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Death by overwork on rise among Japan's vulnerable workers

By Stanley White

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“The government hosts a lot of symposiums and makes posters about the problem, but this is propaganda,” he said.

Kawahito could be talking about so many things here, from human rights downwards. But when the country is run mostly for the benefit of big business it is no surprise that even smaller ones will also push the lack of regulation and oversight to the limit. Safety and good work-life balance, for all the talk, are not taken seriously.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

In the long run such tactics will be counter productive as the available workforce shrinks empoyers will be competing for a resource in short supply, then "black companies" will not be able to persuade people to work for them.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I worked for a large company here and the demands to do more for less increased-not sleeping at night and a bout of kidney stones prompted me to quit. Personally, I know somebody here that died at his desk. He left a newly married wife behind.......

13 ( +16 / -3 )

Japan has no legal limits on working hours,

Well? It shouldn't be too hard to change this law! Get with it!

16 ( +20 / -4 )

the life is too short to exchange time for money, just work to have a comfortable life style for you and your family, the new 64" plasma tv worths nothing if you are never there to watch movies with your kids.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Japan has no legal limits on working hours

Really? No weekends either. And no time for family. So, um.. unionize yo. You have to create the rights to have them

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Thunderbird, many of these young employees struggle to keep/get a fulltime job and make a living. They work for 240,000 yen a month, if that, and aren't trying to buy a new plasma TV. Some employees, young or not, are single parents and work just to put food on the table.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

My friend just started a job in retail. Her gross pay is 18k yen a month- take home is 12k. She can't afford a tv......

5 ( +10 / -5 )

the life is too short to exchange time for money, just work to have a comfortable life style for you and your family, the new 64" plasma tv worths nothing if you are never there to watch movies with your kids.

While I totally agree, this is not an option for most of Japanese. It's a complex issue, rooted into a feudal society. They can't just leave work early, and holidays are forbidden.

I brought once a contract with ilegal clauses to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and they did NOTHING about it. In Japan, companies have total freedom to exploit workers, and some kind of right to do so.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

It's a vicious cycle... Government doesn't agree rasing salary for volnerable work in spite of staff shortage and hard job. This job is not hopeful in market and nobody want to try and continue working. Other staff must work longer and longer.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It is not overwork which is causing suicides, there are countries were people work more hours, and for even for less pay.

The problem is the perceived futility of work and careers in Japan nowadays. After four years of university where you are taught almost no marketable skill, you are hired immediately after graduation into whichever company will give you a full time job. Most graduates will not get a job with the company of their first choice, so they start working for a company they don't truly want to work for, most likely doing work they don't really want to do. And, worse yet, they can never leave.

Once you are hired by a company, and you find you don't like it, it is not as easy as quitting and going to work for another company, no other company will want you. They will think that you are disloyal, and are likely to quit working for them as well.

And even if you are one of the fortunate few who get hired into the company you want, you have 40 years of inane drudgery to look forward to. Since promotions and raises are seniority-based, there is no hope of quick advancement, or any additional reward for hard work, or new ideas. The best worker in the department will be promoted no more quickly than than the worst worker in the department.

Your office will be in the city, you will live in a company dormitory, which will usually be a fair commute from work. When you get old enough to earn more money and get married, your commute will likely increase. Since your company is probably overstaffed by 20%, because performance is not encouraged, salaries of course be about 20% lower than they would otherwise. Since your salary is none-to-good, your life will be a struggle to make ends meet.

The combination of working at a company you don't like, doing work you don't like, for a mediocre salary, and with a long commute added in, and no possibility of the situation ever changing is the problem, not the amount of hours one spends at work.

16 ( +21 / -5 )

The Labor Laws are more like guidelines, and there are many exceptions to their guidelines, such as the service industries, healthcare, media. It is quite toothless really, though it could be made to work.

