Sep 4, 2017
TOKYO - As Japan's lifetime employment culture crumbles, younger Japanese are becoming increasingly familiar with pursuing parallel careers.
Nanako Shibata is a Tokyo staffing agency PR employee, but also a professional dancer who practices seven hours a day, four days a week to perform on stage.
Shibata, 27, started working at the staffing agency, b-style Inc., as a full-time regular employee in 2013, but soon found the work too hard for her to continue concentrating on dancing. She considered quitting, but on the advice of the company's president, she instead switched her status in 2015 to part-time contract worker, working three days a week.
Her wages dropped but she became "happier," she told Kyodo News in late July during a practice session for an imminent stage show.
Shibata has not lowered her work performance target since changing status. With support from her co-workers, she said, she was given an in-house award for excellent achievement.
Her supervisor said Shibata's work style has provided a "good motivation" for younger colleagues.
The company currently plans to launch a new system to allow regular employees to choose to work three days a week without changing their status to contract workers like Shibata.
"Regular employees are our core workforce who share the philosophy and vision of the company," an official of b-style said. "We plan to launch a program enabling them to work flexibly."
Shibata is one of the young Japanese pursuing so-called "parallel careers" who hold multiple jobs or engage in various activities in addition to regular work.
The government has been encouraging workers to take side jobs as part of its "work system reform" initiative under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's growth strategy.
Masayuki Tanaka is a 35-year-old Tokyo resident running a consultant business on his own while also working under contracts commissioned by a consulting agency and a nonprofit organization.
Tanaka left a major think tank in April because the long work hours made it hard for him and his working wife to look after their young child.
He expected his income to fall after quitting the think tank but luckily avoided a steep decline and now has more free time.
Volunteer activities in which young workers can utilize their work skills are also popular.
According to Yuko Gendo, 34, representative of Social Marketing Japan, a body that acts as a bridge between individuals wishing to work as volunteers and NPOs in need of them, most applicants work on a full-time basis.
"Many of them can improve their professional work through synergy effects from experiencing outside cultures," she said.
Mitsunari Kubota, 31, who has engaged in volunteer activities through Social Marketing, said, "The experience gained from being a volunteer is useful to my work."
Natsuko Hagiwara, a professor at the Department of Sociology at Rikkyo University well versed in the trend of parallel careers, said, "Having multiple footholds is a risk management practice now that (Japan's) lifetime employment system has collapsed."
"Environments that enable people to pursue multiple careers, such as a system allowing them to return to work after retirement, need to be created with the involvement of companies and the government," she said.
Hagiwara also cautioned that people who want parallel careers should have an "unshakable axis of what they want to do."
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