In the U.S., the culture embraces risk and risk-takers, if most of us don't actually live out these ideals ourselves.
It seems employees in Japan don't want to risk unemployment, while companies don't want to risk losing employees, while apartments don't want to risk extending credit to anybody who doesn't have a job with a recognized company.
In the U.S. it could certainly be argued that we're way too credit and risk embracing. However, it's also very likely that most of our economic growth in the last century is because we've been able to get credit and that we're a society that takes risks. Americans can be irresponsible, but this description sounds like the other extreme.
Japanese are extremely risk-averse, and extremely safety-minded in general. It is helpful to keep that in mind when considering the "weirdness" of many things they do.
Add to this a strong sense of community first - which means that it is more important that you fit into a readily understood place in society, the company, etc.
A self-employed foreigner? We don't have a checkbox for him. His name doesn't fit into our kanji boxes. What if he doesn't take the garbage out in the correct manner?
It sounds ridiculous, but it's really no more than "that's not how we do things around here" you'll find anywhere, but taken to an extreme.
That said, I find most people to be quite kind and helpful. The system is what usually gives the problems.
I don't think I made it obvious, but the average Japanese person tend to be just as frustrated with this whole system as you or I would be. This isn't some inherit trait they all have from birth. The "Taro"'s of Japan, who always manage to find their way through a loophole & will go out of their way to help you find it, are quite common.
A story, that may only be urban myth but was certainly believed to be true:
After the 3/11 tsunami, when the govt. was engaged in its usual slow response fumbling, a US military helicopter was trying to deliver supplies to the region, but red tape prevented them from unloading. So the chopper crew claimed they were having engine troubles & needed to reduce the weight for takeoff, and dumped the pallets.
This became one of the favorite stories in Japan and was universally considered to be a clever way to get around the bureaucracy (rather than people not following the rules, as you might think).
One of the reasons Taro knows that Lloyds is the intermediary is because he'll probably want to use that to help him with some similar situation someday.
is still a good haunt for researching J-colloquialisms (ad nauseam) when and if you're in the mood. He's a retired IT prof and a friend of Jack Halpern, composer of a popular JE character dictionary.
Yeah, but only as opposed to tight individualism conditioning from birth.
Funny example. We stayed at a place rented through airbnb last weekend in Tokyo that had a three ring binder containing only a 10 page guide on how to properly sorry the recycling. And even with that, I'm 100% sure we got it wrong.
I was going to justify all the complexity by an extremely good recycling rate, but it seems Japan is at 20% on average, which is behind 16 other countries , way behind South Korea.
"Switzerland sounds like Germany on steroids, with Finnish bureaucracy, that upstairs neighbour, the optimism of your grandma, that smartass from fifth grade and Japanese punctuality."
Yes, Germany is "laid back" compared to good old CH. And any old woman in the streets will speak English to you. Oh, the only homeless I saw was wearing a jersey from a (different) country
And your new hire knows it, so if there's a problem he not only loses a job (ultimately), but he loses a connection to find another job.
Same goes with the apartment. Japan is famous for the difficulty in getting people out of an apartment. The harder it is to get people out the more pre-qualification you need to do up front as a landlord. So you demand not only that the tenant can demonstrate a stable job history, but that he has a lifetime job at a company that's willing to get involved if you have a dispute. Because if things go sour and you don't have outside leverage, you might have to go to the local mobsters to convince your tenant to leave.
I worked in the game industry in Japan and the salaries were terrible. Salaries were half or less compared to California, while the cost of living in Tokyo was similar (at least back then, it could easily be more expensive in the Bay Area now). I ended up leaving my job to do consulting from home for clients both in Japan and abroad and more than doubled my income.
Living abroad was a a great experience though. The process of studying a new language and using it in day to day life successfully was incredibly satisfying. I'd love to do that again in another country.
And recently I've been teaching my middle school son to program. A few weeks ago, a project he did for his aunt caught the attention of a Gifted and Talented Ed (GATE program) director in another Silicon Valley city, who started recommending it to all the parents. My son had been accustomed to the school routine of having to use his skills to do hard work on school projects that were then treated as having no real value by the people who requested them. Over a weekend, his programming skills suddenly made him valuable in the real world to a lot of adults, none of whom he'd ever met. It was a revelation to him. It's unlikely that his yard-cleaning skills would have produced similar results.
It appears to me that the feedback from the real world is that people would much rather have my family writing code for them than washing their windows, and our experience is hardly unique. I can't say for sure that Japan's enlightened policy of paying programmers like janitors has contributed to Japan's near irrelevance in the global software industry, but when I've worked with developers in Japan (I lived in Tokyo and speak Japanese), I've always been glad that I wasn't a Japanese programmer.
The Japanese programmer was talking about how noble the jobs are. You may think the programmer is underpaid. The Japanese programmer thinks the janitor is undervalued (not viewed highly enough for the noble work that he is doing). He has his own cultural context, with its own emphases. Their free market reflects their culture- programmers and janitors are "valued" more equally than in the West.
He's also saying that a more egalitarian valuation is better than ours which has greater variance.
Yes, the Japanese programmer was talking about how "noble" the jobs are, but Western marxists do the same thing. If his objection was to people's attitudes about the inherent human worth of a janitor, well, I couldn't agree more, thank you very much. I was just as noble a person when I was a janitor, but what people were willing to offer me financially for my work made it clear that one type of work was more financially valuable to them than the other. Paying me for nobility hides a price signal that I can use to adapt my work so that it is of more value to others.
Pay for theoretical nobility ought to mean equal pay for everyone, which is the kind of economic inflexibility that is ultimately self-limiting.
HOWEVER- For hundreds (thousands?) of years, money and behaving in a way that is profit driven was reserved for the lowest of what was considered people in Japanese society. "Merchants" (a broader term than our interpretation of it) were seen as barely a step up from the lowest group that we would consider people, the eta "filthy mass" or hinen "non humans".
So that might explain some of why their culture still might not value money like we do.
Description of Chinese merchant class (does anyone have a link to a Japanese focused article?)
Now, without janitors we'd be like in the middle ages. We'd have to clean everything ourselves, everywhere. The roads would be like 19th century Paris or 16th century London. The stench would be unbelievable, plus lots of diceases.
Also, even from my western perspective, I can see logic in both positions. Programming certainly requires more skill than janitorial work. On the other hand, it's more inherently rewarding as well (at least to most people). So even outside of cultural biases, if there's sufficient highly skilled labour available, it makes sense for pay rates to equalize (and eventually for less desirable jobs to be paid even more than skilled ones).
In this way I think janitors can contribute significantly. But I think the more important point is that contribution to society is always a team effort, not an individual thing. Any contribution you make is in part thanks to your parents, teachers, co-workers, janitors, and so on. They deserve some credit.
> Without the janitor the building doesn't last.
Janitors aren't carpenters or construction workers or architects or civil engineers. They're janitors.
Also, as to your comparison, it strongly depends which business you are in. If you are running a building services company and your web designers quit, that might lose you some business. If your janitors quit, you are out of business. (edited to add - even if you are in a web design business, if you need a building to run the business from then the janitor will be a fundamental part of keeping the business afloat, unless you can get your web designers to also mop the floors and manage the security and maintenance. I have worked for a small media company in London where this was almost exactly the case, only there the CEO didn't expect it of the staff, but took over all janitorial duties himself as it was a small building and didn't take much time out of his day. He'd do most of his planning while cleaning.)
There is a truth behind the cliché of the chief monk being the guy with the brush sweeping up and there is good reason behind the cleaning days that are promoted by Hidesaburo Kagiyama as a management practice for Japanese companies, where the day starts with the CEO cleaning a toilet with their bare hands in front of their employees.
