Japan Today



Unpaid overtime is killing McDonald's managers

By Randy Poehlman

Japan is notorious for the long hours of work that companies expect from their employees. This "service" is unpaid overtime that a company expects and often demands from employees. Periodically, this culture of unpaid overtime ends up killing otherwise healthy employees who cannot physically handle the stress and the hours involved.

The Japanese have a word ("karoshi") which translates as roughly “death from overwork.” The latest death by overwork scandal is levied against McDonald's and is winding its way through courts here in Japan.

Recently, a 25-year-old male, who was managing a store in Kawasaki, collapsed and died due to "karoshi." According to a Daily Yomiuri story, “he was working on Nov 7, 2009 from noon to the following day at 5 a.m. He then came back to work the same day (Nov 8) at noon. Soon after he collapsed and died.”

The victim's mother is trying to get compensation for the death of her son, but recently she lost a local court decision to receive financial benefit. The Jan 18 ruling upheld a labor standard assessment committee's denial to pay compensation.

The latest victim of a ridiculous schedule for the international hamburger chain is by far not the only one. In addition to the deceased manager in Kawasaki, a manager in Saitama Prefecture launched a lawsuit against McDonald's nearly five years ago regarding unpaid overtime. Also, a female manager died from overwork, due to her schedule, managing a Yokohama McDonald's outlet in 2007.

McDonald's Japan lost a lawsuit two years ago to a former manager, who collected roughly 7 million yen in compensation for all his unpaid overtime. Hiroshi Takano had worked an estimated 60-80 hours per month of service overtime, in addition to his normal, paid working schedule. Furthermore, he was denied any paid holidays for 63 days. Takano had sought a further 3 million yen in compensation for mental suffering, but that claim was rejected by the court which heard his case.

Japanese blogs and social networking sites are increasingly filling up with comments and posts about the negative aspects of taking a management role for McDonald's. Online users of 2-channel have been discussing the seemingly high salary of managers for McDonald's restaurants, but have been warning others about the possibility of literally being worked to death, and discussing negative health aspects.

Many McDonald's managers estimate that they spend roughly 80 hours per month engaged in unpaid overtime. The fact that McDonald's has been expecting managers to work 80 hours unpaid overtime for the past number of years is astonishing. This policy has led to lawsuits and deaths, but still McDonald's Japan expects far too much out of their managers and their policies have obviously changed little. The company has been able to escape with little more than a slap on the hand, despite the fact that "karoshi" deaths continue to plague the corporate giant.

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Sounds like the managers at McDonald's have more need to unionize than most English teachers. I have yet to hear of an English teacher dying from over work.

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McDonald's Japan should be held responsible for the 25 year old death. To die at that age because of being over worked is sad, and it's not right. What's wrong with the Japanese judicial system?

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The only ones to blame are those foolish enough to put a company before their own health.

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Still think eating at McDonald's is a victimless crime?

Japanese people are taught to be hard workers their whole lives with the concept of "gambaru." It is a part of Japanese culture. And the corporations have no trouble in exploiting the Japanese work ethic to the point of karoshi. McDonald's really should receive harsher punishment for this.

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M51T: You clearly don't understand the Japanese way of life and the committment Japanese people have at work. Personally I work at a Japanese company and have encountered someone who worked to 03 am and came back the same day at 08 am.

Im ok with overtime, 1 or 2 hours, but until 3 am? Hell no. Call me lazy, but even though I love my job I still prefer my free time over work time.

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The problem is not McDonald's, the problem is a lack of enforcement of labor laws and no class action suits. But hey, it isn't my problem. Just call me lazy.

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i like the way they use the word overtime instead of slavery. Also got to love the way the courts protect the companies and not the people of this country.

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This is "service zangyou" - overtime as a free service to the company. Politicians have been promising to get rid of it for years, but it's as Japanese as sushi kimonos.

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Sounds like the managers at McDonald's have more need to unionize than most English teachers. I have yet to hear of an English teacher dying from over work.

Yeah teachers shouldn't whine about their jobs and companies, they got it p#@s easy. A few minutes to an hour unpaid overtime should not be complained about.

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And the govt here wonders why people are not making babys... Gee, I wonder.....

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sushi and kimonos, that is

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Corporations are willing to bleed workers so that their greedy share holders can have a more positive view of the company. Instead of treating workers like associates and partners, companies now like to treat people like slaves. This is wrong!

