Work ethic in japan


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Japan, Japaense employee's mindset, bushido, ganbari, overwork, rice cultivation, harmony, hierarchy, stress, karoshi, suicide, NEET and Freeter

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Work ethic in japan

  1. 1. Work Ethic in Japan By Mr Zakaria Laroussi (Morocco) Professor Mari Hamada (Academic advisor) A report submitted to Kyoto University of Education, Kyoto, Japan In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the certificate of in-service training for foreign teachers April 2008 - March 2009 1
  2. 2. Contents Table of contents 2 Dedication 3 Acknowledgements 4 Introduction 5 Chapter 1: Japanese employee’s mindset 6 Bushido 7 Ganbari, Overwork, and Labour laws 8 Japanese style of management 12 Rice cultivation 13 Hard-working Japanese: Stereotype? 13 Chapter 2: Interview data analysis 16 Chapter 3: The complex interplay between hierarchy and harmony in Japanese society and the position of women in the labour market 22 Hierarchy in Japanese society 23 Working in harmony 26 Gender relationship 27 Working women in Japan 28 Chapter 4: Japanese employees: face to face with work-related health problems 32 Stress 33 Karoshi 34 Suicide 35 Chapter 5: NEET and Freeter: should they be blamed for the decline of Japan’s work ethic? 40 NEET and “Freeter” 41 Conclusion 46 Impression of my Stay in Japan: A Taste of “Nihon no Seikatsu” 49 Appendix: Interview questions 52 Bibliography 54 2
  3. 3. Dedication To my family To my friends in Morocco and those I have made in Japan To my colleagues 3
  4. 4. Acknowledgements Not only is this work the fruit of a great deal of reading and pondering about the employment situation in Japan, but it is also the outcome of the generous support I received from different people. First of all, I would like to thank the Japanese government for accepting me to the teacher training program and giving me the incomparable opportunity to experience Japanese culture first-hand. Sure enough without this opportunity, this research could be impossible. My gratitude equally goes for the Moroccan ministry of national education for allowing me to leave my job for the period of my stay in Japan. I feel deeply grateful to Professor Mari Hamada for her superb supervision of my research and guidance. I am also indebted to my friend Ms Tomoko Kume for enlightening me on various topics regarding Japanese culture. Thanks are also due to the following friends for their kind acceptance to answer interview questions for my research: Ms Atsumi Kimoto, Mr Makito Dojo and Mrs Yasuyo Dojo, Ms Hikari Yokogawa, Mr Yohei Hamabata, Mr Toshiyuki Takeda, Mr Kentaro Kobayashi, and Ms Keiko Kusumoto. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to my friend Mr Stig Lindberg for his translation of the bushido spirit document, appearing at the end of chapter 2, and Ms Elena Munteanu for her encouragement and review of some parts of the paper. Lastly, I am especially much obliged to my family for their support either in Morocco or here in Japan. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to my friend Mr Abdelhakim El Bakouri and my cousin Mr Mehdi Laroussi for all their effort to make my participation in the training program possible. 4
  5. 5. Introduction Japan is a country with a truly rich culture born out of whole interactions between the Japanese themselves and the Japanese and the outside world. Fully aware of its being a treasure—a national pride—the Japanese are investing tremendous effort into preserving their culture and showing it to the world. Be it a castle or a skyscraper, the old and the modern here exist in nice harmony. History, just like modernity, is vividly felt; hence, the appeal of Japan to foreigners. Retracing history and stopping by the salient aspects of Japanese culture do not seem to be out of reach. Religious beliefs, customs, traditions, family life, work ethic, and pop culture, to name but a few, are all highlighted wherever one travels in the country. My interest in the Japanese way of life is no less than that of the foreigners I made friends with or the ones I simply met. Nevertheless, I find the work ethic of the Japanese particularly worthy of careful study. I would like to suggest approaching this study through five interconnected topics. The first chapter will be a discussion of the influence of feudal thinking, which is embodied by the warrior class prevalent from the 12th to the 19th centuries, on the Japanese people’s perception of work and see whether or not the work ethic of the past is still popular among the Japanese today. This notion of hard work will be questioned in chapter 2 through data gleaned from interviews with some Japanese people. In the third chapter, I am going to tackle hierarchy in Japanese society and how its effect is felt in the workplace as well. Also within the focus of this chapter is the characteristic of harmony with its coalescing impact on employees and how the issue of gender disrupts that harmony and paves the way for inequality to prevail in the workplace. For the sake of comprehensiveness, I am going to explain why the work ethic that was once praised for digging Japan out from rubble to an economic superpower is now blamed for threatening Japanese employees’ lives. To conclude my study, I am going to look at NEET and “Freeter” as premonitory phenomena of the serious socio-economic problems challenging the international status of Japan. Through these aforementioned topics, I hope I manage to give a clear picture of the work situation in the “rising sun.” The complete picture is definitely not the scope of the study, but I will try to focus on what I feel are issues good enough for the elucidation of the topic. 5
  6. 6. Chapter 1 Japanese employee’s mindset 6
  7. 7. The rapid rise of Japan to an economic superpower after World War II was so extraordinary that world leaders and economists had started showing immense interest in the ‘Japanese miracle,’ as some scholars chose to call it. Towards the end of the 1970s, in an attempt to understand how Japan could possibly succeed in building a strong economy, many countries like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia launched the learn from Japan campaign. They were inspired by the ‘Japanese spirit, western technology’ slogan that was in vogue in the Meiji Restoration—a period in which the nation opened up to the West. Japan was seen a good model for other countries to emulate, and many scholars supported that trend. For instance, in his 1979-published book Japan as Number One, Harvard’s sociologist Ezra Vogel gives an interesting assessment of Japan’s economic success. He attributes its praiseworthy status to its good education system, low level of crime, effective bureaucracy and democracy.1 However, other scholars like futurologist Herman Khan tried to account for Japan’s success story by highlighting the Japanese way of thinking. The latter is largely shaped by such feudalistic values as group loyalty, commitment to duty, honor, and group harmony. In fact, these very traits can be found in the code of the warrior (bushido 武士 道) prevalent in the warrior class, which ruled between the 12th and 19th centuries. I would like to start this chapter by examining how the concepts of bushido and ganbari have shaped the Japanese worker’s perception of work, and then proceed to find out possible reasons for overwork prevalent at the workplace. My interest also includes finding out the kind of legal protection employees have from exploitation. For more insight into work ethic in Japan, I find the Japanese style of management and rice cultivation worthy of attention. To conclude, I will question the taken-for-granted idea that the Japanese are workaholic. In exploring the aforementioned points, I wish to help make the work spirit of Japanese workers clearer. 1. Bushido (武士道 way of the warrior) From Roger Davies and Osamu Ikeno, one learns that, “Bushido involved not only martial spirit and skill with weapons, but also absolute loyalty to one’s lord, a strong sense of personal honor, devotion to duty, and the courage, if required, to sacrifice one’s life in battle or in ritual.”2 So defined, the concepts of loyalty, dignity, duty, and bravery are deeply rooted in the warrior’s mind and he acts in accordance to them. The values constituting the spirit of bushido are not limited to Japan’s feudal times only, but they are also relevant to today’s context. Talking about work, Japanese employees have to be loyal to their companies and bosses for the sake of business boom and in order 7
  8. 8. to safeguard their jobs. Any mistake the worker makes is viewed unfavorably by superiors and colleagues. So, workers feel a great deal of pressure to constantly mind the way they approach work. This has to do with preserving dignity. In case of mistake, they would redeem themselves by resigning, or, in an extreme case, by committing suicide. This is what shame culture is believed to be about. As the adage goes, “Die rather than disgrace yourself.” 2. Ganbari (doing one’s best), Overwork, and Labour Laws Related to the concept of bushido is the idea of ganbari, which roughly means “doing one’s best.” According to Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno, this term “Connotes high achievement, motivation, and orientation to group harmony.”3 One may hear this word on the street, at school, in the company, in the supermarket, on the train, etc.—in fact almost everywhere. With this in mind, the Japanese expect of everyone to go beyond the call of duty and contribute to the development of their nation. Sticking to the company context, workers who have failed to do their best cannot expect much in return. Actually, they just have no future with their companies. As the proverb goes, “The monk who does not work should not eat.” Having said that, an important question comes to mind: are the Japanese a hard-working people? From the data available, one may say so. Here are some statistics comparing the annual working hours of 5 developed countries, including Japan:4 Working hours per year (estimated hours worked by production and manufacturing workers) Year Japan USA UK Germany France 1980 2,162 ( 209 ) 1,893 ( 146 ) 1,883 ( 125 ) 1,719( 104 ) 1,759 1985 2,168 ( 230 ) 1,929 ( 172 ) 1,910 ( 161 ) 1,663 ( 83 ) 1,644 1990 2,124 ( 219 ) 1,948 ( 192 ) 1,953 ( 187 ) 1,598 ( 99 ) 1,683 1995 1,975 ( 152 ) 1,986 ( 234 ) 1,943 ( 198 ) 1,550 ( 88 ) 1,680 1996 1,993 ( 168 ) 1,986 ( 234 ) 1,929 ( 182 ) 1,517 ( 68 ) 1,679 1997 1,983 ( 179 ) 2,005 ( 250 ) 1,934 ( 187 ) 1,517 ( 68 ) 1,677 1998 1,947 ( 152 ) 1,991 ( 239 ) 1,925 ( 177 ) 1,525 ( 57 ) 1,672 1999 1,942 ( 155 ) 1,991 ( 239 ) 1,906 ( 151 ) 1,525 ( 57 ) 1,650 2000 1,970 ( 175 ) 1,986 ( 239 ) 1,902 ( 151 ) 1,538 1,589 2001 1,948 ( 159 ) 1,943 ( 203 ) 1,902 ( 151 ) 1,529 1,554 2002 1,954 ( 171 ) 1,952 ( 213 ) 1,888 ( 135 ) 1,525 1,539 2003 1,975 ( 189 ) 1,929 ( 218 ) 1,888 ( 130 ) 1,525 1,538 2004 1,996 ( 199 ) 1,948 ( 239 ) 1,888 ( 130 ) 1,525 1,538 2005 1,988 ( 200 ) 1,943 ( 239 ) 1,869 ( 125 ) 1,525 1,537 *Figures in ( ) are non-scheduled hours worked. A careful examination of the figures given in the table indicates that the cases of Japan and the USA are particularly interesting to consider. Workers in these countries have more or less invested as much time in work. For a better appreciation of the situation, however, I would like to divide the table into 3 distinct time blocs: the first one extends 8
