Back in the day, working in Japan meant working for the sake of nation-building. Japan was determined to put its economic house back in order. Legions of salarymen toiled. Rebuilding Japan into an economic juggernaut was reward enough.
But then the recession came. Salarymen still toiled. “But for what?” many asked. “Japan – let’s take a rest” was a slogan oft heard as the government urged people to slow down (take a long weekend at a local spa or seaside resort and help shore up the sputtering economy!).
Slowly, attitudes change. Today many people are looking for work/life balance and a greater sense of meaning beyond the office. Where once value creation was judged largely in terms of economics, people today are increasingly looking at value in its broader social context. Social entreprenuerism is big. Making money is good. Making money and improving society is even better.
Recently I was asked to comment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show about Karoshi, death by overwork. There’s a complicated web of factors behind Karoshi, and the Japanese legal system is just starting to grapple with the phenomenon. Many Japanese corporations are starting to take steps to prevent such deaths.
With these welcome moves, combined with changing Japanese attitudes toward work, perhaps Karoshi will all but disappear in Japan in another generation. Shouldn’t work be life-affirming? In an ideal world, yes. Japan is headed in the right direction, but still has a ways to go. We all do. (Daniel Rosenblum)