Demand grows more than 10 times in size in just five years as Japanese family dynamics change.
As time passes, technology advances, and economies evolve, certain industries will shrink. For example, electronics manufacturing used to be a huge part of the Japanese economy, but it’s been in contraction for many years, with Casio’s exit from the digital camera game the most recent example.
But on the other hand, some industries can see huge growth due to socioeconomic trends. So if you’re hunting for a job in Japan, and you want to be part of a rapidly expanding field, you might want to consider a position in tokushu soji, or “special cleaning” industry.
What makes the cleaning special? Well, tokushu soji companies come in and clean the homes of senior citizens who have died alone. Back in the old days, this is something that was almost always handled by surviving relatives, often the deceased’s children, and in fact it used to be far more common than it is today for elderly parents to live with their offspring in multi-generational homes.
Things have changed, though. As families become smaller and more people move farther away from home to seek out academic or professional opportunities, the number of seniors in Japan who live alone has been steadily increasing, from roughly 4.1 million in 2010 to 6.55 million in 2016 (according to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare). In response, there are now over 5,000 companies offering special cleaning services in Japan, which is 15 times as many as there were just five years ago.
Aside from recycling or otherwise disposing of the deceased’s possessions, special cleaning companies have to clean and disinfect the home. Sometimes a significant amount of time will have passed before someone discovered that the resident had passed away, and in addition to using professional-grade cleaners and pesticides, special cleaning staff often wear protective clothing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
While cleaning and waste disposal are the primary services offered, some special cleaning companies have expanded their role to coordinating funeral services. Many also believe that respectful treatment of surviving relatives is part of their duties, and the Special Cleaning Center, and industry group formed in 2013, offers training and certification programs to ensure high-quality service in both the technical and human aspects of the job.
If this tactic fails, drivers may even consider letting people cross the white line while the bus is in motion.
Bus drivers in Okayama working with Ryobi Group have taken to the streets in an unusual form of protest. While technically on strike, they are continuing to drive their routes while refusing to take fares from passengers.
▼ Image shows a white blanket over the fare machine.
A new rival bus line Megurin began operating on 27 April with some routes overlapping those of Ryobi and offering a cheaper fare. If that all wasn’t bad enough, Megurin buses have cute little faces too.
As a result, Ryobi drivers are feeling threatened and are asking management for improvements to their job security under the added competition. It would seem Ryobi was less than enthusiastic to accommodate and a strike was declared.
In cases such as this, management may use the labor stoppage against the drivers, appealing to the public that they are putting their own needs before the community’s. So to show that isn’t the case, Ryobi drivers are continuing to clock in, but without performing the part of their job that requires them to accept payment during certain times. In other words, free bus rides for all!
▼ The free-fare protest happened at the same time as Megurin’s maiden voyage.
This isn’t the first time such a strike has occurred in Japan or around the world. Both Brisbane and Sydney held fare-free days as part of labor disputes last year. The earliest documented case of a “fare strike” goes back a protest by Cleveland streetcar workers in 1944, and similar cases involving other services have happened in Europe and Latin America prior to that.
Readers of the news were somewhat divided about the concept, with many wondering if it was really in the workers’ best interests.
“This isn’t good at all. They’re working for free?!” “I think stopping the buses altogether would put more pressure on management.” “The idea is neat, but I think the money saved from wages and the value of free advertisement this action is creating means the company is still doing okay.” “This is a great idea, I like that they are trying different ways to get what they want.” “How cool is that?” “I heard they do this in Australia and it worked out really well!” “I think it is a good way to protect the company image in the long run, but I wonder how this affects both sides’ bargaining positions.”
There are a lot of factors that will affect the outcome of this labor dispute, but it is an interesting experiment to see how such a strike will work in Japanese business culture among management, workers, and passengers.
Considering that Ryobi drivers are looking for job security while up against a cheaper bus company, protecting their image and relationship with their passengers is crucial. So it probably is a wise move for everyone involved.
▼ If you’d like to experience a nine-minute fare-free Ryobi bus ride from the
comfort of your very own home, here you go! Don’t say I never give you anything.
