Tag Archives: Fukushima

Japanese Lessons: What Japan’s Collective Sleep Deficit Teaches The Rest Of The World


A recent item that caught the eye of our Creative Director & CSO illustrates that while some cultural norms can change in a remarkably short period of time, others are almost impossible to shift. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has revealed that full-time employees clocked 2,026 hours of work in 2015, just twelve hours fewer that the equivalent total for 1995; this is despite years of government discussions and initiatives designed to wean the East Asian economic giant off its addiction to presenteeism.

Most analyses – particularly Western ones – about Japan’s long-hours culture come across as both patronising and fearful: the overriding sentiment is that those crazy, work-obsessed Japanese need to chill out and Be More Like Us, while there is usually a strong undercurrent of nervousness at the sheer indefatigability of Japan’s labour force.

However – and after some contemplation – we at Mediolana think this school of thought is missing the central point. Putting in plenty of overtime in an office setting is not necessarily a bad thing; however, when it becomes decoupled from results and starts to infringe on areas of life that it has no right to significantly influence, then it is quite justifiable to ask serious questions.

In particular, Japan’s culture of persistent overwork has resulted in the nation running a chronic sleep deficit; this is threatening not just to derail Japan, Inc., but Japan, period:

  1. Macro Decision-Making. Arguably the core catastrophe arising from being a country that is collectively zonked is that Japan’s macro decision-making capabilities have been severely compromised. In particular, the placement of several nuclear power stations on earthquake fault lines passed almost entirely beneath the radar; this tier-one disaster waiting to happen did not generate any significant civil society response or governmental action until after it had actually occurred, with predictably dire consequences.
  2. Declining Intimacy. Another repercussion of the salaryman model is not having the energy – and increasingly, the inclination – for establishing deep emotional bonds with a member of the opposite sex. The corollary of this is a copulation collapse – and a birth rate that presages depopulation on a truly astonishing scale. Addressing this genuinely existential issue is something that the Japanese body politic is evidently too tired for; its reflex response of continued hostility to immigration – even when confronted with certain and acute impoverishment – is that of a comatose entity.
  3. Performance Anxiety. Maybe the most troubling part of the time-expended economic model is that it is clearly no longer delivering the sensational growth rates of the past. In 2001 (and following one lost decade), Japan became a pioneer in printing the heck out of its currency in an attempt to stimulate (or perhaps more accurately, simulate) expansion of the economy; several rounds of quantitative easing and two-and-a-half lost decades later, it is pointless to even pretend that this system is working.


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Why Your Future is More Japanese Than You Think: Three Tokyo Trends to Watch!

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 14.32.28For anyone who was socialised in the developed world during the 1980s, 1990s and maybe even 2000s, Japan was arguably synonymous with one thing above all: technological magnificence, much of it in the service of futurism. As a whole, the West only managed to take industrial development to a certain point and no further: more than anyone else, it was the Japanese that transformed the world of nineteenth century-style factories churning out clunky analogue products into a universe of cute, smart electronics manufactured by R&D intensive laboratory-plants. Japanese ingenuity represented Advancement.

Yet in recent years, Japan seems to be pioneering a new form of whatever is to come for humanity – and it doesn’t look as sexy. Indeed, examining the various macro-trends within the Japanese economy and society as a whole – trajectories almost certain to be followed by much of the rest of the planet – the Brave New World being sketched out by this particular member of the G3 are enough to give us all pause for thought:

1. Bubble Mania. Way before anyone had coined the phrase ‘credit crunch’, the Japanese had produced a world-class real estate bubble, with select properties in the pricier areas of Tokyo reaching a stunning ¥30m/US$215,000 per square metre. The consequences were predictable: the asset bubble was pricked; the Japanese government bailed out horribly exposed financial institutions instead of letting them go to the wall; property prices collapsed anyway; and conventional economic growth has been unheard of in the country ever since. This did not stop the United States (and to a lesser but still vast degree, Europe) from copying this particular Japanese model.

2. Nuke Me Slowly. This is a caption from an ironic t-shirt that our CSO spotted being sported by a Yoshi’s Island player in London during the mid-1990s; however, the Japanese seem to have taken this exhortation all too literally, with the construction of nuclear power plants on earthquake fault lines yielding nation-defining results at Fukushima. This has not stopped other quake-prone nations – India, China and Iran amongst them – from opening nuclear power plants in catastrophe-guaranteeing locations.

3. File>Print x ∞. Confronted with a two-decade economic slump and reeling investor confidence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has responded in the manner required for testing times: ordering the Bank of Japan to print the bejesus out of what is left of the yen. This strategy – such as it is – may have the benefits of engendering a temporary stock market spike and giving a little bit of breathing space to vastly overstretched and uncompetitive Japanese exporters; it will also bring Japan to new economic lows while not solving any of its structural problems. Naturally, both local and global audiences – from idol group Machikado Keiki Japan to über-economist Joseph Stiglitz – are begging for more.

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