Karoshi: Japanese for dying TO work, AT work, and BECAUSE of work.
March 8, 2015 8:29 AM   Subscribe

The Japanese government is attempting to end Japan's culture of "death by overwork" (now known as karoshi) by moving to make it illegal to not take mandatory paid vacation days. Why won't Japanese workers go on vacation? The Japanese work some of the longest hours in the world and fear taking paid holidays in case they are ostracised by colleagues. The stress is so extreme that every year thousands of workers succumb to “karoshi”, or “death by overwork”. They either commit suicide (the see suicide as salvation), or die of a stroke or a heart attack. The Japanese are literally dying for work and the phenomenon is spreading to other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Bangladesh. A "chapter" of the award winning documentary "Happy" (now on Netflix and other online venues) looks at this Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi. HAPPY (trailer here) takes you on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real life stories of people from around the world and powerful interviews with the leading scientists in happiness research, HAPPY explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.
posted by spock (50 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 


Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons.

I'm sure that's all true but there's also a large amount of actual prostitution in Japan. Like, a LARGE amount. Though I heard most of it's paid for with company expense accounts.
posted by subdee at 9:05 AM on March 8, 2015


subdee: I'm sure that's all true but there's also a large amount of actual prostitution in Japan. Like, a LARGE amount. Though I heard most of it's paid for with company expense accounts.

One of the things that pisses me off the most about overwork culture, both in the US and abroad, is that it's nearly always combined with being completely unprofessional. You cannot convince me that those 80 hours a week are actually necessary when you are blowing company money at strip clubs, or surfing facebook endlessly, or spending work time on the golf course. At that point, you obviously don't actually care about the business, and it's all just a control game.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:27 AM on March 8, 2015 [38 favorites]


I think that Japanese corporate culture has been based a lot on the idea of teamwork and building a community among co-workers, and all that work-related socializing stuff is seen as a community-building exercise. I'm not defending it, because it is very much my idea of hell, but it's not so much that it's unprofessional as that there are different ideas about professionalism.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:38 AM on March 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: I think that Japanese corporate culture has been based a lot on the idea of teamwork and building a community among co-workers, and all that work-related socializing stuff is seen as a community-building exercise. I'm not defending it, because it is very much my idea of hell, but it's not so much that it's unprofessional as that there are different ideas about professionalism.

And, the people paying for prostitutes with company expense accounts? Are they being hired for a team-building exercise? I rather hope not.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:06 AM on March 8, 2015


Yes, you're right, golf outings are exactly the same as paying for prostitutes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:25 AM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The people paying with the company expense accounts are often the bosses... and they do it to build teamwork and reward the team as ArbitraryAndCapricious said....
posted by subdee at 10:44 AM on March 8, 2015


Though also there's lots of different kinds of sex work so probably unfair to call most of it "prostitution". Hope I didn't poison the conversation too much here, it's just that what struck me the most about Tokyo was how *many* red light districts there really were.
posted by subdee at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: Yes, you're right, golf outings are exactly the same as paying for prostitutes.

Well, it's a difference of degree, not type. The problem is the decoupling between the idea of spending time at work and the idea of getting work done; if you are working long hours but people are doing golf bullshit on the clock, they didn't really need you to be working those long hours.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:03 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


You cannot convince me that those 80 hours a week are actually necessary when you are blowing company money at strip clubs, or surfing facebook endlessly, or spending work time on the golf course.

I spent more than a decade in Japan — a good chunk of it in pre-and-early-WWW days. The people working really hard were not goofing off and calling it "work." They were caught in a bullying culture of having to show up before the boss, stay later than the boss, and complete project X on time, "or else." The latter claimed a friend and former student of mine a few years back.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 11:08 AM on March 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


The majority of this is more what Dodecadermaldenticles says -- everyone wants to be first in and last out, because otherwise it looks bad. This leads to a gradual lengthening of the work day and a combination of hard work and, when there's not work, just killing time at work to not be the first to leave.

