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Doing Business in Japan (kalzumeus.com)
818 points by waffle_ss on Nov 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 306 comments

The overall theme (as an American who has never visited Japan) seems to be one of risk-aversion vs. risk-insensitivity.

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.

From living in Japan for 11 years, I would say that is a very astute observation.

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.

If I can just follow up on my own post...

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.

True. Tight hierarchical social conditioning from birth. If reasonably fluent in Japanese and of European stock what is an all too frequent response to unorthodox queries? Shikataganai. In English that's usually translated as "it can't be helped" but the kanji suggest an even deeper meaning. A more literal translation would be: an official received methodology does not exist (so no action on my part will be taken). By extension this suggests that only received ways of doing things should be employed (which you should know already, gaikokujin). At least that's the way the social concept was explained to me by a Tokyo-based book illustrator friend with a philosophical bent during a recent visit.

I always heard "shouganai" rather than "shikataganai". Looked it up and found out neither is wrong [1]. Shouganai is actually shortened from shiyouganai (using the same shi kanji as shikatagani) so that can be used to get the kanji. Although apparently the meanings are almost identical according to this answer.

[1] http://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/how-do-thes...

'Shouganai' struck me as more urban where the locals chatter at 200 words per minute. If you ever visit the back-country like Okayama Prefecture and pose one of those 'riyuu o fushigi ni omoi masu ...' (wonder why ..) questions you can still elicit both a stoic face and a 'shikataganai' in response. BTW, Jim Breen's Monash U website:


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.

>True. Tight hierarchical social conditioning from birth.

Yeah, but only as opposed to tight individualism conditioning from birth.

Agreed. At the extreme one configuration culminates in a sclerotic dystopia and the other into a dysfunctional freak-show. But even if someone were smart enough to scare-up and responsibly impose a configuration which optimized individuality and mutuality based on actual human nature (which exhibits a tendency towards a Peircean pragmatism) what's going to prevent abuse by the powers-that-be then charged with managing and maintaining the social structure? As the old behaviourist Skinner put it over 40 years ago: who's going to control the controllers? AI? Sounds like a plot lifted from the old cold-war SF movie "Colossus - The Forbin Project (1970)". As they say, shikata ga nai, neh?

"What if he doesn't take the garbage out in the correct manner?"

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.

Yep, the recycling/trash system is nightmarish. Furnishing a new apartment (they don't typically come with anything, including a washer or fridge) results in a huge amount of packaging (the Japanese absolutely love to box, rebox, bag, rebag, wrap, rewrap, etc.) which makes your first month a very nasty lesson in how trash pickup works and doesn't.

Argh. I haven't even thought of that. Moving into a new apartment in Tokyo in 1 weeks time.

On the same logic moving out of a place requires planning in advance what to throw and when. You're moving on saturday and have to throw your remaining cleaning stuff ? Too bad, non burning garbage is on tuesday. If your building doesn't have a garbage room you'll be pissing off the neighbourhood for 4 days.

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 [0], way behind South Korea.

[0] http://www.pinterest.com/pin/129830401728417991/

If you are moving out, then you bring the trash of the old apartment with you and you throw it the day that you are supposed to throw it in the new neighborhood. It is a no-brainer for Japanese. Been there, seen that. :)

Are they secretly Swiss? Or the Swiss secretly Japanese?


I think someone answered for you

"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

The environment is set up such that you have to be risk averse. If you can't fire someone for incompetence, you're going to go the extra mile to make sure the person you hire is competent. Ultimately that means hiring through social connections. You have a friend who knows someone looking for work, and it reflects badly on him if your hire doesn't work out.

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.

The US has also had a quickly growing population. It takes a lot of economic growth just to keep everybody on the same level when the population is growing. Because the pie is getting larger for everyone, there's less payoff in trying to protect an existing slice. I wonder if the dynamics will still be the same when the US's population growth tails off.

I lived and worked in Japan for a few years and can vouch for everything the author said.

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.

As a Japanese programmer who's terribly paid according to the many American fellow programmers, I have to defend this practice. Why an engineer has to be paid, say, like three times than janitors? Because of the markets. Not because their job is inherently more noble than the lowly paid ones; they're equally contributing to the society. 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. I believe people are better off in a more egalitarian society. I'm not claiming that Japan is anywhere close to that overall, but as long as the salary goes I think this is a saner system. (I also worked in a US corp, and hated their salary gap.)

If, as a programmer, you are not contributing much more value to the world than a janitor, you are doing something terribly terribly wrong. (And I say this as someone who has worked two janitorial jobs.)

As a former janitor myself, I strongly second this. I used to mop floors and clean toilets. I helped a few people a little bit, and they treated me okay. I then learned to program and was surprised at how much more interested business people were in having my help. If money talks, the money coming out of their own pockets was telling me just how much more sincerely they valued my programming than my toilet cleaning services.

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.

You guys disagree with the Japanese programmer because of the difference in cultural contexts. You see how "valuable" programming is compared to janitorial in the context of our culture. Western society (business people, aunts, and teachers) assign monetary (and other) value to programming skills.

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.

Western "society" isn't assigning "cultural" value when some American guy offers me his own money to build something he wants for himself. He's estimating how much money he can net from the deal after paying my fee, not judging my value as a human being. The same for those who hired me to mop their floors. The people paying me clearly estimated different dollar-denominated benefits to themselves for the different types of work done by the same person.

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.

I totally agree that the best programmer can make more of a difference in every way to the world than the best janitor.

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?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_occupations#The_shang_.28....

Non humans http://thisjapaneselife.org/2013/07/03/burakumin-japan/

What is money other than assigning a cultural value? Money isn't separate from the culture and the idea that the amounts assigned should be dictated mainly by that part of the culture called the market is also a cultural value.

Well, without programmers we might live in like the seventies, were computers were insignificant in everyday life and even in most businesses. Still, not that bad. They had nice funk music, way more attitude, and could relax better. (And let's not even go into the sixties, who tons of people remember as a golden era).

