Work-Life Balance in Japan

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 103 Comments |

I’ve been pondering over this issue so much recently that I feel compelled to write an introspective post. So here are the naive reflections of a young 20-something adult. The topic? Overtime in Japan. With my impending graduation and the possibility of work in Japan, it’s time I faced this troubling problem head-on.

ill_2It’s no secret; the majority of Japanese people (especially men) seem to devote their life to the company. Working overtime demonstrates commitment, diligence and a strong work ethic. Going home on time gets you pressured, discriminated against or even fired. At least, that is the stereotypical impression I have gotten from my various excursions to the Land of the Rising Sun. How much of this is the truth? And importantly, what can a person like me with a firm distinction between working life and family life do to fit into the Japanese working system?

Questioning


I’ve been questioning many people. Over the 7 years I’ve been studying Japanese; the two years I’ve spent in Japan and during my 2-month stay and hitchhike in Japan last summer; on Twitter to both Japanese followers and foreigners working in Japan, I’ve frequently (even to the point of bombardment) questioned everyone in Japan about their overtime habits. Perhaps by questioning a large number of people I might somehow placate myself? Thought I. Perhaps by seeking out those few individuals who agree with me, I might be able to trick myself into believing I could work in Japan 9-5pm and go home on time?

Foolish? It seems so.

The response has not been good. Not, at least, if you are like me and wish to ‘work hard and play hard’ in Japan. I can’t recall a single person who has consoled me over my worries, save for the few endearing careers advisors and teachers at Akita International University, bless them. It’s all been doom-and-gloom. Suck-it-up and stop whining or work in another country.

overtime

Let’s take a look at one article on the topic, with an unsettling doomsday overtone:

Work-Life Balance – Coming Never to Japan

Here’s a quote that sums up the gist of it:

Westerners immediately decry the madness if not the moral offense of workers slaving away at their companies until the wee hours of the nights. Liberal enlightenment ideas of the individual having free reign over his own self-definition tend to resent the concept of the “company man” – when individuals are reduced to inputs. Marxists believe that the worker must pursue a self-actualization that puts the fruits of his labor within his own hands and not the capitalist’s.

Work-life balance, however, is a completely loaded Western liberal concept because it creates a dichotomy between work and life – as if they are antagonizing forces. The Confucian-Statist philosophical underpinning of modern Japanese society assigns each individual a specific, unmalleable role and posits self-actualization as the loyal and perfect performance of that role. Conditioning of these beliefs starts early: young athletes choose to play one sport for their academic careers and do not change sports with the seasons like you see in other nations. Baseball players are baseball players. In general, Japanese people have one hobby, which leads to the famously maniacal dedication to certain “ridiculous” pursuits like competitive eating or obsession with a single fashion brand.

This. This is what I’m up against. I can sit on my high-horse and parade around preaching moral corruption and worker’s rights, the health of the nation and the unproductivity of working long-hours but it seems, when all is said and done, that this is Japan and how the Japanese work, and I must either consign myself to its wrath or shut up and go home.

I love Japan, the culture, the people and the country. But I must say I fundamentally disagree with the generalised working practices of long, often unnecessary hours and a lack of personal or family time. How do I resolve this infuriating dilemma? My soul is screaming. I want to go to Japan to live; to genuinely give something to the country, but I am slashed by a red-hot iron that will let all semblance of personal time and balance in my life seep away.

Here’s a manga page that depicts a typical zangyou (overtime) situation:

05_4comic

Advice for new company workers (Japanese)

Working oneself to death


We’re not talking about English-teaching here, noble as that job may be. It (I feel) doesn’t give a true representation of working in Japan. I’m talking about working for a company – a business – and having a successful, long-lasting career in Japan. I attended a careers event a couple of weeks ago at my University, conducted entirely in Japanese about finding work in Japan. The main speaker, after he was done, was quizzed by pretty much the entire audience individually. When my turn came around, I tried to be gentle, knowing how much of a weighted question I would already by pushing on him and his already strained vocal chords.

karoshi

His answer? Pretty typical of most of what I have heard from every other Japanese person to date (both young and old): It’s not really possible to defy the overtime system. If you value your personal time so much, perhaps you ought to re-consider working in Japan altogether? Even gaishikei (foreign companies) in Japan expect overtime. He even went as far as telling me a personal anecdote of his experience being a teacher in Japan:

He spoke that, during his career as a high-school teacher, he had worked himself to the point of illness. In fact, he said, he worked himself so much that he starting getting blood in his urine! I need say no more to convince the majority of Western readers of the absurdity of this situation, but what would most Japanese people say to this? An unfortunate side-effect? Extreme, but not unheard of? What about ‘karoshi’ (death by overwork)? Please, let me know!

This man’s response echoed many other responses. Sure, there are certain types of worker in Japan who, in general, are able to return home more or less on time (bankers, workers for large companies like Canon during this economic crisis), but it seems that most workers feel that overtime is a necessary thing, even though they’d prefer a more balanced life. Look at these surveys, translated courtesy of What Japan Thinks:

Overtime in the Workplace
Work-Life Balance Apparently 68.7% of 129 people say that a Work-Life Balance system has not been introduced in their workplace.

According to one survey by CNET Japan, over 90% of the 1,080 people questioned (around 68% of whom were male businessmen) think that overtime is necessary for the company’s survival and, to a certain extent, something that cannot be helped. However, nearly everyone thought that Work-Life Balance is important and in order to achieve it, we must ‘raise the efficiency of work’ and ‘reform the thinking of companies that see overtime as necessary’.

Here’s another site which has statistics on overtime (in Japanese):

image01

Goo Research

Positive trends?


A few of the Twitter responses I received from my followers about overtime in Japan. A mixed bag really. Definitely a few more positive vibes than I have gotten before:

The response in Japanese reads: “Recently, rather than overtime, the amount of work has actually been falling – especially in the car-industry. But when the economy gets better again, those sorts of companies will probably make you work 1 or 2 hours of overtime.”

There are also trends to suggest that, slowly, perhaps, the Japanese government is waking up to the severity of the situation. Posts like this in the Japan Times or this one in Japan Today highlight changing attitudes towards work and moving towards a more balanced lifestyle which helps try and address some of the issues of the absent father in many Japanese families and poor health of company workers.

Another site here, offers advice and tests on how to help you, the budding Salaryman, escape the wrath of Zangyou:

zangyou-shinai

Zangyou shinai!

Trepidation


So, where does all this leave me? Yes, it can certainly be seen above that the majority of Japanese people seem to also want rid of the heavy amounts of overtime, but see it as a ‘necessary evil’, in some sense. It’s also true that there have been governmental efforts made into bringing a more stable Work-Life Balance to Japan. But is it really changing anything, and if so, will it change enough in my lifetime? It is really, in reality, possible for a newly graduated foreigner to go to Japan and work a respectable 9-5 job at a decent company? Or am I doomed to submit to the system if I wish to work in Japan?

Don’t get me wrong. I am perfectly happy to do occasional overtime (we’re talking once, possibly twice a week here) or in longer stretches during particularly busy periods a company faces. I’m not so naive that I think the world stops revolving at 5.30pm. Heck, I might even *want* to do overtime sometimes (gasp), or love the work I’m doing so much that I lose track of the time. My worry is that I will be ostracised by my company and my co-workers if I try to balance my life by leaving work on time most days.

So, my questions: How have you found overtime to be in Japan? How many hours a day do you usually work? What company do you work for and how do you find a healthy balance between work and personal life?

103 comments on “Work-Life Balance in Japan
  1. Patrick says:

    I’m way late to this but wanted to add my two cents. I’ve worked in a rural junior high school for three years in Japan and now two American branches of Japanese companies.