This is a difference of degree with America, of course, which also has this but not to the same level of pressure in most cases.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:30 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


work-related socializing stuff is seen as a community-building exercise

Doing Business In Japan:
The company is your private life. All friends you’ve made since your school days almost by definition work for your company, because you spend substantially every waking hour officially at work or at quote leisure unquote with people from work. When you get off work rather early, like 7:30 PM, you’ll be strongly encouraged to go out to dinner and/or drinks with bosses, coworkers, and/or business acquaintances. (The company is buying, either directly via an expense account or indirectly via a “The most senior person pays and their salary has been precisely calibrated to accommodate this” cultural norm.) Like karaoke and golf? Wonderful, you’ll have an excellent time with the other salarymen, who have either perfected the skill of liking karaoke and golf or seeming to like karaoke and golf when invited out by colleagues.
I read that article a few months ago, and I thought it was really interesting. It's apparently by an American who got a salaryman position or something close, and then left it to found a startup (in Japan).
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


All these articles make Japan seem like a really uncomfortable place to be trying to make a life as a 30-something right now. Old fashioned gender mores not keeping place with modern requirements, working themselves to death and at the same time perfecting the use of robots to replace themselves. I guess one does follow the other, that might be what I would do in such a situation.
posted by bleep at 11:45 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I being naive in thinking that a quirky young business that stuck to a strict 9 to 5 business day could attract some seriously amazing talent just because of the sane business hours? Or is the work culture so toxic that even employees would find the idea wrong and unworkable?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:59 AM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Am I being naive in thinking that a quirky young business that stuck to a strict 9 to 5 business day could attract some seriously amazing talent just because of the sane business hours?

heck, you could even try that in San Francisco or Manhattan. Except that you perhaps have a naive faith in the marginal productivity of "rock stars."

Note that the figures on who is working more than 49 hours a week is based on survey data in the US. If you are salaried and not eligible for overtime in the US , no one is keeping track of your hours and survey data is based on what you are willing to report, or even aware of to report. If you are checking and writing email all weekend, are you reporting that or not if someone asks?

The japanese may have a different language for talking about social pressure, but there are lots of early heart attacks in finance and corporate/industrial law in the US.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every time I read about this I wonder how long I'd last in that sort of environment. A year? A few months? Until lunch?
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:25 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Am I being naive in thinking that a quirky young business that stuck to a strict 9 to 5 business day could attract some seriously amazing talent just because of the sane business hours?

Reminds me of the Treehouse post from not long ago.
posted by fermezporte at 12:32 PM on March 8, 2015


Whenever I read articles about Japanese work culture where people have to work 80 hours a day and are forced to go out and drink with their coworkers, I'm like "Isn't that the same as working at an investment bank in New York?"

Obviously there are some major differences - nobody in the US has the misconception they'll work for the same company for the rest of their lives, or that the company won't toss them aside like an old sock when they are no longer needed - but the concept of "face time" is 100% the same at US investment banks. Those people at banks who tell stories of working 80, 90 hours a day aren't ACTUALLY working continuously the entire time - they have tons of downtime and are just sitting around "on call." Why can't they just be on call and log in from home then? Because of the culture.

Same goes for the socializing - drinks and dinner are such an integral part of the business culture of NYC I can't imagine what people would do otherwise. And every US company I've worked for has "team drinks" or "team outings" or (shiver) "team retreats" that you're basically not seen as a "team player" if you don't go to. If you're at a team dinner and they order shots for the entire table? Don't drink it when everyone else is, NOT A TEAM PLAYER. Alcohol is such a part of the business culture of NYC I can't imagine what you would do if you didn't drink. "I'm on a cleanse"(shiver) seems to work, but only temporarily. Even the people who are nominally followers of religions which forbid alcohol tend to drink if they work in NYC.
posted by pravit at 12:36 PM on March 8, 2015


Whenever I read articles about Japanese work culture where people have to work 80 hours a day and are forced to go out and drink with their coworkers, I'm like "Isn't that the same as working at an investment bank in New York?"
Yeah, I think so. The difference is that nobody has to work in an investment bank in New York, and lots of people in the US decide to pursue different career paths because that lifestyle doesn't appeal to them. There aren't as many other options in Japan, at least for white-collar workers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:40 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Office work isn't really all that great. I tried it. I don't get why people want to do it for so many hours at a time.....
posted by thelonius at 12:44 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


thelonius: Office work isn't really all that great. I tried it. I don't get why people want to do it for so many hours at a time.....

