Japanese work environment
Many both in and outside of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 share an image of the Japanese work environment that is based on a lifetime-employment model used by large companies as well as a reputation of long work-hours and strong devotion to one's company. This environment is said to reflect economic conditions beginning in the 1920s, when major corporations competing in the international marketplace began to accrue the same prestige that had traditionally been ascribed to the daimyo
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

-retainer relationship of feudal Japan or government service in the Meiji Restoration
Meiji Restoration
The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

. At the very top, the most prestigious companies would recruit and retain the best workers by offering better benefits and truly lifetime job security
Job security
Job security is the probability that an individual will keep his or her job; a job with a high level of job security is such that a person with the job would have a small chance of becoming unemployed.-Factors affecting job security:...

. By the 1960s, employment at a large prestigious company had become the goal of children of the new middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

, the pursuit of which required mobilization of family resources and great individual perseverance in order to achieve success in the fiercely competitive education system
Education in Japan
In Japan, education is compulsory at the elementary and lower secondary levels. Approximately 98% of all students progress to the upper secondary level, which is voluntary . Most students attend public schools through the lower secondary level, but private education is popular at the upper...


Employees are expected to work hard and demonstrate loyalty to the firm, in exchange for some degree of job security and benefits, such as housing subsidies, good insurance
In law and economics, insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment. An insurer is a company selling the...

, the use of recreation
Recreation is an activity of leisure, leisure being discretionary time. The "need to do something for recreation" is an essential element of human biology and psychology. Recreational activities are often done for enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure and are considered to be "fun"...

 facilities, and bonuses and pensions. Wages begin low, but seniority is rewarded, with promotions based on a combination of seniority and ability. Leadership is not based on assertiveness or quick decision making but on the ability to create consensus, taking into account the needs of subordinates. Surveys indicate continued preference for bosses who are demanding but show concern for workers' private lives over less-demanding bosses interested only in performance on the job. This system rewards behavior demonstrating identification with the team effort, indicated by singing the company song, not taking all of one's vacation
Annual leave
Annual leave is paid time off work granted by employers to employees to be used for whatever the employee wishes. Depending on the employer's policies, differing number of days may be offered, and the employee may be required to give a certain amount of advance notice, may have to coordinate with...

 days, and sharing credit for accomplishments with the work group. Pride in one's work is expressed through competition with other parallel sections in the company and between one's company and other companies in similar lines of business. Thus, individuals are motivated to maintain wa (harmony) and participate in group activities, not only on the job but also in after-hours socializing (nomikai
A nomikai is a drinking party phenomenon particular to Japanese culture. Nomikai are a part of the culture of most places of employment, from schools to nightclubs...

). The image of group loyalty, however, may be more a matter of ideology than practice, especially for people who do not make it to the top.

Smaller companies

Not every worker enjoys the benefits of such employment practices and work environments. Although 64% of households in 1985 depended on wages or salaries for most of their income, most of these workers were employed by small and medium-sized firms that could not afford the benefits or achieve the successes of the large companies, despite the best intentions of owners. Even in the large corporations, distinctions between permanent and temporary employees made many workers, often women, ineligible for benefits and promotions. These workers were also the first to be laid off in difficult business conditions. Japan scholar Dorinne K. Kondo
Dorinne K. Kondo
Dorinne K. Kondo is a Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at the University of Southern California. Kondo is author of Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace and About Face: Performing Race in Fashion and Theater...

 compares the status of permanent and temporary workers with Bachnik's distinctions between permanent and temporary members of an ie (see Japanese family
Japanese family
The family in Japan is called “Kazoku” in Japanese. It is basically composed of a couple as is the family in other societies. The Japanese family is based on the line of descent...