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.

Great comment. And really, neither one is right; they're just different.

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).

Janitors keep places clean so programmers can focus on programming and thus "contribute to society." Assuming programmers are doing some good, not cleaning their own office lets them do more of it.

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.

I have no idea why people hate janitors so much. They do their job so you can do yours better. It's a very simple concept.

Bollocks. A large mass of programmers are constructing cultural ephemera. Without the janitor the building doesn't last.

Not bollocks. Think about the value of a slightly less dirty floor for an hour. Now think about the value of a slightly less buggy website. Which one actually matters?

> Without the janitor the building doesn't last.

Janitors aren't carpenters or construction workers or architects or civil engineers. They're janitors.

Think about a skyscraper in Manhattan. Think about the many businesses employing a multitude of people within. Now think about how long they would be able to keep running if all the janitors left and if you couldn't get any more. You would have folk selling crack in the stairwells within the week and businesses folding within the month.

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.

> Think about a skyscraper in Manhattan. Think about the many businesses employing a multitude of people within. Now think about how long they would be able to keep running if all the janitors left and if you couldn't get any more. You would have folk selling crack in the stairwells within the week and businesses folding within the month.

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.

You are confusing price with value. Water is much more common than the essential amino acids and costs much less and is far easier to replace, but food and water are both required to keep living.

Also the janitor adds lots of concrete, measurable value. Avoiding half of the company getting sick and/or quitting? Check.

That is a beyond absurd claim. If you cut janitorial staff by say half, are you going to get half the company quitting or sick? Hell no.

There's some truth in that. I lived in Japan for many years and the egalitarianism in the society made for a pretty smooth running country that still impresses me. At the root of arguments that tech workers deserve a higher salary there seems to be an underlying assumption that people deserve more if they're more intelligent or talented. I lean more towards the idea that "to whom much has been given, much shall be required". There's an organization called the WageMark Foundation[1] that ranks companies on wage disparity, setting 8:1 as their target (on average its closer to 200:1)[2]. They say large wage gaps undermine good business practices and have proven “detrimental to economic growth and the existence of a healthy middle-income population.” When I found a local company that has a max wage gap of 10:1 and an inclusive profit sharing structure[3], they earned my respect and customer loyalty.

  [1] https://www.wagemark.org/ 
  [2] http://go.bloomberg.com/multimedia/ceo-pay-ratio/
  [3] http://tinyurl.com/mahpbd2

At the root of arguments that tech workers deserve a higher salary there seems to be an underlying assumption that people deserve more if they're more intelligent or talented.

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.

> 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.

Well, I think some people are arguing that the market is a fair arbiter of wealth distribution. A lot of places have a more nuanced view. Janitors prevent the spread of disease and save lives. How many programmers can say that, I wonder.

At the root of arguments that tech workers deserve a higher salary there seems to be an underlying assumption that people deserve more if they're more intelligent or talented.

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.

A janitor does not need much training for his work. So he can start working full time much earlier than an engineer, who most likely went to school for an extra 6 to 8 years to train for the job.

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.

Well, then I suppose you would be in favor of a system where engineers are paid more for the first 8 (or, say, 10) years, and then both jobs are adjusted down to the same salary? Perhaps with jobs also paying off loans.

Even as a former janitor, it's obvious to me, as it would be to most janitors, that if I were an employer and could get either janitors or programmers for the same price, I'd hire as many programmers as I could, as few janitors as I could get away with, increasing the value of the products and services I could sell while lowering my costs: profit! Of course, every other sane employer would do the same thing, making these theoretically cheap programmers hard to find (without payments under the table to both programmers and the inevitable government enforcers) and leaving a lot of theoretically well-paid janitors unemployed. In other words, the normal real-world consequences of enforced utopian economic theory.

I'm not totally sure how that's different than what happens now. Is any company swelling their employee ranks with janitors?

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 don't see the flaw in that scenario. People want to hire lots of programmers now in the united states - good programmers are in short supply ("programmers" are not, for some value of "programmer").

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.

Big Japanese companies are like small communist governments. Once you are in, you get paid the same as everyone else, regardless of your value, because it's not as though you could leave. If you left, nobody would hire you, so your "market value" would be next to zero. So why pay you more? You get paid the same as everyone else in your hiring cohort, and you do whatever work they tell you to do, and that will always be true for the rest of your life. You marry someone from the company, and if the company tells you to leave her and go live overseas for a few years, you do it. Your loyalty is to the State---I mean the Company---first.

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.

This is why it is a good idea for the state to provide grants and fees for tertiary education within a broadly egalitarian society. If engineers trained well in things they enjoy are getting jealous of janitors if their pay scales get too close, things are pretty screwed one way or another.

Employees are not compensated because of the value they bring to society, but the value they bring to a company.

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.

Eh employees are compensated based on the market rates - which employers collude to depress - rather than value they generate. Company profit is revenue minus cost after all.

Your compensation isn't determined by nobility or a sense of equity.

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.

> Your compensation isn't determined by nobility or a sense of equity.

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.

> Your compensation isn't determined by nobility or a sense of equity.

> 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.

> When a market doesn't reflect that, it is horribly broken and will be horribly abused by the participants.

Eh... I'm not sure such a market exists.

I think with "difficult" he didn't mean how physically taxing it is, but how hard it is to find people who can do it. Almost anybody can to the work in a sweat shop after a couple of days (weeks?) of training. Becoming a programmer is not something everybody can do and even for those who can it takes years of study before they are competitive on the job market.

That's not the complete truth either. Where I live there has been a nurse shortage for a long time, but they're not paid better anyway.

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.

I'm not sure about that, any software engineer could work in a sweatshop, the reverse isn't true.

Big difference between the following two scenarios:

Simple, not easy (sweatshop) Difficult, not hard (programming)

You're missing a dimension here: Your salary is determined in large part by your ability to negotiate.

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.