What's the alternative, poverty? Not everyone has the knack for trades or the (significant) resources required to get started in them. Not like that would be a solution, anyway; the only reason the trades pay decently now is because they aren't overloaded, and if they did you'd see pressure either depressing wages, forcing people to work crazy hours, or both.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:56 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think so. The difference is that nobody has to work in an investment bank in New York, and lots of people in the US decide to pursue different career paths because that lifestyle doesn't appeal to them. There aren't as many other options in Japan, at least for white-collar workers.

well, there's always law.

the stat is 22% work > 49 hrs in Japan vs. 16% in the US. I bet that's close to the margin of error for these kind of statistics. And I have a suspicion that Japanese statistics are better reported than in the US where the social contract for white collar work depends on workers not really acknowledging that they are working 60 hrs and getting paid for 40.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:12 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Requiring the time off by law is well intentioned, I guess, but who's got the burden of actually doing that? The worker? Great, you just put them in an awkward spot. Expect to see people putting in leave slips but showing up anyway off the record. I'd hate to be the first person to insist on actually using my leave. But any little bit helps, I guess.

I think this can really only start to change by tying it to public safety. You'd have to require by law say, 10 hours between shifts and two days off a week, and put the burden of compliance on the employer. The company shouldn't be able to say well, it was voluntary overtime. They should have a positive duty to prevent the worker from overworking. I have no idea how Japanese civil law works, but companies should be liable for damages outside of work (crashing car, etc) caused by fatigue if the company is ignoring the time off rules.
posted by ctmf at 1:15 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also I wanted to link to the excellent Doing Business in Japan (also on mefi previously) which helped me understand Japanese work culture a bit better. From everything I've read, it seems like if you work for a Japanese company, you dedicate your life to the firm under the expectation the firm will take care of you and your family. And when you read about things like Sony's "boredom rooms", that really does seem to be the case. It's basically Confucianism in a nutshell - be a faithful servant to your master, and the master takes care of you and protects you. The societal obligation goes both ways, not only one way like in the US.

In contrast, if you work at a big company in the US, you're basically expected to dedicate your life to the firm with the understanding that they can kick you out onto the street at a moment's notice. You owe them everything and they don't owe you jack shit. One day you're happily employed at MegaCorp and the next day you're struggling to find a job wearing the scarlet letter of unemployment. So sure, I guess our labor market is more efficient and "dynamic" or whatever, but it's not necessarily a preferable arrangement from a quality of life standpoint.

And of course people talk about Japan's economic stagnation for 20 years and blah blah blah, but if you actually go there, it seems like a nice place to live - at least from a tourist's perspective. The infrastructure is brand new and clean. Things just work. Service is excellent. Economic inequality is among the lowest in the developed world. It certainly doesn't seem like some place which has been stagnating for 20 years - in contrast, knowing nothing about the world, I might have assumed that of the US flying into Newark and riding the NJ transit back.

I dunno, it's kind of funny there are a lot of people on Metafilter who are nostalgic about the "good old days" in the US when you could just work for one company for the rest of your life, when they basically still have that in Japan...except for the whole company owning your entire life part.
posted by pravit at 1:19 PM on March 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


where the social contract for white collar work depends on workers not really acknowledging that they are working 60 hrs and getting paid for 40.

Or getting paid crappily for 168 hours and getting away with working "only" 60, another way of looking at it for the FLSA-exempt.
posted by ctmf at 1:21 PM on March 8, 2015


if you work at a big company in the US, you're basically expected to dedicate your life to the firm with the understanding that they can kick you out onto the street at a moment's notice.