    For teachers- they almost signed any semblance of a personal life away when they took the job. Of course it varies by person and school but they generally work 6-7 days a week and routinely 16 hour days. The school I was at was apparently famous for having a principal that was extremely lax because it was acceptable to go home around 6:30 or 7:00. I was recently told that under the new principal “kaeri” is about 10 or 11pm. It doesn’t cross their minds to go home if they finished their work. The quitting time is when the boss decides everyone can leave.

    I then returned home and worked for the US office of a medium-sized Japanese company. The Japanese expats routinely stayed late but as they were kind of “on vacation” and away from the big bosses in Tokyo they felt comfortable going home around 7:00pm. This was early for them.

    The company I am at now the general manager is a typical workaholic and therefore spends 6-7 days a week at work. Some evening he’s there until 10pm by himself. However there’s really no expectation of the people under him to stay that long.

    Satoshii above absolutely nailed the irritating nature of this topic completely. It’s like he took the words right out of my mouth. I love Japan and honestly feel more comfortable overall living there, but this is one maddening aspect of the country I just cannot abide by and prevents me from seriously thinking about going back there.

    Working overtime when NEEDED is fine. The way the Japanese do it is absolutely illogical. As a foreigner though, you generally are not expected to participate in this which seems nice on the surface but in turn you are never going to advance very far as they’ll see you as not as dedicated to the company.

    I have heard there are some Japanese companies (even those that aren’t Western-owned) that are starting to move toward a more sane level of work-life balance. The trick is finding them.

  2. Kaoslord999 says:

    I’m an English teacher who has now been “recruited” into a private school for a full-time position.
    I never had to worry about unpaid overtime in a low-paying position, but now that I have a somewhat liveable wage, I’m doing overtime pretty much every day.

    I try to draw the line at 2 hours overtime tops, but usually when the end of my working hours rolls around, the scenario is EXACTLY like that manga, and I’m still pretty much the first to leave every day.

    I’ve found Japan to be a country that will walk all over those who don’t assert themselves.
    Conservative and capitalist to global extremes, the idea of “loyalty to the group being more important than your life” is something that’s been deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.

    To be a foreigner working here is a role that really requires one to draw hard lines, and keep them there.
    No one holds a gun to your head to stay overtime, it’s something almost telepathically pressured.
    However, if one asserts themselves, makes a plan from day one to never do unpaid overtime, and really works hard to keep their work/life balance healthy, then it’s possible to survive and be happy here.

    However, you will always be under attack from the wills and pressures of others to conform. Your values are something you really need to be firm about and not let others try and change/manipulate.

  3. David says:

    Dear friends,

    I am writting from Spain. I’ve already launched a survey -in Spanish, French, English and German- to ask men and women how do they live the work life Balance. I’ve just started three weeks ago and I have more than 1000 responses. I hope you can help to publicize it. The survey is on internet: http://www.eightyoghurt.com

    I see in Japan is hard to live the work life Balance, but in Spain, and I think over the world, we’re not many man talking about equality from our men side. I hope this survey will help to give solutions to woman to get tools to negotiate.

  4. Tipster says:

    the work ethic of Japanese people is well known all over the world. Why else do you think Japan ( a considerably small country) has become one of the world’s leading economies. It is made by the japanese people and the price for that is payd by most workers. But that is the same in Germany and offices all around the world!

  5. Paul says:

    Same over in Australia too, in fact, possibly worse. I seem to recall something in the news not too long ago comparing it to Japan…

  6. Negleh says:

    That’s why I’m moving out of Japan and back to New York. Call me a lazy gaijin, but I’m not going to work my ass off for nobody in another country like that and go crazy like the nuts who are already here, singing songs in public with skirts on.

  7. Negleh says:

    That’s why I’m moving out of Japan and back to New York. Call me a lazy gaijin, but I’m not going to work my ass off for nobody in another country like that and go crazy like the nuts who are already here, singing songs in public with skirts on.

  8. Johnny says:

    I just want to throw a couple things out there. I’m a little tired (just finished work) so I haven’t read closely enough yet, but here is my experience.

    Unpaid overtime is a fact. I know of no way to get out of it. I work nearly 50 hours a week and am paid for 36. And I teach English. Some English teachers may have it easy, but don’t lump us all together. I feel that I’ve had as authentic an experience as a foreigner can get.

    That long quote about loyal workers at a company for life is from a different generation. Now more and more companies hire by contract. There was a time when being a diligent company man meant you would be taken care of, but that isn’t the case any more. It still happens, but it isn’t the rule it once was.

  9. Johnny says:

    I just want to throw a couple things out there. I’m a little tired (just finished work) so I haven’t read closely enough yet, but here is my experience.

    Unpaid overtime is a fact. I know of no way to get out of it. I work nearly 50 hours a week and am paid for 36. And I teach English. Some English teachers may have it easy, but don’t lump us all together. I feel that I’ve had as authentic an experience as a foreigner can get.

    That long quote about loyal workers at a company for life is from a different generation. Now more and more companies hire by contract. There was a time when being a diligent company man meant you would be taken care of, but that isn’t the case any more. It still happens, but it isn’t the rule it once was.

  10. samuel welsh says:

    If its possible to change it would be great.
    As a private english teacher you really try to push up the hours for a better paye.

  11. samuel welsh says:

    If its possible to change it would be great.
    As a private english teacher you really try to push up the hours for a better paye.

  12. Renee says:

    Hello Mate,
    during my one-year Working Holiday stay in Japan, I worked on a ship in a restaurant. I usually used to work from 8:30 am to 10:30 PM, six days a week. On very busy occasions (Golden Week – holyday? Of course not!), I could hardly even take my break.

    When I came back to germany I was laughing about working times like 8 hours and actually recieving a BONUS for doing overtime. HA! In my opinion you should forget about a ninetofive-job in Japan immediately.

    Chees!

  13. Renee says:

    Hello Mate,
    during my one-year Working Holiday stay in Japan, I worked on a ship in a restaurant. I usually used to work from 8:30 am to 10:30 PM, six days a week. On very busy occasions (Golden Week – holyday? Of course not!), I could hardly even take my break.

    When I came back to germany I was laughing about working times like 8 hours and actually recieving a BONUS for doing overtime. HA! In my opinion you should forget about a ninetofive-job in Japan immediately.

    Chees!

    • StoneValley says:

      That is the thing Japan has to think about. Why is it workers in the western countries work fewer hours yet get payed more than the Japanese?

  14. WrenMF says:

    Great article Michael san!
    That’s why I live in the US now :) My working (outside of the house) female friends are single or married w/no children, or happily married w/children but quit their FT jobs. Honestly, it wasn’t worth the fight for me.

  15. WrenMF says:

    Great article Michael san!
    That’s why I live in the US now :) My working (outside of the house) female friends are single or married w/no children, or happily married w/children but quit their FT jobs. Honestly, it wasn’t worth the fight for me.

  16. Christina says:

    I am currently working for a big (around 2000 total employees in offices throughout the nation) Japanese firm as a contract employee. I don’t have much of a workload yet, because I just started work a couple weeks ago. However, apparently it is company policy (at least at my office) that MWF are no-overtime days. I’ve been leaving at 5:40ish, ten minutes after the official end of day (my train’s at 5:45, so it works out that way), and I’m not the first to leave. I’m the first in my little division, but I can’t guarantee that they don’t leave five minutes after me. Coworker-friends I’ve made also claim to do very little overtime.

    I’m okay with working when there’s work to be done, but so far I don’t really have much work, and am actually hoping to get more soon. I think I better be more pushy about getting something to do in the coming weeks so I’m not left figuring out how to entertain myself for the 6 hours of the day where I don’t have any tasks to do.

