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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Regular readers of this blog will know that (at least periodically) we try to take the pulse of YouTube, a portal which has the potential to supplant television given the apparent ossification of the latter medium; an excellent example of a channel which could hasten TV’s demise is that of Kanadajin3. Kanadajin3 (aka Mira, an amiable Canada-born resident of Tokyo) publishes videos about interesting facets of Japanese culture, from vending machine products to culinary tips; the formula is obviously a successful one, having garnered over 200,000 subscribers.
Until recently, we at Mediolana looked upon Kanadajin3 as merely a cute entertainment channel headed up by an unusually-talented twenty-something YouTuber. However, a brilliant video on the subject of the 2020 Summer Olympics – which is slated to be held in Tokyo – has got us thinking about this slice of the Internet in a whole new way. ANTI Tokyo olympics 2020 – 東京五輪 反対します (16th February 2016) sees Mira riffing on the reasons why she – like many who live and work in Japan’s largest city – believes that the Olympics is a net negative for her metropolis. Having watched this critique, we think that Kanadajin3 could be (with more than a nod to Tsugihara Ryuji and Hidaka Yoshiki) the First President of Japan, or at least someone with a very bright future in East Asian politics:
- Nationalist Edge. Mira makes an excellent observation about how large events run by distant, secretive and largely unaccountable organisations can end up flattening the local in the name of soulless homogeneity: she despairs of the proposal that Japan should ban the display of a traditional Buddhist symbol purely because of its superficial resemblance to the Nazi Hakenkreuz. Her views will resonate strongly with a Japanese public that is sensitive to cultural imperialism.
- Internationalist Vision. As a Canadian citizen with realistic aspirations to become a Japanese one, Mira has the potential to become an icon for a new, internationally-minded and increasingly open generation. She can also function as a bridge between two of the world’s largest economies: both Canada and Japan are members of the G7.
- Easy Charm. Most impressively of all, we were struck by how well Kanadajin3 communicated complex points. She exudes the easy charm of someone who can garner the support of a political machine purely by being herself – something her burgeoning YouTube subscriber base testifies to.