Of the many wonderful things I’ve experienced in Japan, the wonderfulest may well be Japanese unemployment.
It’s pretty easy to see the benefits of being unemployed, as one can immediately dispense with various life unpleasantries, such as waking up, showering, and being sober.
Yet like all things bureaucratic, Japanese unemployment got off to an inauspicious start, waiting on a pastel chair in a 70’s-era office building among the ranks of the downtrodden for my laminated number to be called. The room was crowded with rows of outdated computers and old ladies hunkered over desks stacked with files. In the distance, rain drizzled against a few tired windows. In the hall was a broken water fountain. Welcome to Hello Work.
In an apparent burst of English enthusiasm, the Japanese unemployment bureau decided to cheerily label itself, “Hello Work.” Nice try.
And my buddy Craig was like, “Yeah, that’s where you go when you lose your job.”
“There and every bar in town,” I said.
“Sounds more like ‘Goodbye, Work,’” he observed.
Which I thought was an excellent point.
Anyway, I slumped in my seat at the unemployment bureau contemplating the tops of my shoes, unshaven and unemployed, realizing it was the worst day of my Japanese life. Then a voice called my number and I sat down at a desk facing a substantially well-endowed and surprisingly beautiful young lady, who patiently explained the rules in what was undoubtedly clear Japanese, except that all my energy went into not staring at her breasts and consequently I missed a lot of the details. But I got the general picture—Hottie-san was going to give me free money. And suddenly, sun was shining through the windows. I was like, Girlfriend, this be the best day of my Japanese life. Weather sure does change quick in this country.
The Japanese Unemployment System
Now, there’s an odds-on chance you’ll end up on Japanese unemployment at some point. I mean, assuming you’re working in Japan, that is. All these jobs are based on one- or two-year contracts, with companies just looking to jettison experienced employees rather than retain them. Who wants someone who knows the job when you can bring in fresh meat? Then there’ll be no one to challenge your authority. Add that to the long list of things that make no sense in this country. Whatever.
At first, I didn’t really think about it too much. The Japanese schools and offices I worked in were mostly pretty horrible—okay, actually all of them were—so when the contracts expired, I just moved on to the next one. But after my latest job ended, my partner was all, “Ken, you don’t want a new job.”
“I don’t?” I asked. I mean, yeah of course, but it’s hard to maintain this beautiful head of hair sleeping in a cardboard box.
“You want Hello Work,” she said.
“Japanese unemployment,” she replied. “Just take a few months off.”
And I was like, Ken Seeroi do nothing for weeks on end? Just like lay around in my underpants drinking beer? That sounds, uhh, what’s the word? Fantastic? Yeah, that’ll do. Finally, God’s given me something to excel at. Who am I to question His divine wisdom, and why’d nobody tell me about this sooner?
Understanding Japanese Unemployment
So I went to Hello Work with my “My Number” (Good try on using English again, Japan), my personal seal, alien registration card, bank book, and documents from my last job, indicating how much I’d made and how long I’d been there. Apparently, if you leave of your own accord, there’s a 3-month waiting period, but if an employer doesn’t renew your contract, you only have to wait a week before the free money starts flowing. Hottie-san seemed to think the waiting period was a big deal, but I was like, Yeah, I can wait a week. What’re you doing next Friday?
Now I’ll say right now that my understanding of the whole thing’s pretty nebulous, despite poring over the 67-page Japanese explanation booklet, the 26-page English booklet, sitting through an hour-long briefing in Japanese, and watching a video covering the same subject in English.
But here’s what I think I know . . . You have to initially go to Hello Work three times: once to meet Hottie-san (whom you’ll sadly never see again), then again for an explanation meeting, after which you should pretend to use the computers to search for a job, and then for a third time in order to qualify for your cash, which is Chi-ching! magically transported by the Wizard of Oz into your bank account. Then you should pretend to use the computers again. Thanks, Tin Man.
Looking for Work in Japan
To qualify for Japanese unemployment, you need to appear to be looking for work in Japan at least twice a month, which frankly is a pretty low bar for someone who sits around drunk all day in their boxers. You just show up at Hello Work, use their computers for half an hour, and then meet with a counselor for five minutes to lament the fact you failed to find a suitable job among the hundreds of listings targeted solely at Japanese nationals.
Using the Computers at Hello Work
The computers at Hello Work access nationwide job listings, which is great if you read Japanese, because English is a non-starter. I have no idea what actual “foreigners” do—just sit there like a dog watching TV? Anyway, you can search by region, and include search terms to explore the myriad of jobs you’re fantastically unqualified for.
Probably the most interesting thing is that the computer begins by asking how old you are, after which it only displays jobs for that age or higher. There’s no such thing as ageism in Japan, because like all discrimination here it’s de facto baked into everything. If you’re too old, sorry, shit outta luck. I tried putting in a few different ranges and sure enough, as one gets older in Japan, the job opportunities successively dry up. If you’re over 60, the computer suggests you walk into the mountains and die. But it does so nicely, so it’s okay. Such a polite country.
How Much Cash Will I get on Japanese Unemployment?
This is probably the biggest mystery, as I have no idea how anything’s calculated. It factors in any hours you’re working part-time, how much you made at your last job, probably how long you worked there, maybe how old you are, the number of dependents you have, and then multiplies everything by the last digit of pi and divides the whole mess by zero. How long you’ll receive said cash for is also a mystery. The range seems to be between 6 months and a year, based upon precisely what I’ve no idea. The great irony is that if you’re smart enough to understand all the calculations, you definitely shouldn’t be on Japanese unemployment. Fortunately, Seeroi Sensei ain’t got that problem.
So this plus a part-time job enables me to now enjoy various luxuries such as health insurance, cooking sherry, and heat. You don’t really think about how arctic Japan is until you’re sitting around a gas stove wearing a sleeping bag. But spring’ll be here eventually and until then I’ve got a few more months in which to find a new job or a hot old lady with a pile of cold cash. I must say that although being on Japanese unemployment isn’t the cat’s pajamas, it sure beats the hell out of working for a living. Next stop, figuring out how to get on Japanese welfare. Soup kitchen, here I come.