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College Students Protest on Japanese Employment @ TOKYO

Spurred by a protest late last year by a small number of college students in Hokkaido Prefecture, a number of students in Tokyo organized for a demonstration protesting against Japan's employment system.

Coming together under the name “College Graduates Protest on Japanese Employment @ TOKYO” (就活くたばれデモ@TOKYO [ja]) , the organization process was started from scratch, using Twitter, blogs, Google Groups2ch threads and posters at universities. The protest occurred on the 23rd of January at Mizutanibashi Park (水谷橋公園). At press time, there were around a hundred participants with more showing interest. There were about a dozen participants.

The protesters revolved around the following messages:

※昨今の就職活動早期化による大学生活への影響を訴える!
※就職を求める学生を食い物にする就職情報会社へ喝!
※老害がしがみつく既存団体の責任はいずこへ!?
※新卒で就職できないと一生やり直せない!?
※新卒一括採用なんてなくなっちまえ!!

※ Bring to attention the impact of early job recruitments on the life of a college student!
※ Reprimand the recruiting (referral) agencies that take advantage of job seeking students!
※ Where is the responsibility of archaic employers!?
※ If graduates can't find employment right out of college, it is impossible to get a decent full time job any time thereafter!?
※ Get rid of simultaneous recruiting of new graduates!

The last point above is the most important one as it relates to the other four points. Japan has an atypical employment system where seniority is deemed more important than actual job skills. This is maintained by having employees work for the company for their lifetimes – from graduation to retirement.

The new graduates are trained as non-specialists to work for the company instead of the job itself, in exchange for the promise of a high salary in their later years. Mid-career or even post-graduate job candidates were seen to disengage the finely tuned system. Before the seniority system was implemented, Japan had high unemployment rates and the structure added [ja] due stability, efficiency and perks (companies take care of welfare, leisure, insurance, etc.) to the workforce.

However, the rapid economic growth became unsustainable in recent times. The seniority system meant that with the aging population, there was a higher proportion of the workforce “promised” a higher ranking job. Combined with the economic collapse, there are less positions for older employees available. Since it is difficult to fire older, higher-paid employees, the onus is cast upon the young, via lower salaries or temp jobs. In recent years, a third [ja] of college graduates quit their companies reportedly because they are doomed of advancement whether it is through aging or by getting results. Once one is off the rail of lifetime employment, it is difficult to recover.

This topic has been discussed extensively in the past two decades, yet change has been slow and the public has been quiet (except for maybe the violence at Akihabara). Let's see what the blogosphere thinks about the college protests in a culture where perseverance perseveres.

Blogger kanedo thinks [ja] the message outputted by this protest vilifies the corporations too far and argues that the real problem is with the system. Both the job seeker and the employer are acting upon its own best interests that incur an incompatibility between the two players.

…例えば一人の学生が「大学生活はもっとゆっくり過ごすべきだ。僕はもっと遅くから就活を始める」とすると、他の学生は早くから動き始め、情報やノウハウを蓄積しているので彼が損をします。また、ある一つの企業が「学生にはもっとじっくり勉強してほしい。我々はもっと遅くから採用活動を始める」とすると、他の企業は早くから採用活動をしているので優秀な学生を取られてしまいます。

一度全体が悪い均衡に陥ってしまうと、そこから一人逸脱するのはその個人にとって損なので、本当は学生と企業の双方にとってもっと良い均衡が可能性として存在するのに、移ることが難しくなるのですね。経済学の一分野であるゲーム理論では有名な問題で、「囚人のジレンマ」と言われています。

For example, let's say one student proclaims, “a major part of college life shouldn't be taken up by job searches; therefore, I will look for jobs later than my colleagues.” Then he is disadvantaged in the recruiting process because other students have a head start on gathering information and experience. Now let's say one company says, “I'd like a college student to focus on his/her studies; therefore, we will start the recruiting process later.” Now the company is in an unfavorable position because all the ‘best’ students are already taken.

