Japan's Disposable Workers
February 18, 2016 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Net cafe refugees | Dumping ground | Overworked to suicide. A three-part documentary based on Shiho Fukada's portrait series, Japan's Disposable Workers. Previously.

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.

Overworked to Suicide
After the recession of the 1990s, Japan's white collar salarymen increasingly must work arduous hours for fear of losing their jobs. This often leads to depression and suicide.

Dumping Ground
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.
posted by nickyskye (8 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Just quibbling, I'm not sure if you could ever have called a day-labouring district as "thriving".

The fellow at the net cafe could likely afford his own place on the same budget, but it's a bit of a lifestyle... 24/7 internet access and free drinks, and within walking distance of his work.

"Salaryman" is a bit of an anachronism, and should be replaced with "salaried worker", since increasingly women are feeling the pinch. An acquaintance in rural Japan is losing weight because she is not given time to eat lunch at work. She works a desk job for a telecomm company. Her husband is being worked to death as a cameraman for a local television station, working seven days a week, eighteen hours a day.

Such a working environment is part of the culture of the "black kigyo". It's rather odd, since Japan's aging workforce really ought to mean more competition for workers, and therefore better working conditions.

Local government and education (state universities) are also being hit hard with unilateral wage cuts and an increased workload.

That said, salaried employees have more statutory holidays than do their counterparts in Canada and the United States. Same levels of child poverty, though.
posted by My Dad at 11:09 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well that was brutal. Thanks for posting though.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 5:28 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

That was extremely brutal, but fascinating. Japan in the 1980's was portrayed as the innovative powerhouse and it's sad to see the outcome.
posted by Benway at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's rather odd, since Japan's aging workforce really ought to mean more competition for workers, and therefore better working conditions

came here to say that.

I studied Japanese in the 80s cuz I wanted to work for Namco. While arcade games disappearing was a surprise, another surprise to me is their current demographic decline, or as I prefer viewing it, reset . . .


Japan age 25 - 54 in blue, and 15 - 24 red, right axis.

Japan's postwar baby boom was essentially terminated in 1950 with the (early...) legalization of abortion.

After the baby boom echo peaked in the early 90s, Japan's young adults have fallen by 7.5 million, down to 12M.

Core workforce (age 25 - 54) has "only" fallen 10% since its 2001 peak.

The yen strengthening to well under 100 until recently didn't help Japan's mfg economy.

Kuroda fixed that at least.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:22 PM on February 18, 2016

>Kuroda fixed that at least.

Negative interest rates are all smoke and mirrors. It only applies to any new balances, not existing ones. It was more of a statement rather than an actual practical policy tool. In regards to monetary policy Japan is really in uncharted territory here. The EU will try it out next, and after that the US (in 3-5 years).
posted by My Dad at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2016

So WTF is going on in the world? Is this a feature, not a bug, as in this is the desired path set by the world's elite (ultra wealthy)? I can't wrap my head around why anyone would want things to exist like this.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:04 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

InsertNiftyNameHere: " Is this a feature, not a bug, as in this is the desired path set by the world's elite (ultra wealthy)?"

No? Sure, the path is being set by the ultrawealthy, but this isn't the desired outcome, it's just the outcome. Like when I turn on the air conditioner in the summer: I know I'm using electricity, burning fossil fuels, contributing to global warming. That's not a feature, it's not my desired path. But it's what happens when I do it, yet I do it anyway.

The ultra wealthy aren't a different species. They have the same vices and asshole nature as everyone else, but because they have so much power, their actions are big and the negative repercussions of what they do are commensurately big. Take a random sampling of 100 MeFites who complain about the rich being horrible people and give them vaults full of money, and you'll find that for 99 of them, the outcome will be the same. Most people are selfish, but since they don't have the power to create major problems, you never notice it.
posted by Bugbread at 9:48 PM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wow... thank you so much for these links. I'd looked forward to seeing more about her work after catching the previous mentions.

What's the quote about it... ' Japan is at once consumer's paradise but a worker's hell '? I spent about five years there, living in Osaka city from 2007 to 2011. Each of these videos tears at you.

Internet cafes ::: once, I had an apartment, but I spent nearly three weeks haunting the local net cafe at night, outside of work and sleeping, when I was between internet service providers. I'd known that there were showers there, but was surprised to see tanning rooms. (Then it instantly makes sense, of course!)

