The Japanese employment system

Having just spent three hours writing eighteen 3 essays (18 A4 pages) on Work and Society in Japan, I don’t feel too inclined to write another on the subject, but I do want to mention how studying the subject has influenced my take on Japan.

Until I started revising for this topic, my view of Work in Japan was not all that positive. I saw big corporations eating up people’s lives, tying their noses to grindstones, attempting to rein in rash streaks of individualism. Conformity reigned supreme. And I saw the secondary labour market, full of underpaid oldies, immigrants and students, eeking out a living on 800 yen per hour.

I saw lifetime employment going down the drain, and Freeters all over the place.

Of course, that’s not really the case at all, although the media would like us to think that it is. The fact is that lifetime employment is probably going to be around for a long time, albeit in the form of lifetime employment within a group of businesses rather than a single enterprise (oldies at Toyota get moved into subsidiaries etc, bit like Amakudari only they get a 30% cut in pay instead of a golden handshake!). Age-related pay won’t be disappearing anytime soon either – it’ll just adapt. Freeters have always been there, just unreported, and most of them end up working in the end. I reckon as the number of employees continues to fall, so the minimum wage will rise – at the moment, if you work full time in Japan on the minimum wage you are technically living in relative poverty! How about that for a minimum!

The thing that really encourages me though is the signs that employers are beginning to accept that employees are real people, people who unlike their post-war ancestors will not be content with working every hour under the sun for the sake of the company. Thus, we’re seeing more flexibility in contracts offered.

Some companies are taking steps to reach beyond the internal labour market when recruiting (mid-career switches from one employer to another in Japan are relatively rare: only 18% of Japanese managers have had more than one job, vs. 70% in the US, due to the closed internal labour market).

And that’s the other thing: a job for life in the UK sounds like absolute drudgery, but a job for life in Japan can mean a new job every three years what with the internal circulation system and progressive acquirement of skills / promotion (at least in big firms).

Another great step forward is the introduction of child-care in 2001 leaving Japan with the best childcare system in the world (now they just have to encourage people to actually use it!). Most dad’s in Japan aren’t even aware that the law gives them two weeks paternity leave following birth, and those men working in companies that have long-term schemes are so scared of being overlooked for promotions or of ‘letting the team down’ that they won’t use it! But I reckon that will change, as the Government invests more in the baby-making industry.

I think the main feeling that I’ve come away with though is that Japanese society / working practices are moving in the right direction. They’re moving towards increased diversity and respect for individual choices, and away from the influence of dominant social norms that stem from a time of post-war scarcity.

I really like the idea of living in a country that is undergoing big changes, and being aware of those changes. (I mean, I’m sure the UK is undergoing big changes, but I don’t know about it except when I accidentally catch sight of the Daily Mail which tells me that immigrants have caused a 30% rise in violent crime …well spreading that news is really going to help the situation isn’t it…). It gives me that sense of excitement, which I recall feeling when living in Tokyo for the first time in 2001. Stuff is happening, and overall social trends are heading in a really positive direction.

OK, so Japan’s economy may not exactly be in tip-top shape, but at least the country is no longer spending the equivalent of 1~2% of WORLD GDP on construction (hard to believe, but they did it!). There’s more money going into the environment, increased diversity in education, more foreigners than ever (will we see multiculturalism in Japan in my lifetime? I think so!) and a growing organic sector (no pun intended). OK, so Tesco have moved in, but at least there’s very few greenfield sites for them to decimate as they have done in the UK.

And of course, Japan has *Twinkle* too.

So, all in all, I have a far less cynical opinion of Japanese society than I did have. Whilst affluence hasn’t brought the Japanese any great quality of life (I mean, come on, they all live in rabbit hutches), it has now given the younger generation the chance to stop and question what is really important in life, and I believe that as a result of that we’re going to see more creativity and pursuit of passions in Japan than ever before. I look forward to being a part of it.

90 minutes to blast-off

When I find myself in this kind of situation (surrounded by notes, attempting to remember basic essay outlines for an exam due to start in just under 90 minutes), I find it relaxing to remember that

I only need to Pass.

Despite what my ego says.

Colour spaces

Sorry to go on about this, but just LOOK what Firefox (left) does to my colours! Safari (right) shows the true colours in all their glory (I understand that Internet Explorer is also unable to read color spaces and so will mimic Firefox).

Does anyone know of any plugin to get Firefox to read color spaces?

Or a way to get LightRoom to export in a browser-friendly fashion? I’m exporting them with sRGB color space, but it’s still not displaying correctly…


Welcoming the oldies into the information age

I think this is probably one of the most intense periods of my life to date, in terms of stress-inducing events (excluding those times full of events connected with relationships of course).

A 3500 word essay. 3 x 3 hour written exams. One interview exam. One speech contest final. One (possible) interview at the embassy.

3 down, 4 to go. The next one (a 3 hour exam on Work and Society in Japan) starts in 9 hours.

Mum and Dad took delivery of their Mac on Friday. I must say, I am really really impressed with how quickly they are learning. This time last week, neither of them knew how to even widen an Explorer window or select a document (on Windows or a Mac) – but now they are lightening fast Quicksilver Users, creating Word docs and rotating their freshly downloaded digital images in their photo library, and all that.

I must admit, I did knock up a quick automator action, so when they plug their new digital camera in (I’ve leant them mine till they can afford their own, or until I win one next week) the computer automatically downloads the images, ejects the camera, opens the file re-namer programs and then starts to talk out loud:

“Anne and Peter, I have downloaded your lovely photos to my hard drive. Please turn off your camera and unplug it from my socket. Next, please rename your beautiful shots by dragging them into the window I have just opened for you, the one that says ‘Renamer’ at the top. When you have finished that, please click on ‘Send to iPhoto’. By the way, have I told you how good you look today?”

It then displays a dialog box with a “Send to iPhoto” button. They click that, it closes the renamer program, and imports the photos to iPhoto for them to view.

It took about 3 minutes to build the application that co-ordinated all that. Love it.

Mum used to be terrified of doing things ‘wrong’ on the Windows 98 machine, partly because it liked to throw up cryptic error messages (such as ‘Fatal Error 65tG8889 – The World Will Now Explode’), and partly because it didn’t have a friendly user interface. It didn’t encourage her to click. But today, she was happy to just poke around and see what would happen if she did this etc.

I’ve given them 1000 family photos to be going on with, and a load of music. Home videos too.

I love the Mac Screen Sharing thing. It was funny today when they got home after a trip out. I was in my bed upstairs in the front bedroom, and heard them close the door behind them. I quickly opened up my Macbook and remotely logged in to theirs downstairs (on the kitchen table) via the wireless network, opened up iTunes and played them a welcome home chorus – they were pretty surprised!

The next joke was to turn the webcam on (built-in above the screen on their mac) so I could see them. I put the special effects on to warp their heads (always a crowd pleaser that one), took a photo of them both hideously distorted, and then as they watched I emailed the photo to the local vicar! I could hear mum screaming out in laughter downstairs,

“No, no, don’t send it to the vicar!!!”

(they don’t actually have an internet connection yet so of course I didn’t really send it.)

I then typed a message for them in Word, and selected “speech” to have the Macbook read out my request for a cup of hot chocolate…

It’s amazing how different they feel about the Macbook, when compared with the old pc. That was something to be feared, to be sworn at, to be best avoided. The Macbook though is their baby, full of wonder and excitement! (A bit unfair to compare Windows 98 with an OS that is almost ten-years newer perhaps…!)

They haven’t even touched the internet yet though. They have all the delights of The Archers’ homepage to come!

Ok, on with the exam planning.