    One thing to note–I’m in Kyushu, not Tokyo. I can’t tell you what office life is like there, even for people who work for the same company as I do. I think the lifestyle down here is a lot slower in general. My commute is all of 15 minutes (only 2 minutes of it on the train!), and it never seems like anyone’s in much of a rush. Sure, it doesn’t have all of the concentrated excitement that Tokyo has, but it’s cheaper, quieter, and less stressful.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s really interesting. Looks like the situation is very different depending on your location. Not surprised that the Kyushu people are more chilled out!

  17. Christina says:

    I am currently working for a big (around 2000 total employees in offices throughout the nation) Japanese firm as a contract employee. I don’t have much of a workload yet, because I just started work a couple weeks ago. However, apparently it is company policy (at least at my office) that MWF are no-overtime days. I’ve been leaving at 5:40ish, ten minutes after the official end of day (my train’s at 5:45, so it works out that way), and I’m not the first to leave. I’m the first in my little division, but I can’t guarantee that they don’t leave five minutes after me. Coworker-friends I’ve made also claim to do very little overtime.

    I’m okay with working when there’s work to be done, but so far I don’t really have much work, and am actually hoping to get more soon. I think I better be more pushy about getting something to do in the coming weeks so I’m not left figuring out how to entertain myself for the 6 hours of the day where I don’t have any tasks to do.

    One thing to note–I’m in Kyushu, not Tokyo. I can’t tell you what office life is like there, even for people who work for the same company as I do. I think the lifestyle down here is a lot slower in general. My commute is all of 15 minutes (only 2 minutes of it on the train!), and it never seems like anyone’s in much of a rush. Sure, it doesn’t have all of the concentrated excitement that Tokyo has, but it’s cheaper, quieter, and less stressful.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s really interesting. Looks like the situation is very different depending on your location. Not surprised that the Kyushu people are more chilled out!

  18. Thankfully the company I worked for had infernal bells, that ended each class, so I could escape at five past nine each evening.

    I worked an extra shift each week, and occasionally took on extra private students. But it was all paid for, until one fateful summer in 2007.

    The big chain English conversation school started stiffing the customers, then the Japanese staff, and then stopped paying its rent. The English instructors were the last to get shafted, and some drones even worked on blindly without any hope of getting paid.

    The ultimate overtime for some people became turning up to work in service of the students knowing full well that you weren’t going to see last months pay cheque, let alone pay for the hours you worked on the day the branch closed.

    Each time pay-day came around the Chief Monkey Bridge would send a vacuous fax imploring his minions to soldier on.

    It was a sorry state of affairs, not least of all for the Japanese staff who felt duty bound to continue working, some of them nearly three months without pay.

    It was one of the most hideous examples of blind company loyalty I had ever seen. I got angry before I got better. I’ve made sense of it now, but the bunny still haunts me.

    Don’t expect the corporations to have any loyalty for you, nor should you have any to them.

  19. Rainbowhill says:

    Thankfully the company I worked for had infernal bells, that ended each class, so I could escape at five past nine each evening.

    I worked an extra shift each week, and occasionally took on extra private students. But it was all paid for, until one fateful summer in 2007.

    The big chain English conversation school started stiffing the customers, then the Japanese staff, and then stopped paying its rent. The English instructors were the last to get shafted, and some drones even worked on blindly without any hope of getting paid.

    The ultimate overtime for some people became turning up to work in service of the students knowing full well that you weren’t going to see last months pay cheque, let alone pay for the hours you worked on the day the branch closed.

    Each time pay-day came around the Chief Monkey Bridge would send a vacuous fax imploring his minions to soldier on.

    It was a sorry state of affairs, not least of all for the Japanese staff who felt duty bound to continue working, some of them nearly three months without pay.

    It was one of the most hideous examples of blind company loyalty I had ever seen. I got angry before I got better. I’ve made sense of it now, but the bunny still haunts me.

    Don’t expect the corporations to have any loyalty for you, nor should you have any to them.

  20. Daniel says:

    Ken,

    It may not be easy, but it’s always possible. I have done something similar at almost every company I ever worked for, and every time people told me “you cant do that here”, “that won’t work here” and so on.

    But I always could, and it always did.

    The question is not “if” it is only “how”.

    I don’t want to try it out (I like my current setup) but without even knowing your company I am certain I could have extra ordinary conditions, more free time, more money or both, within 6 months to a year. It’s just a matter of finding the right leverage, and the right person to apply it to.

  21. Daniel says:

    Ken,

    It may not be easy, but it’s always possible. I have done something similar at almost every company I ever worked for, and every time people told me “you cant do that here”, “that won’t work here” and so on.

    But I always could, and it always did.

    The question is not “if” it is only “how”.

    I don’t want to try it out (I like my current setup) but without even knowing your company I am certain I could have extra ordinary conditions, more free time, more money or both, within 6 months to a year. It’s just a matter of finding the right leverage, and the right person to apply it to.

  22. Daniel says:

    Ken Y-N,

    The trick is not to suggest or ask if you can do the improvements, but actually start doing them.

    What I did for example was to build a basic application that allowed people to assemble new documents from existing, already proofread sections. It wasn’t complete when I showed it to the company but it did enough for them to agree to let me to finish it.

    It’s easy to say no to a suggestion to improve, but much harder to say no when the solution is right in front of them and ready to go.

    So what you could do is learn some php/HTML and build a replacement form in your spare time, or find an online form builder (there are lots) or pick up a good CMS like Joomla or Drupal and find a forms extension for them. (again there are lots).

    • Ken Y-N says:

      Daniel, easier said than done in a company with tens of thousands of employees, where we are discouraged from running local services and have to use the centralised tools.

      And I didn’t tell you about the web mail client that can’t wordwrap and cannot quote…

      It might change with the new 20 hour overtime rule, but currently no-one’s terribly interested in efficiency.

      • Darg says:

        Ken-

        I think this is one of those things where it’s ever so important and yet difficult to walk that fine line between “being Japanese” and knowing the rules, and bucking them in the name of foreignness.

        Daniel’s key part here was “It’s easy to say no to a suggestion to improve, but much harder to say no when the solution is right in front of them and ready to go.”

        That’s the foreignness part – it’s what makes you stand out from the rest and allows you permission to butt in and make a suggestion where others wouldn’t dare.

        As for the second part, you have to work the Japanese system as well – bust out the nemawashi, or even better if you’re close with someone a little further up the ladder then just skip a few rungs.

        In a bigger corporation I think you’d be delegated to garnering support around you in the form of nemawashi, and possibly getting people you know in other departments talking about the great solution you came up with and are developing as well. If you can’t get things moving in your department, go show it to someone in MIS or wherever you can think of. You just have to work the Japanese system in ways only we can.

  23. Daniel says:

    Ken Y-N,

    The trick is not to suggest or ask if you can do the improvements, but actually start doing them.

    What I did for example was to build a basic application that allowed people to assemble new documents from existing, already proofread sections. It wasn’t complete when I showed it to the company but it did enough for them to agree to let me to finish it.

    It’s easy to say no to a suggestion to improve, but much harder to say no when the solution is right in front of them and ready to go.

    So what you could do is learn some php/HTML and build a replacement form in your spare time, or find an online form builder (there are lots) or pick up a good CMS like Joomla or Drupal and find a forms extension for them. (again there are lots).

    • Ken Y-N says:

      Daniel, easier said than done in a company with tens of thousands of employees, where we are discouraged from running local services and have to use the centralised tools.

      And I didn’t tell you about the web mail client that can’t wordwrap and cannot quote…

      It might change with the new 20 hour overtime rule, but currently no-one’s terribly interested in efficiency.

