The credit crisis and global economic slump have battered export-reliant Japanese companies, throwing thousands of people out of work. The sudden surge in the numbers of jobless has grabbed nationwide attention because major companies in Japan have long had a reputation for promising jobs for life.
Much of the recent criticism has centered on the widespread use in recent years of temporary workers, who have been the first to be fired in the downturn. The government estimates 85,000 temporary workers will have lost their jobs by the end of March.
The executives at Tuesday's annual New Year's gathering were deluged with questions about layoffs. And in a sign of the unfolding social turmoil, a group of workers held a protest rally outside the Tokyo hotel, where the festivities were held.
Fujio Mitarai, who heads Keidanren, a powerful business lobby, said the government must do more to protect the unemployed, and pass legislation including a stimulus package to get the economy back on track.