Sunday, 9 February 2014

Japanese Work Culture ~ Due Diligence

I’m actually in the process of writing up a second part to a prior entry I made and I was going to include this topic but figured that this was something that could quite comfortably stand alone. For you see, it’s not really news that Asians work bloody hard. In England, the highest number of Asians are Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian and they’ve done well for themselves. But the Japanese working culture is indeed what I would describe as a culture shock. And while it doesn’t directly affect me – as more often than not, I still see a two-day weekend and I don’t work nearly as many hours as the rest of the country – I’ve come to find that the way in which Japanese people regard work is quite interesting.

Look at that dedication.
Now I was previously aware from other sources that the Japanese – especially the men – are extremely conscientious. They bring home bacon like no tomorrow to support their families and anyone who does this is to be commended really. But I didn’t realise the exact extent of what it means to be a worker here. Because as a worker, you’re not just another employee; you’re an important piece – a cog even – operating inside a well oiled machine. And the harder you work, the better it is not only for your superiors but for your fellow colleagues as well. Everyone needs to work together. There is no “I” in “team” and all that jazz. And fundamentally, there are a lot of rules that must be followed, making it a far cry shy of where I’m from.

In the UK, the working week is fairly fixed. Most people work Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm. There are folk that work early mornings however and some that do nights, but the “9 ‘til 5” momentum still stands and when Friday comes, people throw off the shackles and let loose. My general working week is Tuesday to Saturday (with a few changes here and there every couple of weeks) but what I came to find when leaving my house particularly early one Saturday morning was that there were lots of people out and about. This surprised me for 7.30 in the morning because on a Saturday in London, there’s barely a body about unless their staggering home after that Friday night. The train was positively rammed and it started to make me realise that whatever routine I may have been used to back home, does not exist here.


People work around the clock. Just because it says you’re starting time is 8am, it doesn’t mean you arrive at 8am. You have to arrive earlier – sometimes thirty minutes earlier or more. Arriving on time is frowned upon here and arriving late is just damn right bad manners. Persistent offences without a valid reason could even get you fired. In a similar fashion, leaving on time is just as bad. People might finish at 6pm but as a method of demonstrating commitment to one’s job, people will often leave later. (I sometimes wonder if people race in order not to be the first to leave). As a result, I could be coming home at midnight and I’ll see a train full of people heading in the opposite direction as they make the commute home. What’s more, I never see my neighbours but I can hear them and I’m aware that they leave for work earlier than I do and on occasion will return home later than I do.

I do not envy them.

I’ve also, noticed that it’s rare for people to have two consecutive days off. A friend of mine will work a five day week with a day off and then will work a four, five or even six day week (depending on whether it’s crunch time) before the next day off. This makes scheduling days or even evenings out quite difficult but I think the offices here try to make up for this by incorporating company events e.g. the infamous bounenkai (end of year party) and shinenkai (start of year party).

This “working culture” however doesn’t just extend to adults however, but to children as well. It isn’t uncommon for me to see kids out and about in school uniform on a Saturday as they make the trek to their cram schools or extra curricula activities. And they come out in their droves. I had even considered that some schools spilled over onto Saturdays at one point but I suppose that this time of year being exam period means that even the kids are working hard, whether trying to pass that high school entry exam or making their families proud.

Might not be a mansion but at least he made it.
Even the homeless are at it. In the UK, we attach a stigma to homeless people. They smell, they smoke, they drink and as such, it’s very difficult for a lot of them to find work. After all, who wants to be served by scruffy looking vagabond in the supermarket? But in Japan, not having a home doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t have a job. They might not have a most appealing of jobs but even the homeless have found alternative ways of survival. Some have even made little communities and ramshackle abodes for themselves as a means of shelter. In the UK, most folk sleep on the streets and if they try to make something for themselves, the police will move them on. In Japan, I think most people consider the homeless untouchable – literally – so as long as they’re not harming anyone, they’re left to their devices.

Otsukaresama desu! This is something that is frequently used in the workplace to acknowledge fellow workers and their hard work. I frequently use it during meetings or whenever I make a phone call to head office. I suspect this has become a necessity or has always been a necessity because following hard work comes the fatigue and everyone likes to be thanked in some way or other for putting in all those hours. Because when one day ends, the next begins. And at the end of that day, it I often see various people flaked out or fast asleep on the train. (Believe me, I’ve been there too).

So dust yourself off, roll your head back and close your eyes, young man. You’ve seriously earned yourself that kip.

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