I would love to see such a trend catch on in other industries too. Wouldn’t it be nice if theater staff just let you walk into movies? 7-Eleven clerks just smiled as you walk out with a bag of chips? Or if those poor exploited vending machine fillers decide to set the price of all drinks in Tokyo Station to ten yen?
Getting turned down for a job hurts, but one company wants to do what it can to help job-hunters bounce back from a rejection.
In Japan, as in many other countries, no news is bad news when you’re job hunting. Most companies’ human resource departments operate under a policy of only responding to applicants they’re moving forward with, and if you’re not being offered an interview, odds are you won’t hear anything back from the recruiter after submitting your application.
Impersonal as it may feel, most people just accept this as part of modern business culture. Most Japanese companies are already stretched pretty thin staffing-wise (hence the country’s infamous amounts of overtime work), and when you factor in how many resumes hiring managers receive in the digital age, many companies’ simply don’t have the time to correspond with applicants they’re not going to interview.
A heartwarming exception, though, is Japanese food and beverage company Kagome, which specializes in tomato-based products such as ketchup and tomato juice (and also sometimes partners with Pikachu and the Evangelion anime franchise). Japanese Twitter user @tutuanna888 recently applied for a position with the company, and though she didn’t make it to the interview stage, she received a written response from Kagome, and not an email either; the company sent her a box with a printed note inside, plus a consolation gift package.
We would like to offer our sincere thanks to you for applying to Kagome.
We deeply appreciate your interest in us as an employer, and for taking the time to fill out the application form and prepare a resume. As a modest token of our gratitude, we have enclosed a selection of our products.
We hope that you will continue to think favorably towards Kagome in the future.
Bundled with the thank-you letter were a package of tomato chicken seasoning and a bottle of 100-percent tomato juice, both Kagome-brand items. An additional message, printed on the box’s cardboard itself, says:
“They’re nothing so special, but please enjoy these with your family friends, or loved ones.”
Even before receiving the package, @tutuanna888 says that she’d herd rumors that Kagome did this sort of thing. So while it’s unclear whether or not Kagome mails out these condolence package to each and every applicant, at the very least this doesn’t seem to be a one-time thing for the company.
It’s not at all unusual for people to develop a bit of a grudge against a company for turning them down for a job, but Kagome’s simple yet compassionate gesture struck a chord with Twitter, where @tutuanna888’s tweet quickly racked up tens of thousands of likes and retweets. @tutuanna888 doesn’t mention whether or not she’s lined up employment elsewhere since, but if nothing else, Kagome is rooting for her, even if they’re not able to offer her a position themselves.
We haven’t checked in with Cool Japan lately. Back in 2013 when it first launched, we were optimistic that the various “cool” elements of Japanese culture such as manga, anime, and music were about to get government backing to expand overseas.
Two years later in 2015 the only thing Cool Japan seemed to be good at was playing it cool and keeping deathly quiet. It was enough to enrage musician and celebrity of refined tastes, Gackt, to launch a harsh criticism of the organization that once promised to help his industry.
“The Japanese government made a new attempt at this in the name of Cool Japan, but while they have set up a huge budget for it, they have no idea where that money should go. It’s no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little known companies.
But the Cool Japan budget is still floating in the air. Who the hell is this budget for? I wonder if anyone living in Japan actually understands what Cool Japan does. I wonder what Cool Japan does. How many people can clearly answer that question?”
Indeed, back then a search of the Cool Japan website yielded promotions of abacus and gauze makers rather than, say, the Naruto musical which was playing overseas at the time. But that was back in 2015, perhaps shaken by Gackt’s drubbing, the Cool Japan Organization has stepped up their game since then.
Recently, journalist Joji Harano with Gendai Business wrote an update on Cool Japan, highlighting a few of its endeavors as of 2017. According to the article, two of Cool Japan’s major investments underway are Wakuwaku Japan and an Iseten department store in Malaysia.
Wakuwaku Japan is a satellite television channel which shows nothing but Japanese programming round the clock in the language of the Asian countries in which it airs. It’s actually a great idea… in theory. In reality it’s about half-a-dozen decent shows like The World Unknown to Matsuko and Signal on repeat, 24-7. The rest of the time its rather heavy-handed tourism promotion which no one is dying to see.
