Finding my ibasho at work, without becoming a kaisha-ningen

JaPan kaNto

JaPan kaNto (Photo credit: ~Alia~)

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Ayaka Sasaki

My future plan is to become a hotel employee after graduating from Ritsumeikan. To realize my future plan, I am working at a hotel as a part- time job. When I refer to my future plan, many people say that job in hotel is beautiful and sophisticated, but it is not. I know that it is not so beautiful and rather unsophisticated. Because, even though I work part–time, I feel  the precariousness that Anne Allison describes in her book. However, I only work at the hotel, so I can’t refer to other jobs.

For example, I felt that some male employee, especially those who became a manager or a chief of the department, are divorced. There are a lot of reasons, but I felt that some got divorced because they were kaisha-ningen (company person). The harder they work, the further the distance from the family becomes.

In addition, the system of the job in hotel depends too much on the non-regular employees, as part-time workers or dispatch workers. The reason why I feel so is that there are a lot of affairs which can’t be dealt by the regular workers. In Allison’s book, furita are referred as a symbol of the non-regular employee and precariousness.

However, I realize that I am in an ibasho by belonging to the organization, a hotel, as Allison wrote, even though I am a part–time worker. I work as often as regular workers, so regular workers or managers frequently say that I am a big help to their affairs. They approved, so I felt that I am in ibasho and my ibasho is the hotel. The feeling or impression of approval brings the feeling of ibasho.

Therefore, the wages are not so high, and the affairs are not so easy or light, but many non-regular workers work at the hotel because they can feel ibasho.

Moreover, I guess that workers who divorced have become kaisha-ningen because they can feel that they are in ibasho—where they are approved by the company.

Finally, I think that the situation doesn’t change in the future, and the feeling of ibasho relies on belonging to the organization, group and company. Then also it rely on the approval by others. However, in ibasho, I’m not content with the environment, and don’t want to bury my personality. Therefore, I have a plan after becoming a hotel employee—becoming a sommelier.

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Gender Equality Solutions a Problem in Korean Workforce

by Ji Soo Kim

Recovering from Japanese colonization and the Korean War, under the strong U.S influence, the Republic of Korea displayed an amazing yet abrupt economical development throughout the 20th century. Due to the traditional Confucian belief of “men are superior to women, who are expected to attend to men’s every need,” the social status of women in Korea before Western influence was significantly low. As the Western ideology of gender equality permeated in Korean society, educated men lifted their voice to give equal rights to women, and women shouted for their rights.

Beginning with women’s suffrage in 1948, the social and governmental movement for women’s rights rapidly settled in society. As a result, women in Korea now seem to have equal rights under the protection of the whole society. However, the process of achieving gender equality was done too abruptly. People do not understand the true definition of gender equality, thus real problems regarding gender have not been solved in many parts of society, and men are claiming their feelings of reverse discrimination. In this article, I will specifically talk about gender equality issues in workforce, and suggest better solutions to current activities for improvement.

The Korean government set laws and encouraged businesses to protect women from being discriminated against in employment, and in the workplace. An example of the law is that an employer should not consider female employee’s physical looking, or ask about marriage status, which are unnecessary in work performance. Businesses were encouraged to increase female welfare in the company, to provide long maternal leave, menstrual leave, shuttle bus system for safe return to home, anonymous telephone line for accusation of any sexual discrimination, powder rooms and lounges only for women, and extra financial support for child care. An example of Korean company known for fine female welfare is Hyundai Motors. It is one of the most popular businesses where young women wish to be employed. However, uncongenial to its high reputation, women employees consist only 4.3% of the entire company. Why is the women employee proportion considerably low while the company provides satisfying welfare for women? Looking around the young graduates around me, I also see many who wish to be employed by Hyundai Motors, which means that there are sufficient, and even an overflow of applicants.

One valid reason for low constitution of female employees in Hyundai Motors could be employers’ unwillingness to employ women. The cost of hiring a woman in their workforce is much higher compared to that of hiring a man, since they have to provide all different kinds of welfare. If there is a man and a woman in interview with almost the same quality and potential, even if I was an employer, I would choose man not because I am discriminating against woman, but for cost reduction. This possible reason is suggesting that current welfare system is designed just to satisfy the wants of the government and the society, and this is ineffective because it shows a decline of women employment in some business sectors and discourages younger unemployed women to aim for these businesses.

The society demands female welfare because we are taught that women must have ‘equal’ rights to men, and that women had not been treated ‘equally’ in past. With such excessive focus on women, not many people clearly come to understand the true meaning of gender equality. The majority focused only on present discrimination against women around us. The law protected women first, and businesses started to provide immoderate welfares for women, and there’s no specific word as ‘male welfare.’