It's a relationship of convenience: they can boot me and I can leave and no one feels bad about it. I know far more people that have a company for a better opportunity than have gotten fired.
posted by jpe at 1:37 PM on March 8, 2015


Its also true that sure, it's not dramatically worse than the US. But thats just because the US is also on the "bad end" of things with respect to this situation. Compare either Japan or the US to, say, France and you'll see a much bigger difference.

There are a ton of cultural factors that make a direct comparison difficult, and as pravit said there are different tradeoffs between the US and Japan as well, but both are on the high end of "hours worked" and not taking / not having vacations. If you look at global averages for developed countries, neither is going to stand out as awesome.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:40 PM on March 8, 2015


According to my friend the long hours happen because deadlines are imposed from above and if you want to push back a deadline you have to take it alllll the way up the chain of command. So people just stay until as long as it takes to meet the project deadline.
posted by subdee at 3:19 PM on March 8, 2015


One of the things that's really weird is that before coming to Japan I read articles like this and, as an American, it was so alien. So completely divorced from American culture. When I first started thinking about having kids, I was thinking "Do I really want them to grow up in this work culture?" In the twenty years I've been here, things have gotten slightly better. But the impression I've gotten from everything I've read on metafilter is that the situation in the US has undergone a massive change, and the modern Japanese work culture and modern US work culture really don't differ all that much.
posted by Bugbread at 3:22 PM on March 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


My brother-in-law works as the research director of a niche pharmaceutical company. He works at a branch office out in the countryside. He walks to work, and often goes fishing before work. He doesn't work weekends.

My sister-in-law is a senior manager in local government. She often works until 11pm, and works Saturdays. It has gotten worse over the past five years.

It can be really hard to generalize when it comes to Japan. It's not a homogeneous, monolithic culture actually.
posted by Nevin at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Slightly off topic, but the other area where I notice the same shift is education. Before coming to Japan, reading about how it is all cramming and memorization in order to pass entrance exams, it was all so incredibly different from the exploratory education I had in the US. And now everything I read on MeFi says US schools are all about teaching for the test for No Child Left Behind. Certainly not anywhere as much cramming as in Japan, but the same type of education.)
posted by Bugbread at 3:41 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


The concept of Karoshi gained steam during the years of the bubble economy. Yes, overwork and suicide live on, despite the collapse of the bubble, and remain deeply ingrained social problems in the metropolitan areas. Yet there's a counter-trend in the Japanese economy that comes from years of zero-to-negative growth, deflation, and job losses. It's the trend of underemployment--of occasional, part-time freelancers (or furita) and drifters (putaro) who have cut ties with the overwork credo, either by choice or by fate, and log far fewer working hours than the previous generation. Though they're marginalized, their ethic has bled into the rest of corporate culture, and people, in general, are much more comfortable with letting their email accounts go dark on weekends than in the past. Drinking with colleagues seems muted in comparison to the bubble years. Especially during the season of end-of-the-year parties (bonenkai).

Abenomics, with its obsession with maintaining an artificially weakened yen, has decimated the economic viability of small-to-medium size companies, many of which rely on a strong national currency to stay afloat. Bankruptcies among these firms are at a record high and counting, and it's likely that the unemployment rolls will bulge, increasing the population of furita, putaro and homeless.

These are symptoms that you don't see on the corners of Tokyo, with its anally clean streets, its on-time metro, and its neatly dressed salaryman scurrying about. They're largely confined to cities and towns in the countryside, some of which, if we're talking about the north, are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and nuke disaster cleanup. Prime Minister Abe, in a recent speech, said that economic growth in the countryside remains at the top of his agenda, but statements to this effect from him and his party have, up until recently, been nothing more than hot air.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:24 PM on March 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


What's the alternative, poverty?

I've got it! Everyone collectively withholds their labor resulting in the collapse of capitalism! It's so simple! More realistically, though, at least for my part I think the plan is to starve to death behind a cardboard sign reading WE ARE ALL COMPLICIT or maybe just I BLAME YOU ALL.