Are you talking about in America? It's true that salaries aren't totally transparent, but you really have to stick your head in the ground to not have any idea what a given job pays: http://www.glassdoor.com/

Or even better: http://www.salar.ly/

while accurate, remember that is of foreigners working in US only (read: mostly H1Bs)

This is only partially true. Even before the internet people talked to each other. You knew basically what you should be making for a given position.

I've negotiated salary on every job after the first. I probably ended up with a few extra percent, but it wasn't major.

> 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.

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.

>Because of the markets. Not because their job is inherently more noble than the lowly paid ones;

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 viewpoint of the American Programmers you know: More Money > Better Quality of Life.

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.”

>Japan has a saying “ichioku-sohchu-ryu” which translates to “a nation of middle-class people.” However, in the past few decades, they’ve seen the middle-class shrinking at twice the average rate of other OECD countries. Since 1980, incomes have dropped for the lower classes while they’ve risen for those in the higher classes. And this problem is exacerbated by the lack of employment security. During Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s term (2001-2006), the number of people working regular jobs dropped by 1.9 million while numbers of those in temporary positions rose by 3.3 million. Since the middle-class started disappearing, there’s been a reported increase in depression, domestic violence and suicide – which indicates the toll the economy has taken on the people.

From: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/poorest-list/10-countrie...

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.

As a Japanese I understand your sentiment; now I live in US and I don't praise the huge disparity in the US society neither.

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 like your world-view on this but I also think that the Nordic countries get just about everything right and am notoriously oblivious to money so perhaps that is why.

I make a very poor capitalist.

Let me counter your argument as an American living in Japan (though not working).

> 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.

Thank you for an excellent argument. I actually agree with you overall, and indeed I don't think Japan is an egalitarian society at all. However, I don't think the financial egalitarianism necessarily implies the status quo mentality, although it is a sad coincidence here for now. I think it is possible to create a financially egalitarian society while advocating changes. No idea how, but that's beyond my point. Either way, I think people getting paid equally for vastly different jobs is saner. It is more of a manifestation that there's something that cannot be transferred to monetary value.

That may be more financially egalitarian; it is definitely not socially egalitarian, as relative social status is barely reflected in such salaries.

Japanese financial egalitarianism is also, to a certain degree, a statistical mirage. At higher internal statuses inside the company, it will simply anticipate your desires and provide for them, rather than you ever needing to sully yourself with money. The IRS takes a rather dim view of this and has since the reforms in, IIRC, the 1970s, which treat perks as taxable income. The National Tax Agency theoretically disapproves of them but the actual practice in Japan is that companies get away with things that would get your entire accounting division jailed in the US.

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.

Speaking of emeritus employees: When do salarymen retire? What happens after that? Does the salaryman finally get to see that beach in Hawaii that his wife has been visiting every year, or does the pension not always stretch that far? Do the perks keep going after retirement even for the non-CEOs?

When do salarymen retire?

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.

What does it even mind "a noble job"? If you meant contribution (as in - maximizing total utility) then they aren't contributing equally.

They're each contributing the same: one person's worth of work.

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.

> They're each contributing the same: one person's worth of work.

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 given that these Japanese engineers could make big $$$ in other parts of the world, how do you avoid major brain drain?

I've worked on Japanese dev teams, and I've always liked the Japanese geeks I've worked with. They're usually out of the running for "serious" jobs at the company, so they tend to be much more relaxed and fun than the "important" people.

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.

The outside world is not Japan. That is more than enough to keep most from wanting to leave.

> Why an engineer has to be paid, say, like three times than janitors?

Ask Mr. Supply and Mrs. Demand.

It is almost the same as sayng that platinum, aluminium, gold and silver should cost the same since they are all metals.

This is such a typical defeatist mentality that I've seen not just in Japan but amongst East Asian engineers. It's treated as some sort of menial job, there's no pride or passion in it's practice, and that's why it's so easy to be exploited.

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.

Janitors are soon to be replaced with code. And one skilled person to look after this code, paid accordingly.

It is probably fair to say that each hour of labor is worth the same pay regardless of the job (ignoring market rates, etc). However, the reason I think things like programming or other high skill labor should be worth more, is it does actually involve more labor. First, I had spent at least 4 - 6 hours a day learning the craft, from the time I was 13 years old, improving at a steady rate. Still spend a good 3 - 4 hours a day keeping up. Some skilled crafts also involve a lot of formal education, in addition to many hours of practice. Add on top of that -- when I go home, I'm still constantly thinking about my craft, and problems that I'm currently working on. Therefore, for each hour I'm at work, I probably have spent at least 2 - 3 hours outside of work (either currently, or from past learning).

I wouldn't be surprised if in the US salaries drop in the coming decade. CS classes are incredibly impacted and universities are churning out students. Sure the quality of your average graduate is plummeting too, but that's never completely factored-in when you apply to a job

Actually, the number of CS and Engineering degrees as a percentage of all awarded degrees hasn't appreciably changed -- 8.1%, slightly up over the past several years but still significantly below the ~9% average of the 1990s and 1985's high-water mark of 14.1%. With CS-related employment growing at twice the projected job growth average, I don't see the modest number of CS grads negatively affecting sector wage growth.

Most CS students at my universities were international students for the past 15 years. Even if all were to stay in the US, the immigration laws for foreign are designed to protect the US jobs. So unless the laws and demand for workers change, I doubt salaries would drop.

I would be very surprised if it did. The problem has never been the number of people who can do the job, but who's willing to do the job.

I read somewhere that the demand for engineers increases by 18% every year while the supply output only increases by 2%.

One thing concerning cost of living: Tokyo is definitely way less expensive than San Francisco now. Unless you're trying to live 5 minutes away from Roppongi or something, there's loads of affordable apartments and the like (no comments on houses).

I agree with this. I moved from SF to Tokyo 2 years ago, and for almost the exact same price as my studio apartment in downtown SF, which was tiny and the bathroom was covered in mold, I have an apartment about 15-20 mins out of Shinjuku in a building that was brand new when I moved in.

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.

