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: 

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?


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:




「 長期休暇が取れるのは人生で2度しかない。








★   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。













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