Employers are supposed to submit their working policies for approval, and in cases of dispute. Smaller companies don't . Many media/ event companies write that their staff will only work for 10 hours, including a break; but in reality, they push them to work 12-15-18 hours each day with no overtime, citing extra rehearsals, last minute requests, changes, etc.. They are usually too scared to tell their clients (the paymasters) that their staff need a break, for fear of losing the next job, so they just give them a 500 yen bento box or onigiri and bottle of tea, which their staff consume on top of rack cases, on the floor or at their desk.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The labor ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Well, what a surprise that is! NOT! They are well aware of this problem and do nothing about it, which means they support this kind of 'bending of the rules'. They should change their name to, The slave labor ministry! They need to abolish this semi-permanent contract system and make workers either full time or part time. There was a case in the news a couple of weeks ago about a kid who took on 7/11 about unpaid overtime and he won his case. However, his name was plastered all over the news network and he will never get another job anywhere. People do not complain about these black companies for fear of losing their jobs and getting blacklisted from future employment. It is up to the slave labor ministry to police these companies and ensure they are not abusing their employees, but that will never happen because the whole democratic system in Japan is just s cover up for a right-wind fascist regime that supports the exploitation of its greatest resource, its workforce. The honourable Japanese culture of 'bushido' is bullshido!

3 ( +9 / -6 )

The trend may have something to do with;

2001 to 2005 Neoliberal economic policy called Market Fundamentalism by Koizumi administration 2006 Abe administration 2009 DPJ administration 2011 Fukushima Accident 2012 Abe administration


1 ( +1 / -0 )

You see, I don't get this. Just don't do the OT if you are not being paid for it. The mindset of many Japanese workers is also the issue here. Pathetic way of thinking really. Sangetsu03 has a good point too. Plus many unskilled workers are forced into a job and thrown into the deep end without proper on boarding, guidance, support. They just have to figger it out. I know form my experience, young females that are just not coping, not speaking up and go home cry all night, no sleep and back at it the next day. In Japan street crime may not be evident, but the crime is in the workforce. On top of that parents have absolutely no clue, no clue whatsoever what their daughters/sons are up to, as no dialogue is happening. How can you expect a young female/male to have a normal discussion with his/her dad/mum, if the dad is never home, mum and dad never talk, hug or show affection. I know of a case where a husband works from 08:00 till 00:100, never sees his family, and one day he had to go overseas for a business trip and just left a note scribbled on a piece of paper to his wife "I have to go to US". She had no clue and no prior conversation with him about it. If you want to fix it you have to dig much deeper than just working hours. Pathetic way of life nevertheless... God bless Japan!

5 ( +8 / -3 )

This is partly due to fear of outsourcing all the extra tasks that develop on the worksite--might mean hiring part-timers incl. minorities and women.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

an advance country like japan ignore this issue, unbelievable.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I had been working in Japan and there has never been any reaction to my complain about need for assistance. A reaction got triggered only when I exceeded this 80 hours limit (I did not know this legal limit). I was told by my boss to wlrk less lol. Needless to say he never asked for less production or discuss worry root cause or the impact of this situation. So I ended up only indicating false working hours to get peace of mind BECAUSE I was fortunate to have expatriate contract with a deadline to this unsutainable situation. Most other Japanese colleagues think it is weakness to express so. I can claim it is just foolishness and slave attitude, as I am open-minded, knowledgeable and future oriented grown-up person. It could be reversed if a strong lezder would do the necessary. But it would take to have balls. Law is more imortant than custom practice...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Skookella and sangetsu03...yes yes and yes

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The biggest problem is the deep-rooted mindset, going back generations. Fundamentally, Japan has changed very little since the Showa period (and even beyond that). "Blank canvases" with irrelevant uni degrees mass-hired, paid the minimum. This is post-war give-anyone-a-job-for-the-sake-of-it kinda stuff.

As there's no mid-career market, the young staff will do whatever it takes to stay employed. This is only exarcebated as they age, where their seniority-based promototion awaits. What you get in return is an unproductive & largely dysfunctional workforce.

Then therr's the labour union issue. An absolute joke in Japan. Unions answer to no one but the company that employs their workers, so in effect it's "play along or else". Where I'm from in Australia, arguably the country with the toughest labour laws in the world (amd thus highest minimum wage by a mile), if companies are found of any wrongdoing, they face the full force of the law as they're run as independent entities, not subservient company weaklings.

So, the karoshi situation only getting worse is really no surprise to those of us who've had to deal with Japan Inc. over the years. People are lf no value to a company in Japan. You're simply an exploitable & dispensable number in the system. Japan is not a modern society by any stretch of the imagination.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Her gross pay is 18k yen a month- take home is 12k

kurusipisu, that is impossible. For a salary of 180,000 the amount reduced for pension, health insurance, etc is less than 30,000. http://e-kyu.com/muryou/tedori.html

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

"an advance country like japan ignore this issue, unbelievable."

