Ask a Salaryman 

What’s it really like to work in Japan? We asked Ueda-san, a representative salaryman, for his views on overwork, family, and foreigners in the workplace. Despite speaking no English, he responded in his own unique style.

  • Ueda-san, can we get your thoughts on the work situation in Japan?
  • Overwork is said to be a major problem. What’s your take on ‘Premium Fridays’?
  • How would you describe your company’s attitude to leaving work early on the final Friday of each month?
  • But is it fair that you’re evaluated according to the hours you put in at the office?
  • Even when this deprives you of valuable time with your family?
  • What’s your view on the latest intake of 22-year-olds to join the company this April?
  • Are you concerned about population decline, which means there will be 40% fewer new graduates by 2050?
  • You are doing your bit to keep the population numbers up, aren’t you?
  • Some people say the only solution is for Japan to accept more foreign workers.
  • Especially in jobs like nursing.
  • And at boardroom level.
  • A diverse workforce, evaluated on performance, working fewer hours. What’s not to like?
  • Wait! You do actually want change, don’t you?

What we learned

There’s a clear need to reform Japan’s working culture. But the biggest obstacle to reform could be the people who would benefit most: Japan’s notoriously loyal ‘salaryman’ class.

A diverse workforce, performance-based evaluation, and better work-life balance. These all sound like common-sense goals for a working nation to pursue. But for workers conditioned to rely on stability and unwritten rules, any kind of change can seem threatening.

Before attacking Japan for not changing its ways, we should spare a thought for all those affected. That includes people who might lack the skills or temperament to succeed in a workplace that’s more individualistic and global.

When asking Japan to change, pay attention to the silent majority and don’t be too dazzled by the changemakers. That’s an idea our salaryman can get behind.

Interview: David Willoughby/Workers U

Model: Hayato Danda/Pakutaso

Workers University

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