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Japan's Lost Generation

Japan Inc. is back, but millions of young workers have been left behind

By just about any measure, Japan is back. The economy is growing at 2% a year, company profits are soaring, and land prices are rising. Unemployment, meanwhile, is down to 4% as Japan Inc. has started hiring again, with many college grads receiving multiple job offers. Suddenly, the future looks bright for a new generation of Japanese.

Try telling that to Sadaaki Nehashi. The 31-year-old contract worker at delivery company Yamato Transport makes just $1,100 a month sorting packages—about a third of the average income for full-time employees in Japan. Thats a step up from when he landed the job six years ago, though not enough for Nehashi to afford a place of his own, so he lives at his parents' modest home in central Tokyo. "I've had to lower my expectations a bit," says Nehashi, who graduated from university with a degree in marine biology in 2000. "But if I had waited around for a full-time job, I might have been waiting forever."