As we’ve noted before, Japanese people work hard ... although they may not exactly be working smart. According to OECD data, Japanese firms are surprisingly underproductive. Indeed, the country ranks lowest in labor productivity among G7 nations, placing it 21st among the 37 OECD nations.
Nevertheless, there may be a silver lining to the coronavirus outbreak that is currently hampering the economies of the world, including Japan’s. Government officials and companies are reconsidering low-tech, albeit traditional, business practices as employees grow accustomed to teleworking.
According to Tokyo professor Robert Feldman, Japanese R&D rates are relatively robust. However, institutions are typically slow to incorporate new technologies. Anyone in doubt need only head to the nearest corporate office to send or receive a fax. The pandemic may provide the incentive to increase the diffusion of such newly developed technologies and hopefully lift employee productivity in the meantime.
Economic data is all well and good, but it glosses over the reality on the ground. Here at grape Japan, we’ve covered Youtuber Paolo fromTOKYO before. The vlogger's "Day in the Life" series documents the nitty-gritty of workers' experiences in Japan. His series covers several industries, from cosplay entertainers to stay-at-home moms. Let's follow him on a few more side-hustles.
A Day in the Life of a Japanese Office Worker
Emi is a young office worker who, like many her age, lives with her parents in a Tokyo apartment. She walks briskly to the station and catches a train to Otemachi. Emi works for Pasona, a Japanese multinational corporation that provides a variety of staffing solutions. She arrives at the office, sets up her workstation, and begins pouring over the morning paper.
Like many workplaces in Japan, her office is wide and open. This type of atmosphere helps establish working norms while making morning meetings a breeze. Pasona begins their day with a customary chōrei 朝礼 (morning assembly meeting) and smaller departmental meetings.
Later on, Emi heads to lunch with her coworkers, and Paolo takes the chance to show off some of the office facilities. Pasona has a nice diner, a convenience store, and even a petting zoo. It seems like a pretty nice place to work, and several of these amenities are open to the public.
Emi, on the other hand, finishes her day with more meetings. She clocks out a reasonable hour and meets office friends at a restaurant that is free for employees. Nice.
A Delivery Worker
Yasuho is a young delivery person. Like most female employees, she wakes up early and puts on makeup as she prepares to head out. She grabs her wallet and keys and is off. No time for breakfast.
Yasuho hops on her by bike and rides to her nearby job at Sagawa Express, a major logistics company in Japan. She grabs a quick bite at the convenience store and walks to the terminal where her vehicle is parked. She finds her deliveries and sorts the packages by address to expedite delivery. She also flashes her hanko stamp that every employee must use on delivery documents.
Sagawa Express mandates that delivery people have clean vehicles. As such, Yasuho must clean her van before she can begin her run. As she wipes down the tires and windshields, Paulo takes a moment to explain cleanliness in Japan. It's an integral part of the culture that helps employees and students cultivate an appreciation for the objects around them. Yasuho must also perform several safety checks before she can get on the road.
Yasuho is assigned to the Nihombashi area. Essentially, she provides deliveries to customers in the area until her van is empty. She also carries a PDT device on which customers sign for their deliveries. The device also alerts her of packages available waiting to be delivered in the area. After lunch, her PDT comes in handy as she is back on the beat, collecting packages left on the street. Fortunately, Japan has a low crime rate, so theft is rarely a problem.
A Stay-At-Home Mom
Tomomi is a middle-aged mother living in Tokyo with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Karin. The family wakes up early as they get ready to face the day. Like most young households, all three members sleep in a single bed. They wake up together, and Tomomi prepares breakfast while her husband prays at the family shrine. Karin, on the other hand, seems blissfully oblivious as she watches children shows on her smartphone.
Karin is young and still learning proper table manners. Although she doesn’t seem to struggle, she is still in a high-chair and uses specialized chopsticks for children. Next year, she will be four and ready to start yōchien (kindergarten).
Regardless, Karin can play more or less by herself. While Karin is busy, Tomomi takes the opportunity to do chores and work on her projects. Tomomi is an active blogger. On her site, GOKIGEN LIFE, Tomomi provides lifestyle advice as well as mindfulness training—a practice I imagine is very useful with a young child.
Tomomi and Karin then get dressed and ready for the park. Tomomi, of course, wants Karin to be active and healthy, so they will spend two or three hours playing. The two run some errands afterwards and return home to prepare dinner. Tomomi wants Karin to learn how to cook, so she involves her as much as possible making dinner. Fortunately, Tomomi's husband is particularly active in the household, something uncommon amongst Japanese men. All in all, they seem like a happy family.
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