      • Darg says:

        Ken-

        I think this is one of those things where it’s ever so important and yet difficult to walk that fine line between “being Japanese” and knowing the rules, and bucking them in the name of foreignness.

        Daniel’s key part here was “It’s easy to say no to a suggestion to improve, but much harder to say no when the solution is right in front of them and ready to go.”

        That’s the foreignness part – it’s what makes you stand out from the rest and allows you permission to butt in and make a suggestion where others wouldn’t dare.

        As for the second part, you have to work the Japanese system as well – bust out the nemawashi, or even better if you’re close with someone a little further up the ladder then just skip a few rungs.

        In a bigger corporation I think you’d be delegated to garnering support around you in the form of nemawashi, and possibly getting people you know in other departments talking about the great solution you came up with and are developing as well. If you can’t get things moving in your department, go show it to someone in MIS or wherever you can think of. You just have to work the Japanese system in ways only we can.

  24. MrKirkland says:

    Work remotely or work for yourself.

    If you’re in IT, this is easy.

    I run an internet company from Tokyo and haven’t done any ‘overtime’ at all. I work from cafe’s half the time, lot’s of beach in the summer, and never working late (unless it suits me). Same goes for my employees.

    There’s nothing clever about sitting in an office (probably doing very little) and waiting past 2am for your boss to leave before you feel you can go home.

  25. MrKirkland says:

    Work remotely or work for yourself.

    If you’re in IT, this is easy.

    I run an internet company from Tokyo and haven’t done any ‘overtime’ at all. I work from cafe’s half the time, lot’s of beach in the summer, and never working late (unless it suits me). Same goes for my employees.

    There’s nothing clever about sitting in an office (probably doing very little) and waiting past 2am for your boss to leave before you feel you can go home.

  26. Konstantin says:

    My two cents:

    Currently, I’m working in Japanese company (quite big) in Tokyo, in IT industry. The official working hours are 10am-6pm, and of course people have some overtime work. I usually come office at 9am and leave 7pm-8pm, it’s OK for me and I think it’s average overwork time for my colleagues. All overtime is payed with 15 min. step, I can’t report less time I had because we have automatic work time check system and I can’t have more then 40hr overtime per month without special permission.

    Also we have one day in a week when everyone should leave office by 6:30pm

  27. Konstantin says:

    My two cents:

    Currently, I’m working in Japanese company (quite big) in Tokyo, in IT industry. The official working hours are 10am-6pm, and of course people have some overtime work. I usually come office at 9am and leave 7pm-8pm, it’s OK for me and I think it’s average overwork time for my colleagues. All overtime is payed with 15 min. step, I can’t report less time I had because we have automatic work time check system and I can’t have more then 40hr overtime per month without special permission.

    Also we have one day in a week when everyone should leave office by 6:30pm

  28. Daniel says:

    I work as a proofreader for a Japanese company (just over 3 years now), and I did a short stint when I first got here with teaching and bar tending.

    I don’t do any overtime unless the work demands it, which is pretty rare, and if I do do it then I claim it all.

    Others in my company though have been known to do 18 hours days, head home to a sleeping family, nap for 2-4 hours, get up and come back at 6:30-8:00 am and do the same thing again nonstop for up to 3 months at a time during our busy season.

    On the other hand I know a few of them who actually rely on overtime to support their families, as their budget is based on them doing 40+ hours of overtime a month and not their base salary.

    These particular guys are hurting right now because the slowdown has dropped our business, and a lot of non revenue generating departments right now have a no overtime rule to cut costs.

    So it’s a mixed bag really. I wouldn’t get myself all worked up about being forced into slave labor until you actually get a job.

    I actually renegotiated my contract recently, because I made some changes to the proof reading process itself and cut my personal workload by over 60%, and several other people’s by 20-30%. So I got to cut back to 3 days a week work, and kept the equivalent of my original full time salary.

    When I suggested to some other people at my company what I was going to do, they were dead certain that I would never be able to do it. But it went through without a problem.

    Sorry that was all a bit rambly, but my advise essentially is:

    1. Don’t worry about overtime until you get a job, then talk to them about it
    2. If your job does require overtime, then see if you can’t cut the workload down by increasing the efficiency of your group or yourself.
    3.Then if you do increase it, make a big deal about it and use that to leverage yourself at least out of overtime, or possibly in extra free time.

    It worked for me despite all the naysayers.

    • Ken Y-N says:

      Daniel, that sounds super! Wish I could do that…

      The two main efficiency killers with me are meetings and our intranet is actively user-hostile. One example that I wasted a whole day on was producing 10 export compliance declarations. All almost identical bar the country and companies, but the online software doesn’t allow reuse of forms, doesn’t allow editing after saving, doesn’t fill out all the boxes, has a different order on-screen versus print-out, needs at least four levels of rubber stamping, etc etc, just for me to take part in teleconferences.

      Every year or so we have a semi-compulsory “Submit your money-saving activities” session, every time I moan about internal systems being crap, every time my boss politely tells me we can’t use that idea. Last year I complained that the submission form itself was excessively complicated and incorrectly formatted, requiring everyone to manually reformat it to ensure their own ideas were correctly displayed.

      I did think about asking if I could get transferred into the MIS department to kick some useability into them, but then I thought it would be too soul-destroying.

  29. Daniel says:

    I work as a proofreader for a Japanese company (just over 3 years now), and I did a short stint when I first got here with teaching and bar tending.

    I don’t do any overtime unless the work demands it, which is pretty rare, and if I do do it then I claim it all.

    Others in my company though have been known to do 18 hours days, head home to a sleeping family, nap for 2-4 hours, get up and come back at 6:30-8:00 am and do the same thing again nonstop for up to 3 months at a time during our busy season.

    On the other hand I know a few of them who actually rely on overtime to support their families, as their budget is based on them doing 40+ hours of overtime a month and not their base salary.

    These particular guys are hurting right now because the slowdown has dropped our business, and a lot of non revenue generating departments right now have a no overtime rule to cut costs.

    So it’s a mixed bag really. I wouldn’t get myself all worked up about being forced into slave labor until you actually get a job.

    I actually renegotiated my contract recently, because I made some changes to the proof reading process itself and cut my personal workload by over 60%, and several other people’s by 20-30%. So I got to cut back to 3 days a week work, and kept the equivalent of my original full time salary.

    When I suggested to some other people at my company what I was going to do, they were dead certain that I would never be able to do it. But it went through without a problem.

    Sorry that was all a bit rambly, but my advise essentially is:

    1. Don’t worry about overtime until you get a job, then talk to them about it
    2. If your job does require overtime, then see if you can’t cut the workload down by increasing the efficiency of your group or yourself.
    3.Then if you do increase it, make a big deal about it and use that to leverage yourself at least out of overtime, or possibly in extra free time.

    It worked for me despite all the naysayers.

    • Ken Y-N says:

      Daniel, that sounds super! Wish I could do that…

      The two main efficiency killers with me are meetings and our intranet is actively user-hostile. One example that I wasted a whole day on was producing 10 export compliance declarations. All almost identical bar the country and companies, but the online software doesn’t allow reuse of forms, doesn’t allow editing after saving, doesn’t fill out all the boxes, has a different order on-screen versus print-out, needs at least four levels of rubber stamping, etc etc, just for me to take part in teleconferences.

      Every year or so we have a semi-compulsory “Submit your money-saving activities” session, every time I moan about internal systems being crap, every time my boss politely tells me we can’t use that idea. Last year I complained that the submission form itself was excessively complicated and incorrectly formatted, requiring everyone to manually reformat it to ensure their own ideas were correctly displayed.

