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We'd be 10 times happier if we could only learn how to rest

23 Comments

Japan knows how to work. If only it could learn the art of resting from work.

“Life would be 10 times happier,” says Spa! (Feb 6). And people would work better, too.

Paid vacations are an entitlement throughout the developed world. Japan must be one of very few countries where workers feel guilty about taking time off, or even about leaving the office on time. Spa! surveys 300 salaried workers in their 30s and 40s. Question 1: “Do you get enough rest?” No, say 60.67%. Question 2: “Do you enjoy your days off?” No, say 71.67%. Question 3: “Do you feel guilty about taking your paid vacation?” Yes, say 57%.

Even the government, standard-bearer of the work ethic, bends over backwards to persuade employers to give their employees a break, and employees to take one. It would lubricate the economy. People at leisure spend more money than people at work – on shopping, travel, drinking, dining. “Premium Friday” was a government-backed drive to give leisure a boost – employers would release their employees early on the last Friday in the month. It fizzled.

“Guilty about taking paid vacation” – why? Two reasons, basically, says Spa! – one moral; the other, perhaps, cultural. The moral reason is that if you’re off, someone else must take up the slack, and the thought of that, if you’re conscientious and considerate, may well be enough to spoil a holiday. The cultural one has to do with the way employees are evaluated. Bosses like commitment, it seems, even more than they like results. Show you’re committed to the company, and you rise in it. Show you’re committed to leisure, and, however brisk, efficient and productive you may be, you are liable to be found wanting.

 So it’s up to the individual, it seems, to bust the system, and those who dare reap the rewards of their daring. Hirofumi Tomatsu, 28, works for an ad agency. He goes abroad every weekend. In four years he’s seen a vast stretch of the world. From Friday night to Monday morning is 64 hours. Where can you go, what can you do, in 64 hours? With energy, planning and skill, far and a lot.

It all started, he says, when four years ago he lucked onto a ticket for an NBA playoff game. Here was a childhood dream come true. The only trouble was, the arena was in the United States. Well, he’d go to the United States, then. He asked his boss for time off. Nothing doing, said the boss. Anything but an NBA playoff game, Tomatsu would have yielded. He insisted, however, until finally the boss threw up  his hands and said “Well, go if you want to so much!”

Travel overseas became a passion. He’s sharper at work, making sure he gets everything done on time, and done well, so as not to leave behind loose ends when he takes off. His conversation sparkles. Clients like him. What his clients like, his boss likes. He’s now fully supportive. “Well, how was Africa?” he’ll ask amiably on Monday morning.

For Akio Fujieda, leisure means bar-hopping. He’s a 55-year-old insurance consultant you’d think, Spa! says, would be too busy for anything but work-related drinking, but work-related drinking is work, not leisure. He goes to drink and sample the atmosphere, not make or cement business connections – although if, in the course of conversation, something should click, he doesn’t turn his back on it. Once in an out-of-the-way watering hole he happened to meet a publisher, who, hearing of Fujieda’s tales of bars here, bars there, thought it might make a book. As in fact it has.

But doesn’t this crimp his time at the office? Yes, but not the quality of his work, he says. “I don’t say, ‘I’m going drinking after I’ve finished work,’” he tells Spa!. “I say, ‘I’m going drinking at such-and-such a time,’ and make sure I’ve got my work done by then.”

 Happiness is so easy, if only you know how to reach out and grasp it.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
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Japan knows how to work. 

Wow, from the very first sentence the article gets it wrong. Japan, as a nation, does not know how to work, at least not any better than any other country does. Indeed, if you look at the national production compared to hours worked (even the official number that's lower than the real number), Japan falls far behind most rich nations.

What Japan knows how to do is toil aimlessly, a kind of "labor theater". It's not work, but it keeps people busy without having to think much. There are of course Japanese people who do know how to work, but for every one of them it seems there are 5 "labor actors" just shuffling papers aimlessly and incompetently for 10 hours a day.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

I think it goes deeper than learning how to rest. Japanese people really need to recover the ability to think and make their own decisions. So much in this society does their thinking for them. "Don't forget your umbrella!" "Stand between the yellow lines on the escalator!" "Texting on a cell phone while walking is extremely dangerous!" And the "education system" is what begins the process. It turns out robots who need a "sensei" of a "senpai" before they can do anything.

Change this and you would have people who would say "No!" to overtime and who would demand paid vacations and so on.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

I find the whole holiday guilt thing quite pathetic and really annoying. Everyone should feel free to take their entitlement. If a colleague covers your work you will end up covering theirs so nobody loses out anyway.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

It's not that they don't know how to rest. It's that they are afraid to rest. All Japanese have this deep seated image of having to polish the apples of their employer by being at work early and leaving late. This is due the intimidation and bullying of employers, who constantly threaten their employees with being replaced. 60% of workers are on those short-term one-year contracts and given yearly evaluations to determine if they have polished enough apples to keep their jobs. These evaluations are partly about performance of duties, but they are mostly about how much overtime they have done and how much time off they have had. All the Japanese companies I have worked for always boast about how many days paid vacation you get each year, but it's nearly impossible to use them. If you were to take a month off with your 20 days annual leave, you would not have a job to come back to or, your one-year contract would not be renewed for the following year. This is why most Japanese kids are brought up by their mothers and their father is just some exhausted stranger they spend Sunday afternoons with a couple of times a month. The concept of 8 hours work, 8 hours, rest and 8 hours sleep does not exist in Japan. Is it any wonder that diabetes, stomach ulcers, dementia and other stress related illnesses are so prevalent in the senior generations?