Here's an example of Hidesaburo Kagiyama visiting a Chinese University to explain and demonstrate his philosophy:
"When Kagiyama visited a university in China to clean the toilets with the students, the toilets were exactly as described above. The students held their breath and waited to see how Kagiyama would treat those filthy toilets. Under the gaze of the students, Kagiyama started pushing the pile of feces and urine deep into the toilet bowl with his bare hand and flushed it. He then looked back at the students quietly and said, “Now you clean this toilet.” In this way, he assigned the toilets to the students respectively. Looking at the example set by Kagiyama, the students could no longer back out. They set about to clean the toilets."
from here - http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~nippon/file/jog480e.pdf
Hidesaburo Kagiyama is the president of Yellow Hat, a Japanese car parts supplier that takes just over a billion dollars (120 billion Yen) in yearly revenue.
Are you kidding me? If a bunch of janitors left, you'd replace them with another bunch. It's a low-skilled job which makes little difference at the margin.
Do you really think people are arguing from that perspective?
Maybe "to whom much has been given, much shall be required" works as a moral principle, but when talking about business transactions and programmers increasing company income, 'much shall be required from the more talented' meaning 'required by your boss, who will pocket the income from your work instead of you having it' that seems more 'exploitative' than 'enlightened'.
Maybe if the entire company had everyone at the same pay, and any excess income was taxed for the use of the whole society, I could see it.
I think that's why this works in Japan. The American notion of these CEOs earning millions (and then getting extra millions in bonuses even when they screw up or are fired) is very foreign (as the article says, the company will keep you in style appropriate to your station, but in more subtle ways). The conglomerate pays everyone similarly, makes modest profits (which probably means that some parts of it are losing money big time, and subsidized by the profitable divisions - but it would be unthinkable to just close a division and fire everyone) and returns them to shareholders, who are at least perceived as being mostly ordinary folks saving for retirement.
I don't believe this to the be the root at all. People are mostly arguing that it's all about market value.
I've seen people who were more talented than me in lower income jobs, and I'm sure the other scenario exists as well. However, I'm employed based on a specific talent which is also associated with a specific median market value.
It would be totally unfair for an engineer to miss 8 years of salary, amass a huge student loan, and still be paid equal to a janitor.
The reason programmers command a higher salary than janitors in the US is due to labor demand; programmers can leverage that to their advantage. If I understand the article correctly, there's no need to do so in Japan because what programmers would leverage demand for (better social status/quality of life) is simply given to them.
It's also worth saying that salary aside, programmer is a better job than janitor for most people because it's more stimulating and rewarding. So it's not like you'll have a bunch of potential programmers deciding they can make almost as much money as a janitor and thus forego education, etc. In fact, isolated, it's likely to keep out people who are only into programming for the money, although in Japan the increased social status/quality of life replaces the salary incentive so it probably doesn't work there.
I also disagree with your implication that this system is economically infeasible. It's been working for decades (millennia?), and has built Japan into a world economic power. I'm not saying it's been without negatives, but I would argue that no labor system is.
I guess the unstated implication of your scenario is that businesses would start paying programmers more to work for them. However, at least in Japan, this has not happened. Programmer salaries stay close to other employees.
I don't think I can snap my fingers and change things everywhere, but I think there's ample evidence that similar salaries for disparate educational requirements works on a societal level. Thus is not really a, "what if," scenario.
In exchange, you get a lifetime security net that gives you the same guaranteed life as your coworkers. Serve the hive, and you need never fear. If you ever left it, you would never again have access to a security net from anybody, and with so much of your life depending on your hive membership, you're unlikely ever to leave or to be thrown out.
In such a system, where you don't know how you could survive outside the hive, maintaining the hive matters more to the bees than increasing profits. Yes, maybe the hive could get some economic benefit from hiring more women due to their being undervalued in the market, but maybe the unintended consequences of changing something like that might destabilize the hive. It's just not worth the risk if your whole life is going to depend on this one hive.
And maybe your hive could benefit by hiring skilled people in mid-career. But none of the hives do that. They've never done it and don't even know how. What would you pay somebody joining the hive in mid-career? How could you even judge the value of someone financially? We've never done that; nobody does that; there's no "market". What impact might it have on existing bees, who have been together since age 22, to have a foreign bee join them in mid-life? It's just not worth the risk to the long-term stability of the safety net on which all life depends. Don't change anything. Do what has always worked, defend the hive, and it will defend you.
I'm not sure if this is your idea of something "working on a societal level" but it's not mine. Ironically, I think this "stability over adaptation" approach puts Japan at greater risk of instability over the long run.
Janitors and programmers may be parts of the same machine, but the programmers are expensive cogs which have to be lubricated with money to keep them working (some cogs, obviously, are smaller and need less oil.)
Janitors, on the other hand, and other employees who contribute little to the bottom line of a company, are treated like caster wheels. Annoying when they're not working properly, but trivial to replace, and mostly not worth caring about.
It's determined by the difficulty of the job.
The more difficult the job, the less people are able to do it, the smaller the supply of labor for that position, the higher the paycheck. It's that simple.
When a market doesn't reflect that, it is horribly broken and will be horribly abused by the participants.
The parent says that in Japan it is, to some extent.
> When a market doesn't reflect that, it is horribly broken and will be horribly abused by the participants.
The parent says he prefers what you call horribly broken.
It is possible to defend a pure free market labor system without trying to pass off everything else as science fiction, y'know.
> It's determined by the difficulty of the job.
I strongly disagree. Example: working in a sweatshop is infinitely more difficult than being a software engineer and pays infinitely less.
Your compensation is determined by a big set of factors that I'm sure a sociologist could spell out for us all. I argue that the difficulty of the job is in fact not nearly as important as other factors like race/ethnicity, gender, mental health, etc.
Eh... I'm not sure such a market exists.
Before you say education, some specialist nurses have almost as much education as doctors. They don't receive close to the same pay.
Most of the answer is cultural expectations.
Simple, not easy (sweatshop)
Difficult, not hard (programming)
Jobs are not open market. There's no information clarity about what your competitors for a job are likely to demand. Consequently, you can't depend on the magical hand alone to determine your salary.
I've negotiated salary on every job after the first. I probably ended up with a few extra percent, but it wasn't major.
I wish the world worked that way. In reality, difficult programming jobs (say game engine programmer) or research positions pay less than code monkey jobs at big corps.
So...a noble job should be better compensated? Why? Doesn't that become an issue with the concept of nobility?
> they're equally contributing to the society
How do you reason? I'd like to know how you came to that conclusion that they must be equal.
Perhaps the issue is that compensation: money, prestige, and quality of life is better for an engineer in the U.S. than Japan. At least, that seems to be the viewpoint of the American Programmers you know: More Money > Better Quality of Life.
I agree that a more egalitarian society would be better.
The article addresses this directly, with an unattributed quote that he then expands upon:
> “Most people want to become wealthy so they can consume social status. Japanese employers believe this is inefficient, and simply award social status directly.”
Further data taken from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equ.... Japan has a Gini coefficient of 38, better than the 48 of the United States of America, but still worse than such famously underdeveloped countries as Cambodia or Jordan, or badly-off First World countries like Italy or Greece, let alone such highly developed nations as the United Kingdom or Germany.
You shouldn't brag about your prosperous egalitarianism when you've been in a deflationary depression for 25 years and your Gini coefficient is in the "not quite as bad as America" range.
However, your argument is misleading. In Japan, gap doesn't exist as much between occupations as in US, but between employment status; whether if you're a "proper" member of the company (正社員), usually hired right out of school and expected to spend your entire career there, or not. Even if one do the same amount of work, a proper member generally gets much higher pay, enjoys various benefits, and is protected well from layoffs. It's ironic that you brought up nobleness---in a sense, the proper member is regarded more noble, because they swear allegiance to the company, thus payed higher, regardless of what they actually do.
