Recent news of a Tokyo construction worker committing suicide due to overwork has sparked a discussion on Japan’s workaholic environment, which Japanese BYU-Hawaii students said is a result of respecting the elderly and company pressure.
Tasuku Yamamoto, a sophomore studying computer science, said because of the high regard Japanese have for the elderly, they do not decline the request for extra hours. “Culturally, the Japanese don’t say no as much. Some people used the good aspect of the Japanese culture to make the workers work extra hours.”
Daiki Sato, a senior studying accounting and finance, added, “Some companies take advantage of the workers. They need to finish the given heavy workload before going home.”
Sato explained the prevalence of “Black Kiguo,” which in English means “black company.” “‘Black company’ is referring to the reputation of a company. When they constantly require the workers to work extra unpaid hours, that is a bad reputation.
“Companies only care about the profit, so the government needs to reinforce the law to limit the working time. It could be both small and big companies,” said Sato.
Maki Ogawa, a senior studying anthropology and communications, said, “For the companies in Japan, customers always come first. The workers are required to make the sacrifice in order to maintain the company.”
In some circumstances, quitting isn’t an option, said Nozomi Takashima, a senior accounting major. He said, “My brother works in a small company that doesn’t hire enough people. He comes back at 1 or 2 a.m. every night and sleeps for a few hours between shifts for over a year. We suggested he quit, but he needs to pay off his loan.”
Tomoyuki Akiyama, a sophomore studying business, agreed and shared, “My friend only sleeps a few hours each day because he was threatened to get fired if he doesn’t finish the given assignments.”
Similarly, Yamamoto shared a similar experience, “One time I was asked to work for 26 hours straight. I only had 2 hours of sleep between shifts.”
Takashima said overworking is caused by poor planning and high goals of a company. Yamamoto added, “Plan well of what can be accomplished within a day. Try hard to get as much done as possible within the working hours.”
Akiyama advised, “Personal health and family are far more important than money.” Sato suggested, “Quit unless you really like that job."
In order to prevent overworking, individuals need to learn to say no, said Yamamoto. “I learned from other countries that saying no isn’t a bad thing. If the workload is over my capability, I will change the job.”
Takashima said, “Working overtime should be optional. If there is extra work, it should be allowed to continue the next day.”
Akiyama said, “I will seek help from the Labor Relations Commission, a government organization that protects the legal rights of workers.”
However, as long as the job pays for overtime, Yamamoto said he doesn’t mind working over hours. “I used to be a tour guide in Japan. The more I worked, the more money I got.”
Sato said, “If I love my job, I don’t really mind working hard.”