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Freeter, food and the will to live

February 10, 2010

A friend just called my attention to a home-made movie of a freeter. Freeter (フリーター) is a japanese expression for someone who is employed only as temporary worker. The expression stems from the english “free” and the german “Arbeiter” (worker), literally meaning “free worker”.

Some 20 years ago it really meant freedom and was a positive expression referring to Japanese who managed to escape from the restricted business world of Japan. But today, the meaning became the opposite and being a freeter now means to belong to the losers of society. Most of them didn’t choose to become a freeter but since Japan’s economic recession finding a regular job is very difficult for young Japanese. The Japanese labour market expects students to enter a company right after completing their studies, so they actually spend their last year at university with job hunting instead of studying. Those who don’t make it into a company are most likely to enter the makegumi (looser-group) for it is almost impossible to get a regular job later.

The protagonist of this home-made movie is a freeter himself, called Iwabuchi Hiroki (26), and is working as temporary worker for three years since his graduation. With his movie we catch a glimpse of the life of a freeter from a first-hand perspective. Iwabuchi tells us that no matter how long one will work for the temporary employment agency there won’t be a wage raise. The temporary workers aren’t even allowed to use the trash cans freely. Then he and an assisting writer talk about his severe financial situation.  But Iwabuchi doesn’t want to complain all the time although he feels unlucky of course. So the message of his documentary is: “I don’t want to die!”

The scenes in which he eats show this message the most impressive. Watching him gulping his breakfast bowl of rice with natto shows that he’s wiling to resist death. Just look at his somewhat zombie-like morning face! But he’s eating and is far from being dead. And the scene where he’s gorging a snack, which is not clear what it is (maybe he himself doesn’t know either), but that doesn’t matter ’cause it is something to eat, also bursts with living will. But have a look for yourself:

Iwabuchi says: “I’m called a looser or a slave. But to whom did I lose? Whose slave am I? Society shouldn’t talk about my feelings so selfishly!” No, rather let himself speak.

It took two months to complete the movie which is giving a close-up on the worsening class society, working poor and people seeking refuge at internet cafes and was also shown on a british film festival. Here, we see him presenting the movie to a Japanese movie company, which seems to be very interested in his work. What follows is a book and a lot of attention from the media bringing Iwabuchi some fame. But happy and astonished as he is, Iwabuchi also thinks about those who even lost the strenght to do anything and who won’t be able to end their misery by themselves like Iwabuchi. His movie won’t be able to either…

Now, he’s sharing an appartment with two other boys and they share some food as well. It’s spicy. It conveys the message that life should be spicy, that everyone should be able to add his or her spice to the world. Or as Iwabuchi would have it: Everyone has something he or she can do.

For more videos and information on freeter and Iwabuchi, see this site (Japanese):

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2013 05:17

    Hello great blog! Does running a blog such as this take a massive amount work?

    I have virtually no understanding of computer programming but
    I was hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyways, if you have any recommendations or
    techniques for new blog owners please share. I know this
    is off subject but I simply needed to ask. Many thanks!

    • franeymoon permalink*
      June 4, 2013 11:05

      Hello, thanks for your comment!
      I don’t know computer programming either, but if you use a service such as wordpress you don’t need to programme your blog yourself. Just chose a theme and write about what you like. That’s all. How much work it will take then depends on your writing.


  1. Freeter « Japanese TV drama & Contemporary Japan

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