This really does sound like working in a union shop in the US, especially as a public sector worker. Seniority, loyalty, etc matter and things like competence and productivity are someone else's problem. Jobs are wielded as political weapons (The Democratic Party leader in Illinois, Mike Madigan famously has a list of every union job he's gifted and calls on favors from that list), etc. Inefficiencies are continually introduced.

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.

I see what you are saying, but it's also almost the complete opposite of a union shop. The huge differences that you don't have to work outside of 8 hour day (without time and a half pay) and you are also paid more than non-union people, but basically guaranteed pension and job for life if you get in.

The system you just described encourages incompetence. Drag jobs out to as long as possible to force overtime if you need some extra cash. Don't bother putting effort into your work because you are all but impossible to fire. Additionally, refuse to do things just barely outside of your job scope because that falls under a different union worker's responsibility and you are concerned about growing the union, not doing good work.

Luckily the wonderfully rebellious and wild US non-union culture definitely doesn't encourage incompetence and fraud. That Color thing never happened.

> I find the far-left often bemoans a lack of paternal aspects in US society

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.

Let me just comment that US Democrats are a little right of right, and nowhere near "far left". It's a small point, but as the discussion resolves around global comparisons, it's an important one.

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?

You know, having worked for a union in my youth, I was gobsmacked by the... I guess you'd call it indifference to the quality of your work. Your production has nothing to do with your job.

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.

No, he's right. It's people from that side of the aisle who are most interested in forcing employers to do things like offer paid maternity leave and birth control. That's paternalism, at least the way I see it.

As stated, I'm not going to engage on the politics of the situation. It was a point about language.

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?

US public employees would never tolerate these kinds of hours. You can't get them to work 40 hours, for the most part.

> No, really, the most formidable Japanese low-touch SaaS entrepreneur I know figured out how to sell SaaS door-to-door in Tokyo.”

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?

The glib response is "what 'inefficiencies'?" The U.S. version of the social contract has advantages, but "greater overall efficiency" is not one of them.

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.

The biggest part of the reaction to the iPhone among domestic engineers is "#()(#%0) Why, why, why?! We had the screens and the capacitors and the CPUs and the memory and the buttons. Why isn't the iPhone a Sharp or Sony product? Who cares if they're eventually assembled in China, nobody wants that work anyhow [+], but think how much Japan: We've Still Got It karma it would have been worth to create the defining product of our age."

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.

why is it that Samsung has been able to capitalize on this while Sharp or Sony has not? If this was a 80% software problem, why is Samsung still doing so well, and likely to continue even though their software capacity won't beat any American startup?

I remember the Sharp PDAs you had to import. That was 80% of the iphone right there. But they never seemed to market them (Samsung isn't particularly clever with their marketing but they throw enough money at it to make it work), or even be particularly interested in selling them abroad. I think they must've not been willing or able to do the carrier negotiation - our subsidized phone structures are a bit weird. Or just overestimated the popularity of wifi in the rest of the world based on that in a small, mostly urban country.

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.

I have no great answer to this question (I'm only peripherally aware of how Samsung works and the entire Android ecosystem is a bit of a mystery to me), but if you do, you could get a lot of bookings on the Japanese equivalents of MSNBC.

Here's one piece of the puzzle: http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2014/06/apple-samsung-sma...

> 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.

There's countervailing inefficiencies in America. Just to touch on a few:

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.

> 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.

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.

Developer in Ohio here, I feel the pain.

Because there are benefits to this way of doing things, and not all of Japan is like this.

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...

>for manufacturing Japan is world-class. Japanese companies build things really really well, with very few workers, quickly.


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.

One of the most interesting things about Japanese business, is how much was built by New Dealers who came over in the occupation. Americans rebuilt the giant conglomerates, we reinforced the idea of life time employment (salarymen were very consciously modeled on American professionals of the 1950s and 1960s, then made Japanese), we insisted on tight government-corporation intervention in the economy to encourage growth and stability. People often try to make it sound like this ancient relic of Japanese culture, and it's really not. It's a weird fusion of Japanese thought and new Dealer technocratism, left to develop on it's own for decades.

Didn't know those details about the New Dealers, interesting. I guess that sort of fusion tends to happen in many such scenarios. I know there's some of it in India, in a different field of work.

Interesting premise. Is there anything to read up on New Deal influence in Japan?

The book where I read most of this from is Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower. It's a big book, and covers a lot about occupation, not just economics, but I found it engrossing and quite readable. It's a little out of date now, being 14 years old, but nothing really noticeable.

I'm addicted to Muji now and buy all my housing goods there (well, sometimes my wife sneaks over to Ikea but...). It really is very good...especially the really good balance of their 40 kuai spoons (the last spoon you'll ever buy), and I don't think I could ever use a sheet from anyone else.

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.

Makes sense.

That link is fantastic.

> They spend hours choosing the text of buttons

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.

Well is US economy on the verge of collapse.

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.

If you suscribe to some economic theories, workforce capacity planning years in advance sounds disastrously inefficient.


'how is the economy of Japan not in the verge of collapse?'

You can make a very compelling argument that it is.

> Seriously, from all the inefficiencies pointed out in this article, how is the economy of Japan not in the verge of collapse?

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.


When you make everyone work until 1:00 AM you can afford quite a bit of inefficiency.

Dev based in Tokyo since '99 here - this is a great article across the board.

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.

Yep I work for a small design firm doing web, interactive displays etc. Its OK but not great. I'm sure it depends on the company but there's a lot of things which are stressful.. Like, working with [large advertising company] art directors who want responsive design / animations everywhere but also want it to viewable on IE7 on their company provided XP box.. dealing with the multitude of weird Sony/sharp android phones and their respective browser quirks, occasional weekend "emergencies" etc etc

Yeah, I hear you. At least general webdevs usually no longer have to worry about feature phones - now that was a pain. (But even that's not true in the game industry - I know companies who still make a decent part of their revenue doing Flash Lite work. Flash Lite!)

There are clients pushing the bar though - Uniqlo comes to mind...

