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For a few of Japan’s lonely employees, COVID-19 brings a homecoming By Reuters 

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workplace employees sporting protecting face masks stroll to move dwelling at sundown amid the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – After 4 years spent working and residing alone, removed from his household and associates, Tsuyoshi Tatebayashi packed his luggage on the finish of March and returned, ultimately, to his spouse and two daughters.

Like tons of of hundreds of different white-collar employees, the 44-year-old IT engineer had been on a solo project, referred to as “tanshin funin”, and wasn’t anticipating to return to his household so quickly.

However because the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, his employer, Fujitsu, determined to deliver its far-flung employees dwelling, turning into considered one of Japan’s first massive corporations to make a begin in ending the long-established apply.

Solo assignments have been a daily obligation for white collar employees since a minimum of Japan’s restoration from wartime devastation, turning into an important step in profession development regardless of their unpopularity amongst many employees.

“If it may be helped, I do not need to should go on a solo project once more,” Tatebayashi mentioned from his dwelling in Fukuoka, round 1,000 km (600 miles) from his work base close to Tokyo. Tatebayashi was considered one of 4,000 solo employees on the IT consulting and gear maker.

Manabu Morikawa, a Fujitsu personnel supervisor, mentioned know-how has made distant work attainable and ending the unpopular apply could assist Fujitsu rent employees.

“There had been dialogue previously about folks working away from their households, however COVID-19 offered the impetus for change,” Morikawa mentioned.

Snack maker Calbee Inc is one other scrapping the apply, final 12 months abolishing most solo assignments.

Solo employees at corporations the place teleworking has turn into a norm for all staff are additionally going dwelling. At some, together with Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings and beverage maker Kirin Holdings, that change could also be everlasting.

“There are circumstances the place staff return to the place their households are,” mentioned Russell Roll, a spokesman for Kirin, including pandemic work-at-home measures had been open ended.

Mitsubishi Chemical’s new head workplace in Tokyo will solely have sufficient desks for 60% of staff assigned there.

For your entire system to alter, nonetheless, banks equivalent to Mitsubishi UFJ (NYSE:) Monetary Group, which have to employees in depth department networks, and main producers equivalent to Toyota Motor (NYSE:) Corp, must finish the apply as effectively.

“Transfers are a optimistic step from viewpoint of the end result by each matching the correct individual for the correct job on the firm and the profession growth of the worker,” Toyota spokeswoman, Shiori Hashimoto mentioned.

Toyota is protecting solo assignments however has additionally expanded work from home for all staff, she added.

An spokesman at MUFG, which is sticking with solo assignments, declined to remark when requested about their advantage.


Companies transfer folks each few years to nurture managers with broad expertise and in addition as a means to make sure provider relationships do not encourage fraud, mentioned Rochelle Kopp, the founding father of consulting agency Japan Intercultural.

“Beneath Japanese labour legislation, if you’re a everlasting worker, refusing a job switch or different job project is similar as saying that you’re quitting,” mentioned Kopp. “It is so commonplace that folks simply assume it is regular.”

Many solo employees are middle-aged males who switch alone to keep away from disrupting household life.

Researchers at Ritsumeikan College, utilizing census knowledge and authorities surveys, estimate there could also be as many as 1 million solo employees.

On common, solo employees get an allowance of 47,000 yen ($432) a month to cowl housing prices and a journeys properties, based on the labour ministry.

However greater than two-thirds of three,131 respondents in a survey printed by the Asahi newspaper final February described the assignments as pointless. Solely 41 folks mentioned they had been pleased with them as they had been.

“To get promoted, you need to do solo assignments, though it means lacking out on seeing your youngsters develop up,” mentioned a YouTuber, who recognized himself as Nishigami.

Nishigami, who has been alone in Tokyo for 3 years working for an IT firm, posts movies for first-time solo employees with recommendation on furnishing small residences and residing frugally.


Throughout his 4 12 months stint in Yokohama, Tatebayashi noticed his household as soon as each two months, even much less when pandemic lockdowns curbed journey. Most different weekends he labored, frolicked with Fujitsu colleagues or performed pc video games.

He selected to stay alone as a result of he had simply purchased a home in Fukuoka and did not need to take his daughters, then six and 10, out of college or away from their grandparents close by.

Japan’s authorities has largely ignored solo employees in latest labour reforms that focus as a substitute on curbing extreme time beyond regulation following a number of deaths from overwork, referred to as “karoshi”.

Tatebayashi reckoned it is going to take a month or so for household life to return to regular in Fukuoka.

“My children are joyful about it as a result of we will play collectively, however my spouse says she’ll discover it arduous to calm down if I’m round the home on a regular basis,” he mentioned.

He and most different Fujitsu staff welcome the top of solo assignments, however based on personnel supervisor Morikawa it has posed an issue for a number of of Fujitsu’s long-term company nomads.

“They are saying that they not have rooms at dwelling to return to.”

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