- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

In Japan, a country where lifetime employment was once the norm, lives are being devastated by the highest unemployment rate since World War II.
Nearly 1,000 people a day visit the employment referral center in the Tokyo neighborhood of Iidabashi to look for work. Most go away empty-handed.
The government last week reported that Japan's jobless rate edged up to 5 percent in July, the highest since the government began keeping statistics in 1953. There were 3.3 million people out of work, up by 230,000 from a year earlier.
Japan's Nikkei stock market index also ended the lowest on Monday at a 17-year low.
Finding work is tough even in Tokyo, where there are 77 job offers for 100 seekers, said Tatsuo Sasaki of the Iidabashi employment center. The national average is 100 job seekers for every 60 jobs.
The newly unemployed include many people like Kazuaki Asano, 54, who recently lost his job at the bank where he had worked since he was 23. "It's hopeless. I'm wondering what I should do," Mr. Asano said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Japanese had long believed the jobs they started in their youth would last until they retired. The shock of unemployment, especially for those supporting families, has been directly blamed for more than 6,000 suicides, as the overall suicide rate 32,000 last year has topped 30,000 for three straight years.
Last month, two jobless brothers, aged 32 and 26, died from starvation in rural Japan. Police found no food in their refrigerator except for a few pickled plums.
Experts say the unemployment rate will get worse before it gets better.
James R. Lincoln, a professor at the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, said it wouldn't surprise him if the rate reached 6 percent within the next year or two.
"I certainly don't think we are going to see a reversal of the trend anytime soon," Mr. Lincoln said in a telephone interview.
"An awful lot depends on what the U.S. economy does. If the U.S. economy plunges into a full-blown recession, things will get much worse in Japan. Japan is so tied to the U.S. as a market."
Job cuts are spreading to big manufacturers that had long been considered safe places to work.
The electronics giant Toshiba Corp. said it would cut 17,000 employees domestically, or 12 percent of its work force, by 2004. Hitachi Ltd. said Friday it would cut 14,700 jobs. The high-tech company NEC Corp. slashed 4,000 employees. Fujitsu and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. also announced layoffs recently.
Michiko Ito Crampe, a partner in the New York law firm Morrison & Foerster, said she expects the jobless rate to rise over the next few months as many of those employees file for unemployment benefits and begin to show up in the statistics.
To try to ease the hardship, the government has promised companies a subsidy of about $2,500 for every jobless person they hire aged 45 or older.
The economic slowdown has been made worse by a number of Japanese companies shifting production overseas to escape high labor costs. But more than 1 million other workers have voluntarily quit their jobs to seek new opportunities.
Tokyo resident Daisuke Ito, 31, left his job at a life insurance company a few years ago and now is pursuing a master's degree in economics at Hitotsubashi University. He teaches English part-time, earning barely enough to pay his tuition.
"I don't feel like climbing a corporate ladder at all," he said in a telephone interview. "I'd rather value my freedom than being bound by a career. Japanese are now looking for more than just job security. Uncertainties about the future penetrate the entire country."
Mrs. Crampe predicted that, in spite of their anguish, Japanese will learn to adjust. They "will continue to have dreams," she said. But they "will have smaller dreams, smaller housing and smaller cars."


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