But uh yeah one can only hope that more and more people, here and in Japan, come to realize that laboring under those conditions is itself a form of death, and that literally anything is better. I feel particularly sorry for people with kids, though; their obligation to children they don't have time to see results in them being good and well trapped in the machine forever.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:46 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Once powerful Sumerian city-states were wracked by political and economic turmoil, and their elaborate and majestic infrastructures were left in disrepair, while populations shriveled and neighborhoods were abandoned, reducing these city-states back to barely functioning villages. The same hydraulic technology that unleashed a vast increase in water energy flow... led to an equally significant entropic impact on the surrounding environment that, in the end, canceled out much of the gains, leaving both the civilization and the environment impoverished

J Rifkin - The Empathic Civilization, p. 222-3

Culture, Society, Ecology, Minds.


All the same thing in the end. If you build something badly, in the end, it cracks and breaks. The sad thing is that it took so many, many, many minds to prove it.


p.s.

90% Coral down, and getting worse. Sorry kids: So long, and thanks for all the fish.
posted by Themis at 4:53 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


These are symptoms that you don't see on the corners of Tokyo, with its anally clean streets, its on-time metro, and its neatly dressed salaryman scurrying about. They're largely confined to cities and towns in the countryside, some of which, if we're talking about the north, are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and nuke disaster cleanup.

The weird thing is that some regions are doing better than others. I spent the weekend in Kanazawa, a city of about 800,000 people on the Japan Sea Coast (ie, it's not part of the "sprawl" of the Pacific seaboard).

The town is booming. Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan, far more beautiful than Kyoto. Kanazawa wasn't bombed during the war, and it preserves a lot of Edo high culture. The downtown core is a mixture of shopping districts and cultural attractions.

Trying to get lunch yesterday (Sunday) was tough. There were lineups *everywhere* to get a bite to eat. Everyone was dressed nicely.

I was in Nagoya about a month ago, and it was the same thing. Busy busy busy. New buildings going up everywhere. Kobe is the same (I was there the other weekend).

I was kind of wondering where this fukeiki is that everyone is talking about.

The building boom is fueled in part by cheap, cheap, cheap money, and that must be trickling down to, say construction workers and so on.

But Kanazawa and Kobe are also benefiting from highly skilled labor. Some parts of Japan are what a true knowledge economy looks like. Kanazawa is dominated by financial services, cultural industries, education, high tech, food processing, a port, all that stuff.

In Canada it's really rare to see a regional city firing on all cylinders like that.

Tokyo could be another country entirely - a country within a country (it's economy is larger than Canada's economy, or the UK's economy, for example).

I didn't see salarymen "scurrying around" when I was there earlier this month. I saw an educated, urbane population with money to spend.

I spend most of my time in a small rural city called Tsuruga. It was a relatively young city until March, 2011 when the disaster shut down all the nuclear power plants in the nation.

The future is more uncertain here, even more so in the rapidly aging rural towns even further down the coast that are really struggling.

The "aging population" trope in Japan is really going to affect about the 50% or so of the population that lives outside of the Pacific seaboard stretching from Tokyo to Osaka.

Tokyo continues to expand. Twenty years ago when I came to Japan, young folks where I live typically went to Osaka in search of work (it's closer). Now everyone is going to Tokyo.
posted by Nevin at 5:03 PM on March 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Don't know how to quote here)

>>Tokyo continues to expand. Twenty years ago when I came to Japan, young folks where I live typically went to Osaka in search of work (it's closer). Now everyone is going to Tokyo.

Don't you see this as a huge warning sign? cf. City of London <> UK.
Since you're living there, can you give a little insight into the financial aspects of Japan - specifically Abenomics, Bonds, Pension Funds and so on? That's where a lot of these stories come from.

50% OAP / pensioners as a % of population doesn't even meet the 2.1 replacement curve set by the U.N. as a "healthy society". How can you dismiss this as "only affecting the rural populations"?

