Killing working hours. So how it really works in Japan.


Around 2 weeks ago a YouTube video has been widely spread on the Internet. I didn’t hear about that video until one morning when I got A FEW messages from my friends around the world asking if this is really true?!?! Is this really how Japanese people live and work?

Still quite unsure, what to expect, I have decided to watch THAT video.


Summarising in a few words, a young man, who recently moved to Japan and got his (I guess) first job here, joining the forces of Japanese salaryman, decided to show the world how Japanese white collars are working. I think, when he was posting his video, he didn’t expect how much noise he will get around it.

Although the video might be taken as a joke or parody, the question remains. Is it actually a truth? Is it right, that people in Japan are working 13 hours a day, 5 days a week for something like 3 months?

Well, I am afraid it is almost truth, with an exception that the majority of Japanese people are working for 13 hrs a day (or more), 5 days a week (or more), for over 30 years (or more)…

In Japan, there is a very well established culture of サービス残業 (‘sabisu zangyō’). There is actually no direct translation into English, however you could say, it is long overtime hours, given by an employee to the employer for… free.

In the working environment there is a belief, that if you are not working long hours, you are not dedicated to your work. And trust me, your colleges will make you feel that.

Speaking about work and culture, Japan has a culture of seniority – younger should show respect to senior people in any form – and hierarchy – everyone has boss, and since you are at the button of the food chain, respect the one above you. There is an unwritten rule that you should not leave before your boss. Wouldn’t it be much easier if the boss would realize that because of him, the whole office needs to stay longer instead of going home? But don’t forget… at first, boss needs to show to his subordinates how dedicated he is to his work, something like “work by example” – so he actually just cannot leave early – and second, he also has his boss. It is a little bit like “Catch 22”.

But how the theory goes with real life? From my experience, in this case very closely.

One of my colleagues, a Japanese man working for a Japanese engineering company, was waiting for his boss until 1AM just to tell him, that he has completed the report. He actually completed it by 9PM, however because of the culture and unwritten rules, he could not just leave the report on boss’s desk with a note DONE! He had to wait and deliver the message personally.

I also remember my other colleagues, from the time I was doing a project for one of the Japanese global corporations. She was a young girl, just graduated from the university with law degree. Once, during the lunch we spoke a bit about long working hours. And to my huge surprise, she told me with a full pride in her voice that she is not working as horrible long hours as her father did. She is only working 14 to 15 hours per day and she tries not to work on weekends… I cannot even imagine how many hours per day was her father working. After 3 years she quit the company and became a flight attendant…

So as I answered to all my friends, I will confirm it to you. YES, in Japan people are working very long hours. They have a huge sense of long term commitment and devotion to the employer. There is also a strong link with life-time employment, that Japanese companies are so famous of.

The consequences of such commitment like effectiveness or mental health is a topic for another discussion. But there is one more thing you need to remember in terms of Japan. Japan is just different. As a foreigner, you can love or hate it, but you cannot change it.

What is the working culture at your country? Is it much different from the Japanese one? Share with us your comments.

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