Terrie's Take 696 -- Choosing Not to Work Full-time, ebiz news from Japan

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Feb 3 21:53:35 JST 2013

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, Feb 03, 2013, Issue No. 696


- What's New -- Choosing Not to Work Full-time
- News -- China's rare earth strategy backfires
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Gifu's sake & Odaiba in Tokyo
- News Credits

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The Nikkei ran a piece on Thursday about the fact that national monthly
wage levels are being dragged down by the record number of non-regular
workers in the workforce. According to government figures, the average
monthly worker's take-home pay, including bonuses and overtime, has fallen
to JPY314,236. This is the lowest level since 1990, and down JPY57,000,
about 15%, from the peak monthly pay level of JPY371,670 back in 1997.
Ahhh, the good old days...

The Nikkei narrative seems to confirm that Japanese workers are still stuck
with wage deflation, and given that 73% of Japan's several million
companies didn't pay tax (i.e., didn't make a taxable profit) last year, it
also confirms that companies are becoming less likely to take on full-time
"Regular" employees, preferring instead to tap a less privileged group for
temporary labor. One wonders whether this means that there should be more
protection for part-timers, contractors, and others, as the DPJ seemed to
think, or whether to foster a more open labor market where employers can
fire full-timers when things get tight, so as to encourage them to hire
more once things look better -- like this year, for example.

Anyway, the percentage of non-regular to full-time workers is now a record
28.75%, almost 18m people (there are 62m in the workforce). This is not
just a temporary trend, and over the last 22 years the number of such
workers has more than doubled from 12.97% back in 1990. The total of 18m
people includes about 8.3m part-timers, 4.2m temps, and 3.4m contract
employees (2011 numbers from the Statistics Bureau). There is also a
category of worker not counted as an employee by the government because
they are included in "self-employed" counts (although they don't intend to
ever be more than a 1-person shop). These people -- private contractors --
are of particular interest to us, since unlike the other three
classifications, they are more likely to be working on a non-regular basis
for lifestyle reasons, and thus offer hope that the non-regular employment
trend is not all negative.

So if one believes the Nikkei slant, the general view is that part-timers
and other non-regular workers are disadvantaged and are stuck in an echo of
the so-called "Hiring Ice Age" that took place between 1999 and 2005. The
phenomenon, if you're not familiar with it, is that college kids who
graduated during the ice age were unable to get regular jobs, and so they
were unable to get the training that companies normally provide -- meaning
that they are supposed to be underskilled and undesirable as full-time
employees now that they are in their 30's. We suppose that from a
traditional Japanese perspective, where having a full-time job and all the
loving care it entails, is considered to make a Japanese employee a whole
person, this theory makes sense. However, in this age of remote learning
and working, we wonder if there aren't some other factors at play that make
staying non-regular more desirable?

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Now it is apparently true that money is the biggest reason why employers
hire non-regular workers. In an excellent 2010 paper on Non-regular Workers
by The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) which you can
find at http://bit.ly/12jMgmm, a survey of employers put the following
reasons down as why they are not hiring full-timers: 1) to reduce costs, 2)
to find specialized workers for projects, 3) to find ready-trained staff,
4) head-count flexibility, and 5) to try out newcomers for potential
full-time positions.

On the employee side of things, and most non-regular employees are still
female, the sentiment seems to be that going part-time or contracting is
not necessarily negative. The JILPT study found that the top reasons for
non-regular workers to take on that role were: 1) personal convenience, 2)
flexibility of work hours -- something very important to moms, 3) lack of
opportunity to take a full-time position, and 4) desire to be working at a
company likely to hire them full time in the future. So from this we can
conclude that indeed, most of the people polled were working non-regular
jobs out of personal choice.