I'm left very bemused by this post - I know very little about Japan, could you explain your positivity a little, please? As... if your post was put to the U.N., there would be emergency meetings - declining population, economic activity pooling into one zone only (we call this the "Ecological models of declining precipitation in monsoon dependent regions leading to inter-species competition over declining water resources" > cf. D. Attinborough Documentaries on African Wildlife) and so forth.


I'm not seeing the positive?

[Edit - smelling mistake, sorry]
posted by Themis at 5:23 PM on March 8, 2015


the phenomenon is spreading to other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Bangladesh.

I can't speak for China or Bangladesh (which seems an odd inclusion), but Korea's work culture -- though still crushing -- is far, far better than it was 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, as the nation has become wealthier. Far more people, young and old alike, are seeking a better work-life balance (a phrase that has gained much currency in the past 5 years or so), and a lot of companies are on board.

That said, enormous numbers of Koreans are still overworked and sleep-deprived, but I'd say that things are getting better overall, rather than worse.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:55 PM on March 8, 2015


Okay, going through individual comments here, so this will be long:

subdee: "I'm sure that's all true but there's also a large amount of actual prostitution in Japan. Like, a LARGE amount. Though I heard most of it's paid for with company expense accounts."

I have not heard this. I suspect it's a misunderstanding of terms. You've got "mizu shobai". This is a big umbrella term that covers, at one end, completely hands-off, zero nudity hostess bars, and, at the other end, prostitution (I think you recognized that later, subdee, but I don't think it's clear to people who don't know the term, so this is more for them than you). I don't doubt that the majority of mizu shobai is paid for by company expense accounts, as I've heard many, many people talk about going to hostess clubs on the company dime, and even strip bars. But I've never heard of companies paying for visits to brothels (or their equivalent). I'm sure it happens a bit, somewhere (everything happens a bit, somewhere), but there's no way it's greater than 50%. There's no way it's even 5%.

Foci for Analysis: "Am I being naive in thinking that a quirky young business that stuck to a strict 9 to 5 business day could attract some seriously amazing talent just because of the sane business hours? Or is the work culture so toxic that even employees would find the idea wrong and unworkable?"

Yes and no. The 9 to 5 can attract some seriously amazing talent if people have some reason to believe that working for your company could be a career, not just a six month job before your company goes down in flames. So if you've got an established company, talented people will be knocking down your door. If it's a new company, but you (the president of the company) have an established track record, talented people will be knocking down your door. Nobody likes the 9-to-10 system, that's not why people are working at Mitsubishi or Sony or the like. But if you're starting up a quirky young business that people don't know from adam, they'll pick the established company with shitty hours, not because of the shitty hours, but in spite of the shitty hours, because of the dependability.

ctmf: "Requiring the time off by law is well intentioned, I guess, but who's got the burden of actually doing that? The worker?...put the burden of compliance on the employer. The company shouldn't be able to say well, it was voluntary overtime. They should have a positive duty to prevent the worker from overworking."

Going from my experience working in Japanese companies: the law would place the burden on the companies. Properly law-abiding companies would make it a rule that workers have to take their time off. I've seen it happen in various companies (in my case, it was with changes in laws regarding shift work and taking of breaks, and I was in a position to see how 4 or 5 different companies handled the same law changes). I've seen edge cases where workers were in the middle of something and arguing with their manager because they just needed 15 more minutes to finish a project, but their manager was saying, "No, you need to leave now". Unscrupulous companies would do the kind of shit they already do: "Mark yourself as not having come to work on Monday, but come anyway". I've heard tons of stories of people being ordered to punch out their time cards but keep working. The companies don't say "Well, it was voluntary", they say "He didn't come on Tuesday". The problem isn't really the law (well, I don't know in this case, but going from past laws), or even the enforcement (when a company is found in violation), but the detection. Without a whistleblower, it just isn't possible for the authorities to discover a violation. However, even then, these laws can be a strong net good because they widen the gulf between scrupulous and unscrupulous companies, so that people are more likely to shun the unscrupulous ones instead of just working there because "every company is basically the same anyway".