I make a very poor capitalist.
> Not because their job is inherently more noble than the lowly paid ones
In Japan engineers are treated like janitors because that's how Japanese businesses view other non-sales non-management positions within the company. The bosses decide the direction of the company, and everyone down to the janitors and engineers follow those orders. If you aren't a manager, you have less responsibility and thus less power to decide or give feedback to the overall health of the business.
In America, engineers often have more input to their superiors. In fact it isn't uncommon for engineers to assume management positions in American large corporations. I would even argue a manager with an engineering background will preform better than just a manager with an MBA. But even the lowly intern is allowed to speak up to his superiors because discussion even if it is against management's wishes is valued.
This isn't true in Japan. The path to "nobility" in Japan is to work (study) your way to the most reputable university out of high school to give yourself the best chance at entering the most reputable firms in Japan.
This is why schools like Keio that are an all inclusive program for children from primary school all the way through university are so popular (for Americans, this system nearly guarantees children entry to Keio University which is to Japanese a sort of Ivy league school). They're trusted to give their students the best possible outcomes in structured Japanese society because they're reputable.
So while you may delude yourself into thinking that Japan is egalitarian, it is anything but. It is a mixture of meritocracy to a certain point with old feudal caste style concepts mixed in.
> But what if the market is set up in a way that both salaries are roughly equalized? This is somewhat how the Japanese salary system works, and I believe this is The Better Way.
This isn't the better way. This is a tendency towards socialism. Not that I disagree with the socialist philosophy. In many ways I wish America was more like Europe. But from what I have seen in Japan, this mentality allows for the idea of 仕方ない (shikata ga nai) or status quo mentality.
That is most Japanese have the idea that they can't effect change within society because that's just the way things have always been done and that's just how it is. Contrast this with America's acceptance and encouragement to change and create changes. This difference is the reason why America has continued to last as it has for so long in addition to coming to dominating the world even when large industries have been off-shored.
There are some downsides to America's behavior. Notably we don't preserve traditions and culture. But at the same time this allows for innovation. It attracts the best and brightest in the world because that's the promise: you can do what you need to change the world and that glory will forever belong to your name as long as books and information continue to be preserved.
For example Japan has had a number of major visionaries, business men, and inventors but most of them are not respected within Japanese society because they didn't fit in. The most recent being Shuji Nakamura (Nobel prize winner for blue LED manufacturing discovery) who was Japanese but has since nationalized to America. Nakamura sued his previous Japanese employer over compensation for his discovery which was a mere 20,000 yen (~$200 USD) at the time. If that's the reward for advancing society, then nobody will want to attempt to do the impossible. Instead everyone will just throw their hands up and demote themselves to the easiest and most stable work possible which is exactly what you're seeing in Japan these days. But they have another option: immigrate to America where they will be respected.
It is sad to say but I believe if Japan continues on the trend they are on right now, they will continue to sink into irrelevancy. Japanese citizens are not trained to be specialized, they're trained to fit into society. Those that fit in the best and devote themselves to the structured nature of Japan are best respected. Those that find other ways or do not follow the traditional path (the Japanese version of the corporate ladder) are not respected. So when a serious problem in Japan arises, if the leaders do not recognize it, and have the correct solution, the entire ship sinks. Because only the leaders are in the position to effect change. Not the janitors. Not the engineers.
Finally a recent popular drama that aired in Japan was Hanzawa Naoki. (Spoiler alert) In the drama, the main protagonist spends his time ethically climbing the ranks of a large national bank in order to exact his revenge on a board member of the bank that he believes caused his father to commit suicide. He's successful but in the end, he's demoted from his current rank and transferred out of the main branch (because he forced the board member to kneel down and apologize in the most humiliating way during a board meeting). When I asked my Japanese friend what she thought of the drama's ending, she just replied, "that's just how it is." She didn't bother to think for once if a better outcome was possible.
For example, a Japanese CEO might have a salary of 4x that of his youngest salaryman. However, he also drives a $200k car. It is not "his" car, it is the company's car, but aside from the name on the title you could be excused for not knowing that. He's also homeless, if you discount the $10 million house which happens to be owned by the company's real estate arm which he happens to live in.
After he's CEO emeritus, he'll probably be provided with a board seat, a job at an affiliated company, or what have you, and the perks will continue, as befits someone of his stature.
This is true at all levels of the company, too. My salary was $30k, but there is some tangible value in having a pocket full of business cards which practically read "Attention, person who has just been handed this card: give the bearer whatever he wants. We're good for it. If you don't, we will remember." That status is very much not the same as the one you get if you combine two part-time jobs into the same level of income.
Typically, exactly at the age the company forces you to. I believe it was 65 at my company.
A company pension is typically sufficient to sustain one to a reasonable middle class standard of living, historically, and you have the option of being hired by the same company as a contract employee while receiving it. There's some grumbling about that, as of late, but my sense of it is that the material situation of salarymen who came up in the 1970s right now is pretty decent, but one might not say that about e.g. retired men who were working in the factories as contract labor during the same time.
You can pick out the retired gentlemen on the train fairly easily. The outfit is usually a Western suit a few decades out of date. Tweed is popular.
Some take up hobbies and become/remain pillars in their community. (Former salarymen are rather common among e.g. active members of my parish. The words "I left the company and joined Catholicism" might have been mentioned once, to a bit of chuckling and some scandalized looks in the direction of the parish priest.)
Some have the troubles one generally associates with aging. That is particularly difficult for salarymen who don't have a personal social network (due to never marrying, divorce, estrangement from family due to being absent for 30 years, etc).
Do the perks keep going after retirement even for the non-CEOs?
It depends. I know one guy who is clearly on The Track, and regardless of whether he makes CEO or not, I expect that he expects to be taken care of indefinitely. I'm not sure if one can expect that if you're not one of the golden boys.
The article discusses the idea that when you're hired you're given a career that the company decides on, not you. So in that context, where they'll turn an art history major into a java developer, things are different.
The Japanese system is predicated on the idea that salarymen are fungible, and in that context your personal skills or contributions don't factor in. You're the same as everyone else, and if every one of a company's 80,000 employees is functionally identical from the point of view of the system, there's no real line between a programmer and a janitor.
You're talking about effort and he's talking about value, which are quite different metrics.
A programmer uses a crazy work multiplier known as a computer to affect, potentially, millions or even billions of lives (in the cases of Google or Facebook).
A janitor cleans a small area and generally won't affect as much, in addition to being more easily replaceable due to being unskilled labor that does not require all that training.
For what it's worth, I say that having worked jobs not far removed from janitor.
But I'm not at all convinced that most of them could make much more money outside Japan. I've almost always had to communicate with Japanese devs in Japanese, because few of them spoke much English. They tended to be kids who didn't do all that well in school, including English class, so they didn't go to prestigious universities, whose students tend to go into more respected professions.
Things might have changed since I lived there, but Japanese devs were not valued very highly in Japan and most would have a hard time being more valuable outside Japan.
Ask Mr. Supply and Mrs. Demand.
The market is not the law or the most efficient state, it is easily influenced by large entity or a conglomerate of businesses with the common interest of depressing the costly side of their business.
To say that because the market pays a bit over what janitors are paid seems very much lacking in confidence and quite frankly, self degrading. You won't get anywhere with that kind of attitude, Japan or America.
I was also pleasantly surprised at the cost and quality of food here, although some of my coworkers who moved here from different countries (South Africa, for example) have complained that it's too expensive.
