Last time I brought you some interesting Japanese job words to show you what working here is like. This time I thought I’d show you a few cultural keywords to give you an idea of some social problems Japan is struggling with.
Parasite singles are life’s eternal high schoolers. Though they may have graduated into employment, they continue to live in their parent’s homes well into adulthood–for free–burning through their disposable income. For parents’ part, they don’t mind their baby bird not leaving the nest. While western culture has the idea of getting out of your parents house as soon as humanly possible, traditionally, Japanese live with their parents until they get married to spare them the large financial burden of living on their own. Housing prices are high in Japan and even renters have to pay ridiculous amounts of up-front fees of four or more month’s rent. For me, it took about 2,500 dollars US just to move into an apartment. I’ve moved twice.
While Japan’s sexual image may be tainted by its murky porn industry, all that porn is, well, porn. Now, take this with a grain of salt, but there is a new buzzword called “herbivore men,” men who have no interest in spending money, romantic relationships, or sex. As children, they watched the their fathers go out drinking with the boss–a social expectation, but nonetheless off-putting for a child who wants to be with dad. Because of this, herbivore men are more family-oriented and put a greater emphasis on relationships. Though that doesn’t mean they actively pursue them. As “grass eaters,” they are often clumsy around women and completely fine with “just being friends,” putting emotional bonds above physical.
That’s the idea anyway. Personally, I think it’s more to with money. Because everything is. I’ve never met any herbivore men, though I’ve met plenty who aren’t married because they just don’t have the time or money with their demanding and underpaid jobs. With a tough economy where companies are limiting full-time hires, men’s wallets don’t bulge as much as they did during Japan’s bubble era economy. Girlfriends are expensive, a luxury that like Japan’s sports car and alcohol industry, is suffering from the thrifty spending of males.
It’s actually a foreign loan word Japanese have taken to heart, but “freeters” missed the bus, were labeled “not good enough” by Japanese companies, and got filed away into society’s low caste, part-time jobs. Japanese businesses prefer to indoctrinate young, fresh new recruits into company culture straight out of college. That means hiring potential employees while they’re still attending school in a process called “simultaneous recruiting of new graduates.” And that makes entering the job market at any other time like trying to break into Fort Knox.
Those who were passed over by the sweeping gaze of better Japanese business practices the first time around can choose to remain indentured to their academic institution for another year though. Usually, they just sleep through the extra classes while patiently waiting for next year’s simultaneous recruitment. But, miss that bus and their options narrow to whose burgers they want to flip.
Due to the difficulty of entering Japanese job culture, some just say “bugger that” and don’t even bother. They just accept that they will always work at McDonald’s and enjoy a low-income, low-responsibility part time job. Though “part-time” in Japan doesn’t necessarily mean less hours. It usually means the same amount of work as a full time employee, but with far less pay and no benefits.
Japan’s birthrate is declining. By 2040, it’s estimated that more than one in four people will be over 65. This trend has left a number of elderly without care in their final years and helped spawn an unfortunate trend called kodokushi, “lonely death.” Lonely deaths are suffered by those living on society’s rim, with very little social interaction. They die alone in their homes, their bodies going undiscovered, often, until someone complains about the smell.
Japanese living in suburban neighborhoods are quite friendly with each other, and participation in things like “neighborhood cleanups” is mandatory. But in more urban areas, contact with others is at a minimum and the risk of kodokushi is greatest. It’s a problem Japan still isn’t quite certain how to deal with, but one thing is for sure: with Japan’s population continuing to age, the number of lonely deaths will only rise.
Suicide has always been prevalent in Japanese culture. It’s well known that ancient samurai would rather face death than dishonor, and terminating their own life was preferred to defeat by an enemy. Even those not among the samurai class would take their lives if they could not reconcile their private feelings with their public responsibilities. Forbidden lovers would commit double suicide in the hope that their spirits would be together in the afterlife. “Love suicides” were romanticized throughout classical Japanese literature.
Tragically, even an eleven year old boy has committed suicide to protest plans to close his school by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Suicide by train is now so common that Japanese railway companies have started billing families for the price of the suspended operations, called jisatsukin (suicide fees.) Railways have begun charging victims’ families around 10,000 U.S. dollars per suicide. Because that’s the way the world works, I suppose.