TT-696 -- Choosing Not to Work Full-time, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, Feb 03, 2013, Issue No. 696


- What's New -- Choosing Not to Work Full-time
- News -- China's rare earth strategy backfires
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Gifu's sake & Odaiba in Tokyo
- News Credits

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The Nikkei ran a piece on Thursday about the fact that national monthly wage levels are being dragged down by the record number of non-regular workers in the workforce. According to government figures, the average monthly worker's take-home pay, including bonuses and overtime, has fallen to JPY314,236. This is the lowest level since 1990, and down JPY57,000, about 15%, from the peak monthly pay level of JPY371,670 back in 1997. Ahhh, the good old days...

The Nikkei narrative seems to confirm that Japanese workers are still stuck with wage deflation, and given that 73% of Japan's several million companies didn't pay tax (i.e., didn't make a taxable profit) last year, it also confirms that companies are becoming less likely to take on full-time "Regular" employees, preferring instead to tap a less privileged group for temporary labor. One wonders whether this means that there should be more protection for part-timers, contractors, and others, as the DPJ seemed to think, or whether to foster a more open labor market where employers can fire full-timers when things get tight, so as to encourage them to hire more once things look better -- like this year, for example.

Anyway, the percentage of non-regular to full-time workers is now a record 28.75%, almost 18m people (there are 62m in the workforce). This is not just a temporary trend, and over the last 22 years the number of such workers has more than doubled from 12.97% back in 1990. The total of 18m people includes about 8.3m part-timers, 4.2m temps, and 3.4m contract employees (2011 numbers from the Statistics Bureau). There is also a category of worker not counted as an employee by the government because they are included in "self-employed" counts (although they don't intend to ever be more than a 1-person shop). These people -- private contractors -- are of particular interest to us, since unlike the other three classifications, they are more likely to be working on a non-regular basis for lifestyle reasons, and thus offer hope that the non-regular employment trend is not all negative.

So if one believes the Nikkei slant, the general view is that part-timers and other non-regular workers are disadvantaged and are stuck in an echo of the so-called "Hiring Ice Age" that took place between 1999 and 2005. The phenomenon, if you're not familiar with it, is that college kids who graduated during the ice age were unable to get regular jobs, and so they were unable to get the training that companies normally provide -- meaning that they are supposed to be underskilled and undesirable as full-time employees now that they are in their 30's. We suppose that from a traditional Japanese perspective, where having a full-time job and all the loving care it entails, is considered to make a Japanese employee a whole person, this theory makes sense. However, in this age of remote learning and working, we wonder if there aren't some other factors at play that make staying non-regular more desirable?

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Now it is apparently true that money is the biggest reason why employers hire non-regular workers. In an excellent 2010 paper on Non-regular Workers by The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) which you can find at, a survey of employers put the following reasons down as why they are not hiring full-timers: 1) to reduce costs, 2) to find specialized workers for projects, 3) to find ready-trained staff, 4) head-count flexibility, and 5) to try out newcomers for potential full-time positions.

On the employee side of things, and most non-regular employees are still female, the sentiment seems to be that going part-time or contracting is not necessarily negative. The JILPT study found that the top reasons for non-regular workers to take on that role were: 1) personal convenience, 2) flexibility of work hours -- something very important to moms, 3) lack of opportunity to take a full-time position, and 4) desire to be working at a company likely to hire them full time in the future. So from this we can conclude that indeed, most of the people polled were working non-regular jobs out of personal choice.

Making a personal choice about working style is partly becoming possible because of the changing nature of work. With the advent of the web and mobile social media, for example, there has in the last two years been a huge increase in demand for people who can help produce content -- whether for shopping reviews, how-to content, or community information sites. Then there are the developers, designers, marketers, SEO specialists, user experience testers, and many others who don't necessarily have to be locked into an office all day to be productive. Smart web companies realize this and are actively encouraging employees to work at home, either as regular, non-regular, or "kojin jigyo" (self propietorship, or SOHO) employees. Besides offering the flexibility that talented employees are starting to ask for, it also saves rent.

We haven't found any recent studies on teleworking in Japan, however, the government-related Japan Telework Association did say in 2008 there were approximately 8.2m teleworkers in Japan, that is, people working from home or otherwise not in the office for 8 hours or more a week. At that time they estimated this number would rise to 10m by 2010. However, now that the 3/11 disaster has helped many of us reassess our priorities in life, as well as the ubiquity of mobile computing devices, our guess is that as of the end of 2012 the number of teleworkers is probably well past 15m.

In this age of information workers, the choice of not only how long to work but also where to work is becoming a standard part of the job benefits offered to new employees. Just some of the firms we've heard about in the last few months doing this, include:
* A leading Japanese internet portal that has 250 writers working from their apartments around the country
* A major translation company that is cutting costs by outsourcing work to hundreds of Japanese housewives and retired couples living in Thailand and elsewhere in SE Asia
* A digital ad agency whose partners pitch clients on projects, and only pulls together the freelance team when they win a deal
* A software company whose core staff spec each project, then tender the actual coding work on and other similar sites
*, reports that its freelance engineers have delivered work to 3,600 companies to the value of JPY900m in just 10 months since launching

In fact, the last company on that list, Crowdworks, just announced last month a tie-up with Yahoo Japan, to start the Yahoo! Crowdsourcing service. A recent Nihon Ryutsu Sangyo newspaper article listed a variety of competing services and had the top two firms at 24,000 and 19,000 freelance skilled workers (i.e., mainly engineers) respectively, and the remaining two at 7,000 and 6,000 people. Allowing for overlap, it seems, then, that at least 30,000 software engineers, about 3%-4% of all the software engineers in Japan, are now registered in one or more of these crowdsourcing services. This is a significant enough trend that Nikkei Business in its January 2013 issue asked if this was the "start of the end of company employees" in Japan.

