JIN-287 -- In Defense of "Freeters"

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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 287
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: In Defense of "Freeters"

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@@ VIEWPOINT: In Defense of "Freeters"

As a person who spent far too much time during my 20s in bars and other
places of leisure, jumping from job to job and from country to country,
I would like to defend my fellow freeters.

Freeters, for those of you living far from Japan or deep in a Zen state
of ignorance, are youth who work part-time jobs or are unemployed and
usually live with their parents. One government estimate says the number
of freeters will hit 10 million by 2014. And if we're not careful,
those 10 million freeloaders will cause the social and moral decay of
Japanese society ... or so the news media would have you believe.

Here are a few recent quotes on freeters that I found while doing my
usual reading on Japan:

- From the Asahi Shimbun (8/23/04): "Women ... are looking for a
reliable breadwinner to marry, but with so many freeters in the
workplace they have trouble becoming acquainted with steady wage

- From The Japan Times (8/22/04): "The surge in the nonregular
workforce, which is comprised especially of young people called
'freeters' who usually live with their parents, are frequent job
changers and now number 4.17 million, is casting a dark shadow over
Japan's future ... Problems include a shaken social security system
into which many young people cannot afford to pay, spreading
nonpayment of income tax, a growing pool of single people avoiding
marriage because of worries about the future and lower wages, the
resulting lower birthrate, restraints on personal spending, a
diminished sense of social belonging, and a lack of will to do
the work."

- From The Economist (8/12/04): "Within a few years, today's freeters
will start to lag further behind their full-time peers in skills and

Like the otaku of 20 years ago, the freeters are generally painted
as lazy ne'er-do-wells. While I know a few who certainly fit that
mold, many more are just spending their youth working, traveling
and weighing their options. The Economist argues that freeters will
lack the skills of their full-time peers. But who learns more, a
freelance designer trying to sell her illustrations while
moonlighting at 7-Eleven or a young graduate serving tea at a large
Japanese firm? The answer depends on the individuals, of course,
but it certainly isn't obvious that the worker in the big firm is
the winner every time.

(Which reminds me of a joke: A restructured salaryman talks with a
job counselor. "Tell me about your skills," the counselor says.
"I'm really good at being kacho," the salaryman replies.)

Freeters are here to stay. And some parts of the economy will thrive
because of them. That's right -- just like the otaku fueled the
growth of the anime industry, freeters will make their mark.
It probably won't be on the pension system, though.

-- Bruce Rutledge

[Bruce Rutledge is a former editor of Japan Inc and the founder
of Chin Music Press -- http://www.chinmusicpress.com -- in Seattle.]

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