Japan’s middle-aged corporate warriors, who sustained the nation’s postwar era of high economic growth and worked aggressively through the days of the economic bubble, are facing difficulties amid the prolonged economic slump, corporate restructuring and bankruptcies.
Some people in their 40s and 50s, however, are weathering the harsh environment by breaking away from company-based engagements and establishing relationships with peers in their local communities.
Such relationships away from the home or workplace, dubbed “hiding places for the mind,” provide participants with a supportive environment where a variety of subjects can be freely discussed.
Utsukushigaoka Chubu, a self-governing neighborhood hall in Yokohama’s Aoba Ward, is a venue for such activities. Its middle-aged male members, numbering more than 20, meet there twice a month to escape their woes with song.
The Utsukushigaoka Family Chorus, which includes a dentist, a banker, a police officer, a teacher and a painter, was founded in 1975 when some music-loving fathers met by chance at their children’s kindergarten.
“We became associated with one another on a family basis,” said dentist Masamizu Sakai, the chorus spokesman.
Banker Akihiko Akagawa, who joined the chorus in 1982 after his child enrolled at the kindergarten, said, “I wanted to live in and associate with members of the community.
“My brother-in-law’s ‘karoshi’ (death from overwork) made me rethink my way of life,” he said, adding that when he faced up to his brother-in-law’s death, he realized “it was not good for me to look only to the bank for work and human relations.”
Akagawa, recalling the key part the chorus played in his life during the hard times, said, “The friends that I could frankly talk to supported me when I suffered hardship.”
Now a chief researcher in a bank-affiliated think tank, Akagawa said, “I find latitude in my mind when I remember I have a place in the regional community.”
At one of their practice sessions, the group launched into a rendition of Yosui Inoue’s “If I had my life twice.”
The song is about a 65-year-old father and his 64-year-old wife reminiscing about their lives spent looking after their children.
The group members confide in each other on a wide range of subjects, including family, work, life in retirement and providing nursing care for their aging parents.
Conductor Yasuhiro Yasuda, who has been guiding the chorus group for years, said, “The members are from a generation of people for whom it is not unusual to provide care for their fathers and mothers, and here they can naturally share their happiness and sorrow.”
OH! Men’s Life Chorus, a group active in Nagoya, performs original songs based on its members’ own experiences, including the misery felt by a sidetracked company employee as well as personal compositions about members’ loved ones and children.
The songs strike a sympathetic chord among the group’s more than 30 members. Yoshio Mikami, the group’s leader and an employee at a shipbuilding company, suffered hardship after voicing opposition to his company’s streamlining program.
“I want to keep on shining, remain healthy and retain my forward-looking attitude,” he said.
The chorus members, who appeared apathetic when asked about specific titles or positions in their companies and organizations, showed renewed zeal when singing, as if trying to forget their feelings of helplessness.
Novelist Masanobu Gabe said salary earners should properly plan for life as retirees at least 10 years before finishing their working lives at 60.
Noting the collapse of Japan’s lifetime employment system, the end of close relations between management and individuals and the rapid progress in information technology, Gabe said, “Salaried workers in their 50s must be frightened by corporate restructuring and feel uncomfortable in their companies.”
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