On Jan. 27, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), held an online meeting with his counterpart, Rikio Kozu, of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) to talk about wages, and, at one point, Nakanishi said that "somehow" Japan's ranking for average pay among the 37 developed countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development had dropped. On Jan. 30, Tokyo Shimbun summarized the media reaction to Nakanishi's remark by saying that the business leader made it seem as if he thought Japan's pay situation "was somebody else's problem." Japan's lower OECD ranking — it went from #12 in 1990 to #24 in 2019 — is due to wage stagnation: While salaries in Japan have remained roughly the same over the past 30 years, pay in other countries has gone up substantially, including in South Korea, the only other Asian economy on the OECD list.
Also on Jan. 27, during a House of Councilors Budget Committee session, opposition lawmaker Michihiro Ishibashi asked Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose administration has been accused of insufficient support for people left vulnerable by the COVID-19 pandemic, if he actually thinks citizens can get by on their own. After some back and forth, Suga said, in what Tokyo Shimbun described as a dispassionate tone, that people can always turn to Japan's "welfare system."
As the newspaper explained, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the business community have been undermining Japan's lifetime employment system in order to make it easier for employers to hire and fire at will and set salaries to their liking. At the same time, efforts at both the national and local levels to cut public assistance have weakened the safety net that is supposed to catch people when they fall financially.