Unemployed in the Pandemic: First-Hand Accounts from Hello Work

by Farrah Hasnain

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit Japan hard as of late. Classrooms remain empty after spring break, restaurants begin to provide take-out, and factories stall upcoming projects. The number of workers who are predicted to lose their jobs due to the novel Coronavirus was projected in the upwards of 1,021 people last month, according to the Ministry of Labor. Prime Minister Abe did declare a State of Emergency on April 7th, and the Ministry of Finance announced that ¥100,000 would be given to residents (and eventually confirmed that foreign residents were included) but some experts argue that this declaration occurred too late.

While April would normally be the start of new jobs for many in Japan, this April seems to have an opposite turnout for most job-seekers. Lines outside of Hello Work* buildings all over the country would be twice as long as lines for masks outside of drugstores. Certain locations have also reduced the amount of staff members on-duty, causing longer waiting times at local Hello Work branches.

(Hello Work is an employment service center operated by the Japanese government, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Its main role is to help connect job seekers to companies in need of skilled labor.)

In early April, I became a part of this statistic. My 6-month contract at a city hall in Osaka was not granted for renewal, and the job openings for tourism and English education in the area seemed to have vanished as the governor also declared a state of emergency. I decided to reach out to Hello Work to see if I was eligible for any benefits and to search for jobs through their system.

I arrived on a Thursday morning around 11AM. The line encircled the entire building and moved slowly. There was little distance between us and we stood outside of the building for about two hours. Bottles of hand sanitizer were available to use before entering the building. It reminded me of Disneyland for a brief moment.

 

Once I entered the Hello Work office, I was greeted by an energetic staff member. Everyone in the office, including the job-seekers, were wearing masks. We were told to sit two to three seats apart from each other, and the seats for the computer lab were 1 seat apart. There appeared to be no multilingual support at this Osaka branch. Many of the people in the room appeared to be elderly or recently graduated from university. Some of the job-seekers previously worked in factories or in retail.

After about an hour, it was my turn. Since my previous contract was only for six months, I was unable to receive any benefits. But the staff member who assisted me thoroughly searched and found about fifteen jobs that I could apply for. The process itself took about 10 minutes. I turned around and saw the computer lab filled to the brim with anxious job-seekers. Most of them has 0 search results, and the staff would try their best to experiment with different search entries to find a match.

 

 

Hello Work branches all over the country seem to be facing the same dilemma. For many newly unemployed residents in the Chubu region, they faced the most difficulty with their former employer. “I did not know much about the paperwork I needed to file for unemployment”, said Guillerme Okada. “At the factories, we were suddenly told that we couldn’t work anymore. I had to ask several of my friends first.” Okada had brought someone with him as an interpreter to explain to his Japanese supervisor that he needed to give documents for Okada to receive unemployment benefits. “It is a common issue with factory workers in this area. If I struggle to get legal documentation, I struggle to trust this system. I came with my interpreter to Hello Work, but there were two already available to help me. I had a lot of support from my community and from them during this time.”

Other employers would also push back start dates and avoid paying the contracted salary despite the legal 60% minimum requirement. Maria M., a Tokyo resident, would get last-minute notices and conflicting information about her start date and paycheck.

“I had already given my previous job a month’s notice and quit to start this new one. I was supposed to start during the first week of April but they changed it. It’s at a store so telework is impossible.”

About four or five days later, she was asked to Skype with the human relations chair. Her hiring date was moved to May 15th with no pay in advance. She contacted the labor bureau about her situation. “They confirmed that my company was responsible for me. My friends [who also worked at the company] said that they were receiving part of their salary in April. When I told my employer that I contacted the labor bureau, they quickly agreed to offer me part of my contracted pay.”

During these uncertain times, it may be difficult to navigate unemployment and economic stability on top of acquiring the basic necessities for surviving the pandemic. As the numbers of infected individuals steadily increase, the ratio of available job positions drop to its lowest level in three years. However, with the national and local government bringing out new sources of financial aid for individuals and businesses alike, there is room for growth in the economy and policy change.

 

Viva la Révolucion? The Japanese Communist Party: Still Red And Not Dead

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(Tokyo) – By Douglas Miller*

Communism as an ideology would appear to be fading out of our world. Most of the Cold War revolutionaries have died off, and China, Vietnam, and even Burma are becoming market economies. The communists are still going strong, however, here in Japan. Although the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) has dwindled in political stature since its heyday in the 1980s, the latest numbers show that there still are 320,000 JCP party members, as well as 1,300,000 subscribers to the party-run (しんぶん赤旗)Akahata newspaper. When you tally the Sunday and daily editions, the number is close to 1.5 million subscribers.

Think about it: over three hundred thousand registered party members and over a million subscribers to their newspaper. These numbers are staggering if one takes into account that these numbers are those of communist sympathizers. Well, that may not be exactly true. The name of the party is indeed the Japanese Communist Party. But the policies, far from being communist, are center-right social democrat. The American Japanologist and one-time ambassador to Japan E. O. Reischauer stated in his book Japan in Reischauer’s Eyes (ライシャワーの見た日本) (1968) that the JCP was not to be equated with the Soviets or the Chinese.

The JCP is not moving towards any revolution of the kind that we would perceive to be a necessary component of any communist movement. Rather, its goal is to become the majority party in Japan’s national parliament. If the JCP were to call for violent revolution and for the abolishment of multiparty systems and of capitalism itself, few of its hundreds of thousands of members would be supportive.