Making a personal choice about working style is partly becoming possible
because of the changing nature of work. With the advent of the web and
mobile social media, for example, there has in the last two years been a
huge increase in demand for people who can help produce content -- whether
for shopping reviews, how-to content, or community information sites. Then
there are the developers, designers, marketers, SEO specialists, user
experience testers, and many others who don't necessarily have to be locked
into an office all day to be productive. Smart web companies realize this
and are actively encouraging employees to work at home, either as regular,
non-regular, or "kojin jigyo" (self propietorship, or SOHO) employees.
Besides offering the flexibility that talented employees are starting to
ask for, it also saves rent.

We haven't found any recent studies on teleworking in Japan, however, the
government-related Japan Telework Association did say in 2008 there were
approximately 8.2m teleworkers in Japan, that is, people working from home
or otherwise not in the office for 8 hours or more a week. At that time
they estimated this number would rise to 10m by 2010. However, now that the
3/11 disaster has helped many of us reassess our priorities in life, as
well as the ubiquity of mobile computing devices, our guess is that as of
the end of 2012 the number of teleworkers is probably well past 15m.

In this age of information workers, the choice of not only how long to work
but also where to work is becoming a standard part of the job benefits
offered to new employees. Just some of the firms we've heard about in the
last few months doing this, include:
* A leading Japanese internet portal that has 250 writers working from
their apartments around the country
* A major translation company that is cutting costs by outsourcing work to
hundreds of Japanese housewives and retired couples living in Thailand and
elsewhere in SE Asia
* A digital ad agency whose partners pitch clients on projects, and only
pulls together the freelance team when they win a deal
* A software company whose core staff spec each project, then tender the
actual coding work on crowdworks.co.jp and other similar sites
* Crowdworks.co.jp, reports that its freelance engineers have delivered
work to 3,600 companies to the value of JPY900m in just 10 months since

In fact, the last company on that list, Crowdworks, just announced last
month a tie-up with Yahoo Japan, to start the Yahoo! Crowdsourcing service.
A recent Nihon Ryutsu Sangyo newspaper article listed a variety of
competing services and had the top two firms at 24,000 and 19,000 freelance
skilled workers (i.e., mainly engineers) respectively, and the remaining
two at 7,000 and 6,000 people. Allowing for overlap, it seems, then, that
at least 30,000 software engineers, about 3%-4% of all the software
engineers in Japan, are now registered in one or more of these
crowdsourcing services. This is a significant enough trend that Nikkei
Business in its January 2013 issue asked if this was the "start of the end
of company employees" in Japan.

Probably not, but the ability for people in this information age to choose
where and when to work is obviously appealing. We think that this is the
most exciting trend to happen in Japanese HR since the advent of internet
recruiting 15 years ago.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Australia complains about whalers
- Factory workers lowest number since 1961
- China's rare earth strategy backfires
- Kubota makes robotic arm for fruit pickers
- Japan buying up EU bonds

=> Australia complains about whalers

Even as Japan and Australia have embarked on a joint defense treaty, the
Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean has irritated Australian
political sensitivies significantly. So it didn't help that one of the
Japanese ships, Shonan Maru No 2, which has armed personnel on board and
which has been shadowing a Sea Shepherd ship the Bob Barker, strayed into
Australian territory for a short time and sparked a diplomatic protest by
the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. ***Ed: Apparently the harpoon ship is
playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Sea Shepherd vessel, which itself has
been shadowing the whaling fleet.** (Source: TT commentary from
theaustralian.com.au, Feb 1, 2013)


=> Factory workers lowest number since 1961

Just how big an impact China's takeover of manufacturing has had on Japan
can be seen by the ever-declining numbers of factory workers. As of
December 2012, there are now just 9.98m workers in factories, the lowest
number since 1961 and the first time since that year that the number has
fallen to less than 10m. Overall, as of December, there were 62.28m people
in the workforce, a decrease of 380,000 over November, and the second
straight month of decline. ***Ed: Ironically, though, the number of jobs
available per applicant is increasing, which would indicate to us that a
significant number of people are retiring rather than being fired. This is
hopeful for younger unemployed people.** (Source: TT commentary from
japantimes.co.jp, Feb 2, 2013)