My bills are also less expensive, and the quality of the services are better. Internet for example is very fast and reliable, and costs me about half the price as Comcast did in SF.
I find the far-left often bemoans a lack of paternal aspects in US society, by my god, this blog posting horrified me. I would feel to trapped and powerless in that structure. I think it also explains the milquetoast offers, especially in regards to software, these types of companies deliver.
There's something wonderfully rebellious and wild about US culture, in general, that leads to enough weirdness that somehow gets results. All the early pioneers of the things I love were pretty out there and let their freak flag fly. I can't imagine personalities like these thriving in that type of environment.
Obviously politics are way out of scope on this site, but I think I can sneak in a meta point. I found this bit of frame-above-fact language absolutely hilarious. It's almost Orwellian, really. Bravo.
Those crazy democrats. Always bemoaning the lack of paternalism.
I also find the extreme feelings towards organized labour in the US somewhat bemusing... what's the alternative? Waiting for fast food chains and supermarkets to decide to increase pay, sick days and holidays, and reduce hours out of "efficiency reasons"? Or maybe wait for invisible hand-me-downs?
Then sampling the cutthroat nature of capitalism on the 'management' side of things, I understood what the unions were fighting for. (Even if I think they fundamentally fucked things up along the way.)
And now, as a vaguely paternalistic employer, I try to enact the kinds of things which unions would try to do (reasonable work hours, good wages, respect for the people working for me and their efforts on our collective behalf), and eliminate the failings of the union system (mostly by ruthlessly culling dead weight-- verboten in a union).
And all in all, I find myself concluding that management is an art, not a science. It can't be process-ized, or bound up by rules. The tyranny of Wall Street excel spreadsheets in bleeding workers dry is wrong. The indifference of unions to the economic output of the companies that employ them is wrong. And the people who can square that circle are not interchangeable cogs that can be replaced at will.
If you ask one of those "far left" people why they favor those policies, you're going to get an answer along the lines of "fairness" or "safety net", etc... That is, they want that stuff because it seems like a good idea. But if you don't want that stuff and want to argue against it, yet have at best a subtle or abstract reason, you end up being on the side of "unfairness and danger" in the argument.
So you make up a term like "paternalism" (or better: "nanny state") to describe the same policies that evokes a negative connotation. Problem solved!
Politicians do this all the time, and it's just something we live with. But the danger to the thinking person is that you end up internalizing this kind of language to such a degree that it pops out in a completely non-political discussion about Japanese corporate culture.
Don't do that. Leave the spin to the talk shows. If you feel competent to have an opinion about someone else's ideas, you should be capable of discussing it in a neutral manner without resorting to Orwellian newspeak.
Again: "bemoaning the lack of paternalism" ... WTF?
Seriously, from all the inefficiencies pointed out in this article, how is the economy of Japan not in the verge of collapse?
- They spend hours choosing the text of buttons,
- they're expected to learn the Way We Do Things In This Company until their 30s,
- they attend work for extended hours,
- the workforce capacities are planned dozens of years in advance,
- decision-making is centralized in the hands of the major companies, investments are interlocked between company-arranged rents, company-arranged investments and company-arranged paperwork,
- and they have competition from foreign products which were produced by more officient economies, e.g. the iPhone
I guess there are other employment markets like France and Russia which have friction too, and others like China which may lack the special salt of SV to be exactly as dominating, but how come Japan still succeeds to have major companies and keep selling products?
U.S. employees are also trained on the job. The difference is that it's a succession of jobs, separated by job searches and interviews – an inefficient and unreliable process.
Statistics show that the average U.S. worker put in 1788 hours per year in 2013. The average for Japan? 1735 hours per year. Neither of these represent world-class efficiencies: The Germans and the Dutch, for example, manage to run their modern economies on less than 1400 hours per worker.
The USA does have a significantly higher per-capita GDP than Japan, but the Swiss are higher still, and only work 1588 hours per week.
(These are glib analyses, of course, because averages lie in various ways. The fact that Qatar has three times the per-capita GDP of the USA should give one pause; per-capita GDP is not the same thing as "quality of life of the average resident".)
The idea that iPhone manufacturing is somehow "foreign" to Japan is pretty funny. Mobile phones are international products, built with parts and machines and expertise from around the world, certainly including Japan:
Yes, many phones aren't assembled in Japan these days, but they aren't assembled in the USA either. The Japanese can still field some of the greatest electronics engineers on the planet, but they work on higher-leverage problems than final packaging and assembly.
My take on the answer, by the way, is that the iPhone is a 20% hardware 80% software product, and Japanese hardware manufacturers were not well-positioned for that opportunity. That has, sadly, not changed. You would think that Google solving the software problem for them would give them a bigger opportunity, but that hasn't been borne out in practice, to my understanding.
Anyhow, the fact that mobile phones are widely perceived as Chinese is not entirely accidental. Something like 40% of the BOM might be Japanese products, but a Japanese CPU and a Japanese camera and a Japanese gasket plus a Chinese paper box is perceived as a Chinese cell phone. Japanese tech firms have very keen memories of the 1980s and don't want to be the "yellow peril" again, for US politicians/companies to take swings at to protect domestic industries.
Nominating China for the role of punching bag? Triple bonus points. (Japan and China have a... storied relationship.)
[+] Exaggeration for comedic effect. There exist many Japanese folks, including those in industry, who would be happy if a larger portion of the supply chain were purely domestic.
Sony on the other hand made some good stuff but was always just too controlling. The hardware was nice but you had to buy overpriced Memory Stick storage because Sony couldn't bear to use a standard format. And in the pre-android days you had to sell your soul to get a dev kit. (I realise Apple gets away with all of this but Sony doesn't have a reality distortion field). I get the feeling Japanese customers are willing to trust Sony in a way that foreign ones aren't.
> It was the same old pattern: when caught red-handed [for patent infringement], countersue, claiming Samsung actually owned the patent or another one that the plaintiff company had used. Then, as the litigation dragged on, snap up a greater share of the market and settle when Samsung imports were about to be barred. Sharp had filed its lawsuit in 2007; as the lawsuit played out, Samsung built up its flat-screen business until, by the end of 2009, it held 23.6 percent of the global market in TV sets, while Sharp had only 5.4 percent. All in all, not a bad outcome for Samsung.
The Koreans are much more ruthless than the Japanese, who have gone soft.
We don't train people; they're expected to self-finance virtually all training. This often leads to a severely undertrained workforce, partially masked by immigration. When potential employees self-direct training, it also leads to mismatches between employer needs and employee training.
Following the lead of employers, employees have discovered theres no loyalty at all and hence treat employment as an adversarial relationship. Witness, eg, the bullshit from asshole Mark Suster. Your employer retains the right to drop you for any reason, or no reason at all, with no termination pay or help... but you better not go down the street for a better offer. Loyalty flows upwards only!
It's an enormous risk to develop very deep skills in a tiny niche: that niche may go out of need, and as an employee, you're just fucked. No serious assistance retraining. Zero assurance that, after your one year of unemployment benefits are up, society won't shrug and say, "Tough fucking luck; welcome to poverty."
The incredible overpriced mess that is us healthcare. We spend roughly 2x as much as anyone else in the developed world, for mostly worse outcomes. With way more friction.
The debacle of US infrastructure, particularly in a place like the valley. Poor and overpriced telecommunications. Incredibly high housing costs. Terrible transportation. No real attempt to address any of the above. Endless whining that there aren't enough engineers, but an unwillingness to pay trained engineers from the midwest or west or south enough money to afford anything like an equivalent life. Contrast to tokyo: if an engineer were paid $50k to live in the valley, they'd be living in their car. In tokyo, there's developed enough transportation systems this is manageable.
