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'Work without limits': Japan's teachers battle for change

56 Comments
By Tomohiro OSAKI

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56 Comments
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So sad and pathetic on so many levels.

14 ( +35 / -21 )

Working without limits? Not only teacher in Japan from salaryman to trainee everyone work without limits in Japan even without paid.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/11/c21d735d36a9-vietnamese-trainees-call-out-unpaid-illegal-overtime-at-japan-firm.html

-4 ( +23 / -27 )

Experts say teachers are particularly vulnerable to overwork because of a decades-old law that essentially prevents them from being paid for overtime.

Abenomics neo-liberal reforms and weakening of labor union powers, emphasizing austerity for workers and the public but still keeping all the governmental waste and graft sure has resulted in a lot of happiness and prosperity and a "beautiful Japan".

-7 ( +22 / -29 )

This is just incredible and sad.

An advice for young people who want to do

this beautiful job. Learn English (or another language) when you are young, go

study abroad and be a teacher there. I know somebody who did that and became an

art teacher in USD and his life was a dream spending 3 month a year traveling abroad

because of long holydays and working around 30 hours per week. Here they have

10 days of summer holydays max…

What is the cause of this crazy overwork

culture in Japan? If somebody knows please explain as I never understood.

10 ( +26 / -16 )

Not much will change. The people in charge at the Ministry of Education and local boards of education are too blinkered and stupid.

9 ( +28 / -19 )

One probe by a union-affiliated think tank showed school teachers work an average 123 hours of overtime each month, pushing their weekly workload well beyond the so-called "karoshi line" of 80 hours.

But the government set a "legal" limit of 100 hours. So in effect the government itself is legalizing the "karoshi" by not enforcing it's own regulations.

14 ( +25 / -11 )

Abenomics neo-liberal reforms and weakening of labor union powers, emphasizing austerity for workers and the public but still keeping all the governmental waste and graft sure has resulted in a lot of happiness and prosperity and a "beautiful Japan".

hear hear!

-13 ( +14 / -27 )

It is only a good thing to overwork these teachers if they transform their students into smart, forward thinking, workers, academics, innovators, leaders, and drive the social and economic value of Japan to the highest level.

don’t see this happening so it is maybe a waste of time and teachers lives.

-17 ( +8 / -25 )

"Not everything about this job is 'black' though," she said, using a Japanese term for exploitative labor.

Which is just an excuse, as even the "black" companies have things about them that people love working for them.

But she fears that if conditions don't improve, "the image of our profession as 'black' will dominate for younger generations".

You are blind if you haven't realized by 56 years old, that the teaching profession, in particular for JHS teachers, here in Japan, is blacker than black, and it's because of older educators like yourself who are to blame.

But as a PE teacher, you just follow the rules and culture, and havent done anything to make things easier for those coming behind you.

"I went through it, so you can too" is the attitude I see from too many older educators. You only have 4 years to retirement, so basically you are just waiting it out.

If you truly are fearful, do something about it! Stop having teachers be the "club" activities managers or coaches. Do it like HS's do, outsource or let parents deal with it.

Stop all the stupid meetings and training seminars, and stupid conferences and filing of meaningless reports.

You are teachers right? Work smarter, not harder!

-10 ( +18 / -28 )

It’s not just the teachers; in a way, the students are not really enjoying their lives too; education in Japan and how it works is almost depressing on so many levels; it’s almost like they’re chasing “perfection” (something that doesn’t exist), which is sad; and not just in education, but also in other sectors of Japanese society, people are tired, depressed, lonely (they don’t have time for their own families or to meet new people); I’d say that this ganbatte/ganbarimasu/ganbarou culture needs to take a break(!); surely many Japanese people know that working long hours/overtime/unnecessary tasks can be counterproductive but I suspect that they don’t care because this is Japan and the Japanese don’t like the word “change”, so they’ll just say wakarimashita and… “try to do their best”; sigh. (great article; …some courageous people out there)

-6 ( +18 / -24 )

She says teaching is often seen as a "sacred job" devoted to children, so anything viewed as selfish -- including taking note of hours worked -- can be frowned upon.

This sums up Japan 'culture' with regards to work. Work is life here, and working to death is seen as 'honurable'

From outside looking in its crazy but thats how it is across the board so changing the entire mindset of the populace is the task... ganbare indeed.

-5 ( +20 / -25 )

The Japanese state uses children to blackmail educators, forcing them to submit to the country's historic system of exploitation of labor imposed over centuries by a corrupt ruling class. Teachers need to get woke and throw off the yoke!