=> China's rare earth strategy backfires

There must be more than just a few self-satisfied business leaders in Tokyo
after hearing that China's rare earth industry is suffering a huge fall in
revenues and exports after restricting Japanese access to the minerals in
2010 in retaliation to the Senkaku Islands spat. After the restrictions
were put in place, Japanese manufacturers figured out how to make
high-efficiency magnets using other materials than Chinese rare earths. As
a result, exports of rare earths in 2012 plunged 66.1% to JPY82bn and many
of the more than 100 companies involved in the trade have had to halt
operations, causing some of them to go out of business or be merged under
direction of the government.  (Source: TT commentary from e.nikkei.com, Jan
31, 2013)


=> Kubota makes robotic arm for fruit pickers

Kubota has introduced a robotic arm that could potentially revolutionize
the fruit picking industry. The 3.8kg ARM-1 device fits across the
fruit-picker's shoulders and augments his/her upper arm muscles, reducing
fatigue and increasing working times. The device looks power hungry, but
apparently runs for 8 hours on just 4 x AA batteries -- amazing if that is
true. Although Kubota doesn't say, it appears the device will initially be
targetted at Japan's elderly farming community. However, if it does work as
well as advertised, then we can see this being used all over the world.
(Source: TT commentary from e.nikkei.com, Jan 31, 2013)


=> Japan buying up EU bonds

Incase you're wondering how it is there isn't more internation protest over
Japan's move to weaken the yen, look no further than its behind-the-scenes
investments in Europe. Apparently the Abe government has bought EU400m of
European Stability Mechanism (a rescue fund) bonds. That is about 10.3% of
the total bond issuance in January, and brings Japan's overall purchases of
the bonds to around EU7bn, or 6.7% of the total amount. ***Ed: Wheels
within wheels -- international finance and its role in politics is
fascinating.** (Source: TT commentary from bloomberg.com, Feb 1, 2013)


NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.



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There are gaijin share houses, and those that you share with others on a
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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted by readers. We
encourage you to spot our mistakes and amplify our points, by email, to
editors at terrie.com.

=> No corrections this week.



=> Hazama Sake Brewery, Gifu
390-years of brewing sake on the Nakasendo

Most Japanese towns have a sake brewery and each sake produced tastes
slightly different from the next. Some sake is mass produced while some
could be called “local brew”. Along the Nakasendo in Nakatsugawa-juku there
are a handful of sake breweries all producing their own unique brews. The
first place you’ll come across just inside Nakatsugawa-juku, a hodgepodge
of 1960s concrete and Edo period Udatsu houses, is a beautiful old building
which is home to Hazama Brewery and the Shuyukan.

The exterior is a low two-floor udatsu building with a large sign saying
“Ena San”; their main brand named for the mountain that supplies the water
for their sake. Like most sake breweries in Japan, there is a large
sugidama - a ball made of pine needles - signifying that a new brew is
ready for sale. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a store, a museum or a
brewery but since I was feeling curious, in I went.


=> Odaiba, Tokyo
A breath of fresh air in a sea of grey

Odaiba is a world apart from its host city of Tokyo. I love both, but for
all of Tokyo’s vibrancy and history, Odaiba is a breath of fresh air in a
sea of grey. The boardwalks and parks and Ferris wheels seem more at home
in a seaside resort, and at the same time, it is so high-tech (check out
the Miraikan, Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). Its history, or
sometimes lack of history, lends it a odd quality. It is kitschy and
certainly over-the-top, especially during a holiday season, when every
business on the island goes all-out to complete the experience. Even with
all the visitors and kitsch, though, it’s still easy to find a quiet spot
on the beach, picnic on the Daibas, take a ferry across the Bay or visit
one of the many parks and playgrounds.




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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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