Moving to your own place is so expensive (with key money, the huge deposit you'll never get back) ... the net cafe really does seem more viable. Especially if you're away from your hometown and trying to hack it in a big city, or otherwise don't wanna (or simply can't) live with your parents through your fifties...

"The Dumping Ground" ::: that video hit me hard. Most of my Osaka time was in the 'hardscrabble' southeast: living and working in Ikuno and Tennoji wards, seeing friends in Abeno and Nishinari -- that last one, even more than the others, rather notorious wrt what the rest of Japan already viewed as a dirty/dangerous/homeless-filled city. Coming from the U.S., aspects of the dirt, grime, and blight here were familiar like any good ol' American metropolis with skeezy neighborhoods; you might feel more alienated by most everywhere else (clean, cute, cared-for).

(Only after some months did I realize how much of the extreme cleanliness, extreme care, extreme cute of it all rested on the extreme life-suck of the workforce...)

But Nishinari, and Kamagasaki extending further south, felt like a different world. In evenings especially, a ghost town, with dozens of ghosts still shuffling around, or sitting silently inside the shuttered shopping arcades. Those who were out were mostly older men with thousand-yard stares. Sometimes we could chat together; it might be genial, or mumbly, or explosive, or mutually hilarious (maybe either/both parties drunk); more often they didn't engage or refused any help. Ghosts who weren't old men could be more stealth, behind doors or in alleys or in 24-hour McDonalds or on a bike. Those who couldn't hide easily were over time pushed into this neighborhood, and were also being pushed further south.

I didn't delve into the larger communities of men and laborers who slept together and looked out for one another. But as time went on I could recognize some faces on the street, and started to meet people who, while they had their own apartments and eked out their own livings, would serve those who were without -- open mom-n-pop (or just mom) bars up to them, offer food and assistance, or just lend an ear. They actually *did* acknowledge the humanity of homelessness, bear witness to the blight and plight, and were distinctly *not* afraid to talk detailed smack about politics. It felt so different from trying to talk with most anyone else the conversational ellipses that followed inquiries about these social and economic tragedies. Questioning the design of society, outside of these bars and ghost towns or an unusually engaged academic setting, was not talked about. Sure, there are magazine thinkpieces, but it seemed that people were afraid to voice it aloud, for fear of summoning the Boogeyman.

Fear, fear, and more fear. And if you weren't exhausted from losing your job, home, societal meaning, the specter of love, and most human connections -- like, if you *had* a job -- you were squeezed to exhaustion, sometimes nearing psychosis (def witnessed this), from overwork. Naturally.

I was lucky. Felt somewhat overworked, but at work I was inherently separate (especially at the beginning) from the "regular" Japanese people. While I observed and learned about the rigid social, workplace, and gender roles, I played them only up to a point -- from the outset I was dismissed (if infantilized), so I didn't worry about being the subject of juicy gossip, and I wasn't a ripe target for bullying. Everyone else, until getting to the top, was subject to psychological blows.

There's too many memories flashing by... about exhausted co-workers and exhausted friends and toxic bosses and my high-school students and their poverty-line families or even some wealthy status too but all-around their crumbling mental health. And talking with the school nurse about all the heartbreaking drama she listened to every day (no school psychologist, natch). And the scene inside the job-hunting resource bureau (filled with people, and very quiet). And neighbors and neighborhoods, and suicides and aftermaths, and punk friends working with elders for communal greater good.

There is a lot of good, so much good. But when the tragedies go unvoiced, it's easy to think everything's mostly good, right?

An acquaintance asked me to translate his abstract about the history of the Kamagasaki area -- the movement of people (day-laborers, homeless) and borders around it. His paper became a book called Kamagasaki no susume (on amazon:「釜ヶ崎のススメ」). Good as a penetrable (Japanese high school student-level) guide, maps and photos and present-day stuff too.

Another perspective on late-2000s depression in Japan was the documentary Does Your Soul Have a Cold? by Mike Mills (music video guy) -- interviews five people IIRC who share their experiences of antidepressants, "talk therapy" (oh geez super scare quotes there), and the shame and silence they're still facing. It left me wanting a little more, like substantive statistics and deeper looks at the interviewees' pasts. But if one can't vocalize traumas, what can you do? For any who are interested, it's worth a watch -- streams for purchase somewhere but there's an excerpt on Vimeo.
posted by cluebucket at 12:20 AM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

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