Today’s Asahi evening edition had a great op-ed today by author Tsunehiro Uno (age 32). He argues that with such a wide gap between what most Japanese want out of life and what’s attainable for the majority, it’s high time to start setting more realistic expectations. Here’s a rundown of his points, summarized and embellished upon by yours truly:
- A recent government white paper found that a large portion of women in their 20s want to be housewives. Not only that, another survey found that around 40% of unmarried women aged 25-35 want a husband who makes at least Y6 million a year. Sadly for them, only 3.5% of unmarried men in that age bracket actually make that much.
- This desire for a typical middle-class lifestyle—a single-income household with a salaryman husband with lifetime employment and the wife at home raising kids—seems to hark back to the postwar Showa era (1945-1989) when the economy was booming. However, today Japan’s economic stagnation has made the idyllic nuclear family impossible for many families, with more women needing to work to make ends meet.
- Uno relates this revival of Showa values to the conservatism of his generation, in part a reaction against the Koizumi-era economic reforms. Koizumi, in office from 2001-2006, pushed a neoliberal program of deregulation and privatization as a path to lead Japan out of a prolonged economic malaise. During that era, Uno writes, the Japanese people shared a sense that there was no going back, that the stable post-war society that Japan had grown used to had ceased to function properly.
- Now, however, attitudes have shifted sharply in favor of trying to revive lifetime employment. Uno doesn’t give examples, but they are everywhere these days – the temp worker tent village in Jan. 2009, postal minister Kamei’s offer of full-time status to all Japan Post part-timers, and so on.
- People may be critical of the deregulation that spurred the growth of temp workers, but it’s simply not possible to maintain lifetime regular employment for everyone, and many people in today’s society prefer more flexible work arrangements to the more rigid life of a full-time worker.
- Uno worries that people are planning out their lives with the mistaken assumption that the Showa lifestyle is ideal. The real question, however, should be how to live a decent life even under non-regular employment. However, neither the people in general nor our political leaders seem to have the proper mindset.
- Where Koizumi went wrong, he argues, is in failing to create a social system for the new era.
- His proposal for the current DPJ administration – create a new social contract (or in his words 幸福のパッケージ) that can allow a two-income household of non-regular employees to comfortably raise two or more children. How to do this? First, set a bottom line and create safety net policies to help people stay above it. In exchange, create more flexible employment rules that would be more compatible with people’s diverse lifestyles.