Not only do the ignore the negative elements of it, they ENCOURAGE them! Just look at Abe's recent "solution" to the nursery school crisis -- put more students in the same available nursery schools. Not hire more nursery school teachers (at least not a realistic plan to get them), not build more, just cram more kids into the already packed and neglected schools that exist. That means, of course, more overtime, and far more stress for the few teachers available. That's but one example.

The government continues to ignore this system despite their lip-speak laws about no overtime, because the companies of Japan inc. would howl, and Japan needs to keep them happy while its children dies.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Rise of the Drones!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

some companies telling new hires that their salary includes 80 hours of overtime, and they must reimburse the company if they work less.

They should ask how much their 40 hour a week is worth, and then do the math.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Drones need to unionize for better working conditions and pay. Go on strike. Force change. Changes are never given by corporations. All the benefits I receive in another country are the result of past victories over corporations. This is being whittled away here, but in Japan it seems it never even existed. How about Saturday and Sunday both 100% off? Start there. Japanese workers have earned it. 100 hours a month of mandatory unpaid overtime is criminal. It would be rather hilarious if it didn't have so many deaths associated with it

2 ( +3 / -1 )


Her gross pay is 18k yen a month- take home is 12k kurusipisu, that is impossible. For a salary of 180,000 the amount reduced for pension, health insurance, etc is less than 30,000. http://e-kyu.com/muryou/tedori.html

Unfortunately, I'm saddened to report that not only entirely possible - but also commonplace. The likes of retail, service & teaching jobs are all governed by hakken / itaku contracts. Meaning that various deductions are made (withholding, union commitments et al.), yet commuting costs, city taxes, health, pension etc. all fall on the individual. Employers can also forgo seasonal bonuses, sick pay & annual leave contributions, because the wondrous Japanese labour laws give employers carte blanche to use & abuse workers.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Overtime is bad. It is a symptom of something not working correctly. Doing the saabisu zangyo dance is otherworldly stupid. I can understand how companies might enjoy having people work for free, but in the end, they are deceiving themselves. Productivity appears high, but since people are doing "work" outside the books, productivity is probably pretty low. Before coming to Japan, I always had the image of Japan as a very efficient country, with a good work force. Now I realize that they just throw more people at the problem and solve it that way. Of course yo can do a task if you have 30 people working on it.

Unfortunately it seems the Japanese are all happy with this system. They are happy going through school, being educated in a way only to serve the country's best interest, not their own. After that daigaku, and from there straight into the soul sucking work force. Fewer young people want to go abroad, thus not being able to get fresh, outside thinking, and the Japanese mindset becomes even more closed, leading young people to believe in the one voice they hear.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The only thing that will change the status quo is revolution, Fidel and Chez revolution, civil war. However mice are raised not to fight but fear the fat cats that keep them on their knees.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Unionised? I worked for a company with a Japanese worker's union. The union was only there to tell the employees what the management wanted. Any requests made by the staff were addressed in a very apathetic fashion with no real push to get changes. However, whenever the management made a decision regarding company policy affecting the workers it was strictly enforced with the support of the union with no objections what-so-ever! It was not a worker's union. It was a management moderating committee of apathetic yes-men! There hasn't been a worker's strike in Japan since the 1970's.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The highway to HELL continues unabated it seems, thank goodness I have no children here.....

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Yet another example of Japan's # 1 problem - the refusal of those in power (government officials, employers, social services, education) to make any changes in the way things have always been. Until that mindset changes none of Japan's difficulties will ever reach a conclusion that benefits the average citizen.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

sangetsu03, man, you really do know your stuff. kowaicoffee too. The company structure is rigid almost to the point of being feudal. Tokyo Labor Standards has a law that says no one has to work more than 45 hours per week, but the country is semi-feudal, and company demands always trump Labor Standard law. If abused workers go to Labor standards, they usually win the case. But "winning" means a company gives you a small payment and you're a goner. Other companies then won't hire you and the awful specter of contract employment beckons. The whole country is so terrified of Japan Inc. that most kids go to a juku from the age of about 7 and the families spend the only money they have on education. This means they have nothing to spend on domestic consumption, which is part of the economic challenge the country faces. The education system only serves to perpetuate this vicious cycle. So way too many people die at their desks, end up with mental issues, jump in front of trains or just live in misery. It's horrendous and it won't change on any of our life times.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

born as human, raised to be a slave, exploited as a slave... died as a slave!! when japanese wake up and treat work as a form of getting money to live not live to work?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

ok, so a regular 40 hour work week is 160 hours a month. 100 unpaid overtime hours is like another 150 hours not paid for, at time and half for those hours, so the ratio looks to be 160/(160+150) or 51.6%. Yikes! They're wages are really half mine at twice the workload. The only productivity "miracle" is how they convinced people to be so gullible

