Young job aspirants in Japan go in for second and third career options

Young job aspirants in Japan go in for second and third career options

Young job aspirants in Japan go in for second and third career options

Kirito Nakano quit his primary job after parlaying his side job in marketing into a career.
She might go home and promote products and stores on her blog. Or in another role, as a work-life coach, she might meet a client for a consultation. Yokogawa, 32, makes about one-third of her income from her side jobs, which take up an average of three hours a day on weekdays and as many as five hours a day on weekends.

“It’s not that I hate my main job, but I want to have a stable income without being completely dependent on the company,” Yokogawa said. “I initially started doing extra work to have more wiggle room in my income — cash to spend on fashion, going out or for savings. But now I try to do work that will be useful to me in the future.”

For decades, the standard career path in Japan was to graduate from college, join a company and to stay there until retirement — one job for life. But with salaries down more than 12 percent over the last decade amid an uncertain labor market, young, mostly single Japanese are increasingly making ends meet by working second or even third jobs.

Some deliver leaflets or work in convenience stores. Some trade foreign currencies online. Others sell items on Internet auction sites. A survey in January by the Internet market research company Ishare found that almost 17 per cent of workers ages 20 to 50 had a side job.

Despite long working hours — the eighth-longest in the world, according to one recent measure, though with overtime often going unreported and unpaid — almost half of the workers questioned last year in a survey by the government-affiliated Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training expressed interest in side jobs. Nearly 90 per cent said the main reason was a desire to have extra spending money.

“The biggest cause of the increase is young people trying to increase their short-term earnings in the face of severe economic and income conditions,” said Tokyo-based Dai-Ichi Life Reasearch Institute chief economist Toshihiro Nagahama. “But it’s also a form of risk management for workers fearful of losing their main jobs.”

The unemployment rate in Japan was 5.2 per cent in July. While that is low by international standards, it is close to a record high for Japan. The economy remains stagnant, weighed down by an aging and shrinking population, deflation and a strong yen, which crimps exports.

According to figures from the National Tax Agency, average annual salaries for Japanese workers in their early 20s fell to 2.48 million yen in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, from 2.83 million yen in 1997. At the current exchange rate, that is a decrease to $29,470, from $33,635. Data released last week by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that almost 56 percent of workers 15 to 34 years old needed another form of income to help pay living expenses.

Disposable incomes have taken a further hit since the global downturn, with many companies banning paid overtime to save money. Kirito Nakano quit his primary job after parlaying his side job in marketing into a career.

“Without all that overtime, more and more people just want to have something to do,” said Kirito Nakano, who formerly worked a side job and parlayed his experience into a career as an entrepreneur and author.

Nakano, 28, initially followed the standard career path, joining a large company as a Web engineer after graduating from college in 2004. Finding that his salary would not cover luxuries like trips abroad, he began experimenting on his own time with affiliate marketing programs, in which he earned fees for sending customers to other businesses.

Three years later, he was making more money from his side job than from his ostensible main one. He eventually quit his original job to set up an affiliate marketing company, where he now works full time. In August, he published a second book, which explains how to make 100,000 yen a month outside the office.

“The Japanese economy is not just stagnant, it’s in retreat,” he said. “When people believe the future is going to be better than the present, they are happy. But if they think that the future holds no hope, then they become unhappy. It’s that unhappiness that people are trying to negate with side jobs.”

The Japanese system of lifetime employment began to break down with the bursting of an economic bubble in 1991, and workers like Yokogawa are well acquainted with the new reality. She has worked for a number of companies already, as a telephone operator and necktie saleswoman, among other jobs. Still, she says the changes have been particularly wrenching for her generation.

“People like me, in their 30s, have it the roughest,” she said. “People in their 20s grew up already accustomed to the poor economy, but we grew up believing that if you just worked hard and joined a big company, you’d be set for life.”

Last month, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that the time had come for Japan to take action that would allow “young people to have dreams and get jobs.” For that to happen, the country may have to help foster entrepreneurship, which has often seemed lacking in Japan. But those with side jobs may offer a glimmer of hope.“The business start-up  rate in Japan is weak, but if you include people doing work on the side, the numbers start to look a little better,” said Business writer and analyst Shinsuke Ogino, who has published books on side jobs and dual careers.

“Side-job workers are the type of people who are not satisfied with the work they’re being given as salarymen, and it’s unquestionably a good thing that people with this type of entrepreneurial spirit are increasing,” he said.

Spending so much time working does have its costs, notably a loss of leisure time. “Working on the side just for money is draining,” Yokogawa said. “But if you’re doing something you love, that stress becomes a source of power.” She combines her side job and her free time by visiting popular stores and following trends, which she uses as inspiration for her blog posts.

“For these kinds of workers, the side jobs themselves are entertainment, the means by which they can socialize with new people,” Ogino said. “I think a lot of them use the money and connections they’ve made from their side jobs to have fun.”

Yokogawa hopes to use her experience juggling jobs to help others find work and lifestyle patterns that suit them. She charges clients, whom she meets through friends or via her blog, about 3,000 yen for a consultation. Beginning next year, she plans to increase the amount of time she puts into her advisory role, with hopes of turning it into a career. But that does not mean she will quit her day job. “I wouldn’t say I want to leave my main job — rather, I’d like to have a couple of different jobs at once,” she said.

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