Thing to leave:  Work Obsession

Maybe you’ve heard: Japanese people are a bit of workaholics.  Actually, “a bit” here is kind of like saying Madonna was “a bit” of a sex symbol in the 90s.  Japanese people are THE workaholics in the world.  In fact, they even have a word 過労死 (karoushi) that means “death from overwork”.  They are also one of the few countries in the world that tracks this category of statistics.

I had a former Japanese friend say to me once that the Japanese religion is work.  I think it’s a pretty accurate statement.  For example, at elementary schools teachers put in on average 12 hours a day at work (at junior high 12 hours might be considered “lazy”) and might even come in for several hours throughout the weekend.  This does not include the various meetings and other obligations they have outside of normal work hours.  They only get paid for the base 8 hours of work.  Overtime pay is almost unheard of in the country.  Furthermore, Japan is near the bottom of the list for average annual salary raises.  Other professions are equally unforgiving, with businessmen (no businesswomen – see last post) doing 15 hours a day on the job being not at all uncommon.

For most Japanese people this is simply standard operating procedure.  If you don’t put in these hours – more specifically if you leave before other people – you are labelled as lazy and not a team player.  For a people who base their entire lives on the acceptance of others and fitting into the social norm this is a big problem.


Now you know why this is a common sight in Japan.

Now you know why this is a common sight in Japan.

This hits home with me for many reasons.  I’ll list the top three while trying to keep it short.

First, Japanese workers hate to take sick days.  Couple this with another Japanese thing I have left off this list, the complete ignorance on hygiene in the country, and this means that you can expect any sickness one person catches to spread through the workplace like wildfire.  For teachers specifically, it means having to go through classes on a regular basis where teachers can’t speak because their throats are too sore or just sit at their desk unable to do much more than groan.  Oh yeah, substitute teachers don’t exist in Japan because the thought that a teacher would ever need one for any reason is absent.

Second, trying to take any time off becomes a giant ordeal.  I’m actually under a contract where I’m not allowed personal days.  I was lectured, to use a euphemism, last year because I caught two separate illnesses that both kept me out of work for 3 days.  I was also told it is likely my coworkers no longer trust me since I’ve missed so much work (another issue left off the list: the foreigner is always wrong).

Third, the way Japanese people understand the world in terms of work vs. outside work is out of balance.  The idea seems to be that you live to work.  Anything done outside work is a special treat and if it happens too frequently you’re doing something wrong.  If the US Marines preach “god, country, core”, the Japanese must preach “company, job, deference”.  As a foreigner, who views working 40 hours a week as somewhere between the norm and a little much, then, I’m constantly looked down upon to some degree for having a poor work ethic.

Oh, and since I’m about to mention this anyway this mindset is so out of whack that it extends to children as well!  Children in Japan are given almost no free time, are almost required to show up to school up to an hour before it starts, required to join a school club of some sort, and are expected to come to school for various events and other obligations even when on break.  I don’t think it’s entirely unlikely that the average 10 year old Japanese kid is a busier person than the average American adult working a full-time job.  And these are children, things only grow exponentially worse as one enters junior high and even further into his/her teens.

This obsession with work really pushes my buttons and it’s for sure one of the things I could really do without.


Thing to keep:  Childhood Innocence

So, yeah this one sounds a little weird but hear me out.  Yes, children are expected to fill out their schedules with one obligation or another but somehow they are still regarded as mere children.  For example, I’m guessing that if you visited a 6th grade class in your country you wouldn’t find kids openly picking their nose (deeply, I might add) throughout class in front of everyone, talking about poop and fart jokes with the teacher, or trying to poke each other in places in a manner which is against state laws in many US states.

Kids in Japan get away with a lot.  Disrespect is the norm; very rowdy behavior is expected; being silly is appreciated.  With a few exceptions (like the disrespect) it’s all pretty wonderful.  Many people my generation feel that my home country of America went through a radical change during our lifetime.  When we were kids this stuff was somewhat the same, but nowadays the view seems to be that if a 2nd grader isn’t taking advanced computer classes to instill some vocational skills they are wasting their life.  It’s disgusting.  Japan treats kids like what they are: little people who have little to no rational skills and operate on a pure hedonistic level.  If it’s fun, do it; if it sucks, don’t do it.

Take this short quip from the NY Times:  http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/being-too-responsive-in-talking-about-sex/

See that, you should be teaching your kid about sex from the time they are born, goddamnit!  Don’t waste a second about teaching them all about their sexual orientation  expected gender roles,  and appropriate dress at 5 years old.  The attitude in Japan reminds me of that cute scene from the all-time classic movie Kindergarten Cop:  “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina”.  Yes they do, Billy.  Yes, they do.  And this is Japan’s attitude toward children:  There is the world and things exist in it, but to a child it’s not much more than that.

Of course kids are expected to do things.  One of the biggest infractions I’ve seen is any kid who forgets to do their homework (work!!).  But they are also treated like kids.  Even the third graders change for swimming in the classroom in front of one another.  They’re 8 and 9 years old – the concept of sexuality and being embarrassed about your “bits” in front of the opposite sex hasn’t occurred to them yet.  So why pretend it does?  Cartoons and manga are absurdly bizarre and frequently carry no teachings at all.  The world of children is the world of children.

While there are certainly aspects here I am not fond of, overall I really enjoy the way that Japan let’s kids enjoy the world of a child while it lasts.


On a side note: I’m not sure if it’s wordpress or this computer mixed with wordpress but I could really do without all the underlying of any word longer than 4 letters when I click spellcheck.  No, these are not “complex expressions”, they are English.  Stop it.