-14 ( +15 / -29 )

Teachers raising other people's children and their children are raised by other teachers. It is just one of the reasons people want one or no children.

11 ( +16 / -5 )

All of my Japanese friends are experiencing this disgraceful practice. Sanctioned slavery. If the companies were forced to pay a fair wage for any overtime their would be no more overtime!

6 ( +19 / -13 )

When I read the headline, I thought the article was going to be about inclusion and breaking down barriers in the workplace or something. Sadly not.

a decades-old law

An investigation by the Mainichi newspaper revealed that in the decade to 2016

*This year**, Japan's ruling party established a task force to study the issue.*

Just in time.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

The “overtime work” term is ridiculous to me.

It’s not overtime as that would never happen here because people would be making incredible amounts of overtime pay now too!

Here it’s just free labor and it should be strictly disallowed.

If you are actually making more money, I think a lot of people would work more hours, and be happier about it.

2 ( +11 / -9 )

It's not only teachers problem, most of the people in Japan work literally all day.

I go to the office in the morning and come back at night, luckily I get paid for any overtime after 8h+, however money is not my priority as I would prefer to spend more time with family.

I'm not surprised people don't have kids in Japan let them work 8 hours only so they can have something from their lives.

-10 ( +9 / -19 )

In my 30 years plus experience in the public and private education system I am always amazed at how much pointless, meaningless time wasting work the teachers make for themselves. They are often their own worst enemies.

-5 ( +11 / -16 )

In addition to academic work the teachers have their students do ‘club activities’

Not necessary and unpaid overtime.

It stops students thinking though-archaic now.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Abenomics neo-liberal reforms and weakening of labor union powers, emphasizing austerity for workers and the public but still keeping all the governmental waste and graft sure has resulted in a lot of happiness and prosperity and a "beautiful Japan".

The problem highlighted in the article long pre-dates "Abenomics," so please, let's stop exploiting a tragic situation to grind a political axe.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Why don't they strike or at least threaten to?

13 ( +15 / -2 )

This is criminal negligence by the Japanese education department to treat their teaching staff like this. It is taking gross advantage of a profession that consists mostly of people dedicated to helping children grow mentally and physically, and who love their work. No way should staff be involved in cleaning, cleaners who come after school should be emoyed for that. Responsibility for the children should cease when they leave the school premises, and only commence when the kids arrive the next day. Exceptions should only be on school-day outings or outside-hours activities, in which second case overtime should be paid. Lunch breaks should be standard and coincide with children's playtime if possible, or pay in lieu given if not. I cannot imagine that in any western country these stressful working conditions would prevail, not even in private schools where I suspect more is expected of their staff to attract parents to send their children there (and get better exam results for the same purpose!).

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Very sad

"Work to live....not live to work"

7 ( +10 / -3 )

You don’t have to work that long if you are efficient. Some work long hours unnecessarily so that they will be seen by others as hardworking. Others do so because it maybe the work culture. Others slack during the working hours and start working late in the afternoon. For some, they just don’t want to spend time at home and would rather be at work.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Schoolteachers deserve overtime pay, and it should have been done so much earlier.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

They just don’t want a helping hand, that’s all. Many of us here could give lessons too, not only in English language, but also in teaching other subjects, like music, geography or mathematics, where there isn’t too much Japanese language needed but are strong similarities on a global scale or the same notation like with musical notes and math formulas. I mean, there’s no reason to employ only native Japanese teachers or English language natives. And in addition of all that, we also have knowledge to supply, not only being used as decoration or entertaining ‘accessories’ in a Japanese teacher’s lesson, performing only as an interesting stranger or funny clown. We could even fulfill some routine jobs, like checking homeworks or tests and exams, just having their solution sheet and then marking right or wrong answers. But no, none of that all. We sit poor at home, while they get much money but live unhappily or die early from overwork and karoshi. That’s obviously the very most stupid problem solution and should anyhow be understood or recognized, especially in the education sector, shouldn’t it?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The overall system here is a dysfunctional mess. It creates way too much labor intensive busy work for teachers and for parents without really providing benefits that justify that burden.

Sadly I don’t see how this is going to change drastically in the near term. Cultural inertia alone makes these practices and expectations hard to break away from, let alone handling the legal and institutional factors that have created it.

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

Generally speaking, Teachers Love Their Work. They do not mind more work and, it takes them time to finally realize they are over-working. Until one day, they break down. Japan and the government of any country must become aware of this problem affecting teachers. Before it becomes too late.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

From what I’ve witnessed over many years, I think the notion of being measurably overworked applies to most middle- and high- school teachers in Japan. They really do work their butts off, selflessly, daily.