Lack of support for parents: from very modest time off for parents, to expensive daycare ($300-$500 per week for an under-two year old child), to a dozen other issues. One parent takes a huge productivity cut or the parents hire a nanny for $25k+/year.
Not to mention if you've been at a company for a long time and they have you in charge of the legacy systems, which are moving farther and farther away from the profit center systems with all their shiny new bells and whistles. Again and again and again I have seen people punished and let go due to their "loyalty" in maintaining the legacy systems, as opposed to working on the systems with constant new features that are where the business growth and revenue is.
As the link points out being incredibly careful with practices, and really ensuring the quality of a product is exactly the right thing in many situations. When building, say, cars. Huge amounts of training, careful procedures, and lots of time with senior engineers to help is often very useful. Further while a lot of the sales stuff seems completely ridiculous, there is benefit in having very personal interactions and understanding. Again, look at the link to see why. Japanese corporations are actually very innovative in a lot of ways, and often build extraordinarily impressive products, if often ones that are hampered by terrible design.
Secondly, not all of Japan is like this. Japanese productivity is pretty weirdly bifurcated: For office work, Japan is terrible (well below the USA, Europe), for manufacturing Japan is world-class. Japanese companies build things really really well, with very few workers, quickly. They just can;t organize paperwork in any reasonable way.
Here's a link to a nice brief summary of this stuff by an economist in the US whose worked on Japan before: http://neojaponisme.com/2014/01/15/japanese-economic-mythbus...
I bought and read that book some years ago. Found it pretty interesting. There is a lot of detail and statistics in it, but the overall theme is of Kaizen (roughly, continuous improvement), along with muda, mura, muri (all three terms explained in the links below):
"In 2004, Dr. Jeffrey Liker, a University of Michigan professor of industrial engineering, published The Toyota Way. In his book Liker calls the Toyota Way "a system designed to provide the tools for people to continually improve their work."
Also, see Muji :)
Ironically, American experts introduced many of those concepts to Japan.
I think Japan is like any other countries: there are pockets of genius in a mostly conventional culture. The same is true about the USA, China, and so on.
Haha. A movie which satirizes this aspect of Japanese culture is オムライス ("Omuraisu" -- Omelette Rice: 2011 I think). In this film, the main character walks around his town (one of the purposes of his walk being to obtain ingredients for omelette rice), and responds to various odd signage. He invents stories which explain how those signs might have come to be, and those stories come alive as a sequence of disconnected, or loosely connected vignettes by various comedians.
One of the vignettes revolves around a succinct sign explaining a shop's opening hours on various days. The protagonist imagines that the sign began as a slightly different sign: one with a missing dash (though this is not easy for viewers to notice, I think). In the vignette, the characters argue about how the sign is unclear and propose various changes to it which make it more and more verbose. Finally, a third guy comes along and just adds the missing dash to the original (producing the succinct sign as seen by the protagonist). Everyone is like, "whoa ...".
Japanese sites don't rate this film very highly, but I liked it. It's not bad for "foreigners" interested in Japan. No subs were available, so I had to do without.
Because I see people putting crazy hours here as well with only 2 weeks or less of vacation time.
> - They spend hours choosing the text of buttons,
Hello bike shedding. Ever been to any meeting with "senior" management. Those people just don't know how to shut the fuck up or admit they "don't understand" so they latch on and start pronouncing orders about stuff they understand -- button colors. Happens in US, China, Africa, Europe.
> - they're expected to learn the Way We Do Things In This Company until their 30s,
Ok but then they have learnt them and are good to go for another 30 or 40 years until they retire. Having job security is no joke when health insurance, housing, family is involved. There is something to be sad about it. It might even be worth a salary cut.
> - they attend work for extended hours,
Depending what you compare to. American workers also work what Europeans might consider crazy and unreasonable hours (if you add vacation or lack of into the mix especially).
> - the workforce capacities are planned dozens of years in advance,
I have seen large military industrial contractors lay off thousands in a swift hand move because some major contract from US govt got lost. The other extreme is you know not plan in advance and only plan 2 years ahead then let everyone go and re-hire/re-train/re-certify new ones. Is that better. I am not sure yet.
> - decision-making is centralized in the hands of the major companies, investments are interlocked between company-arranged rents, company-arranged investments and company-arranged paperwork,
Wait, isn't most of the US economy run by large organization which make decision not unlike dictatorships. Centralized with the classic pyramid management scheme. I guess if all we do is read HN we might get a bit of a wrong impression about how the economy and labor market works here.
> - and they have competition from foreign products which were produced by more officient economies, e.g. the iPhone
So China (FoxConnn)? Yeah China is great. They are efficient but that is in part because they are willing to cut corners and disregard safety or health standards.
But yeah I get it, you mean to say "Apple" and by proxy -- US. Well they can't do everything well. Their car businesses are doing well. Look at Ford, GM etc vs Honda and Toyota. Perhaps there the situation is reversed.
You can make a very compelling argument that it is.
I dare say that it is. Have you ever seen their debt to GDP ratio?
How Japan manages to compete has been a big question in academic business studies for a very long time. I think Michael Porter did one of the best analysis of why Japan manages to be competitive in some markets, but his work is getting rather old now.
If I could offer an addendum, it would be that working for a small non-$MEGACORP company is more common than you might get from the article. I work mainly with web designers and the median engineer I meet typically works at a 5-50 person company, often a startup. Also small places tend to be more progressive than megacorps in some ways (e.g. not expecting lifetime employment, Saturdays off, etc.). But most of the article (company as family, etc.) applies equally to small companies.
Also as an aside, there's plenty of modern cutting edge web design here! Many of my JP colleagues have TheFWA awards and so on. It's fair to say that webdev inside the megacorps is behind the times, but I imagine that's true of most places outside silicon valley.
There are clients pushing the bar though - Uniqlo comes to mind...
Somehow Google got dragged into this. Google has some benevolence (advice about how to eat healthy, paid gym memberships, etc.), but it's not quite like the Japanese companies he describes. Nobody is managing your rent, or setting you up with dates. (Too bad, I hate dealing with landlords.) You can quit, do a startup, and come back. People that can't program don't end up doing planning meetings and making spreadsheets.
Certainly, if you like your job, your responsibilities will probably expand to take more than the 40 hour workweek. It's been that way everywhere I've ever worked in the US. (I probably err on the side of spending too much time at work, but I'm rewarded in many ways for that time, so I'm not complaining too much. But I'm not the "show up at 9 and set my alarm for 5 and leave when the alarm goes off" type of person.)
I worked in the Tokyo Google office for a month last summer. People go home at 6. People come in as late as 2. It's very much like working in the US. I came in on Saturday a couple times and didn't see many other people around. If 60 hour workweeks are endemic to all companies in Japan, the fact was hidden from me. I don't know if working for Google counts as being a salaryman, though, I didn't ask anyone.
Japan is a big country. There are certainly paths you can take that lead to 60 hour weeks and low salaries. There are other paths that don't.
Edit: and oh yeah, my one piece of advice for living in Japan: just because someone tells you you're good at Japanese, doesn't mean you are.
I think Silicon Valley-style working hours are actually sometimes required to win in the race of building world leading products. Of course, in the vast majority of the time it's probably being applied in a stupid way, just like in Japan.
It all comes down to how hard it is to scale up a team. ("The mythical man month", etc.) You can actually borrow against future productivity by running a team really, really hard when it really matters. (Compare with the stories of how iPhone 1.0 was developed.)
In Europe pulling off something like this is only feasible in a small start-ups where everyone knows what's at stake, and there is a reward mechanism in place that works.
