As Japan’s corporations struggle to compete with lower-cost Asian rivals, along with the yen at a record high, they are increasingly moving factories abroad and acquiring foreign companies. The biggest losers in this economy, however, are the workers in Japan who used to be steadily employed in those factories on decent wages, with pensions and other benefits. The once reliable public construction projects, and the jobs that went with them, are also drying up as Japan’s government attempts to rein in its huge national debt.
Hiro lives in the working-class district of Sanya on the east side of Tokyo, an area that has long been associated with day laborers, the homeless, and others that enjoyed little of the benefit of Japan’s “economic miracle,” when the country rose from the ashes of postwar devastation to become one of the most affluent nations.
“Sometimes it’s good and there’s steady work for months, even a year. Then other times there’s very little for months,” he says. “It’s hard to live in Tokyo like this, even around here. It’s not a cheap city.”
He owes “a few hundred thousand yen [a few thousand dollars]” to a couple of private loan companies, but says he can’t see “how or when” he can repay it. When work dries up, Hiro is forced to apply for welfare assistance, something he says he and his family finds “shameful.”
However, not only those at the bottom are being affected by increasing poverty and pessimism about the country’s future.
“The postwar baby boomers believed that their children would have better lives than them. But these days, many people no longer think that,” says Masami Iwata, a professor of social welfare at Japan Women’s University.