By contrast, the vast majority of University teachers in Japan are overpaid workshy lead-swingers who don’t know how good they’ve got it. Five or six classes a week?! Most schoolteachers dream of a soft schedule like that!

TT

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

It's so easy to fix but absolutely no one wants to address the big pink elephant in the room.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

On the path to complete collapse.

-3 ( +7 / -10 )

By contrast, the vast majority of University teachers in Japan are overpaid workshy lead-swingers who don’t know how good they’ve got it. Five or six classes a week! Most schoolteachers dream of a soft schedule like that!

Hardly the vast majority! Quite a few of my foreigner acquaintances have internalized Comrade Stakhanov gaman orthodoxy big time and are putting in 5 ninety minute lesson 5-6 days weeks across multiple institutions with Sundays set aside for grading and preparation and recovery from their glutton for punishment schedules. Their mantra is ‘holidays are for wimps’ and ‘without work, life has no meaning’.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

One of the most all-consuming tasks is the supervision of student sports and cultural "club" activities, typically conducted after school and on weekends.

"Being assigned as primary supervisor of one of these clubs usually means you have to kiss your weekends goodbye," said Takeshi Nishimoto, a high school history teacher in Osaka.

I spent years at public Japanese schools and also helped coach some of their sports teams. A good friend and teacher was the badminton coach and he lamented how he only had one day off a month.

I told him he should cancel practices on Sundays and only have games/tournaments on Saturdays (like we did in the US), otherwise let the team and himself rest.

He said that's not how it was done at his school and they've practiced almost every day for years. He argued that, that was one of the reasons the team was so strong. I tried to convince him that was actually detrimental to the players and that he'd get better results resting them more often.

He didn't buy it so I listened to him moaning about how busy he was for a few more years. Some of these teachers actually do have the power to cut down on OT but are mentally brainwashed into thinking they can't. They really need to.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

You can't change the education system without changing the rest of Japanese society especially the corporate world and the government because everything is interconnected. You have to change the university exam system, the way companies hire graduates, the refusal of the ministry of education to implement new approaches, etc. Most people don't want to know about or discuss societal problems because it makes them feel depressed and helpless; ignorance is bliss.

Often it's not about how much time you spend at work but how you work. You see it everywhere. Loads of papers and hard copy documents, fax machines, archaic procedures, refusal to try a new approach or system because well...that's just the way we do things. Be quiet and maintain the status quo.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

I often ask my Japanese friends and clients, including teachers, why they work so much, and they never have an answer because they don't know themselves. It's the classic Japanese answer, "“わからない” "

Why don't you do something like a strike? “わからない” 

Don't you think it is terrible to make people work like that? "しょうがない,ね"

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

"One probe by a union-affiliated think tank showed school teachers work an average 123 hours of overtime each month, pushing their weekly workload well beyond the so-called "karoshi line" of 80 hours."

Government-sponsored slavery, plain and simple. Abe patted himself on the back big time when he pushed for an astonishing 100-hour-a-month overtime cap, and STILL these people are going far beyond that and the government is doing NOTHING. And want proof just how ineffective pushing people to work even to death is? Japan's ranking in education world-wide is dropping rapidly. They are about as motivated to study as Taro is to work en route to his 15-hour work day aboard a packed train for a two-hour commute. They overwork people so hard here that when those people finally "retire" to only work four days a week instead of five and for half the pay, they have no clue what to do at all in their free time.

I'd say they should go on strike until conditions improve, but unions here are 100% on the government-side of things.

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

Teachers all around the world are overworked and underpaid but they do seem to take it that one awful step further in Japan. Employers and employees in Japan need to start adopting the "work smart; not work hard" philosophy lest they literally work their people to death. And that won't bode well for Japan considering their aging population and shrinking workforce.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Here is a story of a Japanese teacher some decades ago who tried to change things.

She discussed one by one with colleagues to go on strike for better work conditions (I don't remember the details).

Nearly all had accepted to make a pacific demo in front of the school on one specific day.

It ended up her being alone making that demo.

She became an air hostess and married a French pilot, without her parents' consent of course.

She still can't figure why on earth someone sane would live to work.

She brought up two kids who succeeded in life.

Even money can't buy time.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Another story.

I was not a teacher while working in Japan but same brainwasing process applies in every layer of society.

I asked one of my colleague why he could not take 3 weeks off like I was doing every year.