  9. 9. from 1980 to 1990. Here, it is easy to remark that the Japanese put in more working hours than American workers. The situation changed in the next time bloc between 1995 and 2000. Interestingly, unlike the first period of time, the American worker did better than the Japanese, especially if one considers the non-scheduled hours worked. Considering 2001-2005 period, one will notice that Japanese workers tried successfully to redress the balance, but the non-scheduled hours worked remained in favor of the Americans. What could be the reason behind this fluctuation in terms of the number of working hours in the first and second economies in the world? It is important to note that in 1982 the American economy slipped into a deep recession, which one could invoke to argue in favor of more working hours, but the figures show otherwise. The same thing goes for the Japanese bubble economy during the 1990s; whereas it makes sense to expect more effort invested into work in order to climb out of the economic stagnation of the time, the statistics available do not seem to reflect the economic difficulty Japan went through. Following Robert S. Ozaki, there is a tendency for people to work longer hours when their country is poor than when it experiences economic prosperity.5 He gives the example of Britain and states that, “during 1840-1870, the norm for English machinists was to be in the factory from six A.M. till six P.M., or twelve hours per day. Allowing for rest periods and meal breaks, their daily work must have come to about ten hours.”6 The situation was the same in Japan in the first part of the 20th century. The relevance of this is that although Japanese workers now work fewer hours than before (e.g., 1980-1990), Japan still maintains the commendable status of the second economy in the world. This may be justified by the fact that now Japan relies largely on modern technology and more efficient work methods. I believe these two elements as well as the excellent work ethics of the Japanese have made Japan a well-established economic superpower with a very strong economic infrastructure. This makes me think that Ozaki’s claim that the poor economic conditions of a country may urge its people to work longer hours is probably not valid any more in the Japanese context. I believe that any reduction of working hours should be understood as either a necessary tactic used for economic recovery when global markets are beset by difficulties, or when labour shows high levels of organization and dependence on the machine. These are the spirit of Globalization that seems to govern global markets especially in North America, Europe, and Japan. In 1991, Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi (1991-1993) announced a new direction in the way Japan was going. Having worked so hard that they have successfully turned their country into an economic superpower, the Japanese people deserved a reward; in the Prime Minister’s words, Japan needed to become a “lifestyle superpower” (生活大国 seikatsu taikoku);7 that is, Japan needed to strike a balance between labour and leisure so that the Japanese would enjoy the fruits of their hard work, just as peoples of other developed nations are doing. To that end, the government of Tsutomu Hata (28 April-30 June 1994) suggested a reduction of working hours setting a target of 150 hours per month by 1996. 9
  10. 10. Statistically speaking, working hours did fall below the-150-hours-per-month level 2 years earlier to 1996. Nevertheless, overtime lifted the workload as the table below shows:8 Year Standard hours Overtime Total hours worked 1960 180.8 21.9 202.7 1965 176.4 16.5 192.9 1970 169.9 16.7 186.6 1975 161.4 10.6 172.0 1980 163.0 12.7 175.7 1985 161.0 14.6 175.6 1986 160.8 14.4 175.2 1987 161.1 14.8 175.9 1988 160.2 15.7 175.9 1989 158.2 15.8 174.0 1990 159.0 13.0 172.0 1991 156.3 12.3 168.6 1992 154.7 10.5 165.2 1993 150.5 9.5 160.0 1994 149.8 9.4 159.2 1995 149.6 9.6 159.2 1996 149.7 9.7 159.9 1997 147.3 10.3 157.6 1998 146.8 9.6 155.9 1999 143.8 9.5 153.3 2000 144.6 9.8 154.4 2001 143.6 9.4 153.0 Talking about overwork, Japanese employees are famous worldwide for being workaholic. The table above does not provide clear-cut evidence of that wide-spread belief, but the highly organized way in which the Japanese approach work, the dedication they show to their jobs, their passive acceptance of overwork, and the short holidays they get are in my view good reasons why foreigners strongly believe them to be hard working. One more thing is that the emergence of Japan as a strong economic competitor to Western powers after it had been devastated by the war startled the outside world and led it to attribute that to the Japanese’s hard work and determination to rebuild their country. It is important to mention, however, that overwork is a very familiar issue to both the young and old. The long hours many Japanese employees have to spend in the company have to do with the attitude of the management towards their enthusiasm at and commitment to work and the way that attitude may impact on their careers, as Japanese companies tend to measure loyalty to work by the amount of time the worker puts into it. In return for that time, workers expect promotions and pay increases. Thus, the employer- employee relationship is based on what one may call mutual benefit which sometimes 10
  11. 11. amounts to the exploitation of the former to the latter. This brings me to an important question: what kind of legal protection from exploitation is there for Japanese workers? Here are some articles of the Labour Standards Law which employees rely on for good working conditions:9 Article 32: 1). An employer shall not have a worker work more than forty hours per week, excluding recesses. 2). An employer shall not have a worker work more than eight hours per day for each day of the week, excluding recesses. Article 33: 1). In the event of temporary necessity by reason of disaster or other unavoidable circumstances, an employer, may extend the working hours under Articles 32 through 32-5 inclusive and Article 40 and may have workers work on rest days under Article 35; with the permission of the administrative office, and within the limits of such necessity, however, in the event that the necessity is so urgent that there is not time enough to obtain the permission of the administrative office, the employer shall report this after the fact without delay. Article 35: 1). An employer shall provide workers at least one rest day per week. Article 36: 2). In the event that an employer has entered a written agreement with either a trade union organized by where a majority of the workers at the work place concerned, where such a trade union exists, or with a person representing a majority of the workers, where no such trade union exists, and has filed such agreement with administrative office, the employer may, regardless of the provisions of Articles 32 through 32-5 and Article 40 with respect to working hours (hereinafter referred to as "working hours" in this Article) and the provisions of the preceding Article with respect to rest days (hereinafter referred to as "rest days" in this Article), extend the working hours or have workers work on the rest days in accordance with the stipulations of such agreement. Provided that, the extension in working hours of underground work and other work specified by ordinance as especially injurious to health shall not exceed two hours per day. Article 37: 1). In the event that an employer extends working hours or has a worker work on rest days in accordance with the provisions of Article 33 or paragraph 1 of the preceding Article the employer shall pay the increased wages for work during such hours or on such days at the rate of at least 25 percent and no more than 50 percent over the normal wages per working hour or working day. 11
  12. 12. The articles clearly state it is unlawful to get an employee work more than 160 hours per week, i.e., 8 hours per day with the weekend and recess time excluded. However, the law delineates that in the case of a disaster or an accord between the management and labour unions overwork is allowed only if it is not detrimental to the health of the worker and the latter gets a 25-50 percent pay increase. Apparently, this amount of workload is out of line with the aspiration of the Japanese government which aims at reducing working hours to 150 hours per week. I have heard several stories about overwork in Japan where workers would sacrifice weekends for the company and work until late hours at night during weekdays. Of course, this is done in violation of labour laws as well as probably the work contract the employee has signed. It is easy for one to feel a sense of rejection of overwork among young Japanese, in particular. Yet from conversations with some Japanese friends, I learnt that overwork is the norm in the Japanese world of business. In a defensive tone, my friends indicated that overwork made their country prosperous. Thus, people feel it necessary to adhere to that way of life, which is a comfortable way to keep harmony between each other. Whereas the business world in Japan believes in the necessity of long hours of work to maximize profits, the Japanese government would like to bring those working hours down to 150 per month. Will the government succeed in reconciling both desires, especially that overwork is deeply rooted in the culture? I would like to discuss this issue further by considering the Japanese style of management. 3. Japanese Style of Management In his book The Sun Also Rises over Toledo, Sada Honda, president of WIN Advisory Group in New York, gives an insightful explanation of the way the Japanese manage business. He says that: “One of the most striking things I observed at the beginning of my job with the Japanese firm in Detroit was to see the visiting Japanese executives insist on meeting American employees. They went through all the names and the backgrounds of the employees before the visit and greeted each one of them. There was a dinner at night to which all the employees were invited. . . . I could see [the Americans’] increasing sense of belonging. The act was certainly a motivating factor for every American and a confidence builder in their working for a Japanese company. The important observation here is that this kind of action comes naturally to even the upper echelons of a Japanese company.”10 Not only is the success of the Japanese in the world of business attributable to overwork, but also to the sense of belonging workers tie to their companies. As a rule, cooperation 12
  13. 13. at work is the norm. That is why Japanese workers would avoid leaving the workplace while their coworkers are still busy finishing some tasks. Likewise, workers usually do not have definite responsibilities at work, as they can do whatever they may be assigned. Moreover, the management would encourage a participatory approach toward making decisions concerning the company in order to reinforce a sense of belonging among the workers. Of equal importance, the Japanese would prefer long-term or, sometimes, life- long employment to layoffs. In short, the point behind the Japanese style of management is to make employees approach work in unity and zeal, with high levels of productivity, quality and then revenue as the ultimate objectives. 4. Rice Cultivation Ever since the beginning of its cultivation in the Yayoi era (500 BC-300 AD), rice has been an important aspect of Japanese culture. It has been a staple food and used to brew sake (酒 Japanese wine) as well as make a variety of delicious cakes. The Japanese use the word “御飯 gohan”, which means rice, and add prefixes to the word to get terms for breakfast (朝ご飯 asagohan), lunch (昼ごはん hirugohan) and dinner (晩御飯 bangohan). This testifies to the importance of rice in the Japanese life. In fact, there is more to rice than just nutrition. The study of rice cultivation gives us an insight into Japanese work ethic. First, one needs to remember some facts about the geography and climate of Japan. Japan is an island country in East Asia with more than 70% of the country as mountainous terrain. Whereas summer is so hot and humid, winter is so cold in the north, in particular. June and July are known as the rainy season while August and September as the typhoon season. In short, geography and climate seriously challenged the survival of the Japanese. With a lot of rainfall, Japan is surely a good place for rice cultivation. Yet, Japanese farmers had to toil at rooting out weeds in their paddy fields. As there were only simple farming tools and no herbicides in old times, the farmers had always to attend to the fields with the help of each other. What is more, during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Edo Period: 1603-1868), farmers had to offer 40% of the rice crop to the local lords.11 In addition, only 15% of the land in Japan is suitable for cultivation. Clearly, under the long reign of the Shogunate, farmers were feeling too much pressure—a pressure that was exacerbated by the rough terrain and severe climate in the country. Consequently, Japanese people fully realized that hard work was the right choice for them to survive—an essential lesson they handed on to their progeny. 5. Hard-working Japanese: Stereotype? Once again, I would like to raise the question: do the Japanese work hard? Or rather, do they still retain the lesson their forefathers taught them before? Professor David Matsumoto argues that the image that foreigners as well as Japanese people themselves hold about the Japanese worker as a “samurai in suits”, “worker bee”, or “corporate warrior” is but a myth.12 13
