How is Work-Life Balance like in Japan?

The article below has been written by Sakura (of Ninja Girls fame), you can visit them here at: http://www.ninjagirls.sg 

Article in it’s original Japanese is at the bottom after the English version.

 

 

It’s not too long ago. It was very common for Japanese college students to go for a trip before their graduation. Some become backpackers and travel around South East Asia, some go on a shopping trip to Hong Kong or Seoul with classmates. Why do you think they suddenly start to travel? As a hint, let me introduce interesting joke in Japan:

“Once you start working, there are only two chances you can take leave.

1: When you go on a honeymoon

2: When you go attend your own parent’s funeral.”

 

Believe it or not, this is the typical “Work Life Balance” in Japan. Once they start working, maybe they won’t be able to travel to somewhere they want……. So, those students who are only twenty plus, they had to experience proper trip at least once. And in a lot of the cases, it really became their first and the last trip.

With my Colleagues from my first job. OMG I look so young! 最初の職場の同僚と。私、若い!(笑)

 

But Work Life Balance in Japan has changed. Changed to a better way for some people, changed to a worse way for some other people.

When I was working in Japan, finally Japanese government decided to do something with the Work Life Balance there. A lot of the companies, mostly big companies, started to improve their working environment. They started to encourage their employees not to work overtime, and also recommended them to take the annual leave they have. (Before that, most of the loyal Japanese employees were not taking the annual leave! Not because they didn’t want to, it’s because their bosses were not taking it. How can you take leave when your boss is not taking it?) And people started calling these companies with legal working environment “White company”. Of course people wants to work in White companies, but not everyone is that fortunate.

 

 With ex-colleagues from my last job in Japan. Can you find me?

日本での最後の仕事を楽しくしてくれた彼ら。私はどこでしょう?

Let me tell you about “Black company” now. They have a working environment beyond your imagination, and of course it’s beyond laws and rules. “Annual leave” is considered urban myth in those companies, “Overtime work” never exist in those companies since they consider their working hours 24/7.

In these offices:

  • Sales person’s hand is duct-taped and attached to a handset. He cannot go home until he keep making calls and hit the target, that’s why he hasn’t seen his kids awake for months
  • Newly graduate programmer with zero experience has assigned to too many projects, no one is helping him. That’s why he has been literally staying in the office for many days, never changed his cloths for a week.
  • About 30% of the employees there used to take antidepressant, or taking it now.

 

Do you think these are just some random, isolated examples? Too bad it’s not. I have actually seen the real cases like this too many times.

Maybe you will think like this: “Why don’t they quit the job and find another one?” But it’s not easy for Japanese people. Changing job is not considered very nice thing in Japan yet. If you have changed your job for more than 3 times in your life, some companies won’t interview you. If you have quit a job within 3 years, some companies won’t even look at your CV any more. That’s why there are so many people stuck in “Black company” for long time. And by the time they quit, not many people can walk out without anti-depressant.

 

My Ninja friends in Singapore. そして今、シンガポールの忍者仲間と!

In Japan, there are some “White companies” and “Black companies”, and countless of “Black + White companies” which is somewhere in the middle. You won’t be able to know which category the company belongs to until you actually start working for them. With the government and union’s effort, the number of “White company” is increasing, but “Black company” is also increasing too. Japanese economy is shrinking and every company is trying very hard to survive. And sometimes they find a solution in letting their employees work harder and harder. That’s when normal company turns to “Black company”.

I, Sakura, was born and raised in Japan until 16 year old. After I went to the Unites States and China to study, I came back to Japan and started working. I have experienced “Black company” and “White company” both. Well….. as you imagined, I couldn’t do well with Japanese working environment. I was 25 year old when my doctor diagnosed me as “Panic disorder” and “Depression”. After I took a handful of medicines everyday, I decided to give myself an alternative treatment—– leaving Japan again!

I have seen many Singaporean people who like Japan. Of course I love talking to the kind of people who enjoy watching “Japan Hour” every week.  But they keep asking me the same question. “Why did you leave Japan? It’s such a beautiful country!” Well, I always give them the same answer.

“Yeah, it’s a beautiful country.

It’s a bit like a “5 star hotel”.

Staying there as a guest is a great experience.

But if you want to serve,

That’s another story.”