      I did think about asking if I could get transferred into the MIS department to kick some useability into them, but then I thought it would be too soul-destroying.

  30. Pippo says:

    Just saw the film “Poppoya” about a railway stationmaster (Takakura Ken) in rural Hokkaido who is so dedicated to his job that he missed the deaths of his wife and only child. The film portrayed him as the noble embodiment of the selfless paragon of Japanese manhood. If you want that kind of job situation good luck, better not to expect to have any life outside the office.

  31. Pippo says:

    Just saw the film “Poppoya” about a railway stationmaster (Takakura Ken) in rural Hokkaido who is so dedicated to his job that he missed the deaths of his wife and only child. The film portrayed him as the noble embodiment of the selfless paragon of Japanese manhood. If you want that kind of job situation good luck, better not to expect to have any life outside the office.

  32. Mike says:

    Here are the comments made on Japansoc.com

    Kanmuri:

    Working hours in Japan are insane. And most of the time, people aren’t really busy. If they increased productivity, they could leave earlier and enjoy life a little more. But here people are defined by their jobs. My husband works for the JSDF and he often hears people brag that they’ve worked for 15 hours in a row… Some people even come in on the weekend, even if they don’t have to…

    Freedomwv:

    Increased productivity would be nice actually. Just because a person is staying late at the office does not mean they are getting a whole lot done.

    Ryanthewired:

    hours of unpaid labor? marx would have a fit.

    JoeJones:

    It’s mainly an issue of perception. People here don’t want to be the first to leave the office. The longer they hang around their desk, the more dedicated and motivated they look.

    Koichi:

    This is why you have to work for yourself / on your own terms if you go to Japan… or anywhere, really! :D

  33. Mike says:

    Here are the comments made on Japansoc.com

    Kanmuri:

    Working hours in Japan are insane. And most of the time, people aren’t really busy. If they increased productivity, they could leave earlier and enjoy life a little more. But here people are defined by their jobs. My husband works for the JSDF and he often hears people brag that they’ve worked for 15 hours in a row… Some people even come in on the weekend, even if they don’t have to…

    Freedomwv:

    Increased productivity would be nice actually. Just because a person is staying late at the office does not mean they are getting a whole lot done.

    Ryanthewired:

    hours of unpaid labor? marx would have a fit.

    JoeJones:

    It’s mainly an issue of perception. People here don’t want to be the first to leave the office. The longer they hang around their desk, the more dedicated and motivated they look.

    Koichi:

    This is why you have to work for yourself / on your own terms if you go to Japan… or anywhere, really! :D

  34. GuyInJapan says:

    Here’s my experience. I work for a Japanese org with very few foreigners (and I’m the only one with sub-par Japanese). Hours are 9 to 6, but plenty of people work 9 to 8, 9 to 9 or later. I tried to keep up at the beginning to “fit in”, but the cost on my physical and mental state was just not worth it (that, plus the extra strain of working in a non-native environment). I currently aim to work just the required hours, and in fact, my company is now cracking down on excessive overtime.

    Decide what you want out of your experience in Japan – if you don’t plan on being a lifer and trying to crack senior management, why bother devoting your precious time only to work? It’s a massive investment on your part for questionable returns. I ask friends who work crazy overtime what they did on the weekend (as you do), and they only ever say “I slept”. One of my bosses told me that when they sent employees home early one time, they didn’t know what to do with the spare time – with no hobbies, all they knew was work. To me, that’s no way to live.

    • Mike says:

      Hi GuyInJapan. Thanks for your comment!

      I completely agree. Sleeping at weekends is no way to live. I hope I can find a company who allows/encourages me and the other (including Japanese) workers go home at reasonable hours. It would be a sad situation if all my colleagues were so tired from the week than they haven’t the energy to hang out with me at weekends and such.

  35. GuyInJapan says:

    Here’s my experience. I work for a Japanese org with very few foreigners (and I’m the only one with sub-par Japanese). Hours are 9 to 6, but plenty of people work 9 to 8, 9 to 9 or later. I tried to keep up at the beginning to “fit in”, but the cost on my physical and mental state was just not worth it (that, plus the extra strain of working in a non-native environment). I currently aim to work just the required hours, and in fact, my company is now cracking down on excessive overtime.

    Decide what you want out of your experience in Japan – if you don’t plan on being a lifer and trying to crack senior management, why bother devoting your precious time only to work? It’s a massive investment on your part for questionable returns. I ask friends who work crazy overtime what they did on the weekend (as you do), and they only ever say “I slept”. One of my bosses told me that when they sent employees home early one time, they didn’t know what to do with the spare time – with no hobbies, all they knew was work. To me, that’s no way to live.

    • Mike says:

      Hi GuyInJapan. Thanks for your comment!

      I completely agree. Sleeping at weekends is no way to live. I hope I can find a company who allows/encourages me and the other (including Japanese) workers go home at reasonable hours. It would be a sad situation if all my colleagues were so tired from the week than they haven’t the energy to hang out with me at weekends and such.

    • Apryl Peredo says:

      I have been working for a Japanese company and notice that all the company employees regularly work until 7pm, 8pm, 9pm. As a contract employee, I am not required to work overtime – and there is no provision in my contract to even receive overtime pay – but what I find is this: the workers here MUST work overtime to get their daily work done BECAUSE their work method is highly inefficient and slow paced. I have the same work load as one of the company employees – and truthfully, most days I am through with my tasks 2 hours before days end. My company equivalent is several tasks behind.

      In Japan, it seems to be quite true that you are viewed as a good employee by the TIME spent at work, NOT by what you actually accomplish while there.

  36. Cooler than says:

    I wonder if remote computing might be a solution for some in Japan.

    Or allowing employees to take their work laptops home with them: http://tinyurl.com/cnbb9s

    Quality post Michael.

  37. Cooler than says:

    I wonder if remote computing might be a solution for some in Japan.

    Or allowing employees to take their work laptops home with them: http://tinyurl.com/cnbb9s

    Quality post Michael.

  38. Andrew says:

    It’s funny, I was thinking about writing a blog post about this myself.

    I work for a traditional Japanese company in the finance industry. I am the only foreigner in the company and the only time I am exposed to English or western practices is when I am talking to our western clients (which is my role in the company). I know exactly how you feel since I felt exactly the same way when my time as a student was about to end.

    When I entered the company, I decided that I was going to go home between 7pm and 8pm everyday and that I would only stay longer if work demanded it. I’ve been here a year now and I’ve generally stuck to that rule. I’m never the first to go home and I’m never the last either. I almost always end up going home before my bosses and I don’t care. This means that I do about 3 hours of overtime every day and I claim all of the associated overtime pay at the end of each month. I don’t know for sure but I estimate that my colleagues do not claim more than half of the overtime that they work. My direct boss has told me that he has never claimed overtime pay and when I handed my overtime sheet in to him for the first time, he stared at it for quite a while.

    My company generally doesn’t do as much overtime as other larger companies (there are only 90 employees). Therefore, although I go home earlier than most people, it’s not ridiculous and I’m rarely the first to go home. I also participate in just about every after-hours event we have, which includes bi-monthly soccer games, swimming competitions and of course 飲み会. For these reasons, I have a good relationship with my colleagues and my boss and no one seems to resent my earlier-than-average departure.

    Other workplaces are not the same. One of my colleagues worked for Fujitsu and he was witness to a karoshi. He says he came in one day and the guy was just slumped on the desk. One of my friends works for the government and he works until 4:30am every day. He hasn’t seen his son in quite a while. These stories make really angry but it’s hard to criticize since I’m a foreigner. The general reaction is always, “you’re absolutely right but there’s not a lot we can do”. I don’t believe this at all, I think that everyone has a choice.