  14. 14. Today, the Japanese are living in a completely different time. Unlike the past, farming is done using sophisticated machines; as a consequence, productivity is guaranteed. Additionally, by the end of the 1970s, the country had already recovered from the ravages of World War II, and since then, it has been the envy of many countries in Asia and elsewhere. Moreover, Japanese products are well-known world-wide for their quality. The point here is that the country is now enjoying affluence, and as a result, Japanese people may not be feeling strongly about the necessity for hard work as before. What David Matsumoto would like to say is that the attitude of the Japanese towards work is changing, especially among young workers. The latter regard work as a source of income, not a purpose in life any more. Regarding the system of wages, they prefer the merit-based to seniority-based system. This is being so because the youth express their dissatisfaction at the fact that they are rewarded according to their age and the years they have worked for a particular company, with almost no regard paid to their abilities and education. Thus, saying that Japanese workers consecrate their personal and family lives for the sake of the company sounds a bit exaggerated. Conclusion: I would like to close this chapter by saying that it is hard to define what exactly shapes the Japanese way of thinking with regards to work, but I believe that the harsh moral code of feudal warriors and rice cultivation had an enormous impact on the Japanese thinking. Among the things the Bushido spirit emphasizes are loyalty to, sacrifice for, and perfection in serving the master. The master in modern Japan is the boss at work. Loyalty to the boss comes in the form of such things as supporting the success of the company by hard work and obeying the instructions of the management. Sacrifice is exemplified by doing overwork, which reduces the time employees spend with their families. As to perfection, Japanese employees feel it a moral obligation to serve customers the best way. They would do whatever possible to guarantee the satisfaction of their customers. In so doing, the boss’ interest in doing business successfully is well served. To turn to rice cultivation, farmers supported each other to surmount the challenge posed by the climate. They had to rely on muscle rather than advanced machinery to tend their fields, so they had to work together for a crop large enough to give part of to the shogun and to keep the rest for their families. In a similar vein, cooperation in the workplace is necessary. Not only that, but it is also crucial to show group spirit, just as farmers did in the past. The moral code of Bushido, which grew out of a mixture of ideas from Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism that appealed to the warrior class, and rice cultivation have both left indelible effect on Japanese employees and employers alike. And the spirit of ganbari and the Japanese style of management are but manifestations of the presence of those determinants of the Japanese employee’s mindset. 14
  15. 15. Endnotes 1 . Paul J. Scalise, “Sisyphus, the Japan Specialist,”, 12 January 2001, May 2008 <> 2 . Roger Davies and Osamu Ikeno, The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2002) 41-42 3 . Ibid., p.84 4 . “Estimates of Annual Hours Actually Worked for Production Workers, Manufacturing,” 2007, The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, May 2008 <> 5 . Robert S. Ozaki, The Japanese: A Cultural Portrait, (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1978) 254 6 . Ibid., p.253 7 . David Leheny, The Rules of Play: National Identity and the Shaping of Japanese Leisure, Google Books, May 2008 < KoA8ESTsTfAC&pg> 8 . Ross Mouer and Hirosuke Kawanishi, A Sociology of Work in Japan, (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 78 9 . “Labour Standards Law,” International Labour Organization, June 2008 <> 10 . “Just What is Japanese Management Style?” WIN Advisory Group, June 2008 <> 11 . Ibid., Robert S. Ozaki, p.257 12 . David Matsumoto, The New Japan: Debunking Seven Cultural Stereotypes, (United States of America: International Press, Inc., 2002) 15
  16. 16. Chapter 2 Interview Data Analysis 16
  17. 17. For a better appreciation of the work situation in Japan, I conducted 7 interviews with female and male Japanese people who earn their living either as part-timers or full-timers. I started my interviews with a question regarding the world view of Japanese people as hard working. The interviewees responded differently: 5 of them confirmed that the Japanese are diligent, although efficiency at work is debatable, according to one of the female interviewees. On the other hand, one of the remaining 2 interviewees said that the foreigners he knows work harder than his Japanese friends. The second person, however, was undecided on whether Japanese people are hard working or not. He argued that many people in Japan care much about money, which is their prime motivation for work. Moving on to a personal question, I asked the interviewees if they were hard working or not. Four of them answered positively. Another person told me he used to be very diligent, but now he has decided to shift for an easy lifestyle so that he could enjoy his work. As to the last two interviewees, they gave a categorical “no.” I think it would be safer to say that the attitude Japanese people hold about hard work is to a large extent determined by age, in the sense that the older a person gets the more convinced he becomes of the importance of hard work. That is probably so because of the family responsibilities he has to meet. Talking about hard work among business people, all the interviewees, but one, criticized the huge amount of time business people devote to their companies/work, which is judged as being at the expense of domestic life. It is “sacrifice of your life, your family, free time and even your health,” said one interviewee. It is “crazy,” “ridiculous,” “don’t like it,” “too much work,” said others. In general terms, there is wide-spread rejection of overwork in Japan, especially among young generations, who blame it for the absence of time for family and deterioration of health. In this regard, I remember two interesting stories my Japanese friends at Kyoto University told me; they said that the weekend was the only opportunity for them to see their fathers, as the latter had to go to work very early in the morning and they got back late at night. In my view, that must have a negative effect on children and their mothers, who raise the children with little support from the husbands. Another interviewee expressed his sorrow and indignation at the fact that his father’s company robbed him of the pleasure to play with the father when he was a child. 17
  18. 18. Another question I included in my interview was about work satisfaction. Six of the interviewees said they were satisfied with their work. The seventh person, however, expressed dissatisfaction due to the poor health care system her employer provides her with. Asking my interviewees about their opinions about Japanese people who choose to leave Japan for another country in pursuit of better working conditions, they were divided on whether or not to leave the country. They had arguments like: if one leaves for another country for work and at some point in his life decides to get back and settle in Japan, he could find it hard to join the labour market. Japanese companies are sensitive to this issue and might think that person who chose to work abroad is not a reliable person to employ. Another interviewee emphasized she would choose to leave Japan for a foreign country only if she could find a steady job with fringe benefits. The interesting thing however is not that she would like to work abroad because she wants to escape the huge amount of workload employers usually offer their employees, but it is primarily because she likes Western lifestyle. A similar motive was stated by another female interviewee. A fourth person supported the idea that young Japanese people who are not tied to family responsibilities should experience life abroad for some time, which sounded like criticism directed against the business mindset of the Japanese. In a nutshell, making a decision in favour of going abroad for work is a tough decision that requires a careful consideration of the negative consequences it may have. As to what Japanese government should do in order to improve working conditions in Japan, the interviewees had different views. They were generally concerned about the social divide between the rich and the poor, long working hours and short vacations, protection of workers from karoshi 過労死, support of working women taking care of children, by providing enough childcare facilities and requiring employers to allow them more free time so they can take care of children. The interviewees also cited unemployment, discrimination against women at work, and part-timer’s rights as issues requiring the government’s attention. Nonetheless, two other interviewees want the Japanese government to allow more foreigners to come to Japan for work. In fact, this point is worth the attention of the Japanese government, in the sense that unless Japan takes serious measures to attract more skilled foreign workers, its economic competitive edge will become in a real danger. The aging population reinforces the threat more. Additionally, I asked my interviewees about what would the ideal job for them be, one with long hours of work, but well paid, or a job that allows for relatively more leisure, but the pay is just enough. It was easy for three of the interviewees to go for the second type of job. They prefer a simple life that would allow them to enjoy some free time with family members and friends—a job that will not make them feel enslaved by work. It was probably well formulated by a respondent when she said that, “balance [between personal and professional lives] is preferable.” Other interviewees found it hard to choose the best option for them, probably because they are still in their 20s, single, and they do not have long work experiences. 18