First off, this was a fascinating read. I've never worked in Japan (on any permanent basis), but I did go to high school in Tokyo. So this is like another side of the world that I knew existed, but didn't know much about.

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.

In general, if somebody tells you're good at Japanese, it means they either a) think your Japanese is awful, but are complimenting you for making the effort, or b) you just made some sort of horribly ungrammatical blooper that reminded them that you're not, in fact, native, and thus need the compliment.

Not always the case, sometimes the compliment is legitimate. One should probably not take it to mean "you're done studying forever" though.

The whole time I was thinking "Man, this is crazy, don't they see how that hurts productivity?" And then I thought about Europe compared to the United States. To our European colleagues: Do you think of us as working ourselves to death?

(I am Swedish.)

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.

You can, but the debt generally comes due in a timescale of days. Running your team into the ground might be a useful strategy in a situation of "we have to have something to ship by nine a.m. next Monday morning or the company goes bankrupt," but situations where that's actually true are extremely rare. Trying it in the more typical case where the deadline is e.g. three months away will at best stretch three months work out to four or five months.

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.

I don't think I will trust you on that until you have built something, in a fierce global competition, ends up being used by hundreds of millions of people. Perhaps you have?

(I have.)

Again, after that sort of experience I would be glad to discuss this.

Just curious, where can I find stories about how the iPhone 1.0 was developed? I'm not sure what to search for.

A book would be a fairly heavy undertaking since it's a compilation of interviews, casual chats, etc.

For casual chats, the Debug Podcast: http://www.imore.com/debug

http://www.imore.com/debug-39-nitin-ganatra-episode-i-system... with the former Director of Engineering, iOS Applications at Apple Inc, Nitin Ganatra

http://www.imore.com/debug-40-nitin-ganatra-episode-ii-os-x-... Debug 40: Nitin Ganatra episode II: OS X to iOS

http://www.imore.com/debug-41-nitin-ganatra-episode-iii-ipho... Debug 41: Nitin Ganatra episode III: iPhone to iPad

http://www.imore.com/debug-47-melton-ganatra-episode-i-demoi... What's it like to demo software to Steve Jobs http://www.imore.com/debug-48-melton-ganatra-episode-ii-unde... Part II

Why am I posting this into a talk about Japan? Oh well.

The Bio book of Steve Jobs has some chapters about it. There are also some citations about some members of the team and good part of them said it was a fantastic experience, but they had also to change job after it because they felt really exhausted (in some parts they talk about 100h per week as a standard in some teams, so I can understand them).

Brit here. Yep, what I hear about your working hours, working culture and amount of holiday terrifies me to the extent that I'd certainly think twice about coming over to work there for awhile. In my 10 years experience working in the London web development industry I've seen it become quite unfashionable to be slavishly devoted to your work life - and now in my current employment the studio manager practically kicks us out the door at 6pm. YMMV naturally ...

I keep hearing all this talk about overworking in the valley, but someone who I met, and many of his colleagues, work about 35 hours a week.

Most of you, yes. And I'm not talking only about software. I heard some horror stories about lawyers as well.

Plus you're nuts with your education loans, no matter what those colleges offer!

Personally there are two things that scary me enough to never try to find a job in the US. The first one is how you handle the whole health system, I am hardly capable to find even a single thing good about it. The second is, indeed, the long hours per week you are willing to do often in salaried jobs (at least here in Europe when I have to do more hours I get them paid a lot more than standard hours, and even in that case there is a limitation on the number of extra hours that my employer cannot surpass).

Yes, I think Europe has us beat on so many levels. I get hammered for admitting this, but living in the U.S. is stressful, and unrewarding on so many levels. There are many things to like about living here; political freedom, religious freedom, a system that eventually catches corrupt individuals, it's great for the wealthy. Now the negative; absolute slavery to your career/job, and making money/paper! I have seen people do horrendous things in order to get ahead financially. No, most people don't break the law in order to make money, but they break many moral laws. I have a successful sister who has literally lied and backstabed family members/friends in order to live in a good neighborhood in Los Angeles. Why do Americans work themselfs to death? Because there's a reality that's all to real here, and it's Homelessness. I am a proud American, but my list of our good traits is getting smaller each decade. I watch that program on T.V. about the Amish, and I literally tear up at how materialistic/evil Westerners have become. (Yes--I want to eventually live somewhere in Europe). Start the down voting--

If you are a software engineer you can get a job a company with good health insurance easily so that's a non-issue. The hours per week is a work culture specific to the business. Startups are more demanding, but you can easily find roles at large businesses where they are fine with 35-40 hours per week.

I have exceptional health insurance, as far as US health insurance goes.

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.

I did a search and found this:



Right. And even apropos of anything else, you're then overruling the provider on scene with the patient (be it EMT or Paramedic pre-hospital) to that of an insurance company physician who doesn't have those eyes on the patient.

Not sure I'd call it a non-issue - having recently immigrated to the US from Canada, having "good health insurance" by American standards has still left me significantly worse off than I was when I had universal healthcare.

Its rare, but actually good health insurance exists here. I'm young/healthy enough that I haven't hit the limit of coverage, but I understand that's pretty hard to do, and deductibles/co-pays/drug costs are all reimbursable.

That said, I understand its a fairly unique situation.

That is an exceedingly unique situation. I have never heard of any of that being reimbursable. Even with the amazing insurance I had at my previous job, none of that was true.

Also, FYI, because of the ACA (Obamacare) there is no longer a lifetime or yearly cap on benefits.

By limits to the coverage, I meant health issues that are not covered (I don't know what those might be, but I have to assume there's something).

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.

> By limits to the coverage, I meant health issues that are not covered [...]

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...

I'd like to repeat that these are assumptions - the worst I've ever done is broken a finger, so I'm not the one stretching the limits of the plan. Some of the things I don't know about:

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 think the whole problem is "it depends on your plan."

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 .

Thanks for the response. That's all very interesting.

> 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.