As more companies force people to work part time due to stress or illness maybe they'll unionize. Something's got to give. People of Japan have clearly given enough.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

here is a story of a foreigner friend who lives in japan with his jp girlfriend. his gf was working full time as a nurse, full time means 6 days and alot unpaid overtime. he changed her mind and told her to give this full time work a flick. took awhile cos the manipulation is deep manifested in jp people. its the bonus they running after .... but giving up TIME. only one thing is running out in life thats TIME. she earned as full time nurse about 400 000 before taxes a month but almost zero time for herself plus taxes where high. now she just works casual job as nurse, where night shifts are paid 35000 a day !!! she just books whenever she wanna work via agency. working 2-3 night shifts a week brings in enuff money to live and got plenty of sparetime to do what ever they want.

8-10 night shifts a month about 260000 yen after tax !!!! rent is 70000 food and bills around 100000. still 90000 left. they save every month 50000 yen for a total of 600 000 per year and spent winter time 3 month in thailand where living is very cheap.

i doubt this kinda model of life is only possible in japan and should show its possible....

and yes it was tuff for the girl to declare herself as a loser cos she doesnt have permanent job and is just casual.... but deep inside she is laughing at them all..... shes got freedom!!! no politics at work... no overtime... no nothing... she comes and works when ever she booked to days via agency.

clever isnt it!!!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@ Dandy

Your mate sounds like me and my wife, we run our place at night but she nurses and i work elsewhere in the day both now part time. She was full time and took alot to get her to chill. Now we have a good balance and join income plus we have our own place and freedom to quit a pt job anytime plus no real boss. Feels sorry for the drones but like joy division said in "they walk in line" They made it through the whole machine, To never question anymore, Hypnotic trance, they never saw, They walked in line,

5 ( +5 / -0 )

From Fuben:

Overtime is bad. It is a symptom of something not working correctly.

Way back in November, BBC ran a piece entitled, "Why is hi-tech Japan using cassette tapes and faxes?"

One major point from this article is the vast majority of businesses are small, mom & pop, ones.

Those that run them are deeply entrenched Luddites. Nothing can be done.

So long as those small companies continue to feed the larger ones, the latter's company executives will not upgrade their methods to become more efficient, as they are run by the same like-minded people.

Furthermore, understand that becoming more efficient means the company would also become overstaffed. What then, mass lay-offs? Do you think the government, regardless of who controlled it, really wants to see a rise in unemployment?

So, it seems the status quo is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@kobe nice to see that others waking up as well and see what is really important in life.... its TIME.... live day by day and dont worry about what might happen in future.... there will be so many unforseen events in future ....

people wake up and make TIME priority, time for urself and time for ur kids and loved onces.... at the moment people just sell the only asset they really own.... thats TIME. what is TIME worth for you? many just give it away for almost nothing and get into the work/ bonus/shopping trap... free yourselfs from being a SLAVE and discover happiness along the way.

whole society needs to be changed!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I was taught there are only 3 reasons to do overtime in IT. An emergency, having too big a workload not being fully trained to do the job.

2 & 3 are easily fixed and is a managerial problem, 1 is unavoidable.

In my home country the law specifies we need to take a 2 week or longer holiday every year, minimum leave is 5 weeks. Same way paid OT is not accepted unless approved by the manager.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

sighclops, allow me to explain. I was referring to full-time employees. If you are hakken or itaku, you must pay for national health insurance, residence tax, pension, etc by yourself along with transportation. However, tedori (take home) and disposable income are 2 different things. If kurusupisu's friend is a full time employee, by law there is no way the company can automatically deduct 60,000 yen from her paycheck. If she is indeed a temp staff, perhaps she means she only has 120,000 yen in spending money after paying for taxes and transportation.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japanese people (and people of Japan) have to realise they are part of the problem. Workers from most advanced nations had to fight for their rights to be respected. Governments and bosses all around the world didn't magnanimously offer their people decent pays and working hours, ppl often had to take them by force.