10 ( +13 / -3 )

What Japan knows how to do is toil aimlessly, a kind of "labor theater". It's not work, but it keeps people busy without having to think much.

That's probably one of the most articulate ways i have heard it put.

Coming from a service and support background it frustrates me even more when you see problems and are used to fixing them or at least suggesting there is a problem that needs to be fixed or some way something could be improved.

In Japan when you notice their is an issue or something being done incorrectly in a stupid fashion people seem to do everything possible to avoid pointing it out or continue to do it in a ridiculous fashion because "that's the way its always been done". Nothing makes stand out more in a collectivist society like criticism positive or not.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Labor theater! Brilliant. A show of work without much to show for it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Japan knows how to work...inefficiently. Also seem to like being uptight. Culture.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

When it comes to resting and sleeping, I'm a free spirit. Never sleep less than 10 hours.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Dude didn’t get to Africa and back in 64hours, surely..who goes there for just a weekend!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"Japan knows how to work."

Then paragraphs citing exactly what's wrong with the work culture here.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Tina Watanabe & Robert Maes

There is a big difference between having the random Japanese public holidays off plus Golden Week, Obon and New Year and being able to take your own days off in a block at a time of your choosing.

Everyone is off at the same time at Golden Week and Obon; prices for travel sky rocket, availability is more limited and the highways and attractions are rammed with cars and people.

If you are able to take 7 days off in February, for example travel is much more reasonably priced and pleasant.

This whole work/life/leisure balance problem Japan has is frustrating and infuriating to witness.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Even the government, standard-bearer of the work ethic, bends over backwards to persuade employers to give their employees a break

...by making it legal to work up to 100 hours a month of overtime?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Even the government, standard-bearer of the work ethic, bends over backwards to persuade employers to give their employees a break, and employees to take one.

Then create SEVERE penalties for those that don't- Whether employers or employees. Make it a LAW to take the time off, OR FORCE the companies to buy those days which the employees don't take off- at a very high cost- say 100,000 yen a day for every holiday the employee doesn't take off. You'll have the companies SCREAMING at the employees to take their holidays so as not to cost the company money. As long as there is no punishment for what the companies are doing, what's to stop them from continuing.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Its true, if you have a system that makes subservience and obedience the core value, where even the employees police each other what do you expect? The self sacrifice to the group for the sake of appearance leads to mass mediocrity that in feeds on and perpetuates itself. Will it ever change? Probably not, too entrenched. Too much order done gone made jack a dull and unimaginative boy. Creative people are the drivers of change. Think about that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the only happy worker in my office is my boss a senior manager. he is not at the top so avoids too much pressure, but he has enough employees below that he just assigns anything he doesn't want to do then micromanages at will. he also has a high salary and controls our travel budget which he uses for his enjoyable business trips.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How to waste time and inconvenience oneself and the customer can be seen in a convenience store transaction.

You put the product on the counter. They ring it up. You pay. They HAND you the bag. They then hand you the receipt, to the other hand. They then put the change on top of it. Next you do the shuffle act. What a waste of time an energy.

They need to try it this way: You should pay first, get the change with the receipt, and put it back in your pocket, purse or wallet. They should then bag the item, and hand it to you.

I see this type of time wasting and shuffling things in all sorts of business and transactions here. It is usually accompanied by the fake running, which I call the slipper shuffle.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@katsu78 "What Japan knows how to do is toil aimlessly, a kind of "labor theater". It's not work, but it keeps people busy without having to think much. There are of course Japanese people who do know how to work, but for every one of them it seems there are 5 "labor actors" just shuffling papers aimlessly and incompetently for 10 hours a day."

Excellent and insightful comment. I will definitely use that analogy again.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Things could be changing for the better here. A couple of university students answered my question of "what's your version of dystopia" with..."overwork". LOL

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Aly RustomFeb. 3  01:13 pm JST

Make it a LAW to take the time off, OR FORCE the companies to buy those days which the employees don't take off- at a very high cost- say 100,000 yen a day for every holiday the employee doesn't take off. You'll have the companies SCREAMING at the employees to take their holidays so as not to cost the company money.

Honestly, I think the likely result is that companies would just create more work days, and then invite their employees to use their time off on those days, resulting in zero changes to the status quo, only with employees having fewer days to use for sick time or emergencies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Honestly, I think the likely result is that companies would just create more work days, and then invite their employees to use their time off on those days, resulting in zero changes to the status quo, only with employees having fewer days to use for sick time or emergencies.

fair point.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tom# Remember you have to have a mindset that seeks efficiency to even give a damn. The extra work when you don't means you've   "gambarimashita!" . The slipper shuffle, like.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Spending a lot of time at the office is not work. In my experience, the average production rate of Japanese people is much lower than that of Europeans or Americans. 

Not enough holidays ? Anybody found anything open between Dec 26th and January 11th ?  And another national holiday a few days later.  Come on, try to find somebody answer your email on a Saturday or a Sunday.

Two snow flocks and everyone rushes home like the next ice age has arrived.  Don't get me wrong, Japanese people's working life is hard, but mainly by the long commutes, the hours spend doing nothing in the offices, a lot of boring and double/triple checking.  I am just so tired of that " we are working slaves "  talk. 

It is not that bad, and if it is, quit and go somewhere else. In today's employment environment the employee is in control and yeye, I know..it is difficult in Japan to do so...  truth is, it is no longer.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Japan has more national holidays than the West.  So less need for paid vacation.

And the work has different meanings: blessing for Japanese but punishment for the West.

-15 ( +2 / -17 )

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