  19. 19. When asked about their prime motivation for work, five of the seven interviewees said that work to them was a purpose in life. This belief is similar to the conviction of many older Japanese people who prefer to put the success of their companies first; the difference however is that younger people seem to know when to change priorities between work and personal life. As to job-hopping, six of the seven interviewees mentioned they were interested in finding jobs that meet their needs much better, i.e., jobs which are more enjoyable, more remunerative, or rather jobs guaranteeing more social security, like full-time ones. These responses may be understood as contradictory to what the interviewees said earlier about work satisfaction, but I feel that social security is the aspiration of everyone, and in this sense job-hopping is quite natural and shows clearly the change happening to Japanese work ethic. For all the interviewees, loyalty to the company does not mean much. They believe, instead, in doing their work properly, but not let themselves be easy preys to sadistic bosses. In a related way, the majority of the respondents showed clear rejection of overwork, yet, as one of the interviewees mentioned, the fact that overwork contributed a great deal to Japan’s economic prosperity after World War II makes people sometimes find sense in spending long hours at work than spend enough time with their families. The interviewees were divided on to what to attribute the spirit of diligence the Japanese are believed to possess. They referred to rice cultivation, ganbari, and bushido. On considering these three, the individual finds that during feudal times, Japanese farmers had to give half of their rice harvest to the samurai, which means they had to work hard to fulfill the duty. One more thing in this regard is that arable land in Japan is very limited. Having this in mind made it essential for the farmers to work hard in order to make the best use of land. One interviewee mentioned pride as another important factor behind the hard work spirit. That definitely makes sense as well since a group-oriented society like the Japanese one shares guilt stemming from the repercussions of mistakes and dereliction of duty. Loss of face is painful to the Japanese. That is a strong reason for them to do their best for better results. I believe that all these four factors are interrelated and each one of them contributed to the shaping of the Japanese mindset regarding hard work as we know it today. Having said that, one needs to be careful enough to notice that the hard work spirit of today is completely different from that of the 1960’s, 1970’s, or 1980’s. All my interviewees agreed unanimously about this idea. They explained that today’s youths are mostly seeking pleasure and leisure, although some try to work for the common good. On top of that, today’s motivations for the young to work hard are not similar to the ones their parents or grandparents had immediately after World War II. The war devastated the country and people were almost starving. Those were strong motivations for people to work hard for long hours on a daily basis. Broadly speaking, the difference between young and old Japanese in viewing hard work is much pronounced. While old Japanese think of work in terms of raison d'être— something so sacred to the individual—young people see work as a purpose in life, but 19
  20. 20. with clear awareness of the importance of personal pursuits, which they allot time for. The agrarian feudal thinking still exists in modern Japanese society, even though it is less strong among the youth. I would like to end this analysis by presenting the following guidelines document that one of my friends’ bosses keeps on his desk all the time, as I was told. It is based on the bushido spirit as explained by famous Inazo Nitobe and Yukio Mishima. The document is kind of a reminder of how work should be approached in Japan. Reforming Business: the Teaching of Bushido Inazo Nitobe               Yukio Mishima           20
  21. 21. Here is a translation of the notes in this document: Inazo Nitobe  Rectitude Samurai are shamed by undignified behaviour.  Courage Avarice will undermine a business.  Benevolence Compassion constitutes humanness.  Politeness Do not scorn the weak and helpless.  Sincerity Do not be a flatterer. Be sincere.  Honour Value honour and reputation over easy wealth.  Duty of loyalty Confront a superior if he is wrong, but always remain true and loyal, even if it means personal sacrifice. Yukio Mishima  It is impossible to accomplish any great task in a state of sanity. One must become insane, prepared to die in order to achieve greatness.  Be prepared for action all the time.  Like the samurai, the salaryman needs to take pride in his achievements at work.  Do not get bogged down by minor issues.  One needs to get rid of the bad points in his character as soon as he realizes them. 21
  22. 22. Chapter 3 The complex interplay between hierarchy and harmony in Japanese society and the position of women in the labour market 22
  23. 23. In this chapter, I would like to deal with three issues of particular importance to the understanding of Japanese work environment: 1) hierarchy, 2) maintaining harmony among colleagues, and 3) gender relationship. Hierarchy is an aspect of Japanese culture that is unmistakably felt. I have noticed that almost every Japanese person would act within a clearly demarcated boundary, i.e., going beyond one’s territory is embarrassing, unwelcome, or even rude. To put it differently, knowing one’s position and operating from it seems to be a must in Japanese society. It is this very strong emphasis which is placed on hierarchy that I find more attractive for me to devote some room to it in this chapter. As to harmony, it is undoubtedly another characteristic of Japanese society that foreigners like me would see every day in Japan. Even Japanese people themselves are quite conscious of its strong presence in their lives. I can only express my amazement at the wonderful scenes of group spirit that old people show towards each other when they go on group excursions at weekends. Other familiar scenes of unity and cooperation are demonstrated by club members, colleagues, or even musical bands when they get together for fun and drinking parties (飲み会 nomikai) on the sides of the Kamogawa River in Shijo and Sanjo areas in Kyoto. It is my belief that such a sense of belonging to a group has largely contributed to Japan’s economic success. Hence, I find the issue of harmony between colleagues in the workplace worthy of discussion. In a related way, when one talks of work in Japan, s/he indirectly refers to a complex relationship existing between males and females in the labour market. I have just discussed that harmony between workers is vital for business success, but do male and female workers go about their professional lives harmoniously? Are there not any tensions between them? I have been hearing numerous stories of Japanese females who have been discriminated against on grounds of age and gender. Equality of opportunities and anti-discrimination laws appear to be but phrases on documents. Not only is treating 50 % of the population unequally unjust, but also mismanagement of human resources. 23
  24. 24. 1. Hierarchy in Japanese Society: The Japanese are a hierarchy-conscious society. They are socially required to demonstrate the ability to recognize rank, position and status of the fellow citizens they deal with and respect them in accordance to the social status they hold. Probably, this is so due to important historical reasons. During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan was ruled over by the powerful Tokugawa clan, which divided the society into four distinct classes: samurai, farmers, craftspeople, and traders. Movement between these classes was largely restricted. And as a rule, respect for the upper class was a must. The Tokugawa government tried to maintain control over the populace by adopting the tenets of Confucianism. Under the principles of this faith, the elderly must be respected and their wisdom is highly valued. Children are to heed careful attention to their parents’ guidance and opinions. So, this vertical structure that exists in Japanese society today is a logical development of a past way of living. Talking about Confucianism impacting on the segments of Japanese society does not make the world of business an exception, although the winds of globalization or internationalization, and therefore change, are blowing hard. Employees in Japan still show immense, sometimes excessive, respect for their superiors. Especially for breadwinners, who have to show their support for their employers and curry favor with them, acknowledging status is a sort of life or death thing. Promotions and securing jobs in a certain company depend to a large extent on how much the employee is conscious of hierarchy and behaves accordingly. The history of Japan provides a great deal of insight into the vertical interpersonal relationship prevalent in Japanese society. As I mentioned before, to control the populace, the Tokugawas invoked the tenets of Confucianism since the latter, following Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno: “Considers proper human relationships as the basis of society… [It] stresses a social order based on strict ethical rules, centering on the family and state, both of which should be governed by men of education and superior ethical wisdom.”1 Deemed essential for an upright society, parents still hold on to the ethical rules of Confucianism and try to pass them on to children. Their guidance in meeting the task of raising the children along Confucian lines does not have to come from books or school. It seems that being under a feudal rule for some 7 centuries has made the Japanese behave today, more or less, in the way their predecessors were brought up and got used to; that is, the way a Japanese person behaves seems spontaneous and does not come from any consciousness of Confucian thinking he or his forefathers were exposed to. One of the things Japanese children learn in the family is how to recognize one’s position in society. For instance, in their formative years, children learn to make a bow—a bow appropriate for the status of the person to whom it is given. Sometimes, part of the training they get, toddlers are often pushed down in order to get used to bowing. 24
  25. 25. In her classic book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, the eminent American anthropologist Ruth Benedict discusses in more detail the issue of respect in relation to hierarchy as learned in the Japanese family, and she states that: “In Japan it is precisely in the family where respect rules are learned and meticulously observed. While the mother still carries the baby strapped to her back she will push his head down with her hand, and his first lessons as a toddler are to observe respect behavior to his father or older brother. The wife bows to her husband, the child bows to his father, younger brothers bow to elder brothers, the sister bows to all her brothers of whatever age.”2 In this quote, not only does Ruth tell us about the great importance of respect in Japanese life and the way it is related to status, but she also reveals an essential fact about how both age and gender shape relations between Japanese people. I will pick up this issue later in the chapter. What Ruth Benedict has to say about hierarchy might seem to be irrelevant to modern Japan, but the fact of the matter is that her observations still hold valid. Shoguns and samurai are no longer around, nor is that form of hierarchy which separated the four classes I mentioned earlier. By modern standards, hierarchy in Japan today is strong and is felt among individuals rather than classes. However, compared with the past, it is definitely less tense now. Examples of hierarchy in Japanese society abound, but I would like to mention two. In the field of education, when students meet their professors on campus, they very often greet them with bows shrouded in awe. New foreign students in Japan often show pleasant surprise at that. Similarly, new recruits in Japanese companies find themselves in a vertical relationship with senior coworkers. New employees, or Kouhai 後輩 as they are referred to in Japanese, are expected to respect and obey senior coworkers, or Senpai 先 輩. It seems to me that Japanese culture does not emphasize difference between social classes, but between individuals. However, one thing a person would feel is that there is a strong consensus among the Japanese about the utility of hierarchy as it has a unifying effect on the segments of society. To narrow the scope of my discussion to hierarchy in Japanese companies, it is important to mention that the latter have a rigid system of hierarchy. Following Louella Matsunaga, ranking is determined by the position an employee holds in the company (for example section chief or ordinary worker), employment status (part-timer or full-timer), education level (university or high-school graduate), seniority, age, and gender. Employees with no more than high school education join blue-collar or low-level white collar jobs, while managerial positions go to university graduates. Even in recruiting new employees, companies show preference for young male university graduates who did not get any training in schools of business. These companies favor training their recruits in such a way that they would approach work in keeping with their directions. The training would 25