For a country who prides itself for its homogeneity and unity I have always been surprised by the lack of solidarity between workers. They are expiatory victims of a system they have created.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@goldorak dont forget that the WW2 debt still needs to be repaid.... japan hold the most US bonds for no reason.... produces and exports alot but what is actually coming back? not much just overworked workers and cities falling apart... just go outside big cities in japan and you think you are in 2nd or 3th world countries....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Where the hell is Charles Dickens when you need him?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Peter Q,

I actually think there is something to the argument of overstaffing. When looking around, there a lot of seemingly pointless jobs around (those mandatory 3 glowing light stic-waving, old boys at every construction site comes to mind), and efficiency doesn't seem to be of any concern. My guess is that Japan is overpopulated (at least in urban areas) and it's better to have people employed, making money (and spending it) than hanging out on the streets doing nothing all day.

The problem with this approach is that the will to innovate and try to work smarter doesn't seem to be there at all. Top-down management rules and few people have the guts to take a fight with people higher up than them, questioning idiotic reasoning. In the end, this can't end well. Japan seems to somehow believe in its own economic wonder of yesteryear. What many people seem to have forgotten is that it was exactly because the innovated before that they got to where they are today. Innovation is key. You can't just run on old ideas and produce a slightly better washing machine or a little faster fax to keep going. Once in a while, you must take leaps.

Same thing goes for working. The thinking today in many ways seem to mirror that of the 60's but without any of the benefits from back then. The mentality of "love it or leave it" that is everywhere in this country also doesn't help, because if no one complains, change will never come. The whole menatlity feel very, very old.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

When I hear about 'Death by over work' I'm reminded of stories by the British industrial age writer Charles Dickens. I would recommend his works to anyone who is interested in social reform.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

i cant believe this horrible social systems still go on in one of advanced countries,maybe which cause more reduction of children the country will stand on in the future for economy. better to watch out for roads in front of you,these may be made of air, or you just lose your footsteps and fall into the bottom of ground, and you cant breathe anymore.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I wonder if the article mainly refers to Japanese companies, not foreign ones who don't have the traditional, drink-with-the-boss-after-work, overwork-your-employee-to-death culture. If that's the case, then perhaps Japanese workers should consider working for a foreign multinational instead. Some that I've heard of who did never looked back to working with a Japanese company again.

@Dandy Nice story. I think now we're starting to see a shift from permanent, full-time employees to freelancers and contractors. It's been going on in the US with what they call the "gig economy." Basically people are waking up to the fact that their time is more important and don't want to be chained to a life of desk work and monotony. I think some people in Japan are starting to see this option and lifestyle, and are slowly adopting it. Though this being Japan, it will take a while to change mindsets.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This time of year makes me sad. Seeing the freshman / freshwoman cannon fodder off to celebrate getting entry-level jobs on a long treadmill to ultimate disappointment (or in some cases an early death) is actually pretty depressing. So full of enthusiasm and life, only to be chewed up by Japan Inc, "for fear of something worse".

It's a horrible confidence trick to play on the young and optimistic - that getting into a top university, then fighting your way through more exams to get into a famous-name company will only result in you being treated like a slave with no right to life for the next 30+ years. And yet students still believe that this is somehow the best course in life.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

But when the country is run mostly for the benefit of big business it is no surprise that even smaller ones will also push the lack of regulation and oversight to the limit.

Actually, you have things backwards here. Labor regulations in Japan are among the most elaborate in the world. The problem is that Japan's business system is patriarchal, and based almost entirely by seniority, and almost never on performance. This protects the old men who run the companies, because in the Japanese business system, one has no authority in business until one becomes an old man.

The cost of seniority-based systems is that they are extremely inefficient. Since there is no incentive to perform, and no consequences for not performing, productivity are also low. When workers don't perform as efficiently as they can, it takes more workers to do a given task, and each task takes longer to complete. This is how we end up with workers staying at the office until late every night. And it is also why many departments have two or more managers to do the work that a single manager in America or Europe could do.