He replied it was impossible due to its position and work. I was his non-hierarchical manager so of course I knew it was administratively possible.

When asked why ? No rational explanation, just repeating impossible.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Did not knew about the teachers overwork situation in Japan. Workers in factories have a regular 40 hours a week and a maximum of 45 hours of overtime a month (up to 60 hours depending on special conditions) but nothing as cruel as described in this article. I'm sad to learn that. Karoshi is something weird, too much responsibility above a reasonable limit of mental health.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Disgraceful work conditions!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Shameful. And Japan can't figure out why people aren't having kids.

Let's not forget that teachers are working 80 hours a week because the kids get stuck at school much longer than they should be, into the night and on weekends.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

teach 5 or 6 classes..

Lol.

Then add endless meatings (and I mean this. Some go for up to 6-8 hours. That's the norm).

Then there is exam invigilating and creating of exams; courses to create; marking of hundreds of papers; research papers to write, research groups to go to; endless administration red tape and paperwork; students to attend to; trips with students in weekends; open campuses, high school visits (also weekends); faculty development; recruiting of students; development of programmes; sports days to go to....

I could go on, and on....

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

How about switching to hourly? 20000 per hour. At 35 hours, that would be 700,000. For the month, that would be 2.8 milllion. For the year (with 3 months off, which should happen), that would be 25.2 million.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Money in yen. Glitch wouldn't let me write.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If they were to hire basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc. coaches, people who actually knew and were dedicated to the sport, the teachers wouldn't have to use their free time to be parenting their students.

They'd have time for themselves and time to plan proper lessons. The students would be in better hands since the coach is a proper coach. And the city would be creating more jobs since coaches now have a job.

But no. Let's have countless meetings and try to come with more useless ways to fight the poor teachers overwork.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Change must be made nationally / culturally. As schools are competitive with each other; like any other company, it could go under. Even if profits are not at the top priority, but relativity and industry standards are factors of consideration.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is difficult to fully appreciate the damage these crazy hours have on the educators home life.

Let alone how these heros focus on providing the reputation for Japan high quality curriculum system. 

I recoil at industrial action. Strikes.

There comes a point for J teachers to present their value, their devotion, their commitment, by considering withdrawing their labour, yes striking, for the sake of the community they serve.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And to make things even sadder, there's not even a Teachers Day in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The teaching profession in Japan is not remotely congenial to promoting a home and family life.

Not an advisable career path future generations should peruse,

The hours could never remotely justify the aim of attaining the objective of student development holistically.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Disgraceful work conditions!

I get two negative votes for saying that. So it's fair work conditions? Wow!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Stop forcing teachers to do bukatsu. They don’t want to do it, & most don’t have any experience about what they are forced to teach / coach.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Stop forcing teachers to do bukatsu. They don’t want to do it…

They’re forced to do bukatsu? They certainly seem to be enjoying it judging from the videos I’ve watched on Pornhub.

TT

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cut out the Saturday morning classes for a start. Nobody wants those, certainly not me as it just cuts into time I would be spending with them, which isn't enough as it is.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

56 Hours ? That's 11.2 hours per day for a 5 day working week. So 8 am to 7:15pm basic per day - not bad.

However, taking a look at the remaining 123 hours / month

123 / 4 = 30.75 hrs per week

30.75 / 5 = 6.15 hrs above the 11.2 hours per day

So assuming you work a full day on Saturday, every week.... that now leaves you with 3.91 hrs / day ... ie. roughly a 15 hr /day per week...

Now, a lot of this "overtime" may actually be recorded as including travelling to/from home and working from home to do marking, etc.... but still. There is clearly a problem in Work-Life Balance here.

No wonder, some Japanese Teachers are less than agreeable, and like to seek Power-driven authority over Parents of Pupils - especially foreigners...

That said, the Teaching in Japanese Junior High School Sucks, hence why most Parents have to fork out money to send their Kids off to JuKyu (cram-sessions) afterwards in order to catch up to meet entrance examinations for High School - so what... do these JHS teachers actually teach ? (That's rhetorical. I know, and sadly, I'm not impressed).

Perhaps, it would be better, to focus upon changing the Education system to instead changing the Education system to focus upon "Educating", rather than rote rules and subservience ... after-all, learning isn't about simply following rules, if the greatest Academics/Inventors/Explorers simply followed rules - where would we be now ?

Sadly.... nothing will change, the Japanese are like Sheep / Lemmings, and even though they are a dying race, they don't wish to accept the possibility that they have to change their ways in order to survive for the Future.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Work smarter, not harder.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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