First day on the job for Japan's nervous new recruits

[TOKYO] Hundreds of thousands of Japanese started their first day on the job Friday in an annual ritual born from the country's fast-disappearing jobs-for-life work culture.

More than 500 recruits pumped their fists in the air and shouted "yacchae, Nissan" ("go for it, Nissan") at the automaker's welcoming ceremony, while Japan Airlines' new hires - clad in black suits and spotless white shirts - tossed paper aeroplanes inside a giant hangar.

April 1 is the start of Japan's fiscal year, a day when new hires - some awkwardly struggling to get comfortable in formal attire - fan out across Tokyo and other major cities to report for their first day of work.

Missing the big day, known as "shinsotsu ikkatsu saiyo" in Japanese, can prove difficult for procrastinators, who often struggle to find jobs after leaving university. Companies visit campuses to get their hands on cream-of-the-crop students before they finish their studies.

Among them was Risa Tsunematsu, who admitted she is slightly wary about making the jump from university to the corridors of a big bank.

"I'm nervous. It's a new start after university life," the 22-year-old said.

Ryohei Wasada worried the new job would take up a lot of his time compared to university, which he described as the "summer holiday" of his life.

"Student life in Japan is really fun. There is no way that my working life will be more fun than that," said the 22-year-old, who is joining the sales department of a kitchen and bathroom supply maker.

Over at the Bank of Japan, governor Haruhiko Kuroda tried to ease the nerves of more than 150 aspiring central bankers.

"I've been a working adult for about 50 years, but my career at the Bank of Japan is just three years old so I'm only a bit more senior than all of you," the 71-year-old central bank chief said.

Some 910,000 people started new jobs countrywide on Friday, although not all are fresh university graduates, according to Kyodo News agency.

Japan's post-war working culture has long been dominated by the popular image of selfless employees devoting themselves to the company, working punishing hours to secure the nation's future and accepting they will be moulded in line with the firm's corporate culture.

"It's a very important practice that is seen as the right way to transition from education to work," said Yuki Honda, a Tokyo University professor who specialises in youth employment.

During Japan's post-war expansion, "the demand for labour was huge so corporate Japan wanted employees to join firms right after graduation", she added.

But as the once-soaring economy soured in recent decades, part-time and contract work has become much more common for a younger generation of workers.

These days, many frustrated new hires leave their first job within a few years and some critics, including Honda, say the hiring-all-at-once ritual puts unhealthy pressure on students to find employment before graduating.

Japanese tend to view it as "abnormal" not to transition right away from school to a job, Honda said.

But Aiko Shigeta, a 21-year-old international affairs graduate at Temple University, thinks the hiring process creates a sense of unity.

"The majority of the students are guaranteed a job at the end," she said.

"In Europe and the United States, you are on your own and have to try to find a job yourself. Here in Japan it's all a process."


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