Themis: "50% OAP / pensioners as a % of population doesn't even meet the 2.1 replacement curve set by the U.N. as a "healthy society". How can you dismiss this as "only affecting the rural populations"?"

He didn't say 50% of the population would be pensioners. He said that the pension issue would affect the population outside of the Tokyo-Osaka corridor, and the "outside-the-corridor" population is 50% of the population of Japan. You're right that the 2.1 replacement curve isn't being met, but the population skew isn't happening evenly nationwide, it's localized. What that means is that many of the problems are also localized. The tax burden, having a smaller number of young people paying for a larger number of elderly, is universal, but things like towns dying out due to population drain, or having to bring in outside doctors to handle the health needs of an aging population, those are localized. He never said it would "only" affect the rural population, nor did he dismiss it. He said "This is really going to affect about the 50% or so of the population that lives outside of the Pacific seaboard stretching from Tokyo to Osaka."
posted by Bugbread at 6:34 PM on March 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Super interesting article about Nintendo and the 2011 earthquake:

Without his work, Hayashida didn’t know what to do with himself. Away from Nintendo, he was cut off from the people he spent most of his life with. In Japan, you might work with someone for decades and never see them socially, drawing a bright-line distinction between company life and private time. Hayashida and his team had never even exchanged their private contact information.
“Normally at work we don’t share our personal email addresses with our colleagues,” he said, “but we realized it would be kind of scary if we didn’t know how to contact each other.” Hayashida risked the slight breach of etiquette and shared his email with the Super Mario team, giving them the opportunity to join in.


How Super Mario Survived the Quake
posted by Oktober at 6:39 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank-you Bugbread for the explanation - I'm glad you saw how wildly worried that misunderstanding was!

>He didn't say 50% of the population would be pensioners. He said that the pension issue would affect the population outside of the Tokyo-Osaka corridor, and the "outside-the-corridor" population is 50% of the population of Japan.

If you look at the population skews for Tokyo and the rest of Japan, that 50% starts to mean something a little more worrying. Which is why I asked about the "20 year Osak.. Tok" trend.

Try matching the % of youth employment to that corridor and come back to me.

You might be a little surprised. (The U.N. was - want a link? Not sure it's public yet)
posted by Themis at 6:45 PM on March 8, 2015


Its also true that sure, it's not dramatically worse than the US. But thats just because the US is also on the "bad end" of things with respect to this situation. Compare either Japan or the US to, say, France and you'll see a much bigger difference.

Right, but the problem with France - and Western Europe in general - is the staggering unemployment. Unemployment in France is 10%. And youth unemployment is a whopping 25%!

I think there is a triangle of: work short hours / low unemployment / make money. Most countries only succeed at 2 of those. Tell me which country has all 3 and I'll start packing my bags (let me guess: hard to immigrate there!)
posted by pravit at 6:45 PM on March 8, 2015


Themis: "Try matching the % of youth employment to that corridor and come back to me. "

I can't really follow what you're saying, but my impression is that young people are highly underemployed, with a lot of people unable to find full-time employment and moving from part-time to part-time job. These folks tend to be in big cities more than the countryside, due to young people, in general, leaving rural areas for urban areas. Are you saying that the UN study shows this isn't the case? Is the employment situation actually improving for young people in urban areas?
posted by Bugbread at 7:09 PM on March 8, 2015


This is why you should strongly consider making a habit of keying the car of that one guy who won't leave work until he's kicked out.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:25 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


>>Don't you see this as a huge warning sign? cf. City of London <> UK.

Sure. The "brain drain" to Tokyo is generally regarded as a Bad Thing.

>>Since you're living there, can you give a little insight into the financial aspects of Japan - specifically Abenomics, Bonds, Pension Funds and so on? That's where a lot of these stories come from.

I spend 2-3 months a year in Japan. Alls I can say is that the (stated) core objective of Abenomics is to stimulate inflation. The problem is that wages are and continue to be stagnant. Beyond asking the Japanese equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce (Nihon Keidanren) to "please increase wages", no real policy have been developed to do so. Instead, the Japanese government will basically through money from helicopters in the form of family allowance grants.

