Kobe

Kobe? Here is a provincial city that feels like a town in the Kansai region. Again, I did not find much to visit there apart from the Kitano area where a lot of European style houses are built along the hill and the garden at the top, you may use the cable car or hike there.

However, I really like the city for the hills and the seaside, the many ramen and small shops and restaurants under the bridges and train rails, The city center has a European flair, arcades, small boutique, cafes with terraces, a walk on the seaside, the place is quieter than Osaka or Tokyo, so this is really a pleasure to spend an afternoon in Kobe

When Japan opened to the world, Dutch and Portuguese were the first to arrive in Nagasaki and then in Kobe because this was the port closer to Kyoto, the imperial city. Nowadays, some houses remain and Kobe is famous for the cakes and the bread because of this past times

Of course, the great earthquake in 1995 means most of the city is modern and rebuild, but sometimes, a good surprise and a nice building pops up.

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

 

Department stores

Japan is a consumer market, people love to spend, buy, they love brands, but they also love details, nice things, brands, luxury, quality. Along with that, for over a century, there have been a lot of department stores (Takashimaya, Matsuzakaya, Isetan, Mitsukoshi, etc)

My favourite remains Isetan for the B1F, food department and the 5F, tableware. I must say I also like Takashimaya historical building in Nihombashi for the architecture and the style.

They sell beautiful cakes made by Dominique Ansel and delicious Swiss Chocolate Laederach that I highly recommend

If you ever read The Ginger Tree, wonderful book written by Oswald Wynd, you will read part of the development of these stores in the early 1900’s

 

Office move

There is a way when you move office apparently. You have to offer an orchid to the mover, he ends up floaded with orchids of all sorts and cannot make the difference, cannot remember all of them I suppose.

I tried hard to change this as its very expensive, one bunch of flower or one orchid costs around JPY 27000 to 35000 average!! but there is no way so I respect and stick to the way “it should be”. So, flower shops prepare in numbers and deliver in numbers too.

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Food and more Food – this country is about food

Japan has so much to offer when it comes to food. I have 2 friends visiting currently for 2 weeks and both of them never eat raw food nor seafood. I thought this might be a challenge but we are reaching the end of the 2 weeks and we have not finished yet our wishlist. this is endless and always so delicious, oisshiii!!

I took them for lunch on a couple of occasions, restaurants are a commodity here and you can get a set lunch for JPY750 to JPY900 easily and that will always include a bowl of rice, pickles, a bowl of miso soup and the main dish, sometimes a fruit portion, it is excellent value, almost always good and healthy at all times