The end result of this system is a job where one must work long hours for little pay, enjoy little time off and short vacations, and bow to the grey-haired old men, even if you are smarter, work harder, and could do a better job than they could.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Yes, sangetsu03, on paper the regulations are strict and elaborate just like they are in many aspects of life in Japan. This is partly due to all the loopholes. But conveniently penalties are often tiny or non-existent or not enforced and oversight is lax or those who regulate are understaffed. In addition, the regulatory environment is often not for the sake of the presumed beneficiaries but for those who administer it or for show or so that there is always some regulation that has been transgressed should the authorities be looking for a reason to snoop or arrest or create a scene. Plus, historically, when the state and its agents were directing an industrial policy the regulations allowed some measure of bureaucratic control, but now that big business has gained much more power vis-a-vis the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats know where their retirement bread is buttered the regulations have just become guidelines. But they still sit there on the books. And from time to time someone can make use of them.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Good comments. It's hard for outsiders to understand what is going on when they just come by for a brief holiday, or to teach for a few years. Hence the giant "they are all so kind and polite aren't they" perception gap. Even among native English speakers who also speak Japanese you have a lot of "cultural ambassador" useful idiots who get by selling a rosier picture to people in the first group, or people who arrived already high enough in the corporate ladder that they don't have to deal with the really nasty shit directly.

Tokyo is a sick place. Love the food options, love the public transport (when it isn't rush hour), but god damn there is just so much exploitation and hopelessness. To experience it directly is really enraging. To know you are being screwed but can't really do much but plan an exit. To watch somebody you care for become really ill and seriously depressed from overwork.

Funny story. The J government funded three years of my graduate education at a J university. As a Japanese speaking ex monbusho scholar I'm now hoped to be somebody who will help contribute to relations between my country and Japan due to my better (and supposedly positive) understanding. Woops! Maybe if I'd left directly after graduation and hadn't really seen the inside of job-hunting and corporate slavery that might have worked. Unfortunately I have, so now I've been "radicalized" to feel quite the opposite.

Recent experience kind of encapsulates this weird divide between what a certain type of Japanese person wants me to think, and what I actually end up thinking. I got to know a guy whose dad is a rich old fellow that likes a nice whisky. Invites me to the old bar in Tokyo Imperial Hotel. He gets a kick out of talking to a Japanese speaking foreigner who can say politely nice things about his country, I get to show off a bit as you do, and drink some nice single malt for free. But it doesn't take long before, once they think you are "on their side" all the anti China, and Korea stuff comes out. The "comfort women" were all prostitutes. Nanjing massacre was a lie. Etc. etc. Japan was fighting a good fight for East Asian freedom. They know in the back of their heads that my partner is Chinese, but can't actually believe that I could both have a good understanding of Japan and Japanese, and at the same time not actually be a shin-nichi-ha, on "their side". Because they know Japan is great, and they know I know Japan, hence they know that I know Japan is great.... It's a funny experience getting fed the cool-aid when you are not just years into indifference but even a few years deep into bitterness and anger. Oh well. Was some great whisky.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

All those regulations are worth less than the paper they're printed on. Take, for example, the vacation days. Sure, all companies offer everyone the same number of paid holidays a year, but 1) it's in the employees own discretion to use them, and 2) the employee does not get reimbursed from unused holidays. Combine that with the subtle or not so subtle guilt tripping from using a paid holiday, and oh-boy...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, sangetsu03, on paper the regulations are strict and elaborate just like they are in many aspects of life in Japan. This is partly due to all the loopholes. But conveniently penalties are often tiny or non-existent or not enforced and oversight is lax or those who regulate are understaffed. In addition, the regulatory environment is often not for the sake of the presumed beneficiaries but for those who administer it or for show or so that there is always some regulation that has been transgressed should the authorities be looking for a reason to snoop or arrest or create a scene.

That is not entirely so. Look at the case where the 5 IBM employees who were fired for not working were awarded their jobs and three years salary because the court ruled that IBM was unjustified in firing them. I was involved with the company when the firings took place, and by the standards of anywhere in the world except Japan, these 5 men were more than worthy of losing their jobs. They did no work, did not improve after repeated warnings, and additional training, and when they still refused to work, they were fired. The laws you say are not enforced or carry little penalty were quite the opposite in this case.

