Unemployment is fast becoming a fact of life for students graduating from Japanese universities. For the fourth year running tens of thousands graduated without jobs as the academic year ended this spring. The number is expected to exceed last year's record high.
A ministry of education survey revealed that more than 50,000 of the 1995 cohort of graduates were still without jobs in December, nine months after they had completed their degree courses.
Even graduates from top universities, traditionally the first to receive job offers, are finding it more difficult to secure posts. A growing number of companies say they are now more interested in graduates who show imagination and initiative irrespective of the status of their universities.
Some student groups have warned that rising unemployment might provoke a return of the campus radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s.
"Students grew apathetic during the boom years of the 1980s," said one student, Mitsuru Tamaki. "But rising unemployment is making students more politically minded."
Demonstrations have already been organised to protest against the lack of jobs. In one march through central Tokyo hundreds of female students shouted "we want to work" as they passed the headquarters of some of Japan's leading companies.
A spokeswoman said women were being denied entry to career-oriented posts by employers who do not want to spend money training female graduates. "Many companies still have the outdated belief that women who take up career-oriented posts will forfeit their jobs for marriage and a life in the home," she said.
In an attempt to reduce graduate unemployment the government is introducing short-term workplace training programmes for jobless graduates. The scheme, in which the government pays a portion of each recruit's training costs, is intended to encourage small and medium-sized companies to employ more graduates.
The ministry of education is also organising a series of job fairs for unemployed graduates in cities throughout Japan. They will enable jobless graduates to meet representatives from smaller companies looking for recruits.
Universities, meanwhile, are providing additional classes to help senior students obtain jobs. Private universities, faced with falling enrolments, are particularly keen to show that their graduates are more successful than others.
"Graduate unemployment is no longer a temporary phenomenon," says Satsuki Uchida, a careers counsellor. "More steps now have to be taken to create job openings for graduates."
"Graduate unemployment is becoming a fact of life," agrees Mitsuru Tamaki. "Students are discovering that a university education is no longer the passport to secure employment with a leading company."