As the culture of lifetime employment crumbles, younger Japanese are increasingly pursuing parallel careers.
Nanako Shibata is not only an employee at a Tokyo staffing agency PR but also a professional dancer who practices seven hours a day, four days a week to perform on stage.
Shibata, 27, started working at the staffing agency, b-style Inc., as a full-time regular employee in 2013, but soon found it too hard to continue dancing at the same time. She initially considered quitting her job, but on the advice of the company’s president, she switched her status in 2015 to part-time contract worker, working three days a week.
Her wages dropped but she became “happier,” she said in late July during a practice session for an imminent stage show.
Shibata continues to achieve her work performance targets even after changing her status. With support from her coworkers, Shibata was given an in-house award for excellent achievement.
Her supervisor said Shibata’s work style has provided “good motivation” for junior colleagues.
The company currently plans to launch a new system that would allow regular employees to choose to work three days a week without having changing their status to contract workers the way Shibata did.
“Regular employees are our core workforce who share the philosophy and vision of the company,” an official of b-style said. “We plan to launch a program enabling them to work flexibly.”
Shibata is one of many young Japanese pursuing so-called parallel careers, who hold multiple jobs or engage in various activities in addition to regular work.
The government has encouraged workers to take side jobs as part of labor reform initiatives under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic growth plan.
Masayuki Tanaka is a 35-year-old Tokyo resident running a consultancy on his own while also working under contracts commissioned by a consulting agency and a nonprofit organization.
Tanaka left a major think tank in April because the long work hours made it hard for him and his working wife to look after their young child.
His income fell after he quit the think tank but luckily he avoided a steep decline and now has more free time.
Volunteer activities in which young workers can utilize their work skills are also popular.
According to Yuko Gendo, 34, representative of Social Marketing Japan, a group that acts as a bridge between individual volunteers and NPOs, most applicants work on a full-time basis.
“Many of them can improve their professional work through synergies from experiencing outside cultures,” she said.
Mitsunari Kubota, 31, who has engaged in volunteer activities through Social Marketing, said, “The experience gained from being a volunteer is useful to my work.”
Natsuko Hagiwara, a professor at the department of sociology at Rikkyo University well-versed in the trend of parallel careers, said, “Having multiple footholds is a risk management practice now that (Japan’s) lifetime employment system has collapsed.
“Environments that enable people to pursue multiple careers, such as a system allowing them to return to work after retirement, need to be created with the involvement of companies and the government,” she said.
Hagiwara also cautioned that people who take on parallel careers should have an “unshakable axis of what they want to do.”