    So if you get a job at the right company, and you’re prepared to deal with disapproval from colleagues, you can go home whenever you want. If you work well and add value to the company, if you are sociable and participate in extra-curricular events, and if you ask people if they need help before you go home, I don’t think you’ll get much disapproval. What’s more, as in my case, some people may follow your example.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Andrew! Thank you for your lengthy comment! It really gave me a lot to think about and has some incredibly valuable advice about working in Japan. ^^

      Since you made some great points, I want to answer them individually:

      1) Claiming back overtime pay. I agree with you 100% on this. Any overtime should be paid for, and I intend to claim for it. Perhaps not silly amounts like 20 minutes, but definitely if close to an hour. Glad to see that you are able to claim. Have you ever been ‘advised’ to not write it all down though?

      2) Your point about socialising and interacting with your colleagues intrigued me the most. I hadn’t considered this before. Of course, I knew about nomikai and such, but apart from that, asking colleagues if they have any work they need help with, joining company events and generally showing willing hadn’t really featured on my radar.

      I suppose that, as you said, by doing this one can build a trusting and friendly relationship with colleagues and then have more control to make requests about overtime and such. Also, deciding in advance how much overtime you wish to do is a great idea.

      Out of interest, how many days a week do you have nomikai/extra events? Once or twice a week might be okay, but I hear horror stories of nightly nomikai and such…

      • Andrew says:

        Hi Mike

        I wrote a blog post to flesh out my thoughts on this.

        In answer to your questions, the social events aren’t that frequent. Maybe once or twice a week. I’ve never been advised not to write down all of my overtime.

  39. Andrew says:

    It’s funny, I was thinking about writing a blog post about this myself.

    I work for a traditional Japanese company in the finance industry. I am the only foreigner in the company and the only time I am exposed to English or western practices is when I am talking to our western clients (which is my role in the company). I know exactly how you feel since I felt exactly the same way when my time as a student was about to end.

    When I entered the company, I decided that I was going to go home between 7pm and 8pm everyday and that I would only stay longer if work demanded it. I’ve been here a year now and I’ve generally stuck to that rule. I’m never the first to go home and I’m never the last either. I almost always end up going home before my bosses and I don’t care. This means that I do about 3 hours of overtime every day and I claim all of the associated overtime pay at the end of each month. I don’t know for sure but I estimate that my colleagues do not claim more than half of the overtime that they work. My direct boss has told me that he has never claimed overtime pay and when I handed my overtime sheet in to him for the first time, he stared at it for quite a while.

    My company generally doesn’t do as much overtime as other larger companies (there are only 90 employees). Therefore, although I go home earlier than most people, it’s not ridiculous and I’m rarely the first to go home. I also participate in just about every after-hours event we have, which includes bi-monthly soccer games, swimming competitions and of course 飲み会. For these reasons, I have a good relationship with my colleagues and my boss and no one seems to resent my earlier-than-average departure.

    Other workplaces are not the same. One of my colleagues worked for Fujitsu and he was witness to a karoshi. He says he came in one day and the guy was just slumped on the desk. One of my friends works for the government and he works until 4:30am every day. He hasn’t seen his son in quite a while. These stories make really angry but it’s hard to criticize since I’m a foreigner. The general reaction is always, “you’re absolutely right but there’s not a lot we can do”. I don’t believe this at all, I think that everyone has a choice.

    So if you get a job at the right company, and you’re prepared to deal with disapproval from colleagues, you can go home whenever you want. If you work well and add value to the company, if you are sociable and participate in extra-curricular events, and if you ask people if they need help before you go home, I don’t think you’ll get much disapproval. What’s more, as in my case, some people may follow your example.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Andrew! Thank you for your lengthy comment! It really gave me a lot to think about and has some incredibly valuable advice about working in Japan. ^^

      Since you made some great points, I want to answer them individually:

      1) Claiming back overtime pay. I agree with you 100% on this. Any overtime should be paid for, and I intend to claim for it. Perhaps not silly amounts like 20 minutes, but definitely if close to an hour. Glad to see that you are able to claim. Have you ever been ‘advised’ to not write it all down though?

      2) Your point about socialising and interacting with your colleagues intrigued me the most. I hadn’t considered this before. Of course, I knew about nomikai and such, but apart from that, asking colleagues if they have any work they need help with, joining company events and generally showing willing hadn’t really featured on my radar.

      I suppose that, as you said, by doing this one can build a trusting and friendly relationship with colleagues and then have more control to make requests about overtime and such. Also, deciding in advance how much overtime you wish to do is a great idea.

      Out of interest, how many days a week do you have nomikai/extra events? Once or twice a week might be okay, but I hear horror stories of nightly nomikai and such…

  40. I think you’re putting way much thought into this too far in advance. You haven’t even begun looking at individual firms for employment yet, correct? The corporate culture in Japan is definitely changing. Yes, there are still crappy companies with obligatory overtime, but there are also companies where if you have nothing to do come quitting time, you are encouraged to go home. I’ve worked at both types of companies here. And I can safely say the most overtime I’ve *ever* worked at a company — easily 40, sometimes 50 hours of overtime on top of the 40-hour work week, for long stretches at a time — was back home in the U S of A, for less pay and dubious medical benefits. Food for thought.

    • Mike says:

      Hi John. Thanks for your insights!

      You are right that I haven’t looked into specific companies so much yet. I’m still trying to work out a realistic picture of the amount of overtime I should prepare myself for. You are also spot-on in saying that I’m thinking about it too much – I always do with anything ^^;

      Good to know that there are both types of companies in Japan though, and that other countries can be just as bad. You consoled me whether you meant to or not!

  41. I think you’re putting way much thought into this too far in advance. You haven’t even begun looking at individual firms for employment yet, correct? The corporate culture in Japan is definitely changing. Yes, there are still crappy companies with obligatory overtime, but there are also companies where if you have nothing to do come quitting time, you are encouraged to go home. I’ve worked at both types of companies here. And I can safely say the most overtime I’ve *ever* worked at a company — easily 40, sometimes 50 hours of overtime on top of the 40-hour work week, for long stretches at a time — was back home in the U S of A, for less pay and dubious medical benefits. Food for thought.

    • Mike says:

      Hi John. Thanks for your insights!

      You are right that I haven’t looked into specific companies so much yet. I’m still trying to work out a realistic picture of the amount of overtime I should prepare myself for. You are also spot-on in saying that I’m thinking about it too much – I always do with anything ^^;

      Good to know that there are both types of companies in Japan though, and that other countries can be just as bad. You consoled me whether you meant to or not!

  42. Darg says:

    Hi Michael,

    Leaving by 6-7pm most every day is definitely doable.

    But a lot of what you’re talking about really depends on your arrangement – as someone else mentioned, people on expat packages pretty much work the same as they do back home. It’s also not totally impossible to find a situation in which you can negotiate for overtime pay. You may not be looking for an expat package, but there really are times when you get away with not following the rules (including zangyou rules) to the letter like everyone else.

    I like the advice of someone on JapanSoc that said to either be your own boss or negotiate on your own terms, but other than this it’ll make a big difference on what kind of field you’re looking for and what kind of company you’re aiming for.

    Gaishikei will be more flexible than Japanese companies, and likewise smaller places are usually more reasonable than big companies about the traditional zangyou rules. Even back home though, if you’re not willing to work at least a little overtime (I’m talking like 45-50hr weeks) then it’ll limit your options a tad, at least in the US.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your advice Darg :)

      Being your own boss certainly seems to be important, but striking the balance between your demands and what the company wants is tricky. Perhaps I’m more suited to working freelance and starting my own business in Japan :p

      Your comment about 45-50hr weeks seems to be about right. My Dad reports working 50-hour weeks usually, but he works by shorter-term contracts usually.