▼ However, I will admit this commercial is kind of cool.
Of course, getting the “come to Japan” message is an important factor of this project, but getting butts in front of the TV really should be job number one. Securing rights to really great shows like GameCenter CX, Geinoujin Kakudzuke Check!, or Gaki no Tsukai (blackface scandal notwithstanding) should have been taken care of before the channel even launched or the mission should have been aborted.
At the very least, they should have gotten some of NHK’s popular shows like Pitagora Switch. Considering they are the public broadcaster of Japan and Wakuwaku is a government backed channel, you’d think it’d be an easy arrangement.
But no, and as a result ratings for Wakuwaku are said to be lagging and the channel is currently in the red. Still, you could argue it was huge success compared to All Nippon Entertainment Works (ANEW).
▼ Not to be confused with All Nippon Airways (ANA) which is actually
pretty cool and far more effective at physically getting people to Japan.
@Airbus We are so excited to introduce our new airplane named Flying Honu!✈️
ANEW was founded in 2011, when Cool Japan as we now know it was still germinating, with a cash injection of 6 billion yen from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). Its mission was to produce movies and eventually become a Hollywood studio, introducing Japanese filmmakers and franchises to western audience.
The initial investment got a starting line-up of seven films off the ground. However, due to chaos in the management of ANEW, not one movie was made. Having not made a single yen in profit, the government sold ANEW to a venture capital firm in 2017 for the low, low price of 34 million in order to cut losses. When all was said and done, 2.2 billion yen of tax revenue had been used up with absolutely nothing to show for it.
The other flagship endeavor of Cool Japan is Isetan the Japan Store, a five-floor department store in the heart of Kuala Lumpur stocked only with Japanese goods. Again, on paper this isn’t a bad idea. In China someone did the same thing, and despite everything being fake, it was very successful.
▼ They did at least get the words “Japan” in there!
But if I were to describe Isetan in one word… it’d be unremarkable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine department store, but that’s all it is really. I’d never recommend Isetan to anyone for any particular reason, and come to think of it I wouldn’t even know how to get to the nearest Isetan from where I am.
Really it’s just a regular department store, and I’ve never been to Malaysia but I have to assume they already have department stores there. Not only that, but I’m going to make the rather safe assumption that everything in Isetan the Japan Store is more expensive too.
▼ And here’s Malaysian vlogger Jonathan Ng to confirm
that Isetan the Japan Store is indeed really expensive
To make matters worse, Malaysia is said to be a sort of Bermuda Triangle for Japanese goods and services where 70 percent fail in the first three years. Opening an all-Japanese megastore seems like attempting to sail the Titanic into this Bermuda Triangle, no matter how superior a Japanese potato peeler may be.
Overall, Harano paints a pretty bleak picture of Cool Japan’s situation stating that among all of it’s 52.9 billion yen in public and private money invested in 25 projects, Cool Japan is operating at a loss of 4.4 billion yen.
But there are some points that should be made in Cool Japan’s defense. First, the project is set for a ten-year period after which it will be assessed. Since we’re only at the half-way point, it may be unfair to judge them just yet.
Secondly, Cool Japan themselves would probably be quick to point out that a secondary aim was to promote inbound tourism, and tourism to Japan has never been stronger.
The Japan tourism bump is completely bonkers. More people visited in April 2018 than in all of 2003 combined. https://t.co/tVO4BnHL4T
How much of a hand Cool Japan had in that is unclear, but it’s a bit of a moot point anyway since the primary aim is to set up viable Japanese industries abroad.
Opening businesses in foreign lands can be risky business, so losses shouldn’t be a surprise. However, as seen by the examples above, the choices Cool Japan has made when it comes to what to export, have been downright mystifying.
Rather than opening up Japanese businesses in other countries, why not focus on ones that already have a foothold for a greater chance of success?
For example, Yoshinoya has already made some inroads in foreign countries, suggesting that it is viable there. By making a relatively low-risk investment in Yoshinoya’s expansion overseas, Cool Japan could turn a quicker profit which could then be used for incrementally more risky ventures like, say, bringing Coco Ichi or Kurazushi abroad… then focus on the department stores and abacuses.