Bottom line, workers of the world need to come together and demand fair treatment. A global strike against any company that does not pay overtime to their workers will teach the companies a lesson. Workers are powerful but only when we combine our efforts to set things right. As long as we fail to do so, companies have the upper hand and workers are the modern day equivalent of peasants.

It is your choice working people. Do you want to be a peasant or do you want to be a respected and fairly treated worker?

MacDonalds should be banned from Japan if they fail to pay OT or work people such unreasonable hours. The government should do something or workers of all sorts should boycott MacDonalds until they stop this behavior.

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managers get paid salaries to do a job, not hourly, and everybody is responsible for their own health. if they can't handle the job in a reasonable amount of time, they can quit.

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fds. Spoken like a slave driver. But you are wrong mate!

First of all there are laws that govern labor of any level or description. Laws that define how many hours someone should work, how many days off people should get and minimum standards for payment.

The problem is these are not properly enforced. And greedy dirtbag companies have redefined roles to avoid compliance.

But let me remind you of something. A couple generations ago people labored under similarly brutal systems. They worked long hours for low pay, endured harsh treatment, worked in unhealthy conditions etc...

But our grandparents and great grand parents (even in Japan) had the common sense and courage to stand up against these policies and demand change. And they got it in the form of proper labor laws in most of the developed world.

Then came the generation of greed who have been steadily rolling all this back. Well, I have bad news for you FDS, this kind of thinking will blow up in your faces as workers start to see that their sacrifices only enrich priviledge class twits at the expense of their families, health and mental well being. More and more of us are starting to push back and you may well have a new generation of worker uprising and revolution on the horizon.

So be careful, that kind of heartless thinking may end you up against a wall when change comes. Or working in a camp to pay for such inhumane and careless thinking. Try learning about some human skills like empathy and compassion for a change!

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One more thing. An underpaid, overworked MacDonalds employee with no stake in the company, no power, no real benefits hardly qualifies for the model of well compensated manager you are referring to. This is an example where companies now call people managers to avoid paying them overtime. And people who were always hourly workers are now salaried because greedy companies have realized that they can work them more for less money.

This kind of cheating is wrong! And you know it!

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He should have called in sick.

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I think the current generation is starting to wake up to the fact that they're no-longer a completely broken country that has just lost a war. The country is relatively wealthy, and putting in 80 hours of overtime a month (that's 2 extra weeks of work!!!) will not do anything.

The labour laws are there... if all people just leave the job once their schedule's up then there's nothing the boss can do, because they're fulfilling their legal obligation.

Of note, English teachers are treated the same (if you're Japanese.) Companies like Peppy only pay Japanese staff for the lessons they teach (and they pay something like 1200 yen an hour.) Teachers are then required to come 4 hours early and leave 4 hours late... so often they work a 14 hour day... 4 hours of paper-shuffling in the morning, 6 hours of back-to-back lessons with no rest, then 4 more hours of paper-shuffling.

There's no punishment if they just go home (and no promotion prospects if they put in the extra hours.) My question is why they bother...

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yep! Managers they are not, McD`s is only doing this to avoid paying them so the real managers can get fat bonuses.

Like tkoind2 says, the exploiters of the world had better start changing their ways or some of those exploited will undoubtdidly(sp? haha) strike back. I wont condone but wudnt be surprised to see so real managers taken out literally by a disgruntled slave worker, in fact its already happening so exploiters you had better soon be spending yr obscene paychecks on personal security you may be needing it.

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tkoind2..U've got it somewhat wrong..yes we do need laws to protect people but people in some circumstances such as employment do have choices..the "lazy cowardly losers" that are not brave enough to look for something better are at fault. It is the year 2010 not couple of generations ago. We have choices now. if I want a nice job, i study hard and go to school...if i dont like a job, i find something better then quit or go work in a different country. If these "losers" are too dumb for their own good, then they deserve what they get. People need to "think for themselves" and decide "for themselves" what is good for them or not.

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Ever noticed that at any given McDs there are more managers working than staff? The "Managers" are doing the job we normally expect workers to be doing. There is no way a McDs needs 5 managers working and only 3 "Employees" working in a shift. I see the "Employees" doing less work than the "Managers". tkoind2 is correct. It is about reclassification of job title so overtime is not required to be paid. Just like some companies classify their employees as sales staff to also avoid overtime pay. I can understand that companies need to tighten their belts, but at what cost? The health of their employees? Why don't you chew on that the next time your having your Big Mac...?

