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JR West punished staff with toilet duty, cutting weeds

57 Comments

West Japan Railway (JR West) was ordered on Wednesday to compensate train drivers and staff for forcing them to clean toilets and cut weeds as punishment for train delays and other lapses.

Japanese trains are world-renowned for their punctuality -- but strict and punitive management measures have also been cited as a factor behind Japan's worst train crash in decades, which claimed 107 lives in 2005 when a train belonging to the same firm derailed.

The Osaka District Court ordered JR West to pay a total of 6.2 million yen to 61 train drivers and other staff for its controversial practice of "nikkin kyoiku" or "dayshift education."

It involved re-training sessions for employees responsible for train delays, overrunning stops by several meters and other infractions.

Judge Satoshi Nakamura found JR West acted "beyond the company's discretion" when it ordered staff to clean toilets or cut grass and weeds.

"It infringed on personal rights and was illegal," the Jiji Press news agency quoted Nakamura as saying.

The judge also ruled that it was "inappropriate as a form of education" when JR West ordered an employee to attend re-training for over five months for running three minutes late at work, public broadcaster NHK said.

A total of 258 staff brought the lawsuit in 2006 -- the year after a JR West train jumped the tracks at a curve and ploughed into an apartment building, killing 107 people, including 23-year-old driver Ryujiro Takami.

There have been claims that Takami, who had been reprimanded for running behind schedule before, had been speeding because his train was running late again.

A government panel in a 2007 report cited "nikkin kyoiku" as a reason for the disaster. JR West vowed to improve management practices after the accident.

© 2011 Agence France-Presse

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

57 Comments
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“It infringed on personal rights and was illegal,” the Jiji Press news agency quoted Nakamura as saying.

ahh, but texting while operating the train, speeding and just doing whatever comes out of their asses is NOT?? LOL Some of these "poor operators have caused passengers to die unnecessarily...period. So they don't need reprimands, re-education?? ahh shouganai ne!

Welcome to Japan

-18 ( +3 / -21 )

when it ordered staff to clean toilets or cut grass and weeds.

They don't hire landscapers to attend to the Lawncare? A cleaning service staff should take care of the bathrooms. Why doesn't JR just contract those jobs to a cleaning and a lawncare company.

As far as punishment goes. Children are punished with EXTRA chores. Adults in order to keep their jobs it's not a horrible task enough to lose your head over but repeated punishments are just out of hand really. I guess that could cause anxiety.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

“inappropriate as a form of education” I agree. Bullies use such excuses to make their victims subservient. Obviously a person's abuse of authority is a sign of own weaknesses.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

@orange - agree completely. it has been my experience with bullies from any culture.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

“inappropriate as a form of education” I agree. Bullies use such excuses to make their victims subservient. Obviously a person's abuse of authority is a sign of own weaknesses.

Orange -- absolutely. Comforting to know the management at JR West sees the big picture. But that's the whole point. When you are put in a position of authority, well beyond your skill set, you focus on the minutia as a defense mechanism. And handing out corporal punishment makes you at least feel like you are actually in charge.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

This is one reason why Japanese trains are more punctual than European trains.

Where was the workers' union in all this? 6.2 million yen is nothing for JR.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

When you are put in a position of authority, well beyond your skill set, you focus on the minutia as a defense mechanism. And handing out corporal punishment makes you at least feel like you are actually in charge.

Very very TRUE!!

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

I only hope that people in similar situations in other companies find the gumption to bring their own lawsuits against their companies and bosses. I know from personal experience what it's like to have to do crap like this and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it's just the tip of the iceberg.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

While I don't really think cleaning a toilet is so bad, I hate the way in general society people yell at and demean those below them.

Japanese go overboard with this "tough love" approach. Just last weekend I saw a young kid berated over being a little out of time in a marching band practice. I can understand teachers, coaches, bosses getting mad about total rebellion and willful defiance, but this getting hysterical over honest mistakes really gets to me.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Off topic I know, but I think instead of having toilet cleaners, all staff should take turns at it. Might make people learn how to use them properly.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

They don't hire landscapers to attend to the Lawncare? A cleaning service staff should take care of the bathrooms. Why doesn't JR just contract those jobs to a cleaning and a lawncare company.

Simple - money. While I dont necessarily disagree with the staff sharing the job on a rota system as Yasukuni suggested, to do it as a form of "retraining" is patently ridiculous. What do you learn?

When you are put in a position of authority, well beyond your skill set, you focus on the minutia as a defense mechanism. And handing out corporal punishment makes you at least feel like you are actually in charge.

This, plus orange`s comment, is quite possibly the most insightful thing I have ever read about Japan.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

And handing out corporal punishment makes you at least feel like you are actually in charge.

