You might have a job. You might be between jobs or you might be out of one entirely. Same goes for many in Japan. But what they spend their unemployment checks on might differ from what their counterparts do elsewhere.
According to one Japanese weekly, unemployed men in their twenties and thirties are apparently indulging in their fair share of otaku pursuits.
Otaku pursuits—or as Japan tracker Patrick Macias likes to say, "nerd heroine"—varies from person to person. What occupies my time and money might differ from what occupies yours.
As of September 2011, the unemployment rate in Japan was over 4 percent. That's low in comparison to America's, but high by Japanese standards, which is traditionally around 2.6 percent.
Whenever crimes are committed in Japan, the media is quick to point out whether the accused is employed full-time, employed part-time, or without a job. It's anecdotal, but the number of crimes committed by the unemployed or "mushoku" (無職) feels like it's on the uptick. A month or so ago, I remember reading about a horrific crime online, and one comment summed succinctly up a widespread feeling: "また無職" (or "an unemployed person again").
A recent Weekly Playboy article examined how young unemployed people spent their money and what they did for entertainment. Weekly Playboy is a tabloid, but isn't sensational—if anything, it's incredibly depressing and even critical of what welfare payments are being spent on.
They're called "NEET", originally a British acronym for "not in education, employment, or training".
In the article, there's one 29-year-old who was injured while laboring. His only diversion is playing cell phone games, and he apparently spends ¥20,000 (US$256) from his monthly welfare payments on them. According to the article, there are others who also spend their government checks on entertainment.
One 35-year-old unemployed Tokyo man supposedly goes to Akihabara maid cafes two or three times a month. When asked why, the man replied, "Because the girls at the maid cafes are the only people I have to talk to." Another uses a very small portion (only ¥150 or $1.92) to rent an adult video for the week.
In Japan, the expectation is that if you are receiving government assistance, then 100 percent of that money should go to paying for necessities, not entertainment. The reaction online in Japan to this article and articles like this is unforgiving.
"These people are trash," wrote one commenter. "You put trash in the trash can." Another wrote, "This makes everyone who actually works look like morons."
"Calling them cockroaches does roaches a disservice," wrote another. "These people are cancer."
While yet another added, "All these people do is spend the money on pachinko and prostitution."
Harsh, yes. But remember, Japan is a society in which homeless people do not walk around begging for money.
With a publication like Weekly Playboy—which is, make no mistake, a tabloid—it is difficult to discern how representative these statements are of a larger trend, or if they are simply fanning the flames of those upset about how tax dollars are being spent.
Being unemployed is something that's always easy to criticize—especially if you're employed.
As the Japanese yen continues to rise and more and more factories here are shuttered, Japan's welfare state is one trend that doesn't look to subside any time soon. But will the unemployed spend their money on things they actually need or think they do?