Kamakura, Japan — Last year, Noboru Aoki was earning more than $22,000 as a department chief with a leading handbag manufacturer. Now he is pulling a rickshaw along a narrow byway en route to Kamakura's most famous shrine of Hachimangu.
He is part of a still small but growing number of people in Japan who are forsaking the traditional security of major corporations to pursue their own dreams.
Kazunori Ozawa gave up a secure job on a factory assembly line a few years ago to run a yatai, an old-fashioned pushcart street cafe that was a feature of Japanese life centuries before the transistor.
Strictly speaking, yatai are now illegal. But despite constant police attention, Ozawa doesn't regret his midlife career change.
''With increasing automation, I felt I was losing the human touch,'' he says. ''The more computerized society becomes, the greater the need for the yatai to provide a brief moment of human warmth and contact in an otherwise dull routine.''
The large majority of Japanese still strive from birth for a comfortable niche in a big-name company that will give them security for life. But increasingly, complain some Japanese, such people are being turned into ''zombies'' without an individual thought of their own.
Thus, the search for challenges in traditional crafts has diverted Japanese from their search for comfort.