  26. 26. last for 6 months or more during which the recruit is introduced to the functions of all the sections of the company. In the case of large companies and if the male recruit, in particular, comes from a prestigious university, his chances of getting a life-time employment are high, although such a type of employment is obsolescent. Promotion is determined by either performance at work or seniority. In this respect, young best workers will usually get promoted in their 30s, and then they have to wait for a couple of years for the next promotion. One more point to mention about hierarchy in the company before I move on to discuss the issue of harmony between coworkers is that every morning company employees would stand in front of their section chiefs or general managers and be reminded of such things as the company’s current business status and its targets. Employees are also reminded of the importance of the way customers should be received, for that has a significant impact on the future of the company. Morning meetings may appear to be annoying to employees, but their benefits to the company are undeniable. 2. Working in Harmony: Japanese society stresses the importance of harmony and cooperation in a group. This concept of harmony, called wa 和, is echoed in the Japanese proverb “silence is golden but eloquence is only silver.” Harmony is one of the tenets of Confucian thinking, which the Japanese believe in. In general terms, Japanese people would use very polite language and would present unfavorable information in the most gentle way they can think of, or frequently indirectly or ambiguously, so that they keep homogeneity with each other. Talking about the origin of harmony as a virtue strongly nurtured in Japan, Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno tell us that because Japan is a mountainous country with limited inhabitable land, “people had to live close together in communities in which everyone was well acquainted with one another.”3 People foster consensus and cooperation, and any attempt to go against group wishes would pave the way for friction and the exclusion of the people provoking it. Teamwork and harmony in the workplace are very important aspects of Japanese work culture. Mutual harmony makes the company much more a comfortable place to work in and increases effectiveness as employees and management can devote their full attention towards the goal of doing business and are less distracted by internal conflict. For the sake of harmony between employees and management, every year, Japanese companies would organize various social events. One of these as my Japanese friend Ms Kume Tomoko explained is bonenkai party 忘年会, called year-end or forget-the-year party. The bonenkai is celebrated by almost all Japanese companies in December. Following Ms Kume, not only is the bonenkai about forgetting the year, but it is also an opportunity for management and employees to meet in a pub and open up to each other. 26
  27. 27. Such a party is markedly casual, so employees do not have to worry much about the etiquettes usually minded while meeting or talking to the boss in the workplace. The bonenkai would start with a speech in which the boss thanks his employees for the hard work they have displayed throughout the year, and he would also solicit more hard work for the coming year. After the boss’ speech, everyone starts enjoying drinking, and while doing so, the boss would ask some employees to reflect on how work has been done in the soon-ending year. It is the right time for employees to express their opinions freely about the positive as well as the negative things about the way work has been done. Other social events held by Japanese companies are parties to welcome new regular employees or parties for those leaving the company. There are also short-holiday trips and sporting events. Such events are organized and paid for by company unions. Since employees do not have to pay for anything to participate in the activities, there motivation is high. Most participants are young single regular employees of both sexes. Apart from the fact that the events organized are free, employees see these as opportunities for them and management to enjoy time together, away from the stressful life they all experience in the workplace. One more thing worthy of mention here is that these events are also occasions for unmarried male and female employees to get to know each other better while talking in a relaxed atmosphere. Thus, the way to meeting a bride is smooth for young men. To sum up, companies make sure that their employees get along well with each other, and the social events they give throughout the year not only are they meant to evaluate the way companies do business, or get advice from employees about how management can best lead the company to success, it is also about reinforcing harmony and cooperation between employees and management. 3. Gender Relationship: Female employees in Japan, like many in various countries of the world, are underprivileged. Discrimination against them at work on the basis of sex, age, and income is well documented. In what follows, I would like to deal with this issue of discrimination against women in the Japanese workplace, but first I wish to begin with some theoretical background on women joining the labour force in general. One of the theories of economics used to explain the status of women at work is human capital theory. It refers to: “The knowledge workers acquire through the investment of time and money to become more productive. […] years of education and years of experience improve workers’ capacities, and that employers reward employees for attaining such skills.”4 All of schooling, training courses, and lectures on values associated with work, like punctuality and hard work, raise earnings and therefore lead to business success. That is a good reason for them to be essential constituents of human capital. 27
  28. 28. According to human capital theory, women are prone to leave their jobs earlier than men, due probably to their family commitment. Because of this, companies are unwilling to hire females for positions where much company-financed training is required. This shows to a large extent why only few women, in comparison to men, hold leadership positions. With regards to the skills employers are seeking in employees, economists differentiate between firm-general and firm-specific skills. The former are those skills that are useful to many employers in the labour market, while firm-specific skills are of use to one employer. Human capital theorists argue that employees pay for firm-general skills by themselves when they go to school, whereas employers pay for firm-specific skills when they hire employees, since schools do not provide that kind of education. As a consequence, employers do not want to lose workers after they have received firm- specific training, for that is going to be a loss of training costs. In the case of female employees, quitting the job is a possibility. That is the perspective of employers. Working Women in Japan: Japanese woman has been contributing much to the country’s economic growth. Today, 41.6% (or 22.8 million) of the 54.7 million Japanese employees are women.5 Around 60% of the women employed have either full-time or part-time jobs.6 These figures, however, do not make Japanese women feel optimistic about their future in the labour market. Although article 14 of the Japanese Constitution of 1947 states that “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin,” discrimination against women is rife. Many women earn their living as office ladies, or occupy low positions. In 2002, only about 50% of women were full-time employees, versus 85% of men. On 25 July 2003, Mariko Brando, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s aide, tried to reflect the economic injustice Japanese women are facing by saying to The New York Times newspaper that “Japan is still a developing country in terms of gender equality.” In fact, figures in the following table show that the situation of working women in Japan is not as good as we might think: Employed People by Occupation (in million)7 Occupation 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 Percentage Males Female s Total 64,57 0 64,460 63,560 63,820 64,120 58.5 41.5 Professional and technical 7,900 8,560 9,370 9,370 9,380 53.8 46.2 28
  29. 29. workers Managers and officials 2,360 2,060 1,890 1,850 1,730 90.7 9.3 Clerical and related workers 12,52 0 12,850 12,470 12,600 12,620 38.7 61.3 Sales workers 9,450 9,110 8,920 8,810 8,880 62.0 38.0 Protective service and other service workers 6,100 6,770 7,570 7,720 7,870 43.2 56.8 Agricultural, forestry and fishery workers 3,630 3,210 2,790 2,690 2,690 59.6 40.4 Workers in transport and communication 2,370 2,210 2,040 2,060 2,050 95.6 4.4 Craftsmen and manufacturing And construction workers 16,87 0 15,800 14,160 14,320 14,410 76.1 23.9 Laborers 3,100 3,470 3,630 3,700 3,760 57.2 42.8 I would like to make two important comments on the figures in the table: first, the contribution of women in “clerical and related workers” and “protective service and other service workers” is immense; second, the integration of women in managerial and high- ranking positions as well as in transportation and communication sectors is very low. Another aspect of discrimination against Japanese women in the labour market lies in the status of employment they have. More women than men are non-regular employees as the following table shows: Form of Employment by Sex and Age (2007)*8 Age group Males in percentage Females in percentage Regular employees Non-regular employees Regular employees Non-regular employees 15--24 57 43 50 50 25--34 84 16 56 44 35--44 92 08 44 56 29
  30. 30. 45--54 91 09 42 58 55--64 74 26 38 62 65+ 31 69 32 68 *Please note that the data in the source is presented in the form of a bar chart. For my convenience, I have changed the presentation of the data into this table. The unpleasant reality of having more non-regular female than male employees is that when companies think of reducing costs, they frequently resort to cutting down on employees, and often the first of these to pay for such policies are females. It appears that the stereotypic view men generally hold about women as weak, emotional, talkative, and dependent contributes a lot to having gender-minded employers. To the latter, with the stereotypes I have just mentioned in mind, it becomes easier to lay off a female employee. Thus, the question of social security for female employees, in particular, is a major concern. Today, in Japan, life-time employment is no longer the trend. Instead, nonregularization has started gaining more and more importance in the world of labour. “Non-regular worker” is a generic phrase that can refer to part-timers, “albeiters,” fixed-term and dispatched workers. Big companies in Japan are believed to employ many of these, for, among other reasons, they are low-paid. Apparently, companies view low wages in terms of production costs. Moreover, unlike regular workers, non-regular ones do not have fringe benefits like annual bonuses and health insurance through the employer. So, life for them is tough. Another serious problem working women in Japan face is child care. Tradition had it that men earn money for the family, whereas women take care of children. However, times have changed so much now that Japanese women either feel forced to work in order to support the husband or they go out and work in pursuit of financial independence. In both cases, women sometimes find themselves obliged to quit their jobs for maternal leave or to focus on raising their children. If they decide to get back to work, the possibility of getting a full-time job is really limited. Although working women in Japan make massive effort for the sake of their families, and in fact for the whole country, by juggling domestic duties with office work, Japanese work customs make it hard for women to have a family and a job at the same time. Conclusion: To sum up what I have said thus far, hierarchy, harmony, and gender relationship are all issues of relevance to the work environment in Japan. When one thinks of hierarchy in the workplace, s/he will find out that Japan’s period of seclusion and the iron-fist rule of feudal families are in one way or another still felt at work. I mean by this that many employees, still feel obliged to go beyond the call of duty at work to satisfy the management; otherwise, the risk of losing their jobs is all the time out there. This fact 30