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From my firsthand experience a few years ago, the Labour Standards Bureau will not lodge an investigation into one employee's complaint of overtime abuse by the employer unless they are (willing and) able to investigate all employees' records.

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lovejapan21. "he "lazy cowardly losers" that are not brave enough to look for something better are at fault."

I am sorry but this thinking just does not match the reality of work in Japan. You are ignoring the realities that govern employment in Japan.

The Economy: Sure you can quit one job, but more likely you will go on to one that is the same. It does not matter in most cases what company you work for, conditions are usually the same.

Underemployment: Ask all the people who lost their jobs over the last couple years how easy it is to find new ones. Most end up in lesser positions with worst pay and conditions or without benefits.

The Law: The labor laws protect people from ill treatment, if you want to blame someone for these problems you should place your blame where it truly belongs. And that is upon the government for failing to give teeth to labor laws and for the obvious corruption that benefits business over workers.

Going Abroad; requires money. More than most regular workers can afford.

Sure people should think and decide for themselves, but that is NOT Japanese culture. Nor is it the culture of people who know they may end up homeless if they quit the job they have. It is easy for someone like you to speak from a position of superiority when you can afford a computer and to be judgemental about others who are less fortunate. But the reality out there for a lot of people, 17% at last count, is poverty and living hand to mouth every single day. For them choices are limited. And for a lot of people your notions are simply not realistic.

Change and enforce labor laws. that is the answer.

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How does McDonalds get away with this/let this happen even after losing a lawsuit just 2 years ago?? Of course, it looks like that guy only got "compensation"... So I assume the laws do not provide for hefty fines against corporations like they do in the civilized world.

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From my personal experience and observation, overtime at Japanese companies are rarely recognized. The Japanese company I was associated with began work at 8am and ended at 5pm. Men lingered on until 6 to 7pm and the women left at about 5:30pm. Although Japan imposed a 5 day work week, smaller companies ignored it and worked on Saturdays until noon. However, many lingered until about 3pm. So technically the employees at this company earned 22hrs/week in overtime or about 1100 hours each year without being paid overtime. When transferred back to the States, employees started at 8am and left at 4:30pm sharp. There were no lingerers. The work ethic is different between the two countries. I remembered an incident when employees of a U.S. company I was with left en masse when the 5pm bell rang throughout the building. I had Japanese business visitors then and they asked me if it was a fire. I said, no and we continued our discussions.

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McDonald's + Long hours + crew meals of big macs and lard fries = coronary.

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kp123 was that mass 5pm employee leaving incident a one-time event or was it a regular happening? if it was a one-time event, were there repercussions?

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Work ethic is a good topic.

From a business point of view work ethnic means sacrifice, long hours and subservience to the company.

From a worker point of view it often means adapting to the expectations of the company.

From a societal point of view we should define work ethic and enact laws to enforce a community standard e.g. Work day = 8hrs. Anything over = paid overtime. Work week = 5 days or 40hrs. Anything over = overtime.

Labor should be protected to have work life balance. This is good for families, good for health, good for commerce in communities.

The definition of manager should have a salary floor applied so that companies cannot just call everyone salaried employees. Salaries are fine, but they should be limited to standard work hours. After a certain income level (say JPY700,000 a month) companies could say that OT is included up to a set number of hours, say 50-60 total working hours in any given week.

But beyond this, society needs to say that work life balance = work ethic. That workers are also expected to participate in family, in community and in personal pursuits and that these result in economic and social benefits for the nation. Then back it up with strict enforcement and fines to keep companies honest.

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Where is the personal responsibility though? If the Japanese actually took a stand they'd win. However, they don't. Baaaaaahhhhh! The sound of sheeple.

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Tmarie. How can you expect a culture where everything discourages people from standing up to generate the necessary masses willing to risk everything to stand up? You speak with a very western point of view.

You can and I both know that if workers stand up they effect change. France and a few other nations prove this point all the time. But yet even in America where we are taught to try to stand up, very few do. Mostly out of fear of losing what income they do have.

We live in a time of renewed oppression. Sure our oppression is less brutal than a hundred years ago, but it is just as real. And we are the lucky ones, labor around the world are in far worst conditions.

The true evil here is greed and indifference to the plight of fellow human beings. That is where the true personal responsibility is needed. People in a position to effect change need to have the moral constitution and fortitude to execute change and make real personal decisions that can help others. That includes people like us who must continuously voice these concerns and try to rally people to be aware.

So what are you doing to make things better for labor Tmarie?