>>50% OAP / pensioners as a % of population doesn't even meet the 2.1 replacement curve set by the U.N. as a "healthy society". How can you dismiss this as "only affecting the rural populations"?

This is a problem in every single other G20 country apart from the US (the US, with its huge undocumented labour situation, is the outlier).

Anyway, Tokyo will be fine (I haven't checked on the median age there, and so should some regional cities. But Japan, like many other so-called advanced economies, is going to experience some change.

I might add that Japan's fertility rate increased in 2014 (or perhaps 2013, depending on when the data was gathered).
posted by Nevin at 11:10 PM on March 8, 2015


ctmf: "Requiring the time off by law is well intentioned, I guess, but who's got the burden of actually doing that? The worker?"

Ok, doing a bit more legwork, it looks like (as usual) articles about Japan are their usual crappy quality.
"Not taking vacation could soon be illegal in Japan" is not true. Under the actual proposal, "not making employees take vacation could soon be illegal".

Specifically, under the proposed law companies would be required to ensure that any employees who get 10 or more days of paid annual vacation (that, by law, means all full-time employees and some part-time employees, but I don't know the specifics on which part-time employees) take at least 5 of those days off. Currently, by law, companies must give all full-time employees at least 10 days of annual paid leave, and employees who have been with the company for 6.5 years or longer must be given at least 20 days of paid leave. The average amount actually taken is 9.0 (48.8%). Smaller companies have lower rates of leave use, so actually for employees the giant companies are better than your small and medium size companies. Under the proposal, companies with high rates percentages of employees failing to take enough days off would be fined (sorry, couldn't find the actual percentage that would trigger getting fined).
posted by Bugbread at 12:27 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bugbread: “The average amount actually taken is 9.0 (48.8%).”
That's made me curious to see a breakdown between outfits that give the Golden Week holidays off with pay and those where the employees have to take leave for them. My suspicion is that, just like America, the bigger or more professionally managed a company is, the more likely they will give the employees paid holidays and not make them use leave unless they want to fill the gap to the nearest weekend.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:22 AM on March 9, 2015


So the question I have is, is Japan's present America's future? Wage stagnation seems to be here to stay in the USA, and there's all this (politically motivated, by my guess) talk of thwarting inflation and paying off the debt. The upshot of this last bit is that middle-class people pay a penalty for attempting to actually save money.
posted by newdaddy at 5:10 AM on March 9, 2015


newdaddy: So the question I have is, is Japan's present America's future?

Hard to say. Another possibility is everyone working some random combination of multiple part-time positions. There's a pretty big incentive for businesses in the US to hire people part-time instead of full-time (to dodge health care costs), but part-timers are always hourly so businesses don't want to have them sitting around on the clock for no reason (and making them do unpaid overtime gets more backlash and is expressly illegal, so while it happens sometime, I'm not sure it's likely to become as standard as it is with salaried workers). It could be some people here will end up in one situation, and some people in the other.

I'm currently in the multiple-part-time-job boat myself, which is pretty weird given that I'm a biologist specializing in genetics and PCR. I develop methods for two separate labs and am a technician in a third. So nobody should think their job is immune to being broken up into many part-time positions!
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:18 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's been talk of paying off the debt for a long time, but nothing has ever really come of it. And I don't see signs that the Fed wants to end inflation. For now the US still has an inflationary economy, which Japan would love to have (at least at the government level --- psychologically Japanese are not used to prices going up every year and it will probably take some adjustment).

And of course the population situation is radically different, the US population is still growing (thanks to immigration, both directly and that more recent immigrants have generally higher fertility rates).

For all the economic problems there, though, it still seems like a better place to be poor than the US. Not a European-level social system, but better than America's.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:27 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't find the other two parts of Fukada's and the Pulizter Center's Japan's Disposable Workers in a linkable form where the subtitles work, but this is tragic.

“Japan's Disposal Workers: Net Cafe Refugees”—Shiho Fukada, 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 9:02 PM on March 11, 2015


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