  31. 31. may be helpful in understanding why salaried men are sometimes referred to as “corporate samurai”—loyalty, hard work, and sacrifice are salient traits they need to demonstrate at work. Harmony as I have explained is deeply rooted in Japanese society. In the workplace, it manifests itself in such events as the bonenkai, sports contests, or the annual cleaning that coworkers do in their offices. Talking about gender relationship, it is important to mention that Japanese women still need to explore their full potential for the equality of employment. No matter how democratic one may say Japan is, working women here are still in a vast vertical relationship with men. Endnotes 1 . Roger Davies and Osamu Ikeno, The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2002) 43 2 . Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 1989) 48-49 3 . Ibid., Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno, 10 4 . Samuel Cohen, “Human Capital Theory,” Women and Work: a Handbook, ed. Paula j. Dubeck and Kathryn Borman (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996) 107-108 5 . Hiroya Nakakubo, “'Phase III' of the Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Act,” 2 November 2008 <> 6 . Ames Gross and Rachel Weintraub, “2004 Human Resources Trends in Japan,” Japan- 2004 Human Resources Trends in Japan, December 2004, Pacific Bridge Incorporated, 2 November 2008 < >. 7 . “Employed People by Occupation,” Statistics Bureau Home Page/Chapter 12 Labor, 2008, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau, Director-General for Policy Planning (Statistical Standards) and Statistical Research and Training Institute, 8 November 2008 < c12cont.htm>. 8 . “Form of Employment by Sex and Age (2007),” Statistics Bureau Home Page/Chapter 12 Labor, 2008, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau, Director-General for Policy Planning (Statistical Standards) and Statistical Research and Training Institute, 8 Nov. 2008 < handbook/c12cont.htm>. 31
  32. 32. Chapter 4 Japanese employee: face to face with work-related health problems 32
  33. 33. Japanese workers invest a great deal of effort and time in their work for a better life. To many foreigners, however, the Japanese worker stretches or is forced to stretch his physical abilities beyond the limit, and in so doing, he is said to have lost balance between professional and domestic lives. Cases of work-associated problems like stress leading to death from hard work and suicide are well-known to the Japanese and foreigners alike. In what follows, I would like to discuss the kind of pressure workers undergo in the workplace as well as the serious negative effects it has on them. The focus of this part of the paper is going to be on stress as a serious threat to Japanese employees’ lives and the way it relates to karoshi and suicide. It is my belief that these topics capture a significant part of the bleak picture of the situation of employment in Japan. 1. Stress: The World Health Organization defines work-related stress as: “A pattern of reactions that occurs when workers are presented with work demands not matched to their knowledge, skills or abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. When there is a perceived imbalance between demands and environmental or personal resources, reactions may include: 33
  34. 34. • Physiological responses (for example increased heart rate, blood pressure, hyperventilation, as well as secretion of 'stress' hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol) • Emotional responses (for example feeling nervous or irritated) • Cognitive responses (for example, reduction or narrowing of attention and perception, forgetfulness), and • Behavioural reactions (for example aggressive, impulsive behaviour, making mistakes). When in a state of stress, one often feels tense, concerned, less vigilant and less efficient in performing tasks.”1 Japanese society is highly competitive and its culture is widely believed to be one of shame. Having this coupled with the demands of globalization, which Japan is deeply involved in, employees become easy victims of stress. To illustrate, on 1 April 2008, a clinic called Tenteki 10 opened in Tokyo’s Ebisu area to offer medical services to employees suffering from chronic fatigue, insomnia and stress. What doctors there try to do is to help customers regain vitality by using Intravenous therapy. The director of the clinic Mr Ryuji Yasumura affirms that many people in the corporate society are experiencing the above-mentioned health problems. Makiko Nagahashi of Tenteki 10 says that around 40 employees between 20 and 60 years old go to the clinic for the IV drips every day.2 Nonetheless, Tenteki 10 explains that the best solution to its customers’ problems is that they try to be aware of how to take care of their daily health. Alarming as it is, the American Institute of Stress (AIS) link stress to heart disease and sudden death.3 Researchers of the institute claim that there has been a significant increase in heart attacks and sudden death due to stress resulting from natural calamities like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods. They also draw attention to the fact that people can cause themselves stress by showing “excess anger, hostility, aggressiveness, time urgency, inappropriate competitiveness and preoccupation with work.”4 Stress that gains its intensity from these factors contributes to coronary disease. Psychologists refer to those people who are impatient, excessively time-conscious, so competitive, and maniac about work as Type A individuals. These characteristics are major factors that cause stress which can lead to death. During my stay in Japan, I have always seen many Japanese employees showing such characteristics as time urgency, inappropriate competitiveness, and preoccupation with work. Taking the train for a couple of consecutive days in morning rush hour—between 7 and 8 o’clock—will be much informative of what time and work mean to the Japanese employee. Even though the railway system in Japan is highly reliable, in the sense that trains are punctual and run almost every 4 to 10 minutes, depending on places, one will always see employees of both sexes walking hurriedly to the train station, some others even running. Another scene one will see on trains is employees doing their work during the journey to work. What I infer from that is that probably those employees did not manage to finish work 34
  35. 35. in the office, so they had to take it home in order to finish it. And the morning journey to work is a good time for them to check how appropriate that work was done. I believe that taking work home can largely contribute to an employee’s leading a stressful life. Employees who suffer intense stress could face very serious consequences of which karoshi stands out. 2. Karoshi 過労死 (death from overwork): The National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi (a Japanese association founded in 1988 by lawyer Hiroshi Kawahito to combat karoshi) explains that “overwork and excessive stress cause health problems, such as cerebral / heart diseases, mental disorders, and, eventually, death.”5 It is interesting that the term “karoshi,” according to the association, is now popular in other industrialized countries as well, which may easily lead one to say that death from hard work is indigenous to Japan. The first case of karoshi was reported in 1969 with the death of a 29-year-old married man working in the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company.6 But it was until the late 1980s that karoshi was recognized as a new phenomenon claiming the lives of many high-ranking as well as low company workers. And from then on, the Ministry of Labour has been publishing statistics about karoshi. Boyé Lafayette De Mente, a prolific writer about Japan, reports that statistics released by Labour Ministry show that there were only 21 cases of death from overwork in 1987, 29 cases in 1988 and 30 cases in 1989.7 In 1990, though, a group of lawyers of the National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi estimated that the number of people who were annually dying from overwork was actually more than 10,000.8 Japanese society has started showing more concern about this matter. In its issue of 11 June 2008, The New York Times published some figures showing an increase in the number of employees who take their employers to court for forcing them to do overwork, which is largely blamed for heart attack and mental disorders. Journalist Martin Fackler writes that lawsuits against employers rose by 45% (2,303 cases) from 1997 to 2005.9 That number increased by 21% (2,777 cases) in 2006, which makes it clear that workers are now more aware of them being exploited and they are more willing to resort to court for protection. This way of thinking the Japanese worker holds today runs counter to the feudal-like thinking of showing excessive loyalty to the boss and suffering in silence. In an attempt to expose the conditions in which Japanese employees work, Boyé Lafayette argues that, “because of peer pressure to keep up with co-workers, out-do competing groups and increase market-share at the expense of competitors, Japanese managers are caught up in a vortex of psychological pressure that forces them to work at a frenzied pace.”10 It is this sustained quest for perfection that seems to lead many Japanese employees to offer costly sacrifices. Still, on the other hand, Kiyotsugu Shitara, the head of the Tokyo Managers’ Union, says that, “Japanese companies have used the silence of their loyal employees as a weapon in international competition.”11 By and large, Japanese employees have become torn between a culture that promotes the 35
  36. 36. virtues of hard work and harmony between people, on the one hand, and an ideology enticing them into prioritizing work over anything else for the common good, on the other hand. Not only does severe occupational stress cause karoshi, but it also leads employees who have strained themselves to the utmost to take their own lives. Intense extended stress can cause clinical depression. In that case, a clinically-depressed person would have very low self-esteem and attach no meaning to his life any more. Without medical attention, the possibility of him considering ending his life is high. 3. Suicide: The Japan Times Online’s Tomoko Otake says that clinical depression is familiar to Japanese society and that, following the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 1 out of 15 people in Japan suffer from it at some point in their lives.13 Clinical depression is blamed for the high suicide rate in Japan by more than 30,000 people annually since 1998—the highest in the industrialized world as the chart indicates: Source: economist.com14 In this regard, it is important to note that occupational-stress-induced suicide constitutes just a little part of the people killing themselves. According to a Health Ministry report published in May 2008, the number of people who committed or attempted suicide due to work-related stress or overwork was 40 in 2003, 66 in 2006, and 81 in 2007.15 The report also indicates that 268 people suffered mental sickness. An important conclusion the report reveals is that employees in their 30s and 40s are more prone to stress because of companies’ recent introduction of the pay-per-performance system. The high suicide rate in Japan may be attributed to various factors. Not only has the economic stagnation of the 1990s in Japan caused social insecurity among Japanese employees, especially young and middle-aged ones, but also contributed to increasing the level of stress in them. As I discussed earlier, when stress reaches a peak, it becomes fatal, either by causing death or by leading one into depression, which is a stage at which a person may have already started developing suicidal tendencies. 36
