Second strings

Moonlighting's here to stay

by Tomoko Otake

Shin Yoshida leads a double life. And everyone, including his boss, his wife and three children, knows about it.

A full-time salesman for a food retailing and wholesaling company by day, the 34-year-old resident of Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, is a Web page designer/programmer, composer and plastic-bag retailer by night. Recently, his list of after-hours jobs has even grown to include giving seminars on how to run a successful business on the Web.

“Just having a Web site up and running is not enough to attract customers,” Yoshida told a group of three aspiring Web-based entrepreneurs — a florist, a travel agent and a man trying to market his wife’s bead-art — during a two-hour workshop at a Tokyo community hall one recent Saturday. “Imagine opening a restaurant. It’s like expecting a carpenter to be able to woo customers.”

In Yoshida’s case, his hobbies have naturally evolved into money-making ventures. While in his teens, he started composing music for fun. Soon he began sharing his music with other amateur musicians via an online forum — long before the Internet took off. Some people liked his works and asked to buy CDs of his music. Then, while trying to mail out the CDs, Yoshida discovered he needed specially sized plastic envelopes to put them in — so he set up an online shop to sell them. Combining his penchant for computers and music, he now also takes commissions to compose background music for Web-site owners.

Today Yoshida hosts five different Web sites, each dedicated to an area of his interest. While he still earns more from his first job (he’s netted only 262,000 yen from his side jobs so far this year), business is looking good, and he hopes to gross 3.2 million yen in sales by the end of the year.

“I consider myself a moonlighting worker,” Yoshida says, adding that he sets aside four hours every day, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., for his Web-based business. “I’m not thinking of quitting my first job for now, because there’s a lot about management I can learn from it. It’s like getting paid for studying at a cram school.”

Yoshida’s entrepreneurial spirit is a breath of fresh air in economically stifled Japan, but he is not alone. Growing legions of people are acquiring, or at least considering, a second job as a safety-net or alternative source of income while the nation struggles to find a way out of its decade-long economic slump, and discards the once near-universal lifetime employment and seniority-based wage system.

The trend of which Yoshida is part marks a tremendous shift in attitudes toward work among Japanese, many of whom have long regarded moonlighting as a shameful act, as if it were a sign of failure in their primary job.

Company attitudes easing

Many companies that have long shunned moonlighters are also easing their grip. In 1995, more than 80 percent of firms that responded to a Japan Institute of Labor survey said they either banned or limited employees’ rights to get a second job. Now, though, many approve of moonlighting, or — as is more often the case — tacitly allow it.

According to a November 2002 survey of 700 salaried workers by the Tokyo-based private research firm Seikatsu Joho Center (Life Science Information Center), 73 percent of men and 86 percent of women surveyed said that they wanted a second job.

Takuro Morinaga, a financial analyst with the UFJ Institute, says the moonlighting boom is an inevitable consequence of the changing — and deteriorating — workplace environment.

Gone are the days when the workplace served as a “community” or even a “leisure center” where employees not only worked but also shared a sense of belonging, says Morinaga — who published a book this year predicting that average wages for the nation’s middle class will fall to around 3 million yen per year.

Now, increasingly, job insecurity is prompting people to look for a second job as a “risk management” tool, says Morinaga, who himself juggles several jobs — including authoring, lecturing and importing miniature cars — besides his main work as an analyst.

However, the upside is that, with the line between people’s work and hobbies becoming murkier than ever, there are many career options today that would have been unimaginable a while ago, Morinaga says — adding that some people today make a living out of organizing fishing trips for sea anglers or divers, or by teaching surfing.

In this climate, jobs in a wide variety of fields have opened up for moonlighters, as freelance writer Hiromi Murakami has observed. To write her January 2003 book, titled “Sarari-man/OL no tameno fukugyo kanzen gaido (The Perfect Moonlighting Guide for Salaried Men and Office Ladies),” she interviewed more than 50 people, including ones working on the side as a limousine driver, an English-language teacher, an importer, a building cleaner and even a funeral hall receptionist.

Some of the more unconventional moonlighters she met include a computer company manager who breeds frogs at home for medical research, and an advertising agency salesman who dons animal costumes on weekends and appears in children’s shows.

Seamless service

Meanwhile, some corporations are cashing in on the boom in side jobs, too. Tempstaff Plus Co., for instance, specializes in sending personnel to corporations on weekends and at night. Since it was founded in January 2002, 6,500 people have registered with the Tokyo-based agency — of whom more than 70 percent have full-time jobs, according to Yoshio Nakamura, executive director at the agency.

Employers also find the agency helpful, Nakamura reports, as in the globalizing world they are increasingly expected to offer a seamless, 24-hour service in such fields as customer support, data processing and filing.

But not everyone is upbeat about moonlighting. In Japan’s drawn-out recession, more people, especially men in their 40s and 50s who are often saddled with mortgages, are being singled out for “restructuring.” As a result, Murakami observes, many are grossly overworking as insecurity drives them to try ever harder to bring home the bacon.

In contrast, Murakami believes the ideal way to moonlight is not just to work for money — but to advance your career.

Yoshida agrees. “My advice is, ‘Do what you enjoy, and set a goal,’ ” he says. “If you don’t like what you are doing, it won’t last — especially if it’s a second job.”

For whatever reason, though, as old certainties crumble, there’s little doubt that — like it or not — more and more Japanese are soon likely to find themselves working by the light of the silvery moon.