Or how about Universal Studios Japan’s annual line-up of pop-culture themed attractions coincidentally also called “Cool Japan?” How much more of an obvious opportunity to export Japanese culture and make money in the process can there be than by the Cool Japan Organization investing in bringing Cool Japan attractions to Universal Studio parks in the U.S.?
▼ Monster hunting with giant swords and Sailor Moon weapons or Final Fantasy virtual roller coasters? Nah, that’s just not cool enough apparently.
These are just two ideas off the top of my head. I imagine given time to really think about it, there are even better ideas to promote Japanese culture while establishing profitable enterprises. In other words, what Cool Japan is trying to do doesn’t really seem that hard.
Some would suggest that this situation is a sign Cool Japan is either grossly incompetent or corrupt, but I’ll just say they are under-performing for the time being. There’s still five more years until its day of reckoning, during which a lot a lot of cool things can still happen.
It’s hardly a new trend that small mom-and-pop stores and services are largely being replaced by large-scale businesses who themselves are now feeling the squeeze by the rise of e-commerce.
And with this trend comes an increasing disconnect with our providers of goods and services. When a big-name operation like McDonald’s or Yo-Kai Watch shuts its doors, very few people are deeply affected. On the other hand, when Daiichi Cleaning – whom most have never heard of – announced its closure, people all over Japan were shedding tears of warmth and joy.
I originally came by train alone from Kagoshima to work for my uncle who was my predecessor at Daiichi Cleaning Shokai. I was 15 then.
I was clumsy and couldn’t do anything else. All I did was focus on this job and kept at it. Life is just a moment, isn’t it? This year I turn 80. I think I will hang up my long-time partner, my iron, around these parts. Thanks to your continued support I am well enough that I think I can just enjoy the rest of my life with my wife. Thank you very much for using this shop for such a long time. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Unlike many store closures in which a business could not support itself any further, the proprietor of Daiichi Cleaning has simply accomplished what he set out to do and retired. Moving into the community with no skills and no foreseeable future, he provided people with his steadily improving services for 65 years and managed to raise a family while doing so.
Many online where touched by this sincere gesture of thanks. Especially young Japanese people, filled with anxiety about their own work and life, saw a great deal of hope in this modest success story.
“Job well done down that 65-year road. Have a happy life with your wife.” “The way ‘御’ is written, it looks like he got a child, maybe his grandson or granddaughter to do it.” “‘My partner the iron,’ that’s so sweet.” “Although I never met them, I won’t forget the Daiichi Cleaning couple and wish them well.” “I never thought I would be moved by a store closing announcement.” “I have no idea who this guy is, but I want to tell him ‘thanks’ too.” “I hope I will be able to write a sign like this someday too.”
It’s doubtful any movies will be made of Daiichi Cleaning, but to a lot of people his story is more powerful than those of the most daring and ingenious titans of business. It reminds us that success isn’t something to be gotten – it’s what we make it.
In a world of hazardouly rampant overwork and harassments that cross well over the border to the absurd, it’s important to remember that knowing what your prize really is is more important than keeping your eyes on it.
For quite some time now, there has been an uproar online regarding a website called Manga Mura (Manga Village) which was accused of hosting free pages of copyrighted works. Defenders of Manga Mura claim that because they simply indexed the works and never actually possessed infringing material, it was free of guilt. Many netizens, however, largely decried the site’s activities as destructive to the very manga industry that they hold dear.
There has been a long-running call online for some authority to shut down Manga Mura, and any time issues with copyright or JASRAC appeared you could always count on someone to comment, “Why aren’t they working on taking down those manga sites instead?!”
That all came to a hilt earlier this month when Manga Mura along with a few other sites mysteriously went offline. However, just as suddenly as they went offline, a new website, Manga Town, emerged.
▼”Breaking! Manga Mura has been reborn as Manga Town.
We have grown from a village to a town.”
The twitter account has reasserted its position as an indexer of already available material and refuses to stop, saying that any failures in the manga industry is the fault of them and them alone. Manga Town also stated that if manga publishers want to improve their situation, then they should put the proper effort into their own sales and marketing.
