View Full Version : Japan's long-working hours culture

Jun 16, 2003, 12:30
Japan is (in)famous for its working culture. Typical white-collar workers with a minimum of responsibilities work till late at night. Going back home with the last train (around midnight) is so common that it is the day's third rush hour in Tokyo (the other being the morning, and around 5-6 pm when civil servants and other people with "9 to 5" jobs commute back home). If a project isn't finished or a deadline is nearing dangerously, cadres are expected to stay all night, sometimes several days in a row if necessary. It is unsurprising that Japan is the only country where 'death by overwork' is an officially recognised issue, and Japanese the only language that has a name for it : karoshi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kar%C5%8Dshi).

But long hours aren't everything. Fatigue highly depends on how hard thy work during that time. I know lots of people who work 12h a day (+ at home the weekend), but that doesn't seem so intense. I would do the same work in half the time, but get a headache from concentrating too much. Living in Japan has allowed me to take a new stance toward time spent working. As long as you are not paid for your results, and your boss think you are lazy if you go back home at the normal time, there is no need to try hard to finish early. I think that's a very significant difference between Japan and a lot of Western countries' approach of work.

Consequently linking work time to karoshi does not seem appropriate to me in Japan's case. Assail workers with unmeetable deadlines or threatening them to lose their job if they don't achieve some results is much harder to cope with than fake working by actually browsing the Internet half the 12h of day work.