It is because of the myriad rules and regulations that loopholes are exploited, and why companies hire fewer and fewer full-time workers.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

@Fuben What you are saying is the long way around what I said in my post @11:32am.

You are absolutely right about innovation. I've stated before about creativity, and tenacity, being drummed out of the general population, earnestly beginning in junior high school, with the 'pass-the-test' mentality. As far as a uni. degree is concerned, if it's not a law or medical, the company will put you where they see fit, which most likely not be where you can really shine. I believe this is done to further break the worker's spirit, to enforce the 'The Boss is God' mentality. So, the vicious cycle begins anew... As I posted @11:32am, the only way the hamster can "get of the 'crazy train' wheel" is revolution...

"United, We Stand! Divided, We Fall!" But here, a snowball has a better chance of surviving in the devil's den.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

RIP all those overworked to death.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Nice to hear that nurses can get a better deal by working through temping agencies. However, this should not be extrapolated into the idea that anyone can get better conditions by temping and can pick and choose their hours as they wish to fit a certain lifestyle. School teachers employed on a temporary basis through agencies can find themselves being paid solely for the lessons they teach. They end up on poverty wages. Like nurses, school teachers are qualified, skilled, and in demand. Just not as in demand as nurses by the sounds. The general trend in Japan is for staff on proper contracts (seiki) to get way better conditions than temps (hiseiki), even in the public sector which should take a lead in not abusing its employees, promoting women, etc.

As for the general topic, the government is completely spineless in enforcing Labour Law. Its response is to declare more national holidays that are then summarily ignored by all of the grey and black employers out there, just as they ignore the mandated holidays or overtime pay their staff should receive. The government is also not beyond public campaigns like "Fathers of Japan! Eat dinner with your family!" which guilt out individuals and do nothing to alleviate their situations.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I know a few nurses that stopped working at a hospital and now work for a 'Nurse station', easy hours as they only need to work a few days and visit X-patients at home. Most are married and got kids which helps them

They visit you for 30 minutes take your blood pressure, etc and the rest is talking how you feel, took your meds, etc, most run a weekly feedback to your doc or City-hall.

Great for pensioners, chronic patients, etc.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Where I work is an exception to the rule, my boss enforces this too; because an employee has a strong family life they can do good work, and because they do good work they can have a strong family life too. The attitude is if there is work to be done do it, if not go home. Dont stay because other people are working, stay if you have work.

NO ONE complains when someone takes vacation time, no one complains if a family obligation occurs and someone needs off.

They pay isnt the greatest, but it is a great place to work.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

i agree this kind is also happening in india in the last 15 years more chronically before acutely. cutting cost does not mean kill a man just to save some money, highly immoral and unethical ,so flaw lies in governance system obviously, present indian or earlier government too indulged in relaxation labor laws which was indeed very tough but today too lax laws, at what cost,one needs to imagine, i too as a professor emeritus law at Bombay university echo like your professors too sirs. we need to safeguard humans if not why sign UN Human rights conventions, not certainly to hoodwink.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

as the government is reluctant to recognise such incidents.

This statement rings true for A LOT of social issues in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Oh well. Was some great whisky.

Hey, at least you get the whisky! They don't even bother with me, just start spouting off the China/Korea stuff from the get-go. Obviously I'm a cheap date.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Lawyers and academic say unscrupulous employees operate a “bait-and-switch” policy, advertising a full-time position with reasonable working hours, but later offering the successful applicant a non-regular contract with longer hours, sometimes overnight or weekends, with no overtime pay.

Thomson Reuters probably meant "unscrupulous employers". The employees probably didn't have much say in the matter... even the HR department employees.

I probably wouldn't do well in a Japanese business. I would work 40 hour weeks with an OCCASIONAL (paid) overtime if needed. Once overtime started to become routine, I would be pointing out to my boss how it's actually cheaper to hire another personfull time (even with benefits) than to be paying me all that time and a half. If their overtime was expected to be "casual" (i.e. unpaid), then I'm working 40 hour weeks. おさきにしつれいします!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Don't make light of it, "Karoshi" is real - it's physiological stimulation upon the employee gone wrong, leading often to Suicides of those individuals or in my case, worse.... And, it's not just Japan.