It is not a problem only for me but also for those around me. Let's say I am covered by my work, I would feel anyway really bad having a friend, parent, wife, etc not covered because they do other jobs in which they are not lucky or simply because they have not enough money to pay for it. I want to work in a society where the healt system automatically helps anyone who needs without putting him under various K$ of debt.

Obviously this is my personal point of view

Believe me, a lot of us agree with you!

Non issue? Until you want to take some time off work to try starting your own business, or travel, or be a stay at home parent, sure.

If we're going to turn this into yet another United States - Europe comparison, you could also compare the flip side of the equation: high barriers to entry in starting a business in Japan being similar to Europe. In some ways Japan seems to have the worst of both worlds - regular jobs are low pay with deathmarch hours, yet it's seemingly impossible to escape by striking out on your own.

Interesting - what are the high barriers to starting a business in Europe?

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.

Except from the actual productivity angle, Silicon Valley (and to a larger extent, the U.S. economy) do have the most to show in terms of final results when compared to the rest of the world.

By what measure does Silicon Valley have good final results to show? Simply GDP per capita or something of that sort?

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.

I agree that SF is a dirty city, but there are nicer parts of the bay area. I think the parent was talking about more than numbers, though focused in a different area: what Silicon Valley creates.

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.

I'm living in the south of Sweden near Copenhagen and will be going to a open-source dev meet-up in Copenhagen today in fact. There's not the same Valley feeling perhaps but there is a startup and dev scene.

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.

One thing to note: lots of VCs basically require you to relocate to SV to do your startup. That's one reason there's so many startups in SV.

Man. I studied in Copenhagen, and I really disliked the place. It was a sentiment shared by a lot of the international students I ran into, sans the ones on exchange. The variety of stores, the opening hours, the size of grocery, the limited food selection, and especially the unwelcoming culture got to me pretty quickly. How are you integrating into the Danish culture (assuming you're not a native Dane)?

I haven't had much of an issue with groceries/etc. Opening hours are good enough for me, typically 8am-10pm x 7 days a week (depending on how long ago you were in Copenhagen, that might not have been the case at the time).

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.

Yeah, that's what I ended up doing as well. I collected more than a few Danish friends from going to school with them, but a good portion of my friends were Norwegian, Danes that lived abroad, French, etc. The international crowd is always good fun.

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.

In other words, not for those dependent on consummerism and overeating.

Right. Because there's no consumerism in Copenhagen and no fat people either. I'm curious as to how you pulled that out of everything I said.

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.


Yup. Sorry.



From reading previous things of patio11's, this has not yet surprised me much -- but I am blown away by the depths of details he's included here. I've only finished the section on the salaryman relationship, and it's phenomenal reading.

Edit: the link to "An Introduction to Japanese Society" seems to be broken. Try this if you're interested:


Thanks, fixed it. I can never remember which parts of Amazon URLs are safe to cut off.

A bit off-topic, but why not make it a referral link? I clicked it (when it was still broken, unfortunately), and imagine others will, too. You have a popular blog with not-insignificant hn traffic, I believe -- I don't think many here would begrudge you that.

I don't take money for promotion, as a matter of policy. Partly that is for aesthetic reasons and partly it is because a reputation as being honest and reliable regardless of short-term commercial incentives is very valuable for me.

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.

If you're booked fully at this rate you're raking in $1.5M before taxes annually which puts you in the top .1% or so of consultants. Not bad :)

I'll bet at that rate people will try hard not to waste your time too, that alone is worth it.

It's nice to be directly in the business of making other people money.

Well if it means anything I thought it was a 15K grade post.

But I'm concerned that you either woke up at 5am to read comments, or you stayed up all night.

Wow. Blog post about how are able to charge $750/hr?

I think http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/09/17/ramit-sethi-and-patrick-... and http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/09/21/ramit-sethi-and-patrick-... are good places to start. If you have specific questions about your circumstances, you can probably act on the invitation here: http://www.kalzumeus.com/standing-invitation/.

It's very simple, but nobody actually pays it. :)

I think you are mistaken if you think patio is bluffing about his rates.

Rates are important, but what's even more important is that your rate is an instrument that allows you to slide without stops from 'unemployed' to 'full timer' (and beyond for the workaholics). You get to determine exactly how much you work and how much free time you have if you have a valuable marketable skill.

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.

The minimum URL is amzn.com/$ASIN.

Related to this, Derek Sivers (formerly CD Baby, now of Wood Egg) has a range of annual guidebooks [1] aimed at entrepreneurs moving to and/or starting a business in Asia. 14 countries covered individually, or the whole range in a single volume. I have read a selection of them, more for curiosity than need, and I'd recommend shortlisting them should a relocation be on the cards.

[1] http://woodegg.com


I've lived in Japan for 6 years, first exchange student, then self-employed but Japanese wife works for a large company. Just thought I'd chime in. It's really hard to say anything generic about anything though, as I only have very limited personal experiences to draw from.

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.

This is the longest setup to the best punch line about Google ever.

Google finds wives for its employees now?

(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.)


Most of what he says is true for most firms. Non-global Japanese firms. Global firms are moving to larger salaries by far. I was making into the 200K USD range here in Tokyo (non-finance tech) so I would disagree that ALL salaries are suppressed. It is just a cultural point to ask for less money in Japan. Most firms also have very low revenue points in comparative markets abroad. So one could argue this is market pricing. Japan is still half the size of the US by population but with an economy that has been stagnant for many many years.

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.

I think the trick to have a good work-life balance in Japan is to work for an MNC from a different country. The reason for this is that they bring their own work culture there and don't mimic the Japanese one. This lets you have time to explore the fascinating society that is Japan. If I get an offer to work there again , I would pick it up in a heartbeat (provided my wife agrees to relocate). I'd life altering experiences there.

Edit: 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.

Interesting read and captivatingly well-written. OT question: How long does it take you to write such pieces? I am trying to better myself in expressing written opinion and looking at these examples I am feeling more intimidated than encouraged. Thanks.