Needless to say, the online opposition was not still not buying it and verbally hit back at the website.
“No matter how much you write, it doesn’t change the fact that you are a criminal.” “I agree that viewing content is not the same as shoplifting, but I still think what you are doing is wrong.” “I don’t know why you insist on ruining people’s hard work.” “It isn’t for you to decide if the content should be viewed freely or not.”
Meanwhile, a weekly manga magazine coincidentally also named Manga Town, noticed a sudden uptick in hostile mails and tweets asking them to stop what they are doing. There were also several interview requests from media outlets who were confusing the two Manga Towns.
Considering this Manga Town was a long-running publication that by all indication paid its dues, the magazine felt it necessary to issue a clarification on the matter.
▼ A Manga Town by any other name? (Translation below.)
“We are surprised at some of the stuff coming at us like interview requests. Manga Town is a four-frame manga magazine published by Futabasha since 2000. Please do not confuse us with a criminal site…!”
The message appeared to be effective, and as a result Manga Town magazine was inundated with messages of support and suggestions that they should sue the other Manga Town. They, however, declined to take such action.
▼ Taking the high road in the manga world isn’t easy.
“There are those saying we should sue, but the other party is a criminal group whose identity is unknown, so there isn’t much we can do. We just ask that you do not look at, spread, or use these ‘pirate sites.’ Instead, just do whatever you can to support the failing manga industry.”
The Manga Town website, unapologetic over taking the same name, showed little remorse for the Manga Town magazine, tweeting back at them.
▼ I swear they could make a manga out of this drama. (Translation below.)
“The people here have made some good publicity for you. However, it seems that you have to bad mouth us. You said it yourself, ‘the failing manga industry,’ but are you working to stop it? I think it is impossible for you publishers to continue to be competitive in this territorial warfare style. I’m expecting it all to come down in the future.”
The line in the sand between Manga Town and Manga Town appears to have been drawn and bad blood is on all sides of this issue. There is probably some truth to Manga Mura’s words that even if they disappeared, it probably wouldn’t reverse the dwindling manga market that has been in decline since the 90s. We’ve seen it happen in movie rentals and music, so perhaps manga will be the next to evolve into a leaner digital distribution service.
The bottom line, and the one thing that both Manga Towns appear to be in agreement of, is that it’s the readers and their money which will determine the fate of the industry in the end.
When a company ensures that everyone deserves a second chance, it’s a company worth working for.
Students who fail a grade and thus repeat the same year remain rare in Japan, but the ones that do (referred to as ryunen, meaning “repeaters”) find themselves at a huge disadvantage upon stepping out into the working world, where distinguished academic records and the willingness to put the company before all else are the norm.
Committed to dispelling the negative image associated with being held back in school, advertising company Tokyu Agency holds recruitment sessions catered to repeaters, with helpful input from veteran employees who once failed grades themselves. For people such as Twitter user @kotaroishungry, this turn of fortune just made his day.
▼ “This is fantastic! They’re recruiting repeaters! Tokyu Agency! Thank you! Thank you very much! As expected of Tokyu! I love Tokyu!”
The company’s recruitment page states that “Repeaters are assets”, with a stirring message to prospective employees hoping to get a second chance at life:
“Repeaters are considered terrible by many companies. However, we do not think so. Most of them eventually complete their grades. Whether it’s studying abroad, putting their everything into part-time jobs, starting businesses or pursuing knowledge. They challenge everything they see and become engrossed in things. As for results, getting held back in school makes them special and they’ll be able to use it as an asset. There are no other individuals like them. They’ll brainstorm and work closely with people who have gone through the same. At Tokyu Agency, we have begun to recruit repeaters.”
▼ It’s like pressing continue at the “Game Over” screen.
Looking at Tokyu Agency’s history, recruitment numbers have been steadily increasing for the company with 30 new recruits expected to join their ranks this year. Although these aren’t guaranteed to be all repeaters, it’s a significant step towards forging a much more accepting society in a country where academic performances dictate one’s future.
It’s good to see Tokyu Agency tapping into a population that is still discriminated against, but if companies could also start easing the frustrating job hunting system for foreigners, Japan would inevitably change for the better.