), creating degrees of inside and outside within a firm. Traditions of entrepreneurship and of inheritance of the means of livelihood continued among merchants, artisans, farmers, and fishermen, still nearly 20% of the work force in 1985. These workers gave up security for autonomy and, when economically necessary, supplemented household income with wage employment. Traditionally, such businesses use unpaid family labor, but wives or even husbands are likely to go off to work in factories or offices and leave spouses or retired parents to work the farm or mind the shop. On the one hand, policies of decentralization
__FORCETOC__Decentralization or decentralisation is the process of dispersing decision-making governance closer to the people and/or citizens. It includes the dispersal of administration or governance in sectors or areas like engineering, management science, political science, political economy,...

 provide factory jobs locally for families that farm part time; on the other hand, unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

 created by deindustrialization
Deindustrialization is a process of social and economic change caused by the removal or reduction of industrial capacity or activity in a country or region, especially heavy industry or manufacturing industry. It is an opposite of industrialization.- Multiple interpretations :There are multiple...

 affects rural as well as urban workers. Whereas unemployment is low in Japan compared with other industrialized nations (less than 3% through the late 1980s), an estimated 400,000 day laborers share none of the security or affluence enjoyed by those employees with lifetime-employment benefits.

Japan's workforce
The workforce is the labour pool in employment. It is generally used to describe those working for a single company or industry, but can also apply to a geographic region like a city, country, state, etc. The term generally excludes the employers or management, and implies those involved in...

 grew by less than 1% per year in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991 it stood at 62.4% of the total population over fifteen years of age, a level little changed since 1970. Labor force participation differed within age and gender groupings and was similar to that in other industrialized nations in its relative distribution among primary
Primary sector of industry
The sector of an economy making direct use of natural resources. This includes agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining, and extraction of oil and gas. This is contrasted with the secondary sector, producing manufactures and other processed goods, and the tertiary sector, producing services...

, secondary
Secondary sector of industry
The secondary sector of the economy or industrial sector includes those economic sectors that create a finished, tangible product: production and construction.-Function:...

, and tertiary
Tertiary sector of industry
The tertiary sector of the economy is one of the three economic sectors, the others being the secondary sector and the primary sector .The service sector consists of the "soft" parts of the economy, i.e...

 industries. The percentage of people employed in the primary sector (agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, forestry
Forestry is the interdisciplinary profession embracing the science, art, and craft of creating, managing, using, and conserving forests and associated resources in a sustainable manner to meet desired goals, needs, and values for human benefit. Forestry is practiced in plantations and natural stands...

, and fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

) dropped from 17.4 in 1970 to 7.2 in 1990 and was projected to fall to 4.9 by 2000. The percentage of the Japanese labor force employed in heavy industry
Heavy industry
Heavy industry does not have a single fixed meaning as compared to light industry. It can mean production of products which are either heavy in weight or in the processes leading to their production. In general, it is a popular term used within the name of many Japanese and Korean firms, meaning...

 was 33.7 in 1970; it dropped to 33.1 in 1987 and was expected to be 27.7 in 2000. Light industry
Light industry
Light industry is usually less capital intensive than heavy industry, and is more consumer-oriented than business-oriented...

 employed 47% of the work force in 1970 and 58% in 1987. The sector was expected to employ 62% by 2000. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, well over 95% of all men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four were in the work force, but the proportion dropped sharply after the usual retirement age of fifty-five (by 1990 the retirement age for most men had risen to sixty). Women participated most actively in the job market in their early twenties and between the ages of 35 and 54 (see Working women in Japan). The unemployment rate (2.2% in 1992) was considerably lower than in the other industrialized nations, but it has about doubled since the collapse of the Japanese asset price bubble
Japanese asset price bubble
The was an economic bubble in Japan from 1986 to 1991, in which real estate and stock prices were greatly inflated. The bubble's collapse lasted for more than a decade with stock prices initially bottoming in 2003, although they would descend even further amidst the global crisis in 2008. The...

. Youth unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

 is now a considerable problem in many regions.

Wages vary by industry and type of employment. Those earning the highest wages are permanent workers in firms having more than thirty employees and those workers in finance
Financial services
Financial services refer to services provided by the finance industry. The finance industry encompasses a broad range of organizations that deal with the management of money. Among these organizations are credit unions, banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, consumer finance companies,...