This particular post took roughly 20 hours, spread over four days. That's rather longer than typical for me -- usually, I get a post out in a single workday, but this ended up being longer than usual and it needed a tone edit or three. (The first draft felt bitter/cynical, which is a piece of my relationship to salarymanhood, but only a piece.)

"In an ideal world there would be no racists, but in the less than ideal world that you may find yourself living in, at least hope to run into ruthlessly capitalist racists, because that’s something you can work with."

Best line in months.

Given what you described, I was admirative that you succeded to avoid the "cynical" tone. Good skills.

Very well written and balanced, the time was worth it.

As someone who also a "foreigner" who also owns and runs a company here in Japan, much of the article was thats so entertaining... now... but was so not funny at the time.

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 Japanese born and grown-up 27 years exclusively in Japan, I completely agree with the article.

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.

I really enjoyed this piece, there was a ton of truth in it and some really funny anecdotes. I've been lucky to only work for a Japanese company for a short time, and it was in fact a rather unusual company, so I haven't had to suffer through a lot of the other salaryman pain described in the piece, although without a doubt this is an accurate description based on hearing stories from many friends and family, both Japanese and non-Japanese.

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.)

> Your company loves you and wants you to be happy, though, so they’ll suggest two days for your honeymoon, two if a parent passes away, and one if your wife passes away. You can take that Saturday off, too, because the company is generous. There, that’s like four full days — five, if you time it with a public holiday.

I can't help but wonder how one would time the demise of one's wife to coincide with a public holiday.

There is some evidence that Americans will schedule their deaths in order to save on taxes (http://www.columbia.edu/~wk2110/bin/dying-final.pdf). I wouldn't be surprised if the cultural equivalent is scheduling one's death to give your loved ones more vacation time...

As the paper mentions, it's also possible that people are lying to the IRS about the date of relatives' deaths. (I personally think that's the more likely interpretation, but I guess it depends on your priors).

Very sad.

While 'your honeymoon' could have been used in place of 'it' - I think in context, 'it' is the only one of the things in the list that is something 'planned'.

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).

Is there as great of a guide as this for the US? I'm an American citizen (by birth) but have many friends that want to move over for work here and I am a horrible explainer.

It's not exactly a guide about our work culture, but "Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans" does a pretty good job at succinctly describing some of our cultural quirks.


I would like a book, Introduction to American Society. While there are thousands of books addressing some slice or theme, I don't know of a single-volume overview.

That would be a tough book to write. As a (still) English citizen living in the US for 25 years, the thing that amazes me is how varied everything is. It's less homogeneous than anywhere I've lived or visited, taken as a whole. Can you compare SF to Fort Wayne, NY to Toledo or Chicago to Tallahassee in any meaningful way?

Someone on HN previously posted "Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?" And while I don't agree with all of these -- Dallas and Austin are certainly not "Greater Appalachia" and probably deserve some kind of Texas "nation" of their own like "Tidewater" -- it's certainly true that "American Society" has many distinct parts. (Moving from Colorado to Connecticut to Mississippi felt like living abroad in three separate countries.)


Becoming a salaryman sounds about as appealing as doing time. On the plus side conjugal visits are a bit more frequent.

I had much better (unfounded) opinions of Japan before reading this. Now I am sad.

I'm not sure sadness or lowering your opinion of the country is necessarily the right takeaway here.

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.

I love parts of the culture and Tokyo was really fun to visit -- I will definitely will be returning soon. It was disheartening to hear of the misogyny that permeates the work culture there. It wasn't that I think they don't enjoy risk, but rather how they don't seem to exercise choice? I can't imagine being satisfied where things are so rigid. Between their socially conservative laws, the misogyny and rigidity of employment, the idea of working there is really off putting.

I'll give you the misogyny, but that is something that is honestly changing - and a lot of female Japanese professionals are actually refusing to date seriously or marry specifically because they don't want to give up their career and are advancing in their companies.

I currently work at a paternalistic employer. It can be a little stifling, but it's nice to not face potential ruin at the whim of some clueless exec.

Fantastic in depth guide.

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)

False, though depending on your status of residence that could potentially create trouble for you with regards to immigration. Speak to your friendly neighborhood attorney if you want confirmation.

At a minimum, one could start an American company, which could at some point start a Japanese office (with all the accordant overhead in terms of paperwork and politicking, including the usual risk of immigration taking a dim view or otherwise filing your paperwork in the "do not pass go" column).

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.

Yeah, that is the easiest way to do it, and I think with Abe's supposed promises to favor/help startups, this would be a good time for something like that to fly with a 1-5 person "company"

Glad to hear it!

Language lesson, how to answer the bank manager (and not have him believe you):

Q: Will you use the card to buy alcohol?

A: ゼッテーそんなことしないぞ!


I was just reading about what Andreesen had to say why America is a good innovative country. This was a nice supplement. Thanks for the article.

You're welcome.

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.

>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."

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 was common in the 80s and 90s when JIT and other efficiency ideas were actually exported from America to Japan, when unions ruled American automakers. As history shows, the Japanese took this margin and crushed American carmakers for decades; the pendulum is only recently swinging back (and that's with government intervention to avoid US automaker collapse due to their own incompetence).

It's not true, but that was a big driver of the sentiment.

The first half is demonstrably false; the second half--Japan excels at perfecting imported ideas--seems more accurate to me. What's your take?

its amazing what a few sentences can do to dispel that pervasive belief.

Can you provide a link to this?

Why Software Is Eating The World | Marc Andreessen | August 20, 2011 | http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240531119034809045765... | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2905410

I agree with some of the other commenters who said that it would interesting to see articles like this about other countries. IIRC, someone posted a link on HN a few months ago, to a blog in which various people wrote about their experiences in living in different foreign countries. Forget the name of the blog right now. The name might have been a play on a word related to travel.

Ah, found the name of the blog, in my email where I saved it - istorical.com (no leading h - that was the word play I remembered :).

