ into proper positions with just reward. With this, the salary gaps between regular employees and part-time employees could be equaled and money fed back again into the consumption cycle, the motor of economy. The corporate landscape though seems to do little at the moment to live-up to their lofty slogans. In a sense they also neglect their social responsibilities and what else is any company made for, if not to serve the public good. Perhaps that hammer mentioned in the entry should be aimed more at those stingy companies to put them into their place.
Evidently there are basic jobs that have just to be done and we find ourselves in times, when people have to work longer hours for less the pay wherever we look in the world, yet in Japan it receives a whole different dimension. Japan is the first industrialized country confronted with the wave of the Jinkougenshuu (人口減少・じんこうげんしょう; declining population), meaning the population is effectively shrinking. Other industry countries face with the same challenge of their national populace declining, but is made up for with influx from outside. The working-age population in Japan has shrunk more than 10% over the last 10 years and with heavy labor shortage in forecast, it will take time to stabilize and compensate for this equilibrium.
No easy solution in sight, even though some might hope for the next technology revolution to come around just in time before the eminent economical downfall, which is programmed with the depopulation of the nation. But those could possibly wait a long time for this technical age to arrive and the much expectant breakthrough in robotics 🤖 might not bring the hoped-for effects. How exciting it may sound, irony in itself, we try to replace ourselves ever more.
I think in the here and now, Japan would fare best to invest into its human resources, which is capable of a lot as proved decades ago and above it. There is still a lot of untapped potential in reserve that should be activated first. Women for instance are returning to work after bringing up the children, but like the young, they hardly find more favorable conditions to tie back in with their previous carriers. Often they also work for little more the salaries of newcomers, despite their skills and experiences.
Mr. Freeza has good laughing at the freeters, finding himself at the privileged side of the strata, but many don’t have that choice to begin with, no matter how badly they want a stable, well-paid job. With it, comes the uncertainty how to secure the own retirement. Knowingly, there are of course those, who choose to become part-timer of their own preferences and there are the incorrigible ones that don’t want to do more than the minimum, but if people are given the outlook that they can work out their salvation by own efforts and simultaneously grow with their job, a win-win situation is created.
Too gloomy a picture mustn’t be painted just yet and who knows, maybe as the speed of the depopulation is picking up, new realization opportunities open up for part-timers. If the pendulum swings in favor of one, it will eventually swing back in the favor of the other, thus the balance of the universe is maintained, as the entry of a famous anime work goes. Using the time at hand well now to cultivate oneself 💪 for future tasks to come, could bring positive results, when one might least expect it. The pep talk is to keep moral up and do whatever one can under these challenging conditions until more favorable times come around.
A bit a serious subject for once. Obviously this is a very complex topic that can’t impossibly be covered with one such an article. It’s all but complete, but I wanted to write down what was on my mind.
Like for all my articles, the end result is secondary because I’m never satisfied anyway with it 😉, but it’s the journey itself that is rewarding. Study, exploring, discovering, learn something and challenge myself not to go the easy way. This is what it is all about and that I could gratefully experience again also with this research.
For Japanese readers, I thought the article might give food for thought, but could also be of interest to fellow foreigners, who think of working in Japan at some point. With Japan in need for human power to sustain the economy, it’s become easier to be sponsored a working visa. It can be an enriching life experience and unique addition to any curriculum, yet what counts for the Japanese is even more true for foreign workers. Part-time is a good basis to go from while making your first steps as a student or right after graduation for a limited time, but after that it is safer to secure a proper full-time job at all efforts. First create a track record before taking the big leap, so to speak.
The longer one waits, the harder it’s to get out of the spiral and it will be immensely difficult to keep above water in the country for an extended period of time. Moreover, lesser benefits will wait when becoming retiree. This is no joke. Better to start early enough to think about retirement. Young and foolish we are all once in our lives, but time can’t be turned back. When young and vigorous we have zeal, but when old and crumbly, we might just want to enjoy our twilight years.
Thanks for reading through and please feel free to state what you think 💭 about it down in the comments 💬. If you think it’s worth sharing in your social network 👥, please go ahead.
You might also be interested in the following article(s)/page(s)💡:
- Golgo 13 – Personal Safety Instructions for Abroad the Japanese Way
- A Year to forget – Bounenkai (忘年会・ぼうねんかい)
- お見送り – The Japanese Way of Seeing-off
- Words in orange color link🔗 to other articles/pages on MyLittle Dejima
- Words in purple color color link🔗 to external references/pages
- Words in simple bold, titles and article relevant information without external reference
- For Japanese related words Hiragana (ひらがな), Katakana (カタカナ) and Kanji (漢字) are added for those interested in Japanese terminology
- First published: November 30th, 2017
- Minor revisions: January 16th, 2018