It's not pay related, but pure mental torture - debasement, encouraging the feeling of worthlessness and of being trash - what hope can a person have for looking for a new job, when you're often made feel so low - it becomes an endless cycle of Despair, and inevitably leads to those who can find no way of pushing it to one-side, becoming engrossed in what they see as a dire inescapable situation - sadly resulting in their decision to end it all, by taking their own lives - whilst Management folks laugh (I've actually heard that, plus the jokes they've made!).

I work for a large Foreign Company, and as a Westerner have been subjected to that big time, and it's already had a devastating impact upon my own Family. I'd really like to take my current Company to Court and challenge them publicly, but there's no one out there who cares enough to listen & help, and more importantly, it's all circumstantial, which I'd imagine is the case with many others in my situation. I've offered to take a lower Salary too, since now they feel, I'm not performing, however they refuse stating that such a thing would be illegal, yet I still think I'm doing nothing wrong and believe there's a disconnect between my "Management" and my Internal local Clients, and never the twain will meet, regardless how much my local clients provide verbal & written support.

"Karoshi" is not just the "Japanese" way, but it's the way some management lines of thought have been encouraged to follow, either by Corporate Policy, or by peer Managers - it's a modern day form of Bullying, amd simply should not be allowed within the Modern Workplace - those mangers who practice it are rotten Managers, and deserve not to be Managers but instead should just be doing what they are good at. However that said, it appears to be prevelant.... :-(

Sadly, there is no motivation for change here, unless a new Law were to be introduced to hold Management legally responsible for every suicide of an employee under their control, perhaps that, would, make a few Corporations wake up and look internally upon what they do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The human costs of Japan Inc.'s conformist, feudalistic, repressive employment policies are great. Another serious cost is the derogation of entrepreneurship and economic vibrancy that such policies engender. Nobody wants to make a start-up. Nobody wants to take a risk on a new business venture. There is no mid-career market, so there is no pool of experienced professionals to help young entrepreneurs. And within major companies there is a complete lack of joy in competition, creativity, and risk-taking. We are already seeing past giants like Sharp and Sony decay due to the entrenched stagnation, inefficiency, and meaningless overwork in their companies.

Work SMART not hard. Don't work unpaid overtime shuffling papers in order to "fit in."

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Virtually all commentators here are, aside from wild exaggeration and in some cases being totally wrong, forgetting one major point. Salarymen are a small fraction of the Japanese workforce and Tokyo is only part of Japan, it is not the sum total of Japan.

I live in a part of Tokyo where a large fraction of the residents own their own small businesses. They have a very different life style from what is described here. I have also lived in provincial cities in Japan. Again, the life style is very different from what is being described here. Blue collar workers also have a very different life style from what is being described here.

Further, the situation in Japan is not necessarily worse than in "Western countries." Coming from the UK, I found the pay better and the hours shorter in my field in Japan than had been the case in Britain.

Some comments being made here are also just plain silly. For example,

After four years of university where you are taught almost no marketable skill

There is no shortage of university programs in Japan that give you marketable skills in engineering, the sciences and in medical fields including pharmacy. If you go to university in Japan and major in a subject that does not teach vocational skills, that is your responsibility just as it is in the US or the UK. Further, if you want an immediately marketable vocational skill in Japan, you can attend a senmon gakko.

Just look at Abe's recent "solution" to the nursery school crisis -- put more students in the same available nursery schools .... not build more, just cram more kids into the already packed and neglected schools that exist.

Raising the intake quota is an interim response. It is an obvious step given that it can take years to build new facilities because residents who don't want noisy daycare centers near their homes take legal action to stop construction. Additional daycare facilities have in fact been built during Abe's term. I checked the numbers. The government has in fact achieved just about what it initially said it would do. For the most part daycare centers that have had their quotas expanded are not "neglected" but rather quite new, the so-called mini-daycare centers that have come into being in the last few years.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I work at a sports arena in a group which is known for being strong. We carry heavy things around by hand all day. We work from 7am to 6pm every day. During golden week we work from 6am to 9pm. They pay overtime but imagine carrying 100kg+ things from that many hours.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japanese workers need to listen to some food for thoughts from people like

Jon Jandai



Jose 'Pepe' Mujica


I make less than average Japanese but have time, freedom and love for my family, that's how I roll and that's how people should roll if they want to be happy.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@ Danchan3

Nice post and you sounds like a good bloke, chin up and dont let the b**s beat ya.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear these types of stories is "Politicians don't work enough".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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