 

Below is the article in it’s original Japanese:

 

ほんの少し前まで、卒業を控えた日本の大学生は、こぞって旅に出たものでした。ある人はバックパックを背負って格安チケットの旅に出、ある人は仲の良い友人とともに卒業旅行を企画しました。それはなぜだと思いますか?ヒントとして、日本のジョークをひとつご紹介しましょう。

 

「 長期休暇が取れるのは人生で2度しかない。

新婚旅行、もしくは自分の親の葬式の時だ。」

 

嘘のような話ですが、上記のような生活が、日本のワークライフバランスの実態とされてきました。旅に出られるのは、大学生まで。一度就職してしまったら、もう二度と自分の行きたい場所に旅行することなどできないかもしれない‥‥20歳を少し過ぎたくらいの年齢の彼らは、そんな切ない思いを抱えながら、「人生最後になるかもしれない旅行」に出発していったのです。

しかし、現状は変わりつつあります。ある人々にとってはより「人間らしい」労働環境に、そしてある人々にとってはより「人間らしくない」労働環境に。

私が日本で働いていた頃は、ちょうど「ワークライフバランス」という言葉が広く認識され始めてきた頃でした。大手企業を中心に、労働時間の短縮や有給休暇の利用促進(それまでは、”熱心な社員”は有給休暇を取らないものだと思われていたのです!)が進められ、一部では著しい労働環境の改善がありました。彼らにとっては、「定時に帰っても、有給休暇を本当に利用しても、出世できる時代」がついに訪れたのです。これらの企業は、求職者達の間で「ホワイト企業」と呼ばれ、憧れの対象となっています。

その一方で、「ブラック企業」と呼ばれる企業もあります。これらの企業は想像を遥かに超える劣悪な労働環境で、社員を追いつめることによって成り立っています。これらの企業に、「ワークライフバランス」という概念はありません。

 

★   営業マンとして入社したら、ノルマを達成するまで電話の受話器をガムテープで手にくくりつけられ、ひたすら電話をかけさせられた。それは夜中の11時まで続いた。

 

★   大学を卒業してすぐにプログラマとして入社したら、まだ何もわからないうちから一人で膨大な量の仕事を与えられ、何日間も会社に泊まり込んでなんとか納期に間に合わせた

 

★   あまりにも労働環境が劣悪なので、社員の3割程度が精神疾患にかかったことがあるか、もしくは今も精神疾患で苦しんでいる。

 

上記は、私が実際に見聞きしたケースです。

こうしたブラック企業に入社したばかりに、何年も何十年も苦しむケースは珍しくありません。「そんなところはさっさとやめて、新しい仕事を探せばいいのに!」と思うかもしれませんが、転職をするにも日本には厳しい偏見が存在しています。「新卒者しか採用しない」「転職回数が3回以上の人は採用しない」「在職期間が3年未満で転職した経験がある人は採用しない」などのポリシーを持つ企業が数多くあるため、ぐっと我慢してブラック企業に居座る人が多いのです。

 

一部のホワイト企業と、一部のブラック企業、そして大多数の「白黒が入り交じった労働環境にある」企業。あなたがたまたま入社した会社が、どのような会社であるかによって、あなたのワークライフバランスは大きく左右されます。政府の指導や組合の努力によって、ホワイト企業が多く誕生している昨今ですが、残念ながらブラック企業も増加傾向にあります。日本経済は縮小しており、どの企業も生き残りに必死です。その必死の努力が、やがて今いる社員を酷使することへと繋がっていき、ひとつまたひとつとブラック企業が増えていくのです。

 

私は、と言うと‥‥16歳まで日本で生まれ育ち、そこからアメリカや中国で教育を受けた後、日本に戻って会社員となりました。ブラック企業もホワイト企業も経験しましたが、結果として私は日本の企業文化について行けず、鬱病になって会社を休職するほど追いつめられてしまいました。そこから再び死に物狂いで日本から這い出て、ここシンガポールに辿り着いたわけです。

毎週「ジャパンアワー」を楽しみにしているような、日本びいきのシンガポールの人たちにとって、あんなに美しい国を飛び出してきてしまった私は不思議な存在に映るようです。「どうして日本を出てきてしまったの?」と訊かれる度に、私はこう答えることにしています。

「あの国はね、5つ星ホテルのようなものなの。

たまにゲストとして訪れるには最高の場所、

でも働くんだったら相当の覚悟が必要なのよ。」

 

About the author

Aya Imura

Aya Imura was born and breed in Japan, she attended high school in Utah, USA and furthered in Beijing University, China. Mid way through her studies she had to return home Japan when her family business went under. She became stewardess with Japan Railway Hokkaido before following her interest, and joined “Recruit Co.” one of the biggest publishing and marketing industry player in Japan as a copy-writer. She won several copy writing awards including the prestigious East Japan Best Practice Award.

Aya Imura started building her business in marketing research upon arriving in Singapore and helped Japanese companies increase their awareness and market strategy for both local and S.E.A market. In early 2012, ninjagirls.sg was born with a few like-minded Japanese friends.

They made video blogs about fashion, food, tourism and anything fun under the sun (and even the moon)!

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