  43. Darg says:

    Hi Michael,

    Leaving by 6-7pm most every day is definitely doable.

    But a lot of what you’re talking about really depends on your arrangement – as someone else mentioned, people on expat packages pretty much work the same as they do back home. It’s also not totally impossible to find a situation in which you can negotiate for overtime pay. You may not be looking for an expat package, but there really are times when you get away with not following the rules (including zangyou rules) to the letter like everyone else.

    I like the advice of someone on JapanSoc that said to either be your own boss or negotiate on your own terms, but other than this it’ll make a big difference on what kind of field you’re looking for and what kind of company you’re aiming for.

    Gaishikei will be more flexible than Japanese companies, and likewise smaller places are usually more reasonable than big companies about the traditional zangyou rules. Even back home though, if you’re not willing to work at least a little overtime (I’m talking like 45-50hr weeks) then it’ll limit your options a tad, at least in the US.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your advice Darg :)

      Being your own boss certainly seems to be important, but striking the balance between your demands and what the company wants is tricky. Perhaps I’m more suited to working freelance and starting my own business in Japan :p

      Your comment about 45-50hr weeks seems to be about right. My Dad reports working 50-hour weeks usually, but he works by shorter-term contracts usually.

  44. Ashley says:

    I’m a teacher here in Japan and I do plenty of overtime…
    I find that even if I’m not doing anything particularly productive (laminating endlessly is more an obsession really) I can become closer to my co-workers if I just stick around and even help them out with whatever they’re doing.
    I know you said you didn’t want to be a teacher but those who are coming to Japan to be teachers please PLEASE don’t feel entitled to follow your contract to the word and leave at 4:15 every day or you might face resentment from your co-workers who want you to give as much of yourself as you can to your school and to your students.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Ashley. Thanks for your comment. You raise a good point – fostering strong relationships with your colleagues is very important. Not just because you are more likely to be able to wield your own demands, but because you will likely enjoy your work more too.

      Still, I think that there must be a fine balance between no. of hours overtime and building good relationships though.

  45. Ashley says:

    I’m a teacher here in Japan and I do plenty of overtime…
    I find that even if I’m not doing anything particularly productive (laminating endlessly is more an obsession really) I can become closer to my co-workers if I just stick around and even help them out with whatever they’re doing.
    I know you said you didn’t want to be a teacher but those who are coming to Japan to be teachers please PLEASE don’t feel entitled to follow your contract to the word and leave at 4:15 every day or you might face resentment from your co-workers who want you to give as much of yourself as you can to your school and to your students.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Ashley. Thanks for your comment. You raise a good point – fostering strong relationships with your colleagues is very important. Not just because you are more likely to be able to wield your own demands, but because you will likely enjoy your work more too.

      Still, I think that there must be a fine balance between no. of hours overtime and building good relationships though.

  46. Philippe P. says:

    Hi Michael!

    I may be French, but if I ever went home at 5 PM, I’d feel like I was taking my afternoon off :-)

    Anyway, I’m kind of self-employed, in a small electronics development start-up company I partly own, so my work habits do not reflect those of people working in larger companies, but your post made me wonder… I estimated my work-hours, and wow… According to Wikipedia, I even beat South Korea! And I don’t think I’m so much of an exception: many self-employed people, butchers, bakers, etc, work more than I do. Actually, if I went to work in Japan, work hours are not what would frighten me the most.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time#South_Korea_and_Japan

    Anyway, are there detailed statistics about working hours in Japan, per business sector?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Phillippe. Interesting points! You reinforce the point that I’m perhaps somewhat naive in my wanting to work a 9-5pm job. Is looks like many people work more than that in reality.

      I would like to see some overtime statistics per sector too! I imagine they would be on governmental websites. I might try and look for them sometime.

  47. Philippe P. says:

    Hi Michael!

    I may be French, but if I ever went home at 5 PM, I’d feel like I was taking my afternoon off :-)

    Anyway, I’m kind of self-employed, in a small electronics development start-up company I partly own, so my work habits do not reflect those of people working in larger companies, but your post made me wonder… I estimated my work-hours, and wow… According to Wikipedia, I even beat South Korea! And I don’t think I’m so much of an exception: many self-employed people, butchers, bakers, etc, work more than I do. Actually, if I went to work in Japan, work hours are not what would frighten me the most.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time#South_Korea_and_Japan

    Anyway, are there detailed statistics about working hours in Japan, per business sector?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Phillippe. Interesting points! You reinforce the point that I’m perhaps somewhat naive in my wanting to work a 9-5pm job. Is looks like many people work more than that in reality.

      I would like to see some overtime statistics per sector too! I imagine they would be on governmental websites. I might try and look for them sometime.

  48. Ken Y-N says:

    Great post! My employer has recently annouced it will be enforcing 20 hours a month (down from 45+ for most people) and it’s been quite fun in a sad sort of way watching everyone panic about how they’ll get their work done.

    Of course, the company is not offering training or even a manual on tips on how to cut your time down, so it seems to be up to every team to come up with their own way. One thing they’ve introduced is a morning meeting where a team (four people in our case) review what they are going to do, but the time required for it is slowly creeping up towards 10 minutes per person…

    • Mike says:

      Hi Ken! Thanks for your comment and great translations on the surveys. It’s good to know your employer is moving forward by reducing overtime. Definitely a good thing. Would you mind me asking who your employer is?

  49. Ken Y-N says:

    Great post! My employer has recently annouced it will be enforcing 20 hours a month (down from 45+ for most people) and it’s been quite fun in a sad sort of way watching everyone panic about how they’ll get their work done.

    Of course, the company is not offering training or even a manual on tips on how to cut your time down, so it seems to be up to every team to come up with their own way. One thing they’ve introduced is a morning meeting where a team (four people in our case) review what they are going to do, but the time required for it is slowly creeping up towards 10 minutes per person…

    • Mike says:

      Hi Ken! Thanks for your comment and great translations on the surveys. It’s good to know your employer is moving forward by reducing overtime. Definitely a good thing. Would you mind me asking who your employer is?

  50. wormgear says:

    Thanks for a great post! This is a very fascinating topic for me since I’m a born-and-raised Chicagoan who is currently in the process of arranging for a transfer from my company’s Chicago headquarters to our Tokyo branch office. I have been told by some co-workers that the overtime situation is not typical of what most salarymen endure in Japan. Others have told me that since the office staff is almost entirely Japanese, that the expectations are high and work-schedules can be tough. Since I regularly work overtime anyway (I work in computer software) this doesn’t completely scare me away, but then again I really dislike being *forced* into working extra hours; especially considering the fact that I put in the majority of my overtime from my home office. I plan to just go ahead and make the move and see how it works out for me. I believe that somehow I will still prefer being surrounded by the people, places and things I truly love, regardless of the problems that are bundled together with them.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Wormgear. I hope your find the working situation to your liking in Japan. I think part of the battle is proving your self professional and becoming liked and trusted among colleagues. If you can do that, perhaps you will gain a degree of control over your working hours.

  51. wormgear says:

    Thanks for a great post! This is a very fascinating topic for me since I’m a born-and-raised Chicagoan who is currently in the process of arranging for a transfer from my company’s Chicago headquarters to our Tokyo branch office. I have been told by some co-workers that the overtime situation is not typical of what most salarymen endure in Japan. Others have told me that since the office staff is almost entirely Japanese, that the expectations are high and work-schedules can be tough. Since I regularly work overtime anyway (I work in computer software) this doesn’t completely scare me away, but then again I really dislike being *forced* into working extra hours; especially considering the fact that I put in the majority of my overtime from my home office. I plan to just go ahead and make the move and see how it works out for me. I believe that somehow I will still prefer being surrounded by the people, places and things I truly love, regardless of the problems that are bundled together with them.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Wormgear. I hope your find the working situation to your liking in Japan. I think part of the battle is proving your self professional and becoming liked and trusted among colleagues. If you can do that, perhaps you will gain a degree of control over your working hours.