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This is a sad and very serious situation. People are dying from overwork! And things are probably a lot worse now since the chances of finding another decent job are quite slim. So what do you do if you are in this situation? If you say you won't work the unpaid overtime, the boss will just say--Fine. You're fired. Sure, in better economic times you might be able to find work again quickly but the next company will demand the same kind of working hours. So you are stuck and feeling pretty helpless & powerless.

I think for people to feel empowered they have to know that if they do make a complaint to the labor bureau that something will actually be done! Otherwise it must feel pretty pointless complaining about a situation that you have no power to change. The companies take advantage of their employees and exploit them and the government lets them get away with this! That is sickening.

By the government's inaction they are telling people that they really don't care about your health. They don't care if you get sick or even die from working overtime. And they certainly don't care if you have extra time to spend with your family and friend or pursuing other interests.

Labor laws must be enforced and workers need to know their rights and ban together and fight for those rights.

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Those "record" profits from McDonalds don't look to good now do they.

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It's one thing to die working your butt off as an executive at a big company, a politician, etc... But, as a floor manager of a McDonalds? When your last words were, "quick, change the french fry oil"?

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They have to get reimbursed their overtime they deserve it,, it,s the best service of mcdonalds in the world, 2nd to none.....

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What and I doing? I quit a job in the past due to the unpaid overtime and made it rather clear this was one of the reasons why I quit (sexism was another which I also made very vocal), have complained to my former boss about the way females were treated when they asked for maternity leave, I've called the national pension system to find out why my job wasn't paying my pension/health care money like they should... I'm doing things. If everyone would do the same Japan wouldn't be in the mess it is with such issues. Did I get results in all? Nope but I made sure my voice was heard and things did change in some cases.

These jobs don't pay all that well. They could quit and fnd something new - and spare me the whole "no jobs out there" as there are. People need to swallow their pride more these days.

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It should be mandatory for everyone to work only 35/40 hours a week. We're going to hell man.

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The Japanese are well overdue for a social revolution against their illogical work ethic. The young need to take the lead, but they seem too spoiled to care anymore.

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combinibento...I think this article regarding dying of overwork for the golden arches is horrible, I'm ashamed to say your comment had me laughing out loud. Shame on you...

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Combinibento: lol, so sad, so true and so right… Tmarie: completely agreed, it is up to the person to follow the crowd or to think and find solutions for himself.

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Here are some excerpts from The Japan Times two years ago that the writer of this article should have at least paraphrased to make a more informative story:

"Presiding Judge Iwao Saito ruled that Hiroshi Takano, 46, who manages a McDonald's outlet in Saitama Prefecture, does not qualify as a manager under the Labor Standards Law and thus deserves overtime pay.

The law stipulates that employers must pay overtime allowances to employees who work more than eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. However, the regulation does not apply to people in managerial positions.

Saito said employees in management positions must be able to wield significant authority and receive privileged treatment, including higher pay. Takano neither played such an important role for the company nor received better pay, he said.

According to the court, the average annual salary of McDonald's shop managers stood at ¥7.07 million in 2005. But the salaries varied, with some 10 percent of managers receiving only ¥5.79 million, a level lower than the average annual salary of assistant shop managers, based on evaluations. Assistant shop managers meanwhile qualify for overtime pay.

After Takano was promoted to shop manager in October 1999, his salary dropped because he was not allowed to claim overtime allowances. As a result, his annual wage fell by 17 percent in 2005, compared with the ¥7.59 million he earned in 1999."


I'm sure we discussed this at length on JT two years ago, but I guess it doesn't hurt to go back over some of the reasons why people in so-called managerial positions can get even less money for more working hours.

Having labor standards laws on the books and getting them enforced properly are often two different things, especially in Japan.

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The problem is not much better in other countries. Assistant managers get a salary, but "casual overtime" is expected from them.

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tmarie. As usual you and I at the poles of the argument.

I am very happy that you are such a superchampion and so in control of every aspect of life. But you are hardly representative of the legions of workers in Japan.

Over the past two years I have had dozens of Japanese friends lose their jobs to the bad economy. Some are still unemployed while the few who are working are underemployed and having a hard time.

These people got out and hunted jobs every day. These are smart and capable people with decent educational backgrounds. Yet they cannot find jobs. Some have found that being in their 30's or 40's means that they cannot get work. Companies prefer cheaper easier to adjust young workers.

Some find that their skills are not enough to change jobs or too specialized. Others can't get jobs because they are seen as too senior to take a lesser job at a new company.