  37. 37. Second, if an employee works in an environment where communication is kept to a minimum, psychological barriers exist between co-workers, and overwork is the norm over an extended period of time, suicide, rather than life, becomes more meaningful to that employee. Needless to mention that communication does have a therapeutic value; that is why some people earn their living as psychologists. One more important reason is the fact that Japanese culture has a history that condoned suicide for a long time. During the Edo period (1603-1868), it was common that a samurai cuts his belly open to escape his enemies or, rather, shame. In the light of the high rate of suicide, Japanese people’s attitude to this macabre scene does not appear to have changed much from the past. Among the cases of suicide proving that the Japanese still believe in the honourable death of suicide, I would like to mention the following two: • On 25 November 1970, novelist Yukio Mishima, driven by nationalistic motives, committed suicide the samurai’s way—seppuku 切腹.16 • On 28 May 2007, just hours before standing in front of the parliament over government funds embezzlement charges, Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka hung himself in his apartment, than later, he was declared dead.17 The fact that neither Buddhism nor Shintoism, which are the religions widely practised in the country, prohibit suicide could be one more reason why many Japanese people find it easy to consider or actually commit suicide. I occasionally had discussions about religion with some Japanese friends and it was clear that it does not really mean much to them. In 2007, the Japanese government approved a plan to counter suicide. According to the plan, the government intends to reduce the number of suicides by 20 percent by 2016.18 A 20-percent cut on suicides over 9 years shows clearly how deeply the phenomenon is entrenched in Japanese society. Sanae Takaichi, the Cabinet minister leading the suicide prevention campaign, said, “We have to create a society that gives people a second chance if they fail […] we should all help efforts to save someone considering suicide and create a more livable society.” Conclusion: Various reasons are cited to be behind the high suicide rate in Japan. Salient of these are: • Japanese culture is unforgiving: the Shinto religion considers the soul pure and infallible, which makes mistakes unfavourably viewed. To disgrace one’s self or be dishonoured or disgraced are both painful experiences to the Japanese psyche. When this idea of shame combines with the precepts of the samurai’s severe code of conduct, which is still alive in people’s memories and somewhat practised, people become psychologically prepared to consider taking their lives in times of hardship. 37
  38. 38. • Financial as well as health problems: people who cannot pay back their debts, are suffering or their children are suffering from mental or incurable diseases find it more comfortable to commit suicide than lead a life of pain or shame that Japanese society attach to mental diseases in particular, according to my Japanese language teacher. • Overwork and severe stress: these two are inextricably linked. Overwork over a long time period is very much likely to engender intense stress which in turn can lead to depression. I believe these are serious problems that the Japanese government needs to address boldly, for their repercussions are destructive to the whole society. Endnotes 1 . Irene Houtman, Karin Jettinghoff, and Leonor Cedillo, “Raising Awareness of Stress at Work in Developing Countries,” ed. Evelyn Kortum and Stavroula Leka, 2007, World Health Organization, 24 Nov. 2008, <> 2 . “IVs provide quick fix for harried Tokyo office workers,” 5 June 2008, The Earth Times, 12 Dec. 2008, <,ivs- provide-quick-fix-for-harried-tokyo-office-workers.html> 3 . “Stress and Heart Disease, Type A Behavior and Heart Disease, Prevention and Treatment of Heart Disease, Heart Disease and Job Stress,” The American Institute of Stress, 3 Dec. 2008 <> 4 . Ibid. 5 .Karoshi Hotline National Network, 16 May 2008, the National Defence Counsel for Victims of KAROSHI, 7 Dec. 2008, <>. 6 . “Karoshi,” Wikipedia, 7 Dec. 2008, <> 7 .Boyé Lafayette De Mente, “Karoshi,” Boyé Lafayette De Mente’s Asian Business Code words, May 2002, Boye Lafayette De Mente & the Asia Pacific Management Forum, 8 Dec. 2008 <> 8 . Ibid. 38
  39. 39. 9 . Martin Fackler, “Standing Up for Workers’ Rights in Japan,” 11 June 2008, The New York Times, 9 Dec. 2008, < worldbusiness/11suits.html?scp=2&sq=karoshi%20in%20japan&st=cse> 10 . Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Ibid. 11 . Ibid 12 . “Clinical Depression,” University Health Services Tang Center, University of California, 15 Monday 2008 <> 13 . Tomoko Otake, “Treating Clinical Depression a Tall Order,” 20 February 2008, The Japan Times Online, 15 December 2008 < bin/nn20080220f1.html> 14 . “Death Be not Proud,” 1 May 2008, The Economist, 18 December 2008 <> 15 .“Suicide Rate up in Japan,” 25 May 2008, The Associated Press, 16 December 2008 < 25_suicide_rate_up_in_japan.html?print=1&page=all> 16 . 17 Dec 2008 <> 17 .“ Japan OKs Suicide Prevention Measures to Cut Deaths by 20 Percent,” 8 June 2007, The International Herald Tribune: Asia-Pacific, 17 December 2008 < Suicide.php> 18 . Ibid. 19 . Ibid. 39
  40. 40. Chapter 5 NEET and Freeter: should they be blamed for the decline of Japan’s work ethic? 40
  41. 41. In this final chapter, I wish to look into the employment situation in Japan through two social phenomena: “freeter” (also referred to as fruita) and NEET. Professor Yuji Genda of the University of Tokyo explains that “freeter” “refers to young people who are not regularly employed but who work at one or more part-time jobs or at one short-term job after another;”1 whereas NEET, as defined in Wikipedia, stands for unmarried people between 15-34 years old who are “not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training.” To start with “freeter”, the term comes from the English word “free” and the German “arbeiter” (labourer),2 and it was first used in Japan in the late 1980s, just a little bit before the burst of the Japanese economic bubble.3 So, the word “freeter” could be rendered into English as free labourer, in the sense that a “freeter” can choose the type of work that pleases him, though it is not stable, and time as well as the period to get involved in that work. Briefly, the “freeter” becomes by necessity a job-hopper. The term “Freeter” was considered derogatory when the phenomenon of non-regular work among the youth was first recognized.4 Yet, later, when Japanese economy sank into recession and many young people failed to find jobs, the phenomenon gained enough consideration and understanding, so people got to know that “freeter” was a logical outcome of the ailing economy of the time. Government statistics show that in 2002, the number of “freeters” was 2.5 million people.5 However, according to the same source, the number in 2001 was estimated to be 4 million if the people seeking regular work were included.6 It is worth mentioning that 41
  42. 42. the number of “freeters” is on the increase, and it is expected to reach 10 million in 2014.7 The Japan Institute of Labour classifies “freeters” into three types8 : 1) moratorium: a young person who does not have any idea of his future career, and therefore, does not feel prepared for responsibility, 2) dream seeker: this type of person apparently has a dream of his own and he would like to see it come true. So, here, the dream seeker enjoys his freedom to choose what he wants for himself, which could be an implicit criticism or rejection of the corporate system in Japan, 3) cannot help: this type of person has either failed to find a good job after leaving school, and as a consequence, he satisfies himself with a low-paying one. Or he has failed to pay his tuition fee, especially in the case of being of a poor family, and therefore, his employment prospects have gone low. Following Yuji Genda, this third type probably constitutes the majority of “freeters.”9 “Freeters” “often work at convenience stores, supermarkets, fast food outlets, restaurants, and other low paying, low skill jobs.”9 In addition, they may sometimes do two part-time jobs simultaneously. Now, the important question is how the phenomenon of “freeter” evolved into a serious issue deserving serious attention. Yuki Honda of the University of Tokyo argues that the post-war society was characterized by close ties between the family, school, and company.10 That is to mean that families spent huge amounts of money on getting their children a good education, schools on their part were engaged in preparing young future leaders for the corporate world. The economic boom of the post-war period made it very easy for graduates to join companies soon after the completion of their studies. What is more, for business success, companies offered young recruits in-company training. Thus, finding a job after World War II was much easier than it has been since the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. As Yuki Honda explains, the hard times Japanese companies went through in the 1990s made them change their recruitment pattern—in stead of recruiting new regular workers, who consist mainly of new high school and university graduates, they displayed preference for non-regular workers, like part-timers, dispatched and contract workers.11 Again, the main reason for this preference is that non-regular workers, as I discussed in chapter 2, are less paid and their employment exempts the employer from offering them any fringe benefits. Moreover, when companies undergo economic hardship and as a result of that decide to cut down on payroll costs, terminating the service of non-regular workers becomes easy. It is surely incontestable that the great deal of uncertainty that encompassed the Japanese economy during the 1990s well into the early years of the first decade of the 21st century has left a mixed feeling of hope and anxiety among Japanese youths. The latter are hopeful since the baby boomers of 1947 and 1949, who brought their country on its feet after it was devastated in World War II, have now reached retirement age, which means young employees can replace them as regular workers. On the other hand, however, young Japanese feel anxious as companies now rarely offer them regular jobs. Another concern among them is that though they may get full-time jobs, restructuring could lead to the loss of those jobs. This is part of the reason why they choose to do part-time work. 42
  43. 43. Young people seem to be in a real dilemma. Many cannot find a steady job on graduating from university, so they have to accept part-time work. Obviously, while they are working as part-timers, they keep looking for any opportunity to get a full-time job in order to enhance their socio-economic security. In pursuit of that quest, they go hopping from one part-time job to another; hence, they are called “job hoppers.” It is important to mention that Job hoppers can be young people, who are reluctant to join the strict corporate world immediately after they graduate, or middle-aged people victims of corporate restructuring. The serious problem these confront when they change their jobs is the fact that companies “view job-hoppers as workers who have no sense of responsibility, no specific or developed skills, and could quit their job at any time.”12 Yuji Genda tells us that in time of recession, job opportunities go scarce, and new graduates find it so hard to get full-time positions;13 consequently, Japanese youths find themselves doing jobs that do not meet their aspirations, which makes it easy for them to quit them for other jobs in case of a minor trouble at work. In economics, this kind of dissatisfaction is known as “mismatch,” as Professor Genda explains.14 To shift focus to NEET now, I would like to mention that Yuji Genda categorizes this class of people into 2 groups: “non-job seekers” with a desire to work, but do not search for jobs (numbered 426,000 in 2002), and “non-job seekers” showing no desire to join the workforce (421,000 in 2002).15 The latter group may be described as demotivated. However, Ames Gross and Rachel Weintraub offer another detailed classification of NEET.16 The first group concerns the youth who withdraw from society, 2) young people who drop out of school or those that choose to lead a carefree lifestyle with friends upon graduation, 3) university graduates who find it hard to decide on their careers, and 4) young people who had a full-time job but quit it for lack of confidence. A large number of NEETs are said to depend on their parents for their needs, even if those parents start living on a pension. The fact that parents are usually protective encourages NEETs not to engage in the labour market and keep being financially dependent on them. Scholars have been trying to determine the reasons why the number of NEETs is high. For example, Professor Akio Inui of Tokyo Metropolitan University states that the educational background of young people is crucial to any understanding of this phenomenon. According to her, and supported by Professor Genda, the lower the qualifications of the youth are, the likelier that the latter become part of NEET.17 In addition, Professor Yuji Genda states that the socio-economic situation of families also affects the future of young people. He explains that those youths coming from poor families are more prone to become NEETs than those that come from rich ones. To clarify, here are some statistical data by Professor Genda18 : • Rich families with an income exceeding 10 million yen per year: o In the 1990s, more than 20% of these families had “non-seekers” 43
