Avoiding Precarity

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Shun Aoki

There are several things that I hope to achieve in the future, which are actually still quite vague. First, putting it simply, I hope to become someone who is internationally active. Perhaps, I could achieve this by working for a foreign multinational company. I have one major reason as to why this is a realistic and appealing future for me. It is that I want to have a working environment where “typical Japanese values of working” is non-existent. This is the reason why foreign multinational company is the most preferable alternative, and not Japanese company. As Allison (2013) illustrates, in contemporary Japan, labor is continual and tends to merge with one’s life (p. 16). However, I hope to clearly draw a line between work and personal life. Through the experience of living in Belgium for 5 years, I found that the average working class in Belgium are able to separate their jobs and personal lives, which is a trend I hardly see in Japanese society. For instance, their priority is spending a time with their family, and hierarchical relationship at their workplace rarely affects their personal lives. To put it differently, I am attracted to the Western values when it comes to working environment.

It is not that I want to run away from the precarity in Japan and I am aware that my generation has to face the current situation and live through the hard time. However, forecasting its future from present situation frightens me. For example, the LDP is now trying to pass a labor legislation that will abolish working limit and obligation for the companies to provide their workers days off (Kanetani 2014). Such a policymaking is believed to increase the number of overwork deaths and it could worsen the precarity issue. This is another reason why I would like to work in an international environment.

Another goal is to have a family and let them have the same quality of life as I currently do, thanks to my father. What is important is that, in my life, I’ve always had a choice and never been coerced to choose certain path, which I believe is only possible due to a stable source of income. In other words, I do not want my future kids to be in a situation where having a precarious job is the only option. I believe that in the future, family will always be my ibasho, as it always has been. Ibasho, in my opinion, is a place that one can always “save” and go back to regardless of time. My friends from high school, or even from elementary school, have always been my ibasho where I can feel like a worthy individual. I believe it can be meaningful to place importance on keeping in touch with old friends and having “tsunagari”, because these would provide an individual more ibasho (Allison 2013, p. 20). I feel that it would be wonderful if I was able to have my workplace as my ibasyo where I have a good human relationship and am able to show my ability to the fullest. This way, working will not be something too stressful.

In conclusion, my future is still unclear and my plan is mostly based on the idea of “how to avoid precarity.” For this reason, in a next few years, I hope to find myself a clear future goal, so that I will be able to work on my own initiative to achieve that goal. To be honest, I am quite optimistic about my future career. And preferably, I would like not to become a part of the precarious society, but become a leading force to solve this issue.

References

Allison, A. (2013). Precarious Japan. (pp. 16-20). Duke University Press.

Kanetani, T. (2014). What is ’no overtime money’ system? Retrieved from https://kotobank.jp/word/「残業代ゼロ」制度-189789

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Balancing work and private life

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

I have had a wish to have a job in the media since I was a junior high school student. This March, I worked at a CM production for a week in Tokyo as an intern in order to take a step toward my job hunting. However, after this real experience, I think it’s crucial for us to consider carefully whether the job is a “black company” or not.

A “black company” is an illegal corporation where employees are forced to work overtime or even on holiday without overtime pay. In some black companies, there is also harassment toward recruits in the work place, That is to say it constitutes the worst working environment. It’s similar to “sweatshops” (factories where employees are compelled to work for hours with low wage). However, we can see the characteristic point of “black companies” is different from others. The victims of general poor offices such as “sweatshop” are temps, whereas the ones of “black companies” are regular employees.

This word is a new Japanese term, but it has appeared not suddenly but step by step, since the change of Japanese employment form. In my opinion, the increasing number of black companies results from a recession and job shortage. In two decades after the Japanese bubble burst in 1991, many 4th year university students struggle with job hunting. Such students long for occupations and tend to consider carelessly their future office because they are panic and in a hurry. This is when “black companies” begin to make use of them. I assume the rate of job shortage would be proportional to the number of black companies. Furthermore, almost all of the recruits in black companies quit after a couple of years due to the poor working conditions. It brings an increasing number of unemployed persons and invites a vicious circle.

I insist that we should not only improve the rate of employment temporarily with temps, but make each company obey the Labor Standard Law.

The company where I worked was established in 2010 and only has 13 employees. Of course it’s not listed yet, but I wanted to see the real circumstances of the small business where new opinions or innovation are welcomed, because I had a question about not doing the labor stereotyped in the conservative big company. To be honest, my internship experience was so hard. We didn’t have to come to the office before 10 a.m., but even interns couldn’t go home until they finished all of the work (until about 10 p.m.), and I had to skip my lunch three times in the week because of the busy work. In addition, on the filming day, all of the crews shut themselves in the studio for a couple of days. It was harsh physically and mentally, still I have heard the working environment in the media world is demanding particularly, therefore I thought that the busier the job is, the more worth job I do.

However, when I calm down and reflect on the busy days after the internship, I found out that the working environment I was in is similar to the one of a black company. The work over 8 hours long, with insufficient lunch time and sleepless work for a couple of days. One of employees said, “We have no overtime pay, but we are satisfied with this circumstances because this is the job we wanna do and we are proud of contributing to the growth of this new company.” I understand we have no choice but to sacrifice our own private lives in order to start something new at a place where our opinions are listened to in meetings and reflected in the way of the company actually. However, we should also make much of the time with our family, of the time for refreshing ourselves. I think we can make our lives more rich at the same time we make the society more affluent through our work.

It’s difficult to distinguish the company which give the worth busy days to employees, from the one which only exploit them for the enterprise’s profit. In my opinion, it depends on the balance between the job and private life that the employee desires.