In workplaces, to stop employer’s unconscious thinking of preferring man over woman for cost reduction, not only female welfare but also male welfare should be considered thoughtfully. Excessive focus on women empowerment in workforce created current system. Companies should concern men and women together and provide what is needed for each fairly. Increase in paternal leave, provision of comfortable lounge for men, or provision of children’s kindergarten in father’s company could be possible solutions. Concern for both men and women in work places would make both willing to work for longer period with loyalty, and lead to better understanding of each other. The change in work places would result in a bigger change in the entire society. Starting with work places, a deep knowledge and discussion about gender equality should be taught and held in public education system. The society would not be able to change at once, but with the effort of current generation, the future generation will grow up with much improvement.

Thoughts on high-tech work

Anonymous student post

High-tech work strives us towards one goal: efficiency. People use high-tech tools which enable them to work faster, practically, and from anywhere around the globe (ex. pc, email, social network, etc…). Companies replace monotonous task work (ex. assembly line) with automated robots and other high tech. Simply put, high tech work is utilized on both a micro and macro level. On a micro level, as noted in the beginning, individual workers equip themselves with high tech tools enabling them to collaborate and work with peers constantly while adapting to the rapid pace of the ever changing climate of business. On a macro level, companies utilize high technology for aiding profit maximization and cutting labor costs. Companies can collect and manage customer data allowing companies to specifically target advertisements towards a user, increasing the rate of consumption rate – Social network giants such as Facebook sell user data to potential advertisers. For labor cuts, as mentioned at the beginning, replacing for example assembly line workers with automated robots is an example.

High tech work – efficiency, speed, profit maximization, cost cuts – sounds good for those who are able to adapt. However, there are concerns, and those are: being permanently ON-LINE, and a means to an end. Let’s start with “permanently ON-LINE.” Although this is case dependent, high tech workers are most likely able to work anywhere (ex. from their mobile / laptops). This may lead to a situation where they end up being permanently  “ON-LINE”, slowly undermining their focus and health. Whereas once the goal was efficiency, the very tools that enable one to become “efficient” carries the risk of becoming the source of “inefficiency.” The second concern I have is that high tech work, or more specifically, the tools that enable workers or companies to embrace high tech work can become a “means to an end.” There are individuals and corporations that develop the contents, tools, applications that make high tech work possible, such as google, apple, microsoft and many other individual or small startups developing apps. There are numerous tools, apps which enables us to work more efficiently, but I wonder, “Do we need more?” “Isn’t this enough?” A lot of hardware and especially software these days tend to have too similar characteristics when compared, which leads me to think, “Is your goal just getting the product out there? Or are you really trying to make people’s lives better?” Whichever the answer, it might be time for the high tech industry to take a step back, and take a deep breath.


The third industrial revolution

This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing

High-tech jobs working conditions: progress toward a brighter future ?

by Anna Dreveau

As high-tech jobs are currently making up to 5.2% of the job market in the United States, their futuristic creative aura has stolen the spotlight from its reality.

Sure, high-tech jobs involve working with the up-to-date technologies, team work, creativity and autonomy. They work in dream-like place (Have you ever seen the Google offices?), with an almost non-existent hierarchical system.

Still, the flip side of those jobs are much less attractive. Pressured by unrealistic deadlines, high- tech workers often have to stay in the office overtime or even overnight; a comfy office, indeed, but you will never get out of here.

Well, actually, you may “get out of here”: an other drawback of those is the job insecurity. Most of high-tech workers are independent contractors; they came to accomplish some specific task. May you be efficient enough, you might be called again; but companies do not guarantee any full-time position nor health care program. This situation sparks fierce competition among peers which ensure intense stress, as everybody have to stay up-to-date in this rapidly progressing field to remain competitive enough.

This “white-collar factory” as Seán Ó Riain nicknamed it, have effects on workers’ social life. Even if family life can be considered as non-existent for those always-working-overtime people, solidarity among peers, despite competition, is strengthening them.

Job insecurity make indeed vertical relationships useless for any workers, who would rather befriend coequals, as they share an identity through their job. Thus, occupational communities bloom, developing mutual assistance and shared information (especially about employment opportunities or latest technologies) between STEM workers. Local communities, as high-tech jobs tend to be found in specific places, are formed and connected to each other, spreading worldwide.

Can we however consider high-tech working trend as progress? If workers still have some sort of social links, all of those resolve around work: friends are current or former colleagues and family can not be the priority as the pressuring competition is taking all the worker’s time. For some, even free time is used for personal projects (as an auto-entrepreneur or an open source contributor). Is making your work the center of your life really a good thing?

Nevertheless, those working conditions are a reality that is extending to other sectors as well. Job insecurity is certainly not STEM sector specificity, as full-time jobs only account for 47% of work nowadays. Besides, even occupational communities can be observed in other professions, such as photocopier repairers, as Julien Orr observed.

Accepting this new reality may be the first step to make things better. Industrial Revolutions did not come as improvement of work conditions at their premise but as unions/bureaucracy were formed, guarantees were granted. Today, as employment security is becoming far off and unions are outperformed by transnational firms, a new system must be implemented to guarantee at least health care, stable income and free time for workers. It may be the turn for occupational communities to grow and voice those demands towards companies all over the world.