The life and times of the destitute girl


Special To The Japan Times

I was one of those suckers who thought that the seifu (政府, government) might get it right this time, until scratch-the-surface economic analysis revealed that so-called Abenomics (アベノミクス, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policy) is just a regurgitated version of the same old, rich-get-richer-while-the-poor-bite-the-dust thing that made kabutochō (兜町, Tokyo’s equivalent of Wall Street) dance with glee back in the 1980s. Yapparine (やっぱりね, I should have known).

But this time around, the overall dancing environment is less friendly, mostly for Japanese women. Once upon a time the joshi (女子, girls) of the nation were courted, coddled, wined and dined. Christmas meant dinner at a swank shitī hoteru (シティホテル, city hotel) and the okimari (お決まり, routine) tryst in a deluxe double room with a bottle of Champagne. Two decades later one hears such things assailing the lives of women, sure. But these days, they are more likely to assail Beyonce than the average Japanese joshi.

Here’s what’s happening: One out of three single women between the ages of 18 and 65 lives on a disposable income of ¥85,000 or less per month. The masukomi (マスコミ, media) has dubbed them hinkon joshi (貧困女子, destitute girls) and in another 30 years, their number could increase by 20 percent. Even now, more than half of the women over 65 living alone get by on less than ¥70,000 after paying the rent. Not very encouraging.

Take a look at the expenses of the hinkon joshi. Tokyo women earning roughly ¥150,000 tedori (手取り, after taxes) per month pay an average ¥60,000 for rent, ¥20,000 for health insurance and nenkin (年金, pension plan) and ¥10,000 for keitai (携帯, cell phone). That doesn’t leave a whole lot of choices regarding shokuhi (食費, food bills). Most hinkon joshi subsist on two meals a day, usually from the conbini (コンビニ, convenience store), and falling short on the nutrition factor. If you’ve ever wondered why Japanese women comprise the slenderest demographics in the industrialized world, you know the answer: They just don’t eat well. More importantly, they can’t put money aside — the most glaring difference between a hinkon joshi and other single women is their chokin (貯金, savings).

Can you blame the hinkon joshi if they shy away from love? Aya, a 35-year-old haken shain (派遣社員, temp worker) whose tedori is ¥180,000 monthly declares: “Dēto wa okane to jikan no muda!” (「デートはお金と時間の無駄!」”Dating is a waste of time and money!”). Last month, a coworker expressed some amorous interest and invited her out for a drink on a week night, which she describes as “Amarini hisashiburino dekigoto de koega denakatta” (「あまりに久しぶりの出来事で声が出なかった」”It had been such a long time, I couldn’t find my voice”). But Aya did a dotakyan (ドタキャン, cancelling at the last minute) due to the fact that she wasn’t wearing shōbu shitagi (勝負下着, her “lucky” underwear) and she was down to her last ¥9,000 for the month. “Saikin no otoko wa warikan ga sukidakara” (「最近の男は割り勘が好きだから」”These days, men like to split the bill”) says Aya. “Atashiniwa muri” (「あたしには無理」”I knew I couldn’t do it”).

Aya’s outlook is typical, if not of the hinkon joshi then of single, office-working women in general. Koichi, who works as an analyst for an ad agency, says: “Nihon no joshi wa sugoku okubyō ni natta. Minna seikatsu suru dakede seīppai” (「日本の女子はすごく臆病になった。みんな生活するだけで精一杯」”Japanese girls have become so cowardly. They’re all desperate about just getting by”). What with the stress from tsūkin (通勤, commuting) and shigoto kankei (仕事関係, work-related stuff) and the grinding realization that things aren’t getting better anytime soon — the single Japanese woman is in a tough spot. She also knows that once a woman hits 28, the hakuba no oujisama (白馬の王子さま, prince on a white horse) very rarely comes around.

The good news is that being a hinkon joshi doesn’t necessarily mean a woman is unhappy. Compared to the late 1980s, when Tokyo joshi were dancing on the otachidai (お立ち台, raised pedestals) at Juliana’s Tokyo (a club famous for its mini-skirt-clad female customers), they may be less groomed and a lot more sober — but believe me, they’re more informed and ready to deploy their knowledge. They can use the trendy shea hausu (シェア ハウス, share house) system. Or the joshi gojokai (女子互助会, girl co-assistance) system, in which like-minded women form a community and help each other with meals and seikatsu yōhin (生活用品, living supplies). There are women financial consultants who specialize in aiding the single woman. Unfortunately, none of this will contribute to upping the birth rate or making the dating scene any rosier. But that would be asking too much for single girls, now wouldn’t it?

  • EQ

    Excellent article but I think young men are just as destitute. How this country fails to invest on its people is beyond comprehension…

    • phu

      This article is ridiculous. Partially because, yes, it’s claiming that women are somehow alone in being”destitute,” which is a grotesque overstatement, and partially because it’s built on the complaint that women are no longer on a figurative pedestal. Guess what? Women don’t deserve that any more than men do, and we’ve never been able to expect that. Welcome to reality.

      • Anon

        Women are paid much less than men in Japan even for the same position, so yes, women are more destitute

    • A. Ryan

      The article is about women, not men. This comment makes no sense. It’d be like reading an article about how great pineapples taste, and angrily tapping out a reply “COCONUTS TASTE GOOD TOO” before slamming the laptop shut to continue enjoying your male privilege.

      • EQ

        Do you have a personal opinion on this article or are you just one of these people who likes to give their opinions of other people’s opinions?

      • leaf

        I can’t agree but your comment is hilarious.

  • rich

    I can relate to the trials and tribulations described above. I wouldn’t wish such stress upon anyone.

  • Great article! I think a lot of people think the Japanese are so rich but the reality is that; get away from the city centre and those ‘shoe boxes’ sink in value. The country really needs to open up to the third world to get some stimulus…..but as this article shows…there is no much rethinking ‘cultural reform’) to perform in Japan, so that women are better appreciated.

  • T13

    Now that the Japanese govt. is cranking up the money printer it’s going to get even tougher.

  • justlazy

    I have met many successful female Japanese who work as lawyers, doctors, judges etc. The above article shows only the destitute side of the Japanese women and if these women ever decide to invest in themselves, they will find ample opportunities to better their conditions in the Japanese society.

    • Ivy Tan

      How are they going to invest in themselves when they don’t even have money for food? It’s not like they have time either — given that they are working.

  • japangone

    This highlights the problem with the fiscal rebooting. All the money is going to the rich. Sales of louis vuitton bags and other luxuries have gone through the roof. If the money was targetted at Japanese people who really need it (such as the women mentioned in the article) it could make a real difference towards creating a sustainable society. As it stands, Japan seems to be returning to feudal times, when the vast majority were basically impoverished slaves propping up a wealthy elite.