For people with families, quitting and scaling back could mean financial disaster. For others it could mean having no income.

So come down off your high horse and look at the reality of real people in Japan and what the loss of a job can really mean.

Bottom line! No one should have to work him or herself to death. There are labor laws that should protect workers from abuse. If they are not being enforced, then we should press the government to enforce them. And if that does not work, we should come together and protest and strike until they do enforce them.

Too many apologists like you out there and not enough people fighting for the rights of working class people.

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these are not worker working for an hourly wage. they are managers who have agree to be paid a fixed all inclusive salary to do a job. if they don't want to be managers they don't have to. they can stay on their hourly wage in which case i think they would be entirely justified in complaining of and getting paid for service zangyo. but in this case, i don't think so. this doesn't happen at McDs elsewhere does it?

as for people not being able to find jobs, that's another problem all together.

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fds. Over the past couple decades companies have purposely redefined more and more low paying jobs to be "salaried" and "management" as a means of avoiding the requirement to pay overtime.

Good companies have been better at this by defining "exempt" and "non-exempt" roles to differentiate between higher paid salary/management roles and lower paid/management roles. In this better case the lower paid roles are still getting overtime as it should be.

To say that a low paid MacDonalds worker is justly compensated to work 20 or more OT hours a week is absurd. Sure a few 5-10hrs a week on a salary could be considered rational if the base pay made sense. But if you average out the salary to hours and come up with some minimum wage number that is hardly fair is it?

In any case, management or not, there should be better enforcement of laws to protect people from exploitation and overwork. Otherwise we give companeis tacit permission to work people to death.

The shocking thing here on JT is this. Most of you are workers. A lot of you probably doing free overtime. Why are you not more pro-labor? The apologists out there seem to think workers owe companies everything. When in reality workers are the life blood of the global economy. They do the labor and sweat to make things, provide services and do a lot of the consumption. Workers deserve better treatment and legal protection from greedy exploitation.

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I own a company and I'm greedy as hell. I also pay all my staff overtime if they put in more than 8 hours. Good staff are the keystone for any small business success. I consider the way we treat our staff one of our competitive advantages as does any small business. If you want to really support the workers of the world, then don't eat at mcdonald don't shop at cosco don't drink at starbucks. Buy from small business and do yourself and labor a favor (or labour a favour if you're from the commonwealth)

Also. This mcdonalds guy should have just quit. It's their fault for not paying you. It's your fault for dying flippin burgers.

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I give him credit for maintaining harmony (wa).. in the workplace and not complaining or lying about being sick in order to take a rest.

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Work is for suckers.

Find ways to make money without working like renting out a room in your house as a bed and breakfast or owning a parking lot or laundromat.

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Before I came to Japan, I used to be a manager for a computer store. I spent years working my way up the ladder and when I got to the top of it, I was practically worked to death. It got so bad that I ended up on medication for stress. I took my case to HR and was simply told that management are expected to put in a sufficent hours to run the business. Many of my company friends were in exactly the same situation as me, with nowhere to turn. The area managers were under worse pressure so they could offer little to no help. Its very easy to sayjust quitbut my colleagues had invested a lot of time and effort gaining their management positions and the majority of them had families to support. There are few opportunites out there for other management postions. I spent 2 years looking for a decent, similar alternative but like most others, I was un-able to find one. Luckily for me, I plucked up the courage to follow my dream of teaching, quit my job, did a teaching course and gained a position out here in Japan. However, Im in the minority here as most people are un-able to find viable alternatives, especially those with families.

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A Japanese friend of mine was always complying about doing overtime. When I asked him, what exactly he was doing, he could not give me an answer. Imho- very often OT in Japan is just exaggerated issue: people pretend to be overloaded and stay until 9pm, gaining respect from boss and bosses are happy. Appearance counts…

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marushka: That is true. A lot of overtime work is for appearances sake which is totally absurd. I've heard the same thing; people are just hanging out pretending to be busy so they seem to be hard-working, loyal employees. Or they are actually doing something but it's just busy work or unnecessary paperwork.

A simple solution to this would be that all the employees agree to leave by a certain time. Or the company enforces a rule to make people go home. I heard that a few companies are doing this, say once a week. It's a start anyway...

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Dolphingirl: imho- for an average sarary man in Japan OT and drinking with boss are keys for successful career. Follow the boss and do what he asks, so no wonder why most of Japanese can not express their individual opinion etc, they just don’t have it

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