  52. Jeff says:

    I’ve been in Japan for 7 years and have been working at a private school for 3. I live far from my job, so I try to leave as early as possible… I average about 6:00 PM even though my contact clearly states that I can leave at 4:30… I’ve only left at 4:30 once or twice in 3 years and I felt like I was breaking the rules or doing something really bad…

  53. Jeff says:

    I’ve been in Japan for 7 years and have been working at a private school for 3. I live far from my job, so I try to leave as early as possible… I average about 6:00 PM even though my contact clearly states that I can leave at 4:30… I’ve only left at 4:30 once or twice in 3 years and I felt like I was breaking the rules or doing something really bad…

  54. billywest says:

    Good post. Though I don’t work a lot of overtime here in Tokyo, many of my good friends do. In fact, I recently went through a break-up with a girl who couldn’t escape her overtime obligations at work, leaving us very little time together.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the personal comment Billy. I am actually very interested in this matter as well, and hope you might follow up with more of your insights and solutions to this problem. Is it a common problem in Japan?

      Part of my concerns about overtime are exactly because of this. Being able to go home on time yourself is useless if all of your friends and relatives commit themselves to work and can’t/won’t be reasonable about it.

  55. billywest says:

    Good post. Though I don’t work a lot of overtime here in Tokyo, many of my good friends do. In fact, I recently went through a break-up with a girl who couldn’t escape her overtime obligations at work, leaving us very little time together.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the personal comment Billy. I am actually very interested in this matter as well, and hope you might follow up with more of your insights and solutions to this problem. Is it a common problem in Japan?

      Part of my concerns about overtime are exactly because of this. Being able to go home on time yourself is useless if all of your friends and relatives commit themselves to work and can’t/won’t be reasonable about it.

  56. Satoshii says:

    The work part of modern Japanese culture is to me, like receiving a brand new car for your birthday, exciting and interesting and everything you could possibly want, except the colour that was chosen was *horrid*.

    It’s a bleak dot on what was otherwise a clear sky. Ok, so I have numerous irks and problems with some of Japan, but this is a real pain in my opinion. The problem doesn’t stem from being lazy (Oh noes, hard work!), but from the fact that doing half-assed work for a few hours per day longer than you should is perceived as better (for the company) than working twice as hard for the required time. It’s a twisted and obviously wrong logic; it doesn’t help the company at all. If anything, it’s a little superficial and just for aesthetic purposes (“Well, you should see how hard the employees at *our* company work!”).

    Its not something I look forward to really. I mean, essentially my future situation is different because it’s a personal issue (and often essential) to work 200% harder for unpaid overtime ^_^ But comics are a different matter. The English teaching is much the same I hear, so it does look like something you have to suck up and bear for a while. Although I think the difference between us and the salarymen (asides from being foreigners!) is the fact that we come from different backgrounds, where the culture and the retrospective is different, so our natural instinct isn’t to fit in with the rest of society; it is to blend in, ninja-like until we find an opportunity to move higher and higher to our desired goal!

    My 2c.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Dave, thanks for your comment. You are perfectly right about it not being in the instinct of most foreigners to work lots of overtime. I think this is one of the most fundamental problems facing us when we go to a country like Japan.

      I still think that everyone, both Japanese and foreigners alike, should not work lots of overtime, but it is certainly a lot harder for the former to change. It seems to be something that is just accepted and ingrained from a young age and not really thought of as a obstacle to be tackled. I would suppose that this would be the same for other cultures as well where overtime is considered normal.

      • Satoshii says:

        I have no real problem doing *some* unpaid overtime. However, I don’t agree with the fact that doing loads of overtime and being unproductive is better than not doing any and being much more productive.

  57. Satoshii says:

    The work part of modern Japanese culture is to me, like receiving a brand new car for your birthday, exciting and interesting and everything you could possibly want, except the colour that was chosen was *horrid*.

    It’s a bleak dot on what was otherwise a clear sky. Ok, so I have numerous irks and problems with some of Japan, but this is a real pain in my opinion. The problem doesn’t stem from being lazy (Oh noes, hard work!), but from the fact that doing half-assed work for a few hours per day longer than you should is perceived as better (for the company) than working twice as hard for the required time. It’s a twisted and obviously wrong logic; it doesn’t help the company at all. If anything, it’s a little superficial and just for aesthetic purposes (“Well, you should see how hard the employees at *our* company work!”).

    Its not something I look forward to really. I mean, essentially my future situation is different because it’s a personal issue (and often essential) to work 200% harder for unpaid overtime ^_^ But comics are a different matter. The English teaching is much the same I hear, so it does look like something you have to suck up and bear for a while. Although I think the difference between us and the salarymen (asides from being foreigners!) is the fact that we come from different backgrounds, where the culture and the retrospective is different, so our natural instinct isn’t to fit in with the rest of society; it is to blend in, ninja-like until we find an opportunity to move higher and higher to our desired goal!

    My 2c.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Dave, thanks for your comment. You are perfectly right about it not being in the instinct of most foreigners to work lots of overtime. I think this is one of the most fundamental problems facing us when we go to a country like Japan.

      I still think that everyone, both Japanese and foreigners alike, should not work lots of overtime, but it is certainly a lot harder for the former to change. It seems to be something that is just accepted and ingrained from a young age and not really thought of as a obstacle to be tackled. I would suppose that this would be the same for other cultures as well where overtime is considered normal.

      • Satoshii says:

        I have no real problem doing *some* unpaid overtime. However, I don’t agree with the fact that doing loads of overtime and being unproductive is better than not doing any and being much more productive.

  58. Jon Allen says:

    I work for a large American bank in IT Application support. The interesting thing is my contract of employment does not specify my working hours. So, by default, there cannot be any overtime!

    My normal day is: start at 7am, and finish between 5 and 7pm depending on what has happened during the day. Some people work a lot longer hours than that, no one works less than that.

    That is pretty much the same as the hours I worked for a similar company,similar role, in London, and it’s what I expected before I got here so I can’t complain.

    I know several graduates working at Japanese companies that work 18 days. I find it hard to believe they can productive for that length of time. I know I would not be. What’s the point of the long hours if you are half alsleep?

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your input Jon! It’s interesting to hear working situations in other countries too. It sounds like a long day to me, even 7am-5pm, but perhaps it is something you get used to? I suppose if you like the work and get along with your colleagues, the time might pass more quickly.

  59. Jon Allen says:

    I work for a large American bank in IT Application support. The interesting thing is my contract of employment does not specify my working hours. So, by default, there cannot be any overtime!

    My normal day is: start at 7am, and finish between 5 and 7pm depending on what has happened during the day. Some people work a lot longer hours than that, no one works less than that.

    That is pretty much the same as the hours I worked for a similar company,similar role, in London, and it’s what I expected before I got here so I can’t complain.

    I know several graduates working at Japanese companies that work 18 days. I find it hard to believe they can productive for that length of time. I know I would not be. What’s the point of the long hours if you are half alsleep?

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your input Jon! It’s interesting to hear working situations in other countries too. It sounds like a long day to me, even 7am-5pm, but perhaps it is something you get used to? I suppose if you like the work and get along with your colleagues, the time might pass more quickly.

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