Probably not, but the ability for people in this information age to choose where and when to work is obviously appealing. We think that this is the most exciting trend to happen in Japanese HR since the advent of internet recruiting 15 years ago.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Australia complains about whalers
- Factory workers lowest number since 1961
- China's rare earth strategy backfires
- Kubota makes robotic arm for fruit pickers
- Japan buying up EU bonds

=> Australia complains about whalers

Even as Japan and Australia have embarked on a joint defense treaty, the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean has irritated Australian political sensitivities significantly. So it didn't help that one of the Japanese ships, Shonan Maru No 2, which has armed personnel on board and which has been shadowing a Sea Shepherd ship the Bob Barker, strayed into Australian territory for a short time and sparked a diplomatic protest by the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. ***Ed: Apparently the harpoon ship is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Sea Shepherd vessel, which itself has been shadowing the whaling fleet.** (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 1, 2013)

=> Factory workers lowest number since 1961

Just how big an impact China's takeover of manufacturing has had on Japan can be seen by the ever-declining numbers of factory workers. As of December 2012, there are now just 9.98m workers in factories, the lowest number since 1961 and the first time since that year that the number has fallen to less than 10m. Overall, as of December, there were 62.28m people in the workforce, a decrease of 380,000 over November, and the second straight month of decline. ***Ed: Ironically, though, the number of jobs available per applicant is increasing, which would indicate to us that a significant number of people are retiring rather than being fired. This is hopeful for younger unemployed people.** (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 2, 2013)

=> China's rare earth strategy backfires

There must be more than just a few self-satisfied business leaders in Tokyo after hearing that China's rare earth industry is suffering a huge fall in revenues and exports after restricting Japanese access to the minerals in 2010 in retaliation to the Senkaku Islands spat. After the restrictions were put in place, Japanese manufacturers figured out how to make high-efficiency magnets using other materials than Chinese rare earths. As a result, exports of rare earths in 2012 plunged 66.1% to JPY82bn and many of the more than 100 companies involved in the trade have had to halt operations, causing some of them to go out of business or be merged under direction of the government. (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 31, 2013)

=> Kubota makes robotic arm for fruit pickers

Kubota has introduced a robotic arm that could potentially revolutionize the fruit picking industry. The 3.8kg ARM-1 device fits across the fruit-picker's shoulders and augments his/her upper arm muscles, reducing fatigue and increasing working times. The device looks power hungry, but apparently runs for 8 hours on just 4 x AA batteries -- amazing if that is true. Although Kubota doesn't say, it appears the device will initially be targeted at Japan's elderly farming community. However, if it does work as well as advertised, then we can see this being used all over the world. (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 31, 2013)

=> Japan buying up EU bonds

In case you're wondering how it is there isn't more international protest over Japan's move to weaken the yen, look no further than its behind-the-scenes investments in Europe. Apparently the Abe government has bought EU400m of European Stability Mechanism (a rescue fund) bonds. That is about 10.3% of the total bond issuance in January, and brings Japan's overall purchases of the bonds to around EU7bn, or 6.7% of the total amount. ***Ed: Wheels within wheels -- international finance and its role in politics is fascinating.** (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 1, 2013)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.



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If you have been considering setting up your own company, find out what it takes to make it successful. Terrie Lloyd, founder of over 17 start-up companies in Japan, will be giving an English-language seminar and Q&A on starting up a company in Japan.

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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and amplify our points, by email, to

=> No corrections this week.



=> Hazama Sake Brewery, Gifu
390-years of brewing sake on the Nakasendo

Most Japanese towns have a sake brewery and each sake produced tastes slightly different from the next. Some sake is mass produced while some could be called “local brew”. Along the Nakasendo in Nakatsugawa-juku there are a handful of sake breweries all producing their own unique brews. The first place you’ll come across just inside Nakatsugawa-juku, a hodgepodge of 1960s concrete and Edo period Udatsu houses, is a beautiful old building which is home to Hazama Brewery and the Shuyukan.

The exterior is a low two-floor udatsu building with a large sign saying “Ena San”; their main brand named for the mountain that supplies the water for their sake. Like most sake breweries in Japan, there is a large sugidama - a ball made of pine needles - signifying that a new brew is ready for sale. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a store, a museum or a brewery but since I was feeling curious, in I went.

=> Odaiba, Tokyo
A breath of fresh air in a sea of grey

Odaiba is a world apart from its host city of Tokyo. I love both, but for all of Tokyo’s vibrancy and history, Odaiba is a breath of fresh air in a sea of grey. The boardwalks and parks and Ferris wheels seem more at home in a seaside resort, and at the same time, it is so high-tech (check out the Miraikan, Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). Its history, or sometimes lack of history, lends it a odd quality. It is kitschy and certainly over-the-top, especially during a holiday season, when every business on the island goes all-out to complete the experience. Even with all the visitors and kitsch, though, it’s still easy to find a quiet spot on the beach, picnic on the Daibas, take a ferry across the Bay or visit one of the many parks and playgrounds.



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