A scenario that does actually happen now and then is "the system has gone down, we don't know why, and there'll be hell to pay if we don't find the bug, fix it and get everything back up and running by Monday morning." In that case, fine, work the weekend if you have to - but then take Monday and Tuesday off.
Again, after that sort of experience I would be glad to discuss this.
For casual chats, the Debug Podcast:
with the former Director of Engineering, iOS Applications at Apple Inc, Nitin Ganatra
Debug 40: Nitin Ganatra episode II: OS X to iOS
Debug 41: Nitin Ganatra episode III: iPhone to iPad
What's it like to demo software to Steve Jobs
Why am I posting this into a talk about Japan?
Plus you're nuts with your education loans, no matter what those colleges offer!
My insurer was in the news today because they denied air medical transport without prior authorization.
If you're in a serious motor vehicle accident and the paramedics call airlift to transport you to the trauma center, your insurer will deny coverage because they weren't called first to authorize it. And you'll be left holding a bill for between twenty and seventy thousand dollars.
That said, I understand its a fairly unique situation.
Also, FYI, because of the ACA (Obamacare) there is no longer a lifetime or yearly cap on benefits.
As reference: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2014/07/24.html
There you can see a short list of companies with aforementioned insurance plans, and a description that was probably treated by most as exaggeration (it's not) - "health insurance where everything is paid for".
To refer back to earlier in this thread, I also work 35-40 hour weeks despite working at a startup. This is all balanced by what I suspect are slightly below-market salaries (NYC is expensive). We're hiring, in case any of this is appealing.
Again, being British, this is staggering to me. I just kind of assumed that health insurance covered, you know, your health. Do you mean that with American health insurance I could get turned away from the hospital for having the wrong kind of disease or something? I would understand if it's cosmetic surgery or similar that isn't covered; but even here I have friends who have had rhinoplasty (nose jobs) on the NHS, for essentially cosmetic reasons! I sort of forget how good our system is, sometimes, with all the media complaints about it here...
Is abortion covered? I don't know; I'm a guy. Mental health issues? Not sure; I've never had any. Preventive/elective surgeries? Birth control? Where's the line between dental and health insurance? (I know my dental is a little weaker.) These haven't come up so I haven't bothered to learn about them. Maybe I should.
I expect that if I have to go to the ER, I'll be covered; its some of the the edge cases I don't know about. There are probably laws that ensure some of these, but I just don't know much about it. I'm a largely healthy person and have been my whole life.
I had to select a healthcare plan (an idea which I found rather strange) and spent many happy hours in October curled up with countless HMO/PPO/WTF policy books, looking into exactly these details. I have a history of mental illness and addiction, and my wife came within about 12 hours of death during a two month hospital stay earlier this year, so minor questions like "can I receive appropriate treatment for a potentially life-threatening illness?" have taken on an urgency that they did not possess when I was younger.
Is abortion covered? I still haven't found an answer there despite poring over my plan manuals. My wife has not been able to take birth control until very recently and we are not in a financial situation to be able to care for an infant. Did I click the right button in my convenient private healthcare web app?
Dental, weirdly enough, is not actually covered under Canadian universal healthcare, despite the relationship between dental health and seemingly-unrelated things like cardiovascular health (seriously!). It's pretty strange.
If I had any actionable advice to offer, it would be to look into this crap now. Some of the plans on offer were shockingly bad, despite the price tag - "we pay up to 75% of your hospital bill!" Fantastic. My wife had her appendix out in Florida on vacation, the surgeon lost a few staples in her abdomen, and next thing you know, she's looking at a $250,000 bill (covered by travel insurance, thankfully). $250,000 * 0.25 = $62,500. Not checking this stuff out could cost you - health problems strike when you least expect them .
> If I had any actionable advice to offer, it would be to look into this crap now.
Is that still relevant given that I don't have options? My company only offers one plan (and they cover the monthly cost, so I might as well take it). I'm wondering if there are situations where knowing what is covered would change my actions, even if I can't change which plan I'm using.
Obviously this is my personal point of view
AFAIK most countries in EU have higher unemployment benefits and other social protections than US (many ppl live on benefits while starting a business). People who say leave a mega corp to do a starup still have health insurance. Registering a company take a few hours. Most countries have all kinds of tax subsidies for the founders, investors and employees of new businesses.
I lived in the SF Bay Area for years, and I left in part because it was such a bad place to live, which to me does not seem like a very good showing. I now live in Copenhagen, and if you want to talk about results to show for an economy, Copenhagen is better in every way I can think of. It's just a nicer place to live. It has less poverty, lower crime, lower incarceration, better transit, better healthcare, sidewalks are not covered in human feces, homeless rate is massively lower, housing is more affordable, there is a more experimental startup culture, offices are more affordable, unemployment is low, etc.
I can believe that SF is richer numerically, but walking around Copenhagen subjectively feels like a much more economically successful city. SF's is a weird kind of segregated wealth: there are some very rich people, driving expensive cars and living in penthouses, but the area overall has a lot of poverty and a ton of social problems, and does not subjectively feel wealthy to me. If I have to worry about stepping in feces or being mugged, to me that is not a mark of a particularly successful economic system, or the mark of an area that is desirable to live in.
Consider how much time you spend using things created in the bay area: Google, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ebay, WordPress, Pintrest, Reddit, Instagram, Paypal... the list is too long to name everything.
The region is really really productive technically. There are lots of startups and some do really well. Skype (Swedes, Danes and Estonians), Spotify, Mojang (Minecraft), Dice (owned by EA; Battlefield etc), Massive, etc etc. Lots are in the game-making space.
There are lots of big companies too such as Ikea, Ericsson, Saab, etc etc. Names you recognize.
And Sweden is a really really big exporter of music; the third biggest exporter in the world, or something like that, which is not bad for a population about that of London.
Of course many want to move to the Valley and I know many who have. But having been over to visit a few times I'd much rather work remotely from my farm house deep in the Swedish countryside with my great broadband.
I guess I'm not really attempting to integrate into Danish culture per se. I feel pretty comfortable with cosmopolitan Copenhagen culture, which is a bit different. Copenhagen is a really international city these days, and my group of friends is from a number of countries (Spanish, German, Greek, Polish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Korean, Syrian, and yes, Danish). So unless we all become fluent enough in Danish to prefer it over English, we're going to speak English as a practical matter anyway. If you're in the central areas of the city, in my experience that's not uncommon— in a typical bar in Indre By, Vesterbro, or Nørrebro, the table next to you is almost as likely to be speaking English as Danish. It'd be nice to speak Danish too, just from a practical perspective I have little opportunity/need to.
I'd say about half of the cultural events are in English as well, so it doesn't even really feel like being in some kind of expat bubble. Especially anything to do with science or technology: game-dev meet-ups, hackathons, research talks at universities, etc. are mostly done in English. Looking at the talks at http://www.cphtalks.org/, for example (which admittedly leans towards academic talks), I count 50 talks in the coming week, of which 41 are in English and 9 are in Danish. Between that and having learned enough written Danish that I can read a newspaper ok, I feel reasonably connected.
I do think it's hard to meet Danish people, but once you know 1 or 2, it's easier to meet others. And Copenhagen is a great place to meet non-Danish people. I think I have honestly met more German people here than I would have if I were actually living in Germany.
Groceries wise, I'm still sort of 'there', but I live in the U.S. Just pop in for exams, I'm having difficulty finding housing. That actually might be a huge part of my dislike of the city; I'm sure if I lived near Norrebro, my experience would be a lot better. Commuting is never fun.
I guess the little things got to me though. I'm used to people generally having some degree of friendliness/politeness in public, which I found lacking in CPH. The cashiers at Netto would often not even acknowledge my presence. That was weird. Asking a random stranger for something like directions sometimes felt like you were committing a no-no. Maybe I'm just projecting, but the entire city's atmosphere felt mildly hostile/alien.
