11-08-2017, 12:08 PM
Japan has a difficult working environment, and I don't envy people who work at Japanese companies. Karoshi is probably more of a cultural problem than a business problem, and as such, change will occur slowly.
From a young age, Japanese are taught not to be "the nail that sticks out". One never questions one's parents, one's teachers, or one's boss. One does what one is told to do. Critical thought is not encouraged, things like school debate clubs are non-existent. Japanese workers are culturally-conditioned not to complain about long hours, mediocre pay, and short holidays.
Japanese companies still follow the old fashioned seniority-based promotion system, something which disappeared in other developed economies back in the 80's. In a Japanese company you are promoted depending on how long you have been with the company. Promotions are never performance-based. Japanese workers are all team players, and work for the team and the company, not to satisfy personal ambition.
The problem with seniority-based systems is that companies which use them perform poorly. If there is no encouragement for individual workers to perform, then they do not perform, and when workers don't perform, companies don't perform. This means that it takes workers longer to complete their work, which means longer hours, and more workers. Longer hours and more workers results in lower average pay, because there is only so much available to spend on labor.
Your typical Japanese worker may spend 10 to 12 hours per day in the office doing the same amount of work which could be done in 8 or 10 hours in an American or European company.
Another point is that full time workers in Japan are strongly protected by labor laws. It is virtually impossible to fire a full time worker in Japan (which is why more businesses are hiring part time workers). If you work full time for a large company, you can do as little work as you like, or no work at all. The work that is undone by lazy or useless workers ends up having to be done by other workers. Japanese companies have many more workers than companies in other countries because of this practice. In Japan it is common for a department to have two or more managers because the supposed manager cannot or will not do the work, and cannot be fired or demoted.
Besides the long hours, Japanese workers often face long commutes, anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes each way. Housing tends to be in small apartments or very small houses. But since one may spend more time at work than at home, it makes little difference. Many workers have to entertain clients after work, and on weekends, and one's life tends to revolve around one's company, as that is you spend most of your physical and mental time.
Holidays are short, vacations usually no more than 5 consecutive days. Legally you are entitled to at least 10 days of vacation per year, but no one ever takes it all at once. Many claim their vacation days, but work in the office when they are supposed to be on holiday. And in Japan you cannot cash out your vacation days like you can in America or Europe.
A few years ago the Nikkei News bought out the UK's Financial Times. Financial Times workers got between 6 and 8 weeks of vacation per year, and were terrified of losing these days after Nikkei took over. Nikkei workers received a few days of vacation each year, and were hoping that they might be able to move over to the FT and get more days off.
Foreign companies in Japan tend to follow the business models practiced in their home countries, and are much better places to work. My wife works for an American investment bank in Tokyo, and earns several times as much as a similar position in a Japanese bank would pay. She gets 5 weeks of paid vacation each year, and can use it as she likes, or get paid for it if she decides to work instead. She can come home as early or late as she pleases, she can work from home if she likes.
For myself, I would never work for a Japanese company. I own my own business in Japan. It is difficult and I work long hours, but I earn far more than any salaryman, and have much more freedom. My clients are in America, Europe, and other parts of Asia, so thankfully I don't have to deal with the Japanese business culture.