Here's an HN comment where I saw it, and that links to some posts about specific countries on that blog:


Software engineer here living in Japan for about the same time as the author, and with almost the same work experience.

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.

This was utterly fascinating. Is there a Japanese version of this? I would love to rub it in some people's faces.

A truly awful automated translation of the Japanese at the beginning of the post seems to say that he's in the process of doing the translation but welcomes help from someone who could do it faster. So I would assume it doesn't exist yet but will.

A bit off topic but I went to Japan for the first time earlier this year and really enjoyed it, specially the food!. Since I've been back I've been thinking of working there for a while as a dev, I know a friend of a friend got recruited by Rakuten but he is much younger than me and speaks Japanese. Considering that I'm in my 30s, not white or asian,can't speak, read or write a word of Japanese and 10+ years of experience as a dev in Australia, USA and Latin America, what are my chances of landing a semi decent job in Japan and is this a good idea? I am specially concerned about the low salaries,being overworked, xenophobia and not being able to learn the language, I feel too old for these kinds of adventures but I haven't stopped thinking about this possibility since I got back.

Perhaps going as an expatriate for a western-based company would be a viable option for you. This way, you would be employed on western terms, with western salary, and in all likelihood have your relocation and accommodation taken care off. Also, there's a higher chance that local language skills aren't a strict necessity.

I have had a long standing cultural fascination with Japan, that included over a dozen trips, and 9 months of living there. Some observations:

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?

How did you learn japanese? Any tips or recommendations?

I'm not patio11, but I've been learning for over a year now, so hopefully I can provide some decent advice. This is purely from a self learner perspective - if you're okay with taking classes, there's a completely different direction I have no experience with. (Wall of text warning)

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.

Thank you so much for that extensive text! I've just recently learned Hiragana on my own (using two Android Apps and pen&paper writing) and learning by reading a german japanese learning book. Since i self study in my free time i switch between those all the time (learning hiragana, writing them on paper, reading book) i was wondering what might be a good next step. Actually i currently try to learn some Kanji and grammar and did not yet learn a single katakana.. Having finally learnt Hiragana and learnign some basic sentence structure i feel like my next step should be to write and read basic sentences in hiragana only and then move to learn some basic Kanji. Don't know yet when to learn Katakana, but currently i feel not like learning them as well, since i just learned the other alphabet and would like to have at least success doing something with that.

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..

I'd love to see Doing Business in Taiwan / Korea / Hong Kong.

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.

An excellent article. Those interested in going to Japan to work, or to start a company should know that, especially in Tokyo, it's not necessary to be a salaryman, or to speak that great Japanese to start a company there. I ran a successful media business with over 30 staff there there for 14 years. There are many, many Japanese who are outside the salaryman system who are happy to work on new and exciting projects, and it's much easier than ever before to get projects off the ground.

This article seems to suggest it's near impossible to leave a megacorp and start a company. So how did the first megacorps get started in the first place? Presumably there is a fair amount of entrepreneurship in Japan, otherwise they would not have been able to achieve their vast economic success. But I'm curious what the traditional path to entrepreneurial success is in Japan, given the way this piece makes entrepreneurship there seem impossible.

> This article seems to suggest it's near impossible to leave a megacorp and start a company. So how did the first megacorps get started in the first place?

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.)

>This article seems to suggest it's near impossible to leave a megacorp and start a company. So how did the first megacorps get started in the first place?

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.



These companies have been around for 150 years. Same thing goes in Korea. They employ a massive slice of the populations of both countries.

What about companies like Softbank?

Well, Softbank's founder is a son of Korean immigrants who moved to California at age 16, attending high school in SF and studying CS at UC Berkeley, after which he founded a company before moving back to Japan.

Not exactly the typical Japanese citizen.

Probably the most interesting article I've read in a while. It was eye-opening in so many respects!

Congratulations to the author for the deep in-sight view and easy-to-read narrative.

EDIT: Although probably not as interesting as Japan (because of the huge culture difference, to Greece/Italy/EU to which I'm accustomed) I'd love to read similar articles for other countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, etc.

Employment in Russia is a pretty boring topic. You send in a resume, get interviewed and hired, work for a few years and then leave for fresher experience, more money or maybe abroad. Nobody expects much loyalty or lifetime stability because of all the history.

For foreigners regular employment may be tricky: you would be expected to possess some unique skills not present in native workers, otherwise it's simpler to just hire them - language and cultural barrier is a thing. But if you do, you may perhaps aim higher.

Oh, and the whole employment in Russia is widely uneven, wages unpredictable, conditions wildly vary, life quality is love it or hate it. If you really enjoy chaos you could probably try.

What's funny is that the first part of the description sounds not unlike many of the big-name companies in Silicon Valley (other than the lifelong devotion to one firm). You spend all day there, are regularly expected to work overtime because you'd be letting your fellow employees down otherwise, and now they're even building their own dorms!

I think this article about Japanese companies' aversion to layoffs was fascinating when I read it a little while back:



Has anyone recently launched a new startup in Japan under Investor/Manager visa?

I've never seen so much conflicting information regarding what's necessary.

I'm in the super early stages of rolling out an Asia office and would massively prefer to be in Tokyo but the hassle level feels like 10x HK/Sing. =\

I'm sorry for picking this out from an otherwise great article (though I disagree on a few other minor points), but I can't let this slide:

> That said: is racism a bigger problem in Japan than e.g. in the United States? Oh, yes. Unquestionably.

I disagree. I disagree so very much I don't know if I can even put it into words.

Being the "wrong" race in the US can be a matter of life and death. It's not even fair to compare racism on that level to the kind that exists in Japan. Do I really need to talk about how pervasive racism is in the US? And how extreme it is? Pick your poison: income, education, prison sentences, violence, etc. This should be common knowledge by now. Please, please don't downplay it. It's huge.

It's interesting nonetheless. You really can see a difference between whites and non-whites when they talk about racism in Japan. There's a reason why there's such a difference of opinion. Growing up having the race advantage all your life and never giving it much thought, only to move to country where it no longer applies is a huge