Shrine and Temple

New Year is THE big thing in Japan. In the last days of the year, it is time for a deep cleaning in the house, declutter, make everything clean and beautiful to initiate a clean new cycle of life.

in the last 3 days, a lot of time is allocated to prepare special end of the year dishes, Osechi, that you eat cold on december 31. You may order them in advance in gourmet food shops and hotel restaurants at crazy prices.

from January 1 to 3rd, all Japanese must go and pray at the shrine or temple for a healthy and prosperous year – https://youtu.be/1k9Oz4rb0JI

dont expect big ceremonies, full restaurants and party time on december 31 in Japan, most places are closed, it is very quiet!!

 

Osaka – Light and Life

Osaka is such a contrast compared to Tokyo, very lively, this is the 3rd city of Japan, after Yokohama, and it is a great location 40mn from Kyoto by local train (20mn with the shinkansen), 50mn to Nara, 30mn to Kobe (15mn with shinkansen). People laugh, shout, scream, talk loudly in the streets and bars, there is a special atmosphere here.

Enjoy the capital of streetfood, and shopping, the numerous malls, and the modern buildings, Temma, Dotombori, Namba, Umeda, so much to enjoy, not much to visit but guaranteed great time. After that, I am privileged enough to get the sweets in my room with a view

 

March 11 – remembering

As we have just yesterday remembered the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a lot of press reviews came out with either stories or facts around the current status.

Many places are still yet to be cleaned up 8 years later and some villages are not yet reopen with 52.000 persons out of their homes since.

When I arrived, I read “Japan – the art of bending adversity” where a number of chapters cover the event and I learnt a lot not only on the history but on the Japanese way of thinking and behaving around the natural disasters through the history. let me highly recommend it

Fishermen could not operate for many years and some trials are now happening. I honestly worry about the water sent to the ocean from the nuclear plant, what is the impact? anyone has a view?

Lately, we are also facing a devastating situation where many people have been evacuated in 2011, their homes have not been restored yet, entire towns are still uncleaned but these same people are now asked to move back and make space in Tokyo to prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Just last week, the government announced there will be a new organisation for rebuilding northeastern Japan areas.

 

Karoshi

This week, on 2 occasions, I was confronted with a discussion around work life balance and overtime. On both occasions, the person explained that this over work mentality came from the Showa Period where everyone was supposed to work hard to rebuild the country and support economic growth

Showa terminated in 1989, 30 years ago, so 2 generations ago, but some people still live this way. Thankfully, the government, conscious of the health impact of such behavior, has been adding bank holidays along the way to make sure people would stay at home a decent amount. However, in my company, we still have colleagues who took less than 5 holidays last year.

On my second discussion, about a company I know well, the person explained to me that almost all employees overwork and when leaving at 19h00, they are called for a meeting with their manager who explains to them for over 1 hour that they should work more.

There was this particular example of a lady who had just got married and was working 1 hour extra every day. She was called several times and blamed for not working enough. Eventually, she got divorced, burnt out, quit and moved away to a secondary city. She is still mentally affected and is gradually recovering.

In this company, there are multiple employees on long term sickleave with serious condition. some of them will never be able to go back to work

In Japan, there is a word for death by overwork – karoshi. in the last 2 years, companies like Panasonic or NHK have been called out for their work environment. I also heard stories of union visiting major Japanese corporations and forbidding over time with immediate effect, guess what. the productivity rose in the 1st 3 months, sickleave decreased, the company became attractive to employees and new graduates and they saved money on utilities bills for their office buildings but turning off lights and energy at 19h00!

The government even created a “Blacklist” of companies who are still encouraging long working hours etc and new graduates have a list of companies that they should NOT consider when joining the workforce.

It is not all that easy. I recall that in a company where I have many friends, they told me that some branches make sure they do not report overtime and forbid the co-workers to report. they also declare days off and holidays when they actually come to work. this in order to look good and avoid meetings and discussions! In Japan, because of lifetime employment, many people are trapped in the system. The concept of paying holidays does not exist so that the people who change company do not get their untaken holidays paid when they leave, now that turnover exists and grows, that the new generation does not see switching employment as a challenge, this will also need to be fixed.

Last year, a friends’daughter explained to me that she could not grow abroad for a year after her studies even she badly wanted to because her only option to enter the workforce was to go via the new graduates cycle otherwise she would be perceived as a rebel when she would come back, it would then be difficult to find a job, she would most probably end temping or at a lower salary with much less opportunity for growth. Put yourself in those shoes with your western mentality!! unbelievable. It took a while to make her see the other side of the coin, what if she would gain experience that companies would buy, what if she would not come back and grow a career elsewhere, what if many other young graduates do like her, with the lack of resources in Japan, what if she would come back and received offers to choose from in 5 years time.

This thing of the past will take a while to change BUT I see the new generation very differently, they definitely dont accept this. As long as their directors are not Showa type, they dare to challenge, they dare to balancing their life.

Step by step – a cultural shift will happen, we are nearly at the end of Heisei, gone are the Showa days, I am hoping the new period we will soon enter will reflect and encourage this.

Work life in Japan

in a fast ageing society, recruiting is a challenge, the cycle here is that companies have a financial year from April 1 to March 31, so as schools and universities

This enables to promote the companies to students the year before they graduate during job fairs, students “select” where they want to grow a career and are nurtured for a year until they incorporate the worklife

In April each year, loads of induction ceremonies are held across the countries in offices but also in hotels and venues, sometimes conference centers.

However, Young Japanese also evolve and start considering job quit, the end of a company for a lifetime is in sight. this is a culture shock and traditional companies address it in many different ways – here is a awkward example 

 

food for thought for the Westerners used to heavy unemployment, job hunting…

Influenza

In January, Influenza hit Japan. Here, things are taken seriously from day 1, a monitoring is set and TV news provide a daily update.

 

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Classes can close if 2 or 3 children get sick. as a measure of precaution, everyone knows that he must stay in quarantine at home at any synptom in order to limit the contamination and that applies to shops, schools, work.

Our company has provided a mandatory training on hygiene and precautions, mask distribution are available.

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There is also a product available in the toilets for employees to do gurggles and limit the spread too

 

Autumn colors

 

For those of you who wonder what the best season to Japan is, I would say that you need to consider October and November for the autumn colors

Part of the Shinto philosophy is about the nature and Japanese citizens take time to admire nature and season changing. We got into that mode too and spend a lot of time outdoor, peace, hike, wander, weather in Japan is a blessing in that season. temperatures gradually decrease from the exhausting 38 in the summer (90% humidity) to 10 in December, blue sky, dry air, very nice