More accurately, there's little room for individualists in Denmark. The atmosphere of Jantelov is not very pleasant, and outsiders especially struggle to find their place within it.
Edit: the link to "An Introduction to Japanese Society" seems to be broken. Try this if you're interested:
Also, work the conversion math out if you'd like: 40k visits, 5% will open that link, 3% will purchase, ~8% affiliate fee on $15 book = $72. My weekly rate is $30,000. This post took, essentially, half a work-week to write. It's not worth bothering with.
I'll bet at that rate people will try hard not to waste your time too, that alone is worth it.
But I'm concerned that you either woke up at 5am to read comments, or you stayed up all night.
The most interesting bit is how fast his time has increased in value, four short years ago he was still employed at some reasonably (by SV standards) low monthly wage working insane hours and now he's making as much or more per week as most of his former colleagues make per year.
That's a pretty good raise. And it did not have the risks associated with doing an all-out start-up associated with it either he's applying the lessons he learned running his own smaller business to larger businesses that are prepared to pay for that knowledge.
From what I have gathered the parts about Japanese company life are accurate. Yes, coming home at 7pm is "early". Midnight is not out of the question. Not all companies require you to work on weekends, but it's not unusual to get phone calls or be expected to complete some minor work at home.
It's possible to get a stable job again after quitting your previous one, although I can believe it would be difficult if you don't have a good reason. This wild concept of "changing your job" (tenshoku) seems to be becoming more common too.
Part about company molding you seems true. To me it's bizarre that people get hired to work for a software company, despite having no such background. You could go from a completely unrelated degree to suddenly being a programmer, totally possible.
The part about critical Japanese parents didn't ring true to me. No-one has tried to pressured me to have a normal stable job. Perhaps because everyone knows I'd be a terrible employee for a Japanese company, as I like to do things like have hobbies, take vacations lasting for over a week, be paid a decent salary etc. But I think the relationship to work is just different.
Yes, people always assume I am an English teacher.
(For clarity, I say "wives" because that's the case Patrick referred to; I have no idea if Japanese companies help employees find same-sex partners, or if "salarywomen" exist in meaningful numbers.)
Like anywhere in the world, you get what you aim for.
Of course this does not take away from some factual statements he made. It is very hard to hire in Japan. Business practices are archaic in many ways. Technology is outdated (so few people know anything of Meteor, Angular, Go, D, R, etc).
I still prefer it though in many ways. There is a order to social life here that you don't have in the US or Europe. A tacit agreement to work together. Sadly not always in a productive fashion, or even healthy, but still to a fashion.
Just remembered that there was a company policy that no one should stay in office after 6PM in which case your manager will be called in to reason the next day.
Best line in months.
Unfortunately the vast majority of foreigners here are 20-something year old assholes who demand Japan to be the same as their home country or clueless tourists enjoying the sights and sounds. Its though this lens that Japanese people experience either directly or indirectly foreigners and like everywhere on the planet, people remember (and exaggerate) the negative aspects like it was yesterday, but quickly forget the neutral and positive experiences.
If you can digest the above, then its easier to understand the Japanese perspective which is, all interaction with foreigners has substantial risk attached. All this means is, if a task has a local interaction then its likely got an additional risk management component to it.
This risk component is probably different, possibly offensive based on your own cultural norms, but if everyone has the same expectations and culture as you, then your not living in a foreign country.
As a programmer and would-be entrepreneur living in Japan, finding good prospective co-founder, investor, or mentor in Japan is really hard. Finding Japanese girl who acknowledges entrepreneurship is also hard, unless you're already very successful or wealthy.
I'm shocked when I know how ideal Silicon Valley's culture and environment are for start-ups. I want to work or start business at SV, not in Japan, though I have not lived there. That's why I'm reading HN and found this post.
However, I would caution against making this kind of comparison:
That said: is racism a bigger problem in Japan than e.g. in the United States? Oh, yes. Unquestionably.
First of all I don't think the piece makes any egregious mistakes in how it discusses racism--I want to make that clear. But as with many complicated things, the answer is "it depends," and in this case it specifically depends on who you are. (As a white guy living in Japan,) I think it's really hard for a white guy living in Japan to get a sense of how to accurately compare--as a random but probably highly pertinent example in the case of their respective countries--the experience of an African-American with that of a Zainichi Korean. The U.S. has a history with regards to those of African heritage, and Japan has a history with regards to those of Korean heritage, and those are both enormously complicated things. So I think it's simply best to acknowledge, "yeah, Japan has some stuff to work on, just like the U.S. does, and probably everywhere."
But I can say that it's absolutely the case that a white dude really doesn't have it that rough, and the racism I've experienced up until now (after 3.5 years here) is on the level of persistent annoyance, and I think Patrick absolutely nailed the most annoying thing I encounter day-to-day, which is this:
Imagine walking the tax return for your multinational software company into the local tax office and being asked, in a clerk’s best speaking-to-a-slow-child voice, “Who can I call (mimes phone) if I have a question (shrugs) about this paper (points)?”
...it makes me want to scream on a bad day, but I think he's also entirely correct that
Few things in life are worth fighting over. Fights that are worth fighting are usually worth winning.
At some point, your response just ends up being a shrug and the familiar Japanese "shouganai..."
(EDIT: a little for grammar and to clarify quoting from the piece.)
I can't help but wonder how one would time the demise of one's wife to coincide with a public holiday.
Perhaps parenthesis could have been used for clarification on this if the main discussion is about the honeymoon. eg. "so they’ll suggest two days for your honeymoon (and two if a parent passes away, and one if your wife passes away).
I've been enamored in Japanese culture ever since I visited the country, and have gained a handful of penpals in my quest to learn 日本語 - at times we discuss the different in culture relating to employment. To them, the riskiness in American (and to a large extent Western culture in general) is insane.
I am not risk averse in the slightest - I've gambled my future on gut feelings and judgement calls for as long as I can remember. But I don't think this makes me better than someone who takes a safe approach to things. Is risk taking inherently better than a safer approach? Why would it be?
Our way of life sounds just as dismal to a large portion of the Japanese as the salaryman way of life does to a large portion of Americans.
The salaries have kept me from returning to Japan for years now.
One question - I was informed that only a Japanese citizen (national) can create a traditional company... Is that not true (OP kind of touches it but kind of doesn't answer my question as far as I read)
How closely that approximates the desired scenario with regards to e.g. hiring and social signalling is another question. It would presumably be bounded by the status of e.g. Microsoft Japan, which is in turn bounded by Sony. Which is to say, not as good, but possibly good enough for most intents which don't involve hiring new grads shoulder-to-shoulder with Sony.
Q: Will you use the card to buy alcohol?
FWIW, one of the most commonly believed things about Japan (domestically and internationally) that I believe is dangerously false is some variant of "Japan is not good at coming up with original ideas. It is good at perfecting ideas made elsewhere." There exist fields/time periods/etc where Japan has clear sustained leadership in innovation, just as there exist fields/time periods/etc where the same is true of the US.
"CRUD web applications between 2004 and 2014" has not been a particularly great example of Japanese technology leadership. Videogames in the 80s/90s/2000s or "Every mobile music device prior to the iPod" or "Robots, 1970 through present, excluding drones 2010-2014" or "Cell phones considered as hardware artifacts, prior to the iPhone turning them into software platforms" are all good examples.
Did anyone ever really believe that? When a company is new to a market or behind the market leader they tend to copy the leader and add their own small innovations. That's what the Japanese did in the '70s and '80s. When they took the lead in an industry they were the ones doing the innovation, for the most part.
