Working Hours in Japan

Are you interested in working hours in Japan? You want to work here, but are worried about overtime? Read on for my take on the issue.

One of the first things that many people associate with working in Japan is excessively long working hours. When Japan made its name as one of the worlds leading economies during the 1970s and 80s, recovering blisteringly fast from the aftermath of World War II, Japanese working culture became a broadly discussed topic. While some people were praising the collectivism and devotion to a single company, others also pointed out that Japanese workers were working exceedingly long hours.

Japanese working culture is known for being exceedingly strict

Until now, this stereotype still endures. Many people still believe that working for a Japanese company means that you will have to work until 10 p.m. every day. If we have a look at the Wikipedia article on the Japanese work environment, we can get a rough idea of the average working hours in Japan over the years. While this is certainly an awful article, even by Wikipedia standards, it serves to illustrate a point: the fact that people are perpetuating a stereotype, and like almost every other stereotypes there might be a morsel of truth to it, but it is blown so far out of proportion that any truth has long since been swept away.

The trend in Japan is also towards less working hours

In developed countries, there is a trend to shorten working hours. Automation, relative security, thanks to welfare and benefits, and the growing awareness of the negative effects that working long hours can have on one’s body, have led to people and companies placing greater emphasis on a good work/life balance. The same also holds true for Japan, with average working hours becoming much shorter since the 1980s. I am not writing a scientific article here, but let us have a look at two graphs. The first one shows us that monthly working hours have been going down consistently over the last decade. Another graph, provided by OECD data, shows us that that the average working hours per worker in Japan for 2019 are actually lower than those in the United States and other countries, and also below the OECD average.

If you are interested in a proper scientific article on the current state of working hours and overwork in Japan, read the following article by Mr Tomohiro Takami “Current State of Working Hours and Overwork in Japan Part I: How Has It Changed Over the Years? “. You can find the whole series of articles HERE.

Still, the stereotypes endure

Now, it is certainly true that the Japanese still tend to work long hours. But so do people in the US, Italy and other countries. One thing that is often brought up when talking about long-working hours is the term 過労死 (karoushi), which means death (usually suicide) due to excessive overwork. People will argue, that the existence of a specific term must mean that this is a real problem. But as the graphs in the above paragraph have shown us, overwork is no more or less an issue in Japan, than it is in other countries. The existence of a term certainly does not indicate anything, as in Japanese it is pretty easy to create new words by just sticking Kanji characters together. In the case of 過労死, you simply have the character 死, meaning death, stuck to the end of the word 過労 meaning overwork, which then results in the term “Overwork-Death” or the more broadly used “death due to overwork“. Overwork at so-called “Black Companies“, companies that are known for treating their employees poorly, is certainly a big problem. But the same is true for IT companies in Californias Silicon Valley, where the term “Crunch Time” is used to describe excessive overtime before the launch of a new product. But somehow it is still Japan, that seems to get a bad reputation.

“Black” companies are famous for their long working hours

This enduring of stereotypes is a phenomenon that seems to occur often concerning Japan. Another very common one is that suicide is a big issue in Japan, when in truth Japans average suicide numbers are again equal to or lower than those in many other countries. Japan is an intriguing but foreign country. But due to its foreignness, there exist many half-truths that people simply accept as gospel because it can be difficult to properly fact-check. There is a language barrier and an “understanding” or “cultural” barrier at play, that seems to make it hard for these stereotypes to be accepted as such. Do not get me wrong, overwork and suicide are big societal issues that need to be tackled by Japan, but the same goes for many other countries. However, giving up on your dream of working in Japan or “hating on” Japan because “the working hours are too long” is ignoring reality.

Read my article about working in Japan and prevailing stereotypes here. If you have questions regarding working in Japan, please feel free to contact me through the “Contact me” form, leave a comment below the article or contact me on Facebook.


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