Once a bad equilibrium is established, it is not rational for one player to try and move to a good equilibrium, even if it exists. This situation is famously called ‘the prisoner's dilemma’ in game theory.

Blogger elm200 comments [ja] on the article above:

上のエントリでは「構造的な問題だから、騒いでも無駄」とか書いてあったけど、若い人がそこまで賢ぶる必要はないと思うよ。たしかに本当にどうしようもない構造的な問題なんだけどさ.まずは声をあげるところからはじめないとね。

The entry above argued that “since it is a structural problem, making noise about it is of no use”, but I don't think it's necessary for young people to wise up so much. Yes, it is an impossible structural problem in the employment process, but it's important to raise our voices as a first step.

Blogger ruushu points out [ja] that the job openings and job seeker ratio of college graduates (this includes graduate students) is 1.62 for 2010. He argues that this number is actually not that bad and that if one wants to really change the job hunting process, one should enroll at Tokyo University and become a politician.

Below, I plotted the ratio of job openings and job seekers for graduates using data [ja, pdf] from the Works Institute.

大卒求人倍率

Blogger amamako sees a trend [ja] in the blog posts about the protest. One segment of bloggers feel that the protesters should quit complaining and get a job; another segment of bloggers mention statistics on employment and think that the accusations of protesters are overstated. However, none of them take in the big picture and mention that these status quo spirit did not fix the “lost generation” of the 1990s or 2000s. He asks that since everyone agrees that the employment system is broken, why not work together to think of better ways to inform the public and make changes?

そして、今また氷河期が全く似たような感じでやって来ようとするわけです。そんな時に、またその失敗した「デモする暇があったら~」戦略を、一体誰が採用するっていうんでしょう?もし「いや今度はこの戦略で上手くいくんだ」とか言う人が居たとしたら、むしろそんな人間の方がおめでたい超楽観主義者に見えて仕方ないんですがねぇ。自己責任・自助努力のロスジェネは明らかに失敗しているわけです。だとしたら、その失敗は二度と繰り返さないように戦略を変更するっていうのが、普通に学習する人間の当然の有り様なわけです。

As people are making the “if you have time for protests…” type of complaints during the “lost generation,” we are coming to the brink of another “lost generation.” Are people going to make the same old arguments? You would have to be super optimistic if you think this strategy will work this time around. The self-responsibility, self-help “lost generation” have clearly failed. It is only rational to change strategies to avoid the same mistakes again.

5 comments

  • Thank you for introducing my article.

    I think this article summarizes the problem well, but there are some incorrect information about the fact.

    According to the news (see below), the number of participants were a dozen or so,not “around a hundred”. it was rather humble one.
    http://www.j-cast.com/2010/01/24058578.html

    I criticized them for stirring students without thinking seriously. However, I share the same awareness of the problem concerning employment system in Japan with them.

  • Thank you for your article. I have found it very insightful. I had a broader view on this issue.

    I graduated from University of Tokyo, which is still considered to be one of Japan’s most prestigious colleges. I did experience the fuss of \simultaneous recruiting of new graduates\ then. It was in 1994 when the bubble economy burst just a few years ago. The demand on labor was still high and the Japanese companies made every effort to attract university graduates. Japanese companies just seemed to be interested in gathering sufficient numbers of new graduates from a well-known universities and showed no interest in their academic achievements. Even worse, some companies tried to isolate their prospective new employees by confining in a hotel room or taking out to a trip in order to prevent them from contacting other companies. After I witnessed numerous unthoughtful acts done by those companies in the recruiting process, I lost faith in Japanese companies. I can’t believe that they have not learn lessons yet.

    I have also made a few posts regarding this issue on my English-speaking blog.
    http://elm200.blogspot.com/

    If you are interested in it, please visit my blog site.

  • Thanks kanedo. At press time, I only had the online survey information posted on the protester site. The survey said that around a hundred were definitely interested in going.

    In actuality, things look like there were different. Thanks for the link to the news article.

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