, real estate
Real estate
In general use, esp. North American, 'real estate' is taken to mean "Property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water; immovable property of this nature; an interest vested in this; an item of real property; buildings or...

, public service
Public services
Public services is a term usually used to mean services provided by government to its citizens, either directly or by financing private provision of services. The term is associated with a social consensus that certain services should be available to all, regardless of income...

, petroleum, publishing
Publishing is the process of production and dissemination of literature or information—the activity of making information available to the general public...

, and emerging high-technology
High tech
High tech is technology that is at the cutting edge: the most advanced technology currently available. It is often used in reference to micro-electronics, rather than other technologies. The adjective form is hyphenated: high-tech or high-technology...

 industries earned the highest wages. The lowest paid are those in textiles, apparel, furniture, and leather products industries. The average farmer fares even worse, but might benefit from the appreciation of his land holdings as well as the powerful political ties to the Liberal Democratic Party.

During the period of strong economic growth from 1960 to 1973, wage levels rose rapidly. Nominal wages increased an average of 13% per year while real wages rose 7% each year. Wage levels then stagnated as economic growth slowed. Between 1973 and 1987 annual nominal and real wage increases dropped to 8% and 2%, respectively. Wages began rising in 1987 as the value of the yen sharply appreciated. In 1989 salaried workers receiving the highest average pay hikes over the previous year were newspaper employees (6.7%), followed by retail and wholesale workers (6%) and hotel employees (5.7%). Workers in the steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 (2.5%) and shipbuilding
Shipbuilding is the construction of ships and floating vessels. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history.Shipbuilding and ship repairs, both...

 (4.2%) industries fared worse. The salaries of administrative and technical workers were about 20% higher than those of production workers. In the late 1980s, with wages in manufacturing firms having 500 or more workers indexed at 100, enterprises with 100 to 499 employees were indexed at 79, those with thirty to ninety-nine employees at 64, and those with five to twenty-nine employees at 56.6. The gap between wages paid to secondary school and college graduates was slight but widened as the employees grew older; wages peaked at the age of fifty-five, when the former received only 60 to 80% of the wages of the latter.

In the standard model, workers receive two fairly large bonuses as well as their regular salary, one mid-year and the other at year's end. In 1988 workers in large companies received bonuses equivalent to their pay for 1.9 months while workers in the smallest firms gained bonuses equal to 1.2 months' pay. In addition to bonuses, Japanese workers received a number of fringe benefits, such as living allowances, incentive payments, remuneration for special job conditions, allowances for good attendance, and cost-of-living allowances.

Working conditions

Working conditions vary from firm to firm. On average, employees worked a forty-six-hour week in 1987; employees of most large corporations worked a modified five-day week with two Saturdays a month, while those in most small firms worked as much as six days each week. In the face of mounting international criticism of excessive working hours in Japan, in January 1989 public agencies began closing two Saturdays a month. Labor unions
Labor unions in Japan
Labour unions emerged in Japan in the second half of the Meiji period as the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization. Until 1945, however, the labour movement remained weak, impeded by lack of legal rights, anti-union legislation, management-organized factory councils, and political...

 made reduced working hours an important part of their demands, and many larger firms responded in a positive manner. Japanese working hours have been gradually decreasing. In 1986 the average employee worked 2,097 hours in Japan, compared with 1,828 hours in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and 1,702 in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. By 1995 the average annual hours in Japan had decreased to 1,884 hours and by 2009 to 1,714 hours. The average Japanese worker is entitled to fifteen days of paid vacation a year but usually takes only seven days.


, which can be translated literally from Japanese as "death from overwork", is occupational sudden death. Although this category has a significant count, Japan is one of the few countries that reports it in the statistics as a separate category...

 is a term that refers to death by overworking in the Japanese workplace. It is brought on by high amounts of stress from working 60 hours or more per week.
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