Japan’s culture and courts need to get with the program on overtime

TV series have for decades now overused a broad range of formulaic plot devices. Let me give you an example:
The heroine scrambles to get out of the house in the morning on her way to work. She runs down the street only to collide with a man walking the other way. Blushing, she showers him with apologies and in all the kerfuffle, a piece of jewelry slips off to the ground unnoticed. Days later she runs into him (figuratively this time) in a chic cafe, and romance brews. For variety, replace jewelry with wallet, train pass or other item; stir and bake.

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The 100 hour work week in Japan

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At 3 a.m. on Monday morning, Eriko Fujita leaves the IBM offices in Tokyo. She rushes home to take a shower and get a few hours of sleep before she returns to her office at 7 a.m.

This is the hidden side of life at IBM Japan. For a period of eight months, Fujita, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, averages 18 to 20 hours of work per day. Her schedule, which includes Saturdays and Sundays, is particularly demanding since she interfaces with programmers in different time zones.

“We don’t have a 5 o’clock-and-get-out kind of culture,” she says with a shrug. While her schedule depends on the specific project, Fujita, in her late twenties, says her typical workday lasts about 15 hours.

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‘Zero Overtime Bill’ is the thin end of the wedge for workers’ rights

Takuboku Ishikawa died in 1910 at the tender age of 26.  But before he left this world, he penned the following famous tanka:

働けど
働けどなお
我が暮らし
楽にならざり
じつと手をみる

Hatarakedo
Hatarakedonao
waga kurashi
raku ni narazari
jitto te wo miru

Staring at my hands
I toil and toil
yet my life gets no easier

Bewildered by his predicament, Takuboku found himself staring at the hands that connected him both physically and spiritually to his work.

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