Work Hours In Japan: Working Culture In Japanese Society

work hours in japan

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The work culture in Japan is renowned for its intensity, with long hours embedded in its professional landscape. This dedication to labor reflects deep-rooted societal values but also sparks conversations about work-life balance and the impact on employees’ well-being, leading to a reevaluation of traditional working norms in contemporary Japan.

What Are The Working Hours In Japan?

Japan’s legal workweek is 40 hours, but long hours are common. Many employees stay late due to cultural norms and workload, leading to excess overtime.

Factors That Influence the Work Hours in Japan

Repercussions of the 2nd World War

After Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, Japan had to pay for its mistakes by making loads of war reparations to several countries. In addition, after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was concerned about its economy. 

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As a result, a large population of Japan had to work overtime in order to compensate and make a living for themselves. 

Work Hours In Japan

Even during the 2nd World War, Japan had sturdy industries all across the nation which required more people to work as industries kept emerging continuously. During the 1960s, Japan experienced a boom in electronic industries and was competing with global companies to become the leader in the market. 

This motivated countless Japanese workers to work hard and make their country a renowned nation for robust industries.

The Cultural Influence On Working Hours in Japan

The Japanese are conservative people who prioritize their traditions very much. Japanese culture is deeply rooted in the concept of working hard for the money you earn. This is what led the Japanese to become a super military power in the 1920s and that’s when several industries began to evolve in Japan. 

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Even before the effects of World War, Japan had its working population working more hours in order to improve their industries and make them run without a halt. 

When Japan began experiencing a surge in demand for electrical goods and motor vehicles in the late 1980s, more people started joining these companies for work and in order to meet the demand, the employees were also willing to work overtime.

The prioritization of work by the Japanese has also made children grow up with the ambition of studying well to find jobs in corporate companies for a remarkable remuneration.

The Influence of Japan’s Corporate Companies

Japan’s corporate companies also play a significant role in the number of working hours. 

Although the legitimate working hours in Japan are 8 hours per day, the companies require their employees to work more in order to achieve targets. 

Since Japanese culture praises hard work, the employees are also keen to work more than required and have no problem with overworking.

Additionally, taking a day off is frowned upon in the Japanese work culture even if it’s for a vacation. 

According to report, the annual paid holidays rate in Japan was below 50% until 2016 and the rate increased to 56.6% as of 2020.

The notion of working hard has motivated several employees to work harder than their co-workers and this has created competition among employees to arrive early at work before everyone and also leave the workplace late. 

Leaving the workplace before your boss is also considered ill-mannered in Japan hence the employees wait for their boss to leave.

Besides the competition in the workplace, the employees have work ethics and a sense of collectiveness. The Japanese strongly believe in teamwork and love to work in groups. 

The workers love to achieve their goals collectively and don’t prefer burdening their co-workers with their work targets. Hence, the workers rarely take holidays to ensure they do their part for the betterment of everyone at work.

Aging Population of Japan and its influence on Working Hours in Japan

The aging population of Japan has been a pivotal issue over the past several years. 

The rate of people aged 65 and above in Japan has risen to 28.4% as of 2022. This would cause a major problem over the coming years as the rate is expected to rise over 40% as of 2040. 

With a large proportion of elderly people, Japan had to make use of its existing working population to get most of the work done. Hence, the demand for young employees has been on the rise and the working hours have increased substantially as well. 

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The population of Japan has also decreased to 644,000 in 2021 hence the concerns about a future working population are high. 

To combat the aging population crisis, Japan has taken measures to invite migrant workers to its industries, especially interns and technicians. 

The government also has raised the bar for the retirement age from 60 to 65 to encourage elderly people to work and contribute to the economy. Additional benefits also are provided by the state to elderly people who claim their pension late.

How Work Hours in Japan Have Changed Over Time

The number of work hours in Japan has significantly changed over the past couple of decades. During the late 1980s, it was common for small business owners to employ workers who would work every day by taking only 2 to 3 days off per month. 

The average number of hours worked by a Japanese individual was above 2000 hours per year which was rapidly higher than in western countries like the US where an average person would work below 1800 hours per year.

In 2012, the average working hours per month in Japan was 147 hours and it was reduced to 136 hours per month as of 2021. 

Compared to the average working hours in the US which was nearly an average of 138 hours per month in 2021, the average work hours in Japan are slightly lower.

Demands of the Labor Unions and its Influence on the Working Hours in Japan

The labor unions have been weak and threatened organizations with little to no rights during the 1940s, a period when Japan experienced a surge in industrialization. 

The working hours were quite high with low pay and no medical assistance provided for employees. 

However, after the 2nd World War, the influence of the US encouraged labor unions to operate and the rate of members who joined the union was above 50% in 1949. In 1980, labor unions demanded higher wages and a reduction in work hours. 

By 1995, the average number of work hours was recorded to be 1884 hours annually which was less compared to the past few decades.

Gradually, the average work hours were reduced to nearly 1700 hours as of 2010 with an average of 35 hours per week. Presently, the average working hours in Japan are in parallel with the average working hours in most Western countries.

Working Hours in Japan and Productivity

It’s obvious that the Japanese are fond of hard work and performing their duties on time which is one of the reasons for Japan’s growth as a powerful nation. 

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Despite having an active labor force that has one of the highest working hours in the world, Japan has a low productivity rate compared to other G7 nations.

The hourly productivity rate of Japan was $46.8 in 2018, which was drastically less compared to the hourly productivity rates of Ireland and The US which had $102.3 and $74.7 respectively. 

In addition, Japan reported the lowest productivity rate of below 50% among the OECD countries.

Several studies have been carried out to find out why the hourly productivity rate and the total productivity of Japan are low compared to the G7 countries and there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to finalize the studies.

Issues Related To Long Working Hours in Japan

With excessive time spent on work, there are issues that come along with it. The term “Karoshi” has become a popular Japanese phrase to describe occupational death that suddenly occurs in the workplace due to working excessively.

When workers have been constantly working for hours, they lack sleep, and their stress levels increase which can cause negative effects on their health. 

As a result, several workers in Japan have been reported to sleep in workplaces or die due to sudden heart attacks or strokes. One popular case of Karoshi was reported in 1969 when a young man aged 29 died due to a stroke.

When occupational deaths were increasing in numbers, the Japanese officials were concerned and hence they started offering paid mandatory leaves for workers. 

This was to ensure workers had pleasure times to spend with families and to relieve them from the stressful work environments.

Work Hours In Japan: FAQs

Do Japanese work long hours?

Japan is one of the countries that has long working hours. The labor law in Japan requires employees to work 8 hours a day and a minimum of 40 hours per week. Despite the law, Japanese companies expect their employees to work more than the stipulated time as in more than 80 hours of overtime per month.

Why do the Japanese work longer hours?

In the Japanese culture, work is highly respected and the Japanese people have been raised to be devoted to working hard. This has made several generations of Japanese people work long hours despite government labor laws. In addition, the Japanese corporate companies have also influenced the working hours by motivating employees to work long hours as it’s associated with their deep-rooted culture to work hard for the money they earn.

Is Japan a hard-working country?

Japan is undoubtedly a country that’s filled with workaholics who’re keen to work hard. The workers in Japan are devoted to their work and don’t even like to spend their paid day leaves as they regret burdening their co-workers with their tasks. 

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