Balancing work and private life

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.

Anonymous student post

I have had a wish to have a job in the media since I was a junior high school student. This March, I worked at a CM production for a week in Tokyo as an intern in order to take a step toward my job hunting. However, after this real experience, I think it’s crucial for us to consider carefully whether the job is a “black company” or not.

A “black company” is an illegal corporation where employees are forced to work overtime or even on holiday without overtime pay. In some black companies, there is also harassment toward recruits in the work place, That is to say it constitutes the worst working environment. It’s similar to “sweatshops” (factories where employees are compelled to work for hours with low wage). However, we can see the characteristic point of “black companies” is different from others. The victims of general poor offices such as “sweatshop” are temps, whereas the ones of “black companies” are regular employees.

This word is a new Japanese term, but it has appeared not suddenly but step by step, since the change of Japanese employment form. In my opinion, the increasing number of black companies results from a recession and job shortage. In two decades after the Japanese bubble burst in 1991, many 4th year university students struggle with job hunting. Such students long for occupations and tend to consider carelessly their future office because they are panic and in a hurry. This is when “black companies” begin to make use of them. I assume the rate of job shortage would be proportional to the number of black companies. Furthermore, almost all of the recruits in black companies quit after a couple of years due to the poor working conditions. It brings an increasing number of unemployed persons and invites a vicious circle.

I insist that we should not only improve the rate of employment temporarily with temps, but make each company obey the Labor Standard Law.

The company where I worked was established in 2010 and only has 13 employees. Of course it’s not listed yet, but I wanted to see the real circumstances of the small business where new opinions or innovation are welcomed, because I had a question about not doing the labor stereotyped in the conservative big company. To be honest, my internship experience was so hard. We didn’t have to come to the office before 10 a.m., but even interns couldn’t go home until they finished all of the work (until about 10 p.m.), and I had to skip my lunch three times in the week because of the busy work. In addition, on the filming day, all of the crews shut themselves in the studio for a couple of days. It was harsh physically and mentally, still I have heard the working environment in the media world is demanding particularly, therefore I thought that the busier the job is, the more worth job I do.

However, when I calm down and reflect on the busy days after the internship, I found out that the working environment I was in is similar to the one of a black company. The work over 8 hours long, with insufficient lunch time and sleepless work for a couple of days. One of employees said, “We have no overtime pay, but we are satisfied with this circumstances because this is the job we wanna do and we are proud of contributing to the growth of this new company.” I understand we have no choice but to sacrifice our own private lives in order to start something new at a place where our opinions are listened to in meetings and reflected in the way of the company actually. However, we should also make much of the time with our family, of the time for refreshing ourselves. I think we can make our lives more rich at the same time we make the society more affluent through our work.

It’s difficult to distinguish the company which give the worth busy days to employees, from the one which only exploit them for the enterprise’s profit. In my opinion, it depends on the balance between the job and private life that the employee desires.


Gender Structure in Working Place in Japan

by Asako Morita

Gender role has been considered as a part of culture and behaviors of people tend to be based on gender role. In Japan, historically men have worked outside and women have been housewives. This family structure is recognized as common sense so many workplaces are not well prepared for women to work long and secured. Because of the whole structure, women are easy to be in an economically vulnerable position. In this short essay, I would like to seek Northern European countries where more women have well advanced in society and what systems can fit in Japanese system.

In Japan, lifetime employment system has been normal and once you quit a job, it is hard to get a job which has as same as the previous condition.  However, with the onset of cataclysmic changes in the economic climate in 2009, employers began laying off and dismissing massive numbers of non-permanent workers and workers employed on a part-time or contract basis for periods of less than one year. Compared to regular employment, non-regular employment is able to receive limited company’s benefit package and unsecured. In Japan, about 60 percent of women quit jobs after they get married or give birth and afterward, they only have option to work as a non-regular or part-time workers. Because of the common sense of gender role, men tend not to do housekeeping or child caring but working as a breadwinner. It means only super women can raise children and work at the same time.

On the other hand, in Northern European countries, even though most women work as non-regular workers, they are satisfied with the job condition and they are able to handle both raising children and working since non-regular workers can work flexibly. The biggest difference from Japanese system is that non-regular workers are also well secured and they can receive a good benefit package from company. Therefore, most women choose to take non-regular jobs and they do not have to give up anything. Other difference is how long men contribute to family and households. I think one of the reason is working hour of Japanese men is too long and not enough time to be at home.

Surely it is difficult to fit the whole system of Northern European countries to Japan. However, I think Japanese working environment has way less flexibility and it hinders the entrance of women into the workforce. Now it is essential to create more flexibility at workplaces and expanding career switch market for both women and men’s opportunity for balancing work and family.

Gender in Employment: Work Life Balance in Japan

by Kaoru Inoue

After the hit of Subprime mortgage loan in Japan, Japanese economy has fumbled around in the total darkness. Deflation has heavily affected on Japanese firms. Besides US economic crisis influencing on Japan, some studies have shown issues of employment – firms in Japan lack diversity where usually women have less chances to participate; flexibility of employment styles shall revitalize firms as well as the economy. Scholars indicated Work Life Balance (WLB) as a measure to facilitate human resource in Europe such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, and France. WLB in these countries are taken as their management tools. This short paper will look at gender in employment in Japan by focusing on WLB.

Institutions and scholars defined “Work Life Balance” in many ways; a various insights could be drawn from it. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, it defines that employees may confront difficulties when there are things they want or must achieve, and thus, WLB seeks to allow achieve them do both things. The problem lies in the word. The word “Balance” undermines people – should an amount of work and private be equalized or balanced? According to those scholars, they indicate how difficult to define “Balance” since it really does depend on everybody and they have different flows of working and spending private life. Through the studies they concluded that the concept of diversity shall be stored in all, allowing employment flexibilities; hence, women can have higher opportunities to participate in society.

Takeishi (2011) elicited three common traits of Japanese employees in comparison to United Kingdom and Germany. Firstly, average working hours are longer than others. Secondly, their working hours are usually the same among the rest of workers. Thirdly, their working places are usually at their firms. The latter two points indicate that working in Japan is relatively not flexible. On this context, women cannot continue seeking their careers as well as men who cannot spend long hours with children (Takeishi, 2011, “Issues of Storing Work-Life-Balance”). Takeishi also questioned what makes Europe more advanced. In the past decades, European countries had industrial-oriented economies; employees were strictly under control – their working hours were tight and labors were harsh. As the years have passed, those firms realized the importance of diversity because these firms were leaning to become similar to each other; since then, companies have vibrant atmospheres. Japan has been similar to the old Europe.

While Japanese economy is going bad, companies do know the importance of this concept to be stored. However, they usually cannot – attempts usually fail because of costs (Takeishi, 2011, “Issues of Storing Work-Life-Balance”). Costs bother Japan’s solid employment culture. Some scholars thus suggested re-conceptualizing WLB as the tool to cultivate human resource. For mutual benefit both employees and employers.


Takei, E. (2011). ワーク・ライフ・バランス実現への課題 (issues of storing work-life balance). Retrieved from