UPDATE: The article I linked to for this post is no longer working. I do apologize for that. I’m not sure if I can find a mirror to it.
I read an article in a business magazine a number of years ago about how a typical day at a Japanese office goes. From that point on I have been quite reactionary towards many of the customs I see at Japanese companies. It might have been the long working hours (60-80 hours), or the large number of people who never take their paid holidays that got to me the most. For me, a healthy balance between work time and home time was the key to a healthy mind and body. I could never figure out exactly why the Japanese would choose to submit themselves to such terrible working conditions.
A couple of days ago, during my lunch break, I read this aritcle on the daily routine of an average Japanese worker. The writer of the article appears to have worked in Japanese companies for many years. I have also seen many of the things he talks about in the offices I have worked for. One thing from this article that shocked me was the idea of Japanese workers building strong connections with each other in the office. I can confirm this, since I see it almost everyday. I have also never seen a Japanese person fired for any reason during my time here. I can also attest to the superior craftsmanship of Japan cars, and electronics. JR trains are also almost never late. That is a testament to its workers.
So why do I get so agitated about Japanese working hours? It appears that many great things come from the dedication of the workers. It is, perhaps, that I am not part of that system. As an outsider, I sit on the sidelines. I don’t work the overtime they do, nor am I part of the lifetime employment(my contract is always a maximum of three years.) I am also not part of many of the bonding exercises they go through(I do go to the parties, however.) Perhaps an small part of me want to feel welcome in that. Even if I disagree with the conditions, no one wants to be on the outside looking in. Even if the inside resembles a sweatshop sometimes.
One final thing I noted with my coworkers is that they take a great deal of pride in their work. I can’t say they are always happy with the long hours and endless meetings. But the teachers I work with seem to have no regets about staying in the office until 10 or 11. They truly love their jobs, and would probably fight to keep them. I can’t think of a job I’ve ever wanted to fight to keep.
This article has left me a bit speechless. I was all ready to march into the Japanese Labour Ministry and demand labor rights. Now I realize that while individual rights could use some reform, a mass overhaul of the system might lead to a catastrophic change in an established and valuable work culture. This is something that has already begun to happen, no thanks to the invasion of western ideals. I suppose my awareness has been heightened on this matter. Someday I might even be game for an 80 hour work week. Just as long as they let me go drinking with them afterwards.