Some jobs literally aren’t worth it, and it is in the summer time, the season of lethargy and mind-numbing despair, the season of minimal work and light pay checks that my wife and I fret about it the most. It has happened more than once that I have had to quit a job in Tokyo that I could not afford to keep. It sounds weird, but it’s a matter of money, of a guaranteed sufficient income to support me above the poverty line. What with the collapse of the bubble economy, the glut of foreigners teaching English here, then the slowly collapsing English market as the student pool dries up, the habit of treating foreign English teachers like disposable commodities, and finally the recent earthquake disaster it’s easy to understand why today I make only about half of what I made in the 1990s. Sometimes even less than that. Employers looking to maximize their profits in a shrinking market have been reducing compensation to the foreign labor on the assumptions that if the foreigners don’t like it they will just leave, and anyway there are plenty more where we came from.
My biggest problem with contemporary remuneration is that after meeting all my financial obligations (struggling to do so) I have a hard time scraping together the few yen I need for train fare in order to reach the workplace to work and make more money. It is often difficult. I have already been reduced to asking employers to pay me enough, or provide me with enough work to be able to both feed myself and get to-and-from work, or to spot me some money against my next paycheck. It’s a sad situation that sounds unbelievable to some, but is more and more common here. Because my income is irregular there are some months when I don’t make enough even to be able to feed myself. It necessitates occasionally waiving food so that the children have enough to eat. I literally know what it is like to live just on bread and water for several days. It sometimes seems like it is costing me to work.
Does it sound ridiculous? Does it sound implausible? Does it sound like fiction? Do you think I’m exaggerating? Well, in October 2011 it happened. I did not have enough money. My wife did not have enough money. The family did not have enough money either in hand or in the bank for me to get to work one day. I had to call the office in the morning to explain that I couldn’t come to work today because I didn’t have enough money to get there. Never mind about getting back again. No matter how I tried to explain they didn’t understand. In addition to suffering a terrible blow to my reputation I lost over $250 of income because I could not afford the $5 in commuter train fare.
I haven’t worked full-time in a number of years, and now my wife makes more money than I do. My very irregular schedule is a patchwork of part-time jobs. There are few full-time jobs available with sufficient remuneration. Or, the ones that are available are
closed to me for some reason, which forces me into the position of pursuing multiple part-time jobs as a stop-gap measure. I mean, the income from one job is needed to help me pay commuter fares to reach the other jobs, or to fill the moneyless gap between paydays from other employment. Some of my work is dedicated to certain expenditures. For example, one job’s income is dedicated solely to paying my monthly health insurance bills. Another job is devoted to pay my taxes, while another is assigned to my wife.
Too often it seems as if it is costing me to work.
The object of work is to live.
Contracts are made to be honored.
Periodically people suggest“Why don’t you get a new job?” as if that has never occurred to me before. The obvious problem, which I cannot fathom why they don’t see, is that securing new employment hinges on being offered new employment, which is out of my hands. I can apply, but I cannot force someone to hire me. I have never stopped occasionally applying for different jobs, so that whenever I receive this advice it invariably comes so after some rejection.
In addition, taking a new full-time job - for better or worse - means giving up the myriad of part-time jobs that now occupy me, since my patch-work schedule cannot permit additional time. That might be a good thing, or not, depending on timing and remuneration. The total income from my part-time work is difficult to gauge because it is so scattered, and it is easily imaginable that a full-time job might look more attractive (to my wife, for example) because of its regularity, while in the long-term it might actually be less. That’s a hard thing in Japanwhere appearances are the most important thing. I mean, if it looks like a job is better, my wife is apt to press me on it, even if the truth is quite the opposite.
Finally, there is the immorality of breaking contract mid-job and bail out in favor of other work simply over a matter of money. I rue such decisions, because contracts are made to be honored - even poor contracts.
Unlike Japanese, who tend towards the disposition that the object of life is to work, I tend towards the disposition that the object of work is to live. Compared to Japanese workers whose loyalty is to their companies my loyalties are to myself and my family. In that way I am very Occidental. If the remuneration isn’t sufficient to allow me to pay commuter fares - a daily necessity - after paying for all the other essentials (rent, utilities and food being among the primaries) then I have to find another job. And I hate that. I hate breaking contract by quitting. That’s what those other foreigners do, those bad foreigners. I’m not one of them, am I? Rejecting rather than accepting work, especially in hard economic times might look odd, but unregulated capitalism brings us to this, and a proper picture of our economic situation is more like a surrealist’s dream than a child’s pencil sketch.
I suspect that welfare would pay me more money per month than I currently make with my part-time work, which stokes my anger at the system and also influences my desire to work.