The Life and Work of Young Workers in Japan and Their Commitment to Action

By Brian Geronimo

Japan is one of the best places and destinations in Asia for tourism and work. It is due to his unparalleled and unique culture, advanced technology, and heavy manufacturing industries. Japan’s economy relies mainly on the manufacturing sector, electro-mechanical technology, car production and retail trade industries.

During the field mission of IYCW-ASPAC to YCW Japan, one of the best learning experiences was the deep sharing of their cultural heritage and work values. Although the language and beliefs may vary from other countries in Asia and the rest of the World, the working conditions of many young people in Japan are not far removed from the conditions and situations of young people in other countries, especially in the social and economic aspects of life.

The culture of work

Young people in Japan highly value their work and their tasks. They pour their energy and knowledge into their work as part of their responsibility and commitment to the business and as service to the Japanese people in general. But because of this, it has become a common problem among young workers to work more than eight hours a day.

Many Japanese employers require their employees to work long hours (most often to do overtime every day), thus workers find it difficult to have holidays, rest, and vacations. One of the visible reasons is the lack of workforce (aging population). Most companies are understaffed, such as factories, hospitals, banks, and restaurants. Many young workers work for long hours because they feel it is needed in the workplace, at the cost of sacrificing their mental and physical health.

According to the study published by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Development Bank of Japan Group’ s Value Management Institute, and others, “to meet the supply and demand, Japan will need 4.19 million foreign workers by 2030, and 6.74 million in 2040, to achieve the GDP target.”

High inflation that affects everyone

Low incomes in Japan affect the purchasing power of young people. The depreciation (weakness) of the yen has become a tricky political issue in the country, with direct impact on the rising cost of living for many households. The decline of the yen is said be mainly due to the widening of interest rate differentials between the USA and Japan.

The soaring commodity costs, fueled by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, mean Japanese consumers suffer more from high inflation. The continued increase in inflation has a major impact on everyone due to Japan's high consumption tax of 10 percent plus their Personal Income Tax. Most of the young people are concerned about this situation because they have almost nothing to save from their wages; even though their income increase, their taxes will also soar.

These situations are considered to be one of the reasons why many young people experience mental health problems and pressure from the society. The problem of loneliness and isolation, which has also been linked to suicide among young people, has worsened with the spread of the coronavirus in Japan. Social isolation has become an alarming issue, especially for young people. Common reasons cited for social isolation include pregnancy, job loss, illness, retirement, and poor interpersonal relationships.

These conditions are interrelated and thus, concrete measures are needed to remove young people from this type of condition. The role that young people have to play is big, such as continuous evaluation, education process and awareness among young people towards changing their situation.

Young people's lives matter

Dealing with a mental health problem is not easy for young people. This is a serious matter that harms an individual emotionally and mentally. Thus, YCW Japan encourages young workers to be organized and participate in the community of young people to combat this type of problem. Many of the members use their skills in art and music to express freely their thoughts, feelings, frustrations, disappointment, sadness, pressure...

“I am Matthew [not his real name] and I live in Sapporo, Japan with my mother. At the moment, I am not working, but I am learning technical skills and training in a farm in Sapporo. I have a developmental problem and it is difficult for me to socialize with other people. I have a hard time expressing myself. I am afraid to mix with other people especially in crowded places and I have to stay away from people to avoid panic attacks. I joined YCW Japan because I wanted to share and express my worries and hardships with fellow young people and to deepen my understanding of our situations.”

YCW Japan is encouraging young workers to get out of their comfort zone and to mingle with other young people, to socialize and make friends. The YCW methodology helps them to reflect on their personal and collective situation. The Review of Life and Worker Action (ROLWA) strengthens their connection with other young people with the support of YCW adults, collaborators, and chaplains.

Currently, YCW Japan is conducting various studies related to mental health problems to deepen their understanding on the issue. They are actively exchanging their experiences with other YCW national movements in Asia and other continents to see the link with others. This greatly contributes to the development of their analysis and strengthening of their action.

Mental health problems affect young workers

The) IYCW International Plan of Action 2023-2026 has identified mental health issues as an important point to be addressed by the movement. The movement should facilitate a social and professional conversation enabling young workers facing mental health problems to find an adequate place and support. A mental health problem is an illness like any other; it must be given importance and not be neglected.

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