  44. 44. o The proportion of rich families with “discouraged” jobless youths fell from 23% in 1997 to 14% in 2002. • Poor families with 3 million yen per year or less: o The number of the jobless in these families regularly exceeds the number of all the population of 15-34 year-olds. o From 1997 to 2002, there was an increase in young jobless people in poor families. o The number of “discouraged” NEETs was remarkably high in families with annual incomes less than 3 million yen, and they were expected to reach 40% by 2002. These data show that NEET is more prevalent among the youth coming from poor families than those from rich ones. What is more, the number of NEETs is high due to the working conditions in companies. Many NEETs, Professor Genda explains, gave up searching for jobs because they either failed to find any (probably because of their educational background) or they found jobs that did not match their aspirations.19 What exacerbates the situation is the fact that companies now rarely employ young people as regular workers. Not only do NEETs demonstrate a lack of confidence in their knowledge and abilities to work for companies, but they also seem to show apprehension at the probability that they may become sick if they work for companies. The latter are well-known for requiring much hard work which could lead to ill-health among employees. Conclusion: To summarize, both “freeter” and NEET are the byproduct of the harsh system of the corporate world in Japan. Basing my conclusion on what I have read and remarked, I expect these two social phenomena to weaken the characteristics of perseverance, loyalty, and competitiveness that have long marked Japanese work ethic. “Freeters” feel frustrated by the fact that they cannot find good jobs that will guarantee their social security—a feeling exacerbated by their recognition that if they do not find a full-time job in their 30s or probably 40s, they will spend the rest of their lives changing jobs. As to NEETs, they already feel frustration and disappointment about the fact that they cannot find steady jobs. Their educational background, on the one hand, and the attitude they hold about the Japanese work system, on the other, make their employability very low. The only jobs they can find are menial. I think the decline of work ethic in Japan is broadly a shared responsibility of the corporate world and the change in young people’s aspirations. However, it is important to remember that there is nothing more damaging to a country’s future than sowing the seeds of despair and frustration in its youths. Ideals of perseverance and loyalty do not thrive in a climate of social insecurity and frustration. 44
  45. 45. Endnotes 1 Yuji Genda, A Nagging Sense of Job Insecurity: the New Reality Facing Japanese Youth, Trans. Jean Connell Hoff, (Tokyo: the International House of Japan, Inc, 2005) p.52 2 . Ibid., p.52 3 . Reiko Kosugi, “Youth Employment in Japan’s Economic Recovery: ‘Freeters’ and ‘NEETs’,” 11 May 2006, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Asia Pacific, 6 January 2009 <> 4 . Ibid. 5 . Ibid., 7 January 2009 6 . Yuki Honda, “‘Freeters’: Young Atypical Workers in Japan,” The Graduate School of The University of Tokyo, 7 January 2009 < documents/JLR07_honda.pdf> 7 . “Freeter,” June 2007, Wikipedia, 7 January 2009 < wiki/Freeter> 8 . Ibid. 9 . Ibid. 10 . Yuki Honda, Ibid. 11 . Ibid., 8 January 2009 12 . Ames Gross and Rachel Weintraub, “2004 Human Resources Trends in Japan,” December 2004, Pacific Bridge Incorporated, 11 January 2009 <> 13 . Yuji Genda, p.57 45
  46. 46. 14 . Ibid. 15 . Yuji Genda, “Jobless Youths and the NEET Problem in Japan,” 2007, Oxford Journals, 11January 2009 <>. 16 . Ames Gross and Rachel Weintraub, Ibid. 17 . Akio Inui, “Why Freeter and NEET are Misunderstood: Recognizing the New Precarious Conditions of Japanese Youth,” 2005, Social Work and Society, 11 January 2009 <> 18 . Yuji Genda, “The NEET Problem in Japan,” September 2005, Newsletter of the lnstitute of Social Science, University of Tokyo, 11 January 2009 <http://newslet.iss.u-> 19 . Ibid., 13 January 2009 Conclusion Throughout this paper, I have tried to give a clear picture of the work situation in Japan. Towards attaining the objective, I examined such important work-related aspects of Japanese culture as bushido, overwork, rice cultivation, hierarchy, and harmony, before I could proceed to explore the consequences these have on Japanese workforce. I have argued for the fact that the history of feudal Japan, with all the strict rituals the rulers of the time upheld, is still reverberating in Japanese society. Whether the tenets of that system will stand the test of time or not may be open to debate. In what follows, I would like to share some concluding comments about what I dealt with in my paper. The meteoric rise of Japan to world imminence after World War II attracted the attention of the whole world. The question then was how did Japan do it? The answer was hard work in an extended sense of the phrase (from spending long hours at work, sacrificing, to good education). When the very country sank into recession in the 1990s, again the question was how did it happen? In fact, what matters more to me is not the cause of the recession, but its socio-economic effects, like unemployment. The claim of this paper is that the Japanese no longer cling dearly to the ethic of hard work and perseverance just as their predecessors did. In my view, among the reasons behind this change is the fact that Japan is now living in an era of development which is completely different from the past stages of building the nation strong. That is, the 46
  47. 47. motivation to work hard or the need to realize the benefits of hard work is not as strongly felt as before. In the past, the Japanese worked so hard for survival as well as to strengthen their economic and technological might. The situation today is that Japan possesses the second GDP in the world and has become a leading technological country. The second important factor that contributed to the decline of Japanese work ethic is probably the 1990s’ recession and the socio-economic problems that unfolded in its wake. Young people in Japan are criticized for supposedly being lazy and leading a carefree lifestyle. But the reality of employment in the country is rather harsh: young people want to feel socio-economically secure, but they are seriously challenged in their pursuit of that objective. In today’s interconnected world, Japanese companies need to show enough understanding of these people’s concerns and aspirations. I believe that they should allow more young people access to full-time employment. Moreover, companies need to establish a very close rapport between management and employees; in my view, the more employees feel they are consulted in running the company, their views are taken seriously, and that the management uses an exploitation-free approach towards work, the more it succeeds in winning the hearts of its employees and thus gets the optimum. Another stern issue that both Japanese government and companies need to address properly is overwork. I think that what should matter more to the business world is efficiency at work. The success of a certain company should be measured by the quality of work it does, not mainly by the long hours its employees spend in offices. I would like to suggest the following as important points for the enhancement of working conditions which could lead to efficiency at work: • Companies should stick to the 8-hour-per-day work volume stipulated by the Standard Labour Laws. Sound mind and body necessitate enough rest. • Recruiting new employees in case the company is short-staffed. • Every employee should be assigned a position meeting their professional background. • Regular training of employees guarantees lasting business success. • Companies should always strengthen trust and goodwill between employees and management. Government’s intervention: • Japanese government should enact strict laws to protect employees from exploitation and work-related health problems and create effective mechanisms to make sure that those laws are abided by. • Require companies to give free medical checkups to their employees twice a year, and reports of the checkups must be sent to the local authorities in the territory where the company operates. To get back to the issue of the decline in work ethic, I think that the unfavourable attitude of NEETs as well as Freeters towards work makes one believe that Japanese work ethic is collapsing. These two groups are probably victims of the 1990s economic turndown in Japan. The fact that Japanese society is aging rapidly and that birthrate is very low makes 47
  48. 48. it necessary for the government to address the issue of unemployment and non-regular employment in a proper way. The work attitude many young people hold in the country is detrimental to the future prosperity of Japan. I believe that: • Japanese government needs to establish national centers to help young non- regular employees obtain professional skills, since these are essential for regular jobs. What is more, collaboration between the centers and business actors is vital to any successful re-engagement of non-regular workers into social life. • Schools should motivate students to see their employment through education. I think it would be a nice idea to organize summer camps for high school students in particular in order to prepare them for the world of work. Another issue of equal importance is the imbalance existing between males and females at work. It is my contention that the vertical relationship between both sexes is largely cultural. In so being, minimizing its negative effects, if not solving the whole problem, takes much time and serious effort from the government (in the form of enacting and enforcing laws), the media (by sensitizing the public to the damage caused to the whole society when females’ contributions are sidelined), school (by teaching students how the building of the future of nations should be the task of all the segments of society without any restrictions), and parents (by treating their children fairly irrespective of the sex). By and large, I feel hesitant to say that Japanese work ethic is on the decline for a cogent reason. If I admit to the existence of a morality crisis affecting employment and then lay the blame entirely on the youth, I will be unfair. Companies have their own share of that blame since their employment practices are frustrating and somewhat exploitative. I sincerely hope that the business community in Japan manages to crack down the psychological barrier that keeps it away from aspirant employees of both sexes. 48