What the JCP stands for are noble causes that resonate with the Japanese people: (i) the abrogation of the US-Japan Security Treaty, (ii) economic sovereignty, (iii) correct historical understanding and subsequent necessary apologies to victims of Japanese aggression in World War II (iv) an end to nuclear power.  The US-Japan Security Treaty imposes an especially heavy burden on Okinawa, where the majority of the US military bases are located. The JCP has always been a strong supporter of Okinawan voices, together protesting and working toward getting rid of the bases altogether.

The JCP has also been sensitive to the plight of small enterprises that are getting run out of business by multinational corporations that thrive on globalization. The protection of economic sovereignty is not necessarily a complete denial of globalization but, rather, a plea for “democratic rules that protect the lives and basic rights of the people.” The JCP accepts capitalism as a workable system and is not against it in principle.

 

A problem with history

Questions of historical correctness have proved more difficult for the JCP to finesse. Japan has adopted a highly revisionist interpretation of what occurred during the years leading up to World War II and during the war. There are two main issues of contention regarding historical correctness: “comfort women” and territorial disputes. The Japanese military was partially involved with the rounding up of large numbers of females in occupied territories to serve its troops as so-called “comfort women”, a euphemism for prostitutes. Many of these women were essentially sex slaves, forced to work and treated inhumanely, without freedom to choose their customers or quit their jobs. Internationally accepted accounts of the war years treat that practice as historical fact. But conservative Japanese politicians, often from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have denied that forced prostitution occurred and have insisted that any women who served the troops with sexual favors did so of their own volition. These comments routinely cause understandable uproar in China, the Koreas, and other states that were victimized by the Japanese.

The JCP acknowledges what the Japanese forces did during the war and has been working to encourage government accountability: acknowledge the existence of the comfort women, make a formal apology, and pay reparations to those who are still alive. Recently  a South Korean diplomat met with JCP chairman Kazuo Shii to discuss the comfort women issue and other issues that the JCP has addressed. The diplomat expressed respect for the JCP’s stance on historical correctness and voiced high expectations for their policies. The JCP exhibits a mindboggling inconsistency, however, in regard to the very commitment to historical accountability lauded by the Korean diplomat. Witness its incomprehensible stance in regard to territorial disputes.

Japan currently has one official territorial dispute: a disagreement with Russia about four islands near Hokkaido—known to the Japanese as the Northern Territories and to the Russians as the Southern Kuril Islands—seized by Russia in the waning days of World War II. It also has two unofficial territorial disputes of note. One pertains to the Liancourt Rocks (claimed by Japan as Takeshima and by South Korea as Dokdo), a group of tiny islets in the Sea of Japan (the “East Sea” to Koreans). The other dispute pertains to a group of islets in the East China Sea claimed by Japan as Senkaku and by China as Daioyutai.

The JCP—the self-styled voice of historical accountability, the party lauded by the South Korean diplomat for its historical correctness—has parroted the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and other factions in asserting that all three of the disputed territories belong “indisputably” to Japan. Official party literature presents dubious historical data in support of the claim that these islands have long been under Japanese control and that the occupation of any of the islands by non-Japanese, as in the case of Takeshima/Dokdo and the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils are unjust. The sight of the JCP voicing the questionable history concocted by the conservative establishment is indisputably bizarre.

A knack for local politics

Incoherence in the national political arena does not seem to be undermining the JCP’s standing in prefectural and municipal governments. At the national Diet, the JCP lost yet another seat in the lower house last year, and its presence there has dwindled to a measly eight seats, a 45-year low. The party remains strong, however, in local politics.

Typical of the JCP’s loyal members is one who described his reasons for joining the party as follows, “The JCP was the only party that never compromised its principles, that never succumbed to political expediency.” The JCP is the last resort, adds the party member for a lot of people who can’t get help elsewhere for problems with things like workplace disputes and unmanageable debt. “When the police can’t help and the banks can’t help, you go to the Japanese Communist Party.”

The JCP has won government recognition of workplace injuries and fatalities, and its legal assistance has helped secure compensation for workers and their families in several instances of such accidents. Alone among Japan’s political parties, the JCP openly goes head to head with multinational corporations, such as Toyota, Sony and Mazda, to protect the rights of workers and their families. This principled support of ordinary people is a reason that the JCP has several long-serving public officials in local government.

One long-standing public official from the JCP was Kenzo Yamada, the mayor of Nanko town, Hyogo Prefecture, (1980 to 2005.) Yamada was reelected six times and served until Nanko town and three other towns merged to become the present municipality of Sayo town. His policies for promoting social welfare in the town generated tangible benefits. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, for example, recognized the town for its large percentage of over-80 residents who still had at least 20 of their original teeth.

Another long-standing public official from the JCP was Yutaka Yano, the mayor of Komae City in Tokyo, (1996 to 2012). Prior to his election as mayor, he had been a city councilman for 21 years. He replaced Sanyu Ishii, whose tenure had been riddled with accusations of corruption and of chronic gambling trips to South Korea. Ishii unexpectedly resigned on June 12, 1996, and Yano won the subsequent special election.

Yamada and Yano exemplify the JCP’s capacity for winning fair democratic elections. Support for the JCP’s national agenda may be wavering, but the party remains highly relevant in local constituencies all across Japan.

*The Japan Subculture Research Center does not support any one political party or political faction in Japan. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.