Why people work late/why people don’t work out of home

At Cafe Croissant in Akasaka Mitsuke, I struck up a conversation with a non-Japanese gentleman who was sitting next to me having some coffee and snack. (Note: I have never had the guts to do this with a Japanese person yet. ) He turned out to be British who works for a foreign capital medical field company, and he has been living in Japan for two years.

He said, people work to 9, 10, 11 at night everyday in Japan. (He was a bit surprised when I said, well, I have done that for many years too.) He said that there is absolutely no need to work so late. He felt like even if they didn’t go straight home after 6 in the evening, they should go out, see the world. Being outside of the company vicinity would help these people think more creatively, he said.

It’s deeply rooted cultural issue. It’s something majority of Japanese simple accept as life, that dedication to work means working late into the night. It’s a vicious cycle. People are used to current housing situation which are often cramped and not fun, so they do not complain. Because they do not complain, housing market do not offer anything that would really make a difference in home life. Because the house is not the kind of place that offers rest and inspiration even compared to workplace, and when one marries and starts having kids one place to meditate or respite.

The topic came up today about SOHO or working out of home. Still for the majority of Japanese people, working out of home is impossible, especially if wife does not work outside of home, or if they have any children. There just isn’t enough space to be comfortable at home. I know. I have been through it myself for the past 10 years. Until recently, only time I really rested at home was when I went home so exhausted, that nothing disturbed my forgetful sleep, or when I was so sick, nothing bothered me in normal way.

Although these are the reasons I feel why people work late and why they don’t work out of home in Japan, small percentage of people are beginning to change things. These people are young, in their twenties, or people who lived in western country for a long time, and expect something comparable. I believe the day is not so far off that notable percentage of population will live/work in much better condition. I see the change in my life as well as in life of some of my friends and aquintances.

4 thoughts on “Why people work late/why people don’t work out of home”

  1. Well, I’m a Malaysian Chinese and my direct boss is a Japanese. We work 5 days a week but my boss just so oftenly ask me to work late of work on Saturday, which seems to me, those work can be done anytime in normal working hours.

    From what I’ve learned, his defication of hardworking is simple, working overtime. And he is proud of working late himself.

    As many of my customers are Japanese, I have found that working late is common among them.

    This week, he has asked me to work on Satuday too. But I have refused him because I want to spend some time with my family. I’ve missed last two weekends with them.

    I’m looking for another job which wouldn’t need to work so late, even at the cost of of half salary. I don’t want to become a man like my boss who has no life except work.


  2. Hi cclim

    Thank you for your comment!

    I understand what you are going through and sympathize with you.
    It seems that half the people in the world is always living in the past.
    Clinging onto the past glory or hardship. Many Japanese workers talk about the importance of having life outside of work, and most of the major companies in Japan even have some days in the week that forces people out of the office at 17:30 once a week. The security guards come into the offices and escort out the people who are still in the offices after this time!

    This is one of companies’ effort to reduce stress, depression, suicides from overwork in Japan now.

    I do hope you will soon working at a place that has satisfying job and satisfying work hours.



  3. From my limited experience (of the Japanese in Turkey), there’s a deep communitarianism rooted in the Japanese culture. So even if you do not want to work long hours, you feel obligated because everyone else is doing it.

    The culture part of this phenomena can even be seen in the language. There are plethora of words related to hard work. One of this is “karoshi” which means “death from overwork”. Yet another one is “inemuri” which represents sleeping on the job (my Japanese friend says he once slept on the train while standing still).

    This is very interesting to me. On the one hand you might expect the creativity to be hit, but in reality the Japanese have some of the most creative products. I’ll be damned if I understand this dichotomy (does it have roots from Confucianism, or is it because of the WW2. defeat? when did this start :)).

    Thanks for your nice blog, greetings from Turkey!


    1. Thank you for your comment, tayfun!

      What I feel about Japanese creativity in general is that as culture, Japanese aren’t good at continuous thoughts or communication in cohisive flow, but good at expressing the thoughts in products.

      Great to connect with you virtually!



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