Bubble economy salarymen tagged as burdens on society

by Tomoko Arima

Kyodo News

Men who were aggressively recruited by firms during the bubble economy in the latter half of the 1980s through the early ’90s are now being scorned as “burdens” on society — a sharp contrast to their vigorous female peers, who are called “arafo,” short for around 40.

The bubble-era graduates, now in their late 30s through late 40s, joined Japan Inc. after enjoying a carefree student life full of overseas trips and disco nights, and easily secured promises of jobs from big companies, as well as from the central and local governments.

Although there is apparently no clear difference in ability between this and other generations, the number of those belonging to the bubble generation who were recruited by firms is 2 1/2 to five times higher than those in their early 30s.

“In the Japanese-style employment system, the bubble generation is certainly a burden,” said Shigeyuki Jo, a business consultant and writer.

Managerial posts are limited in number, so there are many lifelong rank and file employees who have not been promoted even when they are between 35 and 38 years old.

According to a survey by the Works Institute of Recruit Co., those aged between 35 and 45 do not feel they have developed skills through their jobs or enjoy their work.

“It’s quite natural for them to have low motivation because there’s no prospect of salary increases or a bright future,” Jo said.

They are the last generation who joined companies believing in the lifetime employment and seniority systems.

“Although this premise was destroyed by the collapse of the bubble economy, they cannot break away from that line of thinking to carry out the roles they were given,” Jo said.

As a result, they are slow in making independent moves, such as switching jobs, founding a company or launching new businesses within their companies, he said.

On the other hand, a woman in her 40s said: “There are many women who are filled with groundless confidence that ‘it can be done.’ “

In 1986, the Law for Equal Employment Opportunity for Men and Women went into effect, enabling women of that generation to become some of the first to make their dreams come true through work.

On the other hand, as there were few worries that their husbands would lose their jobs, many women also opted to become full-time housewives. The bubble economy thus allowed women to have a broader choice in their lives.

Keiji Matsuoka, president of human resources consulting company M.I. Associates, claims new business chances can be generated if people in the bubble generation stop depending on their companies and readjust their targets.

“Encouraging the bubble generation to become independent leads to the activation of the entire society,” said Matsuoka. “They survived the dreadful corporate nightmare of the ‘lost decade.’ Their abilities can be better utilized.”

Female ranks up

A record 29.6 percent of women passed an exam to become civil servants for the central government this fiscal year thanks to the government’s promotion efforts, the National Personnel Authority said Friday.

Some 39,940 people applied for the level II exam aimed at recruiting candidates for managerial positions for the nation’s regional and local offices, of which 5,199 people passed, down 100 from last year. Of them, 1,539 were women, accounting for 29.6 percent.

Broken down by educational background, 55.7 percent were university students and university dropouts, while 17.6 percent were either university graduates, graduate students or graduate school dropouts, the NPA said.