I remember the "Japan is going to take over the world!" days. American companies (and workers) were fond of saying the Japanese never had an original idea, but even then it was obviously sour grapes from incumbents facing determined competition.
You hear the same thing about China today, and it's just as wrong.
It's not true, but that was a big driver of the sentiment.
Here's an HN comment where I saw it, and that links to some posts about specific countries on that blog:
This article totally nails it.
I have bookmarked this so that every time a non-Japanese comes to me looking for advice related to moving and working in Japan (which I should mention, does not happen as often as it used to) I can just send them straight to this article.
1) He's true on who to hire. At one firm I worked for, the women were MUCH more competent than the men. Why? Because they couldn't compete for the male top graduates with Sony, Phillips and Toyota, but they could get the top women. They also have their share of misfits and a group of folks who flip between multinationals. It seems to work.
2) You can never be Japanese if you aren't born Japanese in Japan, so the large company policies just won't make sense. As others have stated, best to work for multinationals.
3) The stereotypes become less and less true over time. Are the business steretypes of the US in the 70s and 80s still true today?
Some general tips first:
1) Pick a method and stick with it. I bounced around from material to material, hoping to find something that just clicked and immediately made me feel like I was making progress. This was never going to happen - you need fundamentals, and it takes some time before you start to 'get it'. This is one of the toughest parts - but probably not the absolute toughest.
2) Learn the writing system. Learn the kana (Hiragana, katakana) first. This will help you in a multitude of ways, and will get you away from the awful romanizations.
3) To expand on two... Do not ignore the kanji. Yes, they seem hard and scary. There's a lot of them. A lot of them look similar. They can have multiple readings. But there's a system to them - radicals - and learning them builds vocabulary.
4) OUTPUT! Something I struggle with to this day. If you spend all of your time ingesting, and not creating, you might be able to read or listen, but then struggle when the time comes to speak or write. I'm not necessarily saying you have to learn how to write all of the kanji - though if you're wanting to live there it is very helpful. Not necessarily a deal breaker if you know the kanji and don't mind being slow at filling things out while you pull up a stroke order guide and butcher the writing - but you need to communicate with the language. Find some language exchange partners and penpals. Write back and forth. Skype. Nothing can prepare you to speak the language fluently except practice.
Now, for some specific advice on how I would go about it based on my past experiences:
1) Pick up the Genki series of books. They're great. Two volumes, two workbooks, an answer guide. These are one of the handful of common textbooks for classes, and they have some group oriented activities in them (But there are ways to practice these elsewhere - more on that later!), but they're still one of the most comprehensive end to end guides on grammar and the fundamentals you'll need to know. Learn hiragana and katakana while working through these - after the first few chapters, the roumaji goes away.
2) While working through Genki, start using a SRS (Spaced Repetition System) to learn the kanji. There are a lot of options here. Anki + the core decks is free. It's easy to add new words from other sources - things you're wanting to read, games you're playing, etc. Wanikani is a popular one that runs on a web interface. iKnow.jp is the one I currently use, because it forces you to provide output in a handful of different ways and draw the association in more ways than just character recognition. It is not free. There are community created courses for iknow as well - including ones for genki, so you can use it to learn the vocab for a genki chapter as well.
3) Begin doing some basic output on lang-8 after a few chapters of Genki and a couple hundred kanji. You write a passage in Japanese, and a Japanese-fluent person will correct your mistakes and offer input. In return, you find a passage that someone has written in English and do the same. You can use this for your genki homework/many of the group activities.
3b) Go to the lang-8 group section and check out the skype groups. It might take a bit to find some serious language partners or pen pals, but reach out and start searching. You don't need to be fluent to muddle through some basic conversation.
4) There's some supplemental stuff out there that I've found useful - but they're not necessarily needed. Kodansha puts out a billion books on learning Japanese, and most of them have some value, but in particular, Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin (Haruki Murakami's English translator) was invaluable to me in picking up several concepts that I was struggling with when learning from textbook sources. Japanese The Manga Way is also an excellent resource - it's a serious learner's resource, despite the name, and includes grammatical concepts that are covered up through the JLPT 3 test. It's very grammar oriented, so you won't really learn the vocab like you will with Genki. There's also the "Dictionary of _____ Japanese Grammar" (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) which are very much reference books. You would not want to try to learn from them, but they can be very valuable when you need in depth clarification on a grammar point.
5) If you're at this point, you're probably delving far enough into Japanese you can find your own way when it comes to learning, but this is probably the most frustrating point for a lot of self learners. Genki was fun, you learned a lot, but you're still probably struggling to understand native material, even things that are written for a fairly young audience. You've put a lot of time and effort into it, but you're not seeing major results. There's also not really a direct sequel to Genki. The same company produces "An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese", but my opinion (Which seems to also be the prevailing one among learners) is that it just isn't as high of a quality textbook as Genki. Less fun. Less effective.
There's Tobira - which is definitely a good textbook - but there is a gap between Genki and it. It's not a huge one, and you can definitely be successful starting it right after Genki, but it's a lot harder and you're going to have to be ready to reference some outside sources and ask some questions. Hopefully you've built some friendships with native penpals by now that don't mind answering questions! After you finish Tobira, though, you should be able to begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. You're not going to be reading native Murakami or Ōe, but young adult level fiction, news articles, etc, should mostly be in your grasp grammatically. If you've been diligent with your SRS, you should have the vocab mostly down. You're still going to need to look things up to understand the finer points or random words you haven't encountered yet. But you're now past the JLPT 3 level, and probably fairly close to 2.
From there textbooks are getting less and less useful, and it's time to start trying to immerse yourself in the language as much as you can, and using references for the things you don't understand. You can still pick some stuff up from things like "Authentic Japanese", and if you're taking the JLPT tests, the Kanzen Master series will be a good study guide. If you didn't pick up the Dictionary of [Basic/Intermediate/Advanced] Japanese Grammar series before, you probably should now.
Cliff notes: Genki + some form of SRS to start. Keep up the SRS indefinitely to learn new vocab. Start creating output as soon as you can. The sooner, the better. Tobira is a good next step from there, though a little difficult. After that you can keep going with textbooks, but should really be trying to just ingest as much native content as possible and look up anything you don't understand.
I didn't know about SRS, so that looks like a good way to learn some words while on the train. I will give it a try!
The japanese learning book i got is only an e-book and i plan to buy a real book, so i am looking at Genki now.
As a reference, i found http://www.japan-activator.com/ (an Android paid App) very useful..
On a personal note, I found life in Osaka/Tokyo depressing compared to Taipei and Hong Kong. It felt like Japan's time had come and gone.
Japan's main modern megacorps largely are the same entities that were major business from the time of the Meiji Restoration (and some were founded much earlier, and are older than the US), or remixes of those entities that occurred when some of the old zaibatsu were broken up after WWII. They were formed as megacorps, for the most part, through very intense relations between government (both national and clan governments) and business industries, with a major component of that formation being either new or existing private enterprises whose founders had government connections taking over (often, at least initially, by leasing) the facilities of government business enterprises.
Those megacorps clearly aren't an indication of entrepreneurship in modern Japan. (That's not to say that such a thing doesn't exist, just that "how did the first megacorps get started" has nothing to say about it.)
Don't know whether or not Sony comes under the category of megacorps that dragonwriter mentions in a sibling comment, i.e. "Japan's main modern megacorps largely are the same entities that were major business from the time of the Meiji Restoration".
But the story of Sony is interesting regardless of that. I had read the book Made in Japan by Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony, a while ago. It's mostly about Sony, not that much about his personal life.
Not exactly the typical Japanese citizen.