There is no corporal punishment mentioned in this article.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I agree with yasukuni, just because someone cleans a toilet doesn't mean they are low form. I have actually seen this activity at JR station in Kansai. It looked like bullying to me. A man in a smart uniform stood over 2 highly submissive staff as they scrubbed the urinals with little brushes similar to toothbrushes. It wasn't about cleaning as the tools were inappropriate...rather humiliation. (for me too, try doing your business with two men on their hands and knees in front of you).

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

There is no corporal punishment mentioned in this article.

Sioux Chef -- fair enough. Should be more accurately described as "deliberately demeaning" punishment.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

@ Asagao

A man in a smart uniform stood over 2 highly submissive staff as they scrubbed the urinals with little brushes similar to toothbrushes. It wasn't about cleaning as the tools were inappropriate...rather humiliation.

You are right, that straight up degradation. I would have thought the employees were given the proper tools for the task. Instead they are being demeaned into feeling degraded. How horrible.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I have mixed feelings about this. But I suppose a company should not treat its employees like children while the company plays the role of wicked step-mother. And surely with trains, safety should come first, not the clock.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Japan has a long way to go here, people are human and putting peoples lives at risk from overstressed train drivers is not the best.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

This kind of abuse is counterproductive. Training on simulators and having mentors ride in the cockpit are the best ways of addressing problems with performance.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Japanese trains are world-renowned for their punctuality

Yeah, Japanese trains are punctual when there are no problems. as soon as you get even a tiny problem everything gets messed-up. A few days ago the train line I use stopped ALL trains on the line for 10 minutes or so because a train at a station had a problem and they didn't want to mess up the time gap between trains. So, instead of just ONE train being late, ALL trains running on that line were late. Great logic there! And it wasn't even out in the sticks, it was the Toyoko line.

If train companies actually suffered from trains being late, then I can see why they did this “nikkin kyoiku” thing.

I find is hypocritical of train companies who charge the families of suicides by trains the cost of the clean-up and "meiwaku" to passengers, but whenever a train is late- I've been on many that have been delayed by 30 minutes or over an hour, all they do is keep giving the same empty apology.

I don't see how cleaning toilets or cutting weeds is going to make you a better train driver. I can understand them sending them back to have lessons again- if they are continually late, then there must be some problem.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Some people are always singing the praised of JR, being allegedly so "safe" - but I think this story indicates what type of joint it is - grubby.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

We are talking about adults being demeaned and insulted. This is not the way to manage healthy work environment. Why do these workers put up with this? I would be throwing some haymakers.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

I have mixed feelings about this as well. While the fear of punative measures may have been a factor in the train operator speeding to the point of a horrific crash in 2005, how is being forced to clear toilets or pull weeds any more a debilitating painful concern for lax employees than, say, being fired?

It makes little sense that in the absence of a living scapegoat to blame for the crash, people seem to be tripping over themselves to hold JR accountable for having the audacity to (gasp!) discipline its employees for screwing up.

And pulling weed or cleaning restrooms is degading?! Methinks some folks have entirely too high an opinion of their place on this planet.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

I don't see how “nikkin kyoiku" per se could have been a cause of the disaster. The conductor Takami was forced to take rounds of punitive busywork days or weeks before it happened, but that is sort of a roundabout way of saying he should have had retraining that focused on train driving skills instead. What led to the derailment directly was the policy of JR West measuring delays in seconds and pressing workers to make up the difference under an impossibly tight timetable.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

The reason this happens is because most J employees have no backbone. If people actually stood and spoke out for a change, things just 'might' start to eventually change.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

So these guys get a few hundred bucks each, and what do you want to bet face punitive measures soon after the eyes are off JR West? I'm sure they'll be relegated to menial tasks as JR continues to mete out insulting punishments for its own stupidity.

But do any management get a reprimand for this? Anyone fired? Nope. 6.2 million yen is chicken feed for a company of this size, and once again the minor slap on the wrist is far, far less than the money they save by making people go through 'day-shift education'. Make it 6 million yen EACH, plus firing and/or jailing of those managers responsible and we might just make some grounds into stopping this sort of practice.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I wonder if I could sue my high school. I often got punishments cleaning the school especially the spider infested cellar.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

MrDog A few days ago the train line I use stopped ALL trains on the line for 10 minutes or so because a train at a station had a problem and they didn't want to mess up the time gap between trains. So, instead of just ONE train being late, ALL trains running on that line were late. Great logic there!

It's not a matter of messing up the time gap between trains. It is a matter of keeping all the following trains from not catching up to each other and possibly crashing. This is logic.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

It's not a matter of messing up the time gap between trains. It is a matter of keeping all the following trains from not catching up to each other and possibly crashing. This is logic.

Er... no. "Logic" would be stopping all the trains BEHIND the one with the problem so "all the following trains from not catching up to each other and possibly crashing". Why should trains in front of the problem be stopped for something that doesn't affect it?? The ones in front of the problem are running on time. Why should they be stopped?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

er um maybe this could kick in the no nuclear energy feeling-change trains back to (is it called) steam engines. They really made the train ride fun. Or stimulate the car business. Or better yet, anyone for cowboy trends? Try cleaning a horses lot of crap up! Bwhaha. Thatd really make JR peeved doncha reckon. Quick, quick clean it up! Dont let anybody see the crap where that horse was parked. They could even possibly get good at timing it, bwhahaha. Too funny; but unfortunately too real.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

MrDog Jul. 28, 2011 - 10:11AM JST Er... no. "Logic" would be stopping all the trains BEHIND the one with the problem so "all the following trains from not catching up to each other and possibly crashing". Why should trains in front of the problem be stopped for something that doesn't affect it?? The ones in front of the problem are running on time. Why should they be stopped?

The problem MrDog is that there are literally thousands of trains operating across the country with inter-related schedules, and railway lines are not like freeways with separate lanes for traffic going different ways. In many places there's just a single track and trains take turns according to the schedule. When something goes wrong you have to stop everything and recalculate all the schedules, then double-check them because a miscalculation could-result in two super-express trains colliding at 140km/hr. You also have to determine why the train stopped, because if it's a problem with the track between point X and Y resulting in damage to the train then all that pushing traffic through would do is multiply the problem.

Does that explain the problem to you and why it's necessary to stop everything? It's really not rocket science.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Does that explain the problem to you and why it's necessary to stop everything? It's really not rocket science.

Why do trains that are on time get affected? Delaying them would cause more problems. Delay the train with the problem and those behind it. Stopping everything, even trains that are on time and would cause no problems "a miscalculation could-result in two super-express trains colliding at 140km/hr. "

You also have to determine why the train stopped, because if it's a problem with the track between point X and Y resulting in damage to the train

So why stop trains that have already passed between point X and Y?

then all that pushing traffic through would do is multiply the problem.

I never said anything about pushing traffic though. See above. It's really not rocket science.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

The reason this happens is because most J employees have no backbone. If people actually stood and spoke out for a change, things just 'might' start to eventually change

I agree with you but to be fair to most Japanese workers they CANT actually speak out - the ones that do will be labelled troublemakers and can kiss goodbye to any dreams of career progression. The only way this could work is a) if ALL workers got together and spoke out or b) these practices were outlawed in the first place and ENFORCED - this case is a start but this practice is commonplace in many J businesses.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I really hate that the trains stop at midnight, seems like the government wants everyone in bed by this time and the taxi union can gets some much needed money. If ATM's and combini's can stay open why can't trains... I understand maintenance needs to be done sometimes but on every track every night?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Guess the Osaka court had a lapse & forgot who bullying is part/parcel of being Japanese!

A lot of idiocy goes on in companies here, this blurb is but a tiny example, but a good reminder why I never wanted to be a salary dude, that life sucks bad for far far too many people, but if the locals dont want to change then they have to deal with it, simple as that. Sadly very few at the top or bottom of J-companies or in between have a clue how they cud make ALL their lives easier, better, more fufilling...........shoganai ne!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

MrDog: "Why should trains in front of the problem be stopped for something that doesn't affect it?? The ones in front of the problem are running on time. Why should they be stopped?"

I actually agree with you for a change, save of course if it's the actual LINE that's causing the problem (ie. not the train).

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I really hate that the trains stop at midnight, seems like the government wants everyone in bed by this time and the taxi union can gets some much needed money.

The government no longer controls JR and I doubt it's their doing. I think it has to do more with demand and operational costs. They probably can't get enough customers at night to justify keeping the trains running. During the New Year's holiday, trains run all night but they're actually pretty crowded during that period.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

”The reason this happens is because most J employees have no backbone. If people actually stood and spoke out for a change, things just 'might' start to eventually change”

This is of course how we, westerners, thing about it. In Japan, as Miamum said, it simply does not work. You don't get fired, you just get more humiliated and downgraded to menial jobs.

I agree with a form a punishment for being late, etc., but this should be done "adults way": a cut in pay, proportional with the offense. humiliation leads to all kind of problems, worsening the morale of the employers and ending up boosting those numbers for depression and suicide

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Using such measures to discipline employees is a sign of weak and ineffective leadership. Training (re-training in this case) should focus on correcting performance deficiencies and improving the productivity of employees. I'm sure that dispite this lawsuit, this kind of thing continues today.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Er... no. "Logic" would be stopping all the trains BEHIND the one with the problem so "all the following trains from not catching up to each other and possibly crashing". Why should trains in front of the problem be stopped for something that doesn't affect it?? The ones in front of the problem are running on time. Why should they be stopped?

Because the same trains that take you to Shibuya are the same ones that take you back to Motomachi-Chukugai and back again. The trains run like a chain link with some overlapping for the express so a stoppage in any one place affects the whole line. The trains times are also set up precisely so that express trains overlap the locals at the right stations and putting a large gap between the broken-down train and the one in front will just lead to chaos afterwards as they try to realign everything.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"I really hate that the trains stop at midnight, seems like the government wants everyone in bed by this time and the taxi union can gets some much needed money."

I'm happy when I have to stay in a hotel next to the station. So there may be noise regulation laws as well. Actually overnight trains are not common anywhere in Japan. Have you ever seen an official sleeping car ? They may only be available on some of the long-distance trains to Hokkaido and Kyushu.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I agree with a form a punishment for being late, etc., but this should be done "adults way": a cut in pay, proportional with the offense. humiliation leads to all kind of problems, worsening the morale of the employers and ending up boosting those numbers for depression and suicide

Bang on there! But the locals need to RECOGNISE IT, and do something, but most of the time these absurd practices are left in place, its every where & it wears the ENTIRE country down imo.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Pretty simple really make a screw up at work with JR and you'll end up in the sh!t literally

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

This train of thought (pardon the pun) behind this sort of abuse is indicative in all traditional hierarchical Japanese companies. Labor violations abound yet are ignored and/or unreported. Unpaid overtime the norm and workers are treated like disposable cogs and this kind of treatment is against regular Japanese. Imagine the kind of treatment non-Japanese receive in these sorts of companies.

This all contributes to the large amounts of undue stress induced on the general populace which help to propagate further social problems. Workers feel powerless when exploited in these sorts of situations and with the economy the way it is they feel they have no choice but to comply. Guess who become the convenient scapegoats to direct the anger felt from their exploited positions at work?

The logic behind punishing workers this way is "learned subservience to the company" but it is also to save the company money on maintenance at the same time. Hell, even if the staff didn't do anything wrong, you can make something up however minor to "punish" them in order to get some free maintenance done. They're on salary after all? The flip side is that they get to do the same thing to their inferiors once they are promoted and the circle of life continues. To make sure they do not think about, make it as humiliating as possible. To be fair, I have seen regular cleaning staff in uniform around major stations but minor stations probably have the regular staff taking turns doing the maintenance, some of which are lacking and are grimy as hell.

You gotta wonder what those executives and managers do all day talking among themselves...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This kind of abuse is counterproductive. Training on simulators and having mentors ride in the cockpit are the best ways of addressing problems with performance.

as well as bieng every oyaji's dream...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Now they've got no excuse when their wives 'ask them nicely' to get off the sofa and do it at home

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I think the punishment was appropriate.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

MrDog: "Why should trains in front of the problem be stopped for something that doesn't affect it?? The ones in front of the problem are running on time. Why should they be stopped?"

I actually agree with you for a change, save of course if it's the actual LINE that's causing the problem (ie. not the train).

If it's the line that's the problem, then of course they should stop all trains.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Yeah ... I agree with JapanToday ^^: Another great article from JapanToday

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I feel for those guys, Japanese old style business practices must die! Japan when will you learn to move on!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Punishing drivers for the train they are operating not arriving at a station on time is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of.

I

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Punishing drivers for the train they are operating not arriving at a station on time is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of."

Exactly. Which begs the question, precisely what kind of 're-training' exists to correct a person's propensity to be late? The kid (and he really was a kid) who crashed the train and killed all of those people, himself included, most certainly did not speed out of control out of a fear of having to clean toilets or pull weeds. Weed pulling and toilet cleaning are NOT the problem here.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

So what the punishment be for being late? Or being on their phones? Pay deductions? Sorry but if they are late, it is the driver's fault unless there is an accident or earthquake. Follow the schedule and be done with it. How is this any different than teachers giving detention or extra work?

Mind you, JR needs to deal with the scheduled hours. Rather frightening when you look at how little sleep some of these guys get.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Once someone tried this on me and I simply said no thank you...so they fired me on the spot. I went home and had a nice relaxing beer.

Small money aint worth being bullied and humiliated.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Working for JR isn't small money, though. It's one of those now rare and highly coveted "employment for life" positions that pays employees in their 20s an average salary of US$88,000 annually. Employees who stay on with the company into their 30s can expect to take home US$123,000 annually. I could get behind cleaning some toilets and pulling some weeds in lieu of losing my $88,000 per year job.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I guess if you want the paycheck you do what you're asked to do. If you don't like it you can find a job somewhere else.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

According to nenshu.net the starting salary for a university graduate in JR East is 215000 yen a month (top end of the national average) and the overall average annual salary is 6.9 million yen. That's certainly more than the average 4.3 million Mr Salaryman takes home, but it isn't in spitting distance of the 9.5 million that $123,000 works out at.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If they were to take on that practice with Okinawan bus company drivers, there would be a lot of clean toilets and cut grass in Okinawa!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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