Unless you’re well acquainted with Japanese culture, then it’s unlikely you have come across the word freeter before.
What's a freeter?
Dating back to the 80’s, the word freeter was coined from (it’s believed) the word ‘freelancer’ and the German word ‘Arbeiter ("worker").
Freeter describes someone who isn’t in full time employment or who didn’t move into a career role after graduation.
The freeter may also be low paid, or, most interestingly, be a freelancer.
It’s clear why the marriage prospects of someone poorly paid or unemployed would be limited – this pattern prevails the world over.
However, why freelancers?
For those of us living in Western cultures, as long as the individual has a stable income, then we’re unlikely to discriminate between a freelancer or employee. It’s generally appreciated that freelancers are essential to an ever-changing peak and trough economy which relies on the flexibility of its work force.
However, the perception of freelancers in Japanese culture is not so generous. Why?
The reason comes down to our cultural values.
In most Western cultures, people place great value on individualism. They have the freedom to pursue their individual objectives, for which they are typically applauded, and they are not defined by their membership to particular groups or organisations. In fact, people who choose to ‘go it alone’ and freelance earn extra kudos.
This isn’t case however, in Japan as the Japanese are typically group oriented as opposed to individualistic.
The Japanese generally accept that they have a assigned roles and responsibilities. They are a small cog in a large wheel – which turns easily when all group members are carrying out their obligations. Japanese people are generally very committed to their community, family, education or sports groups and are happy to sacrifice their own desires for their group’s sake.
The Japanese 'Salary Man'
This is expressed well in the concept of the ‘salary man’.
This term refers to white collar middle management male staff. With development for these positions starting in a strict education regime as children, following graduation, the salary man joins a company and then essentially stays with them for life.
The salary man typically feels great loyalty to their company and will work long hours (usually six days a week) in a bid to help their company succeed. The needs of the company will be given precedence over their own sacrificed, personal aspirations.
The concept of the salary man is deeply respected in Japan.
The membership of the individual to their organisation and their life-long loyalty elevates them in the opinion of those around them and makes them positive marriage material.
Unfortunately, for the freelancing male freeter, they do not have backing of a large organisation, they do not show personal sacrifice and neither are they perceived to be part of a formal working group.
These factors combine to reduce the marriage prospects of the male freeter.
For the female freeter, however, their marriage prospects are – to a degree, elevated by their position. This is because great value is placed on the wife staying at home to look after her children, husband and house.
The situation is starting to change however, and, as the world becomes more interdependent and cultural influences travel, it’s fair to say that the needs of the economy will help further reduce the negative perception of the freelancing freeter going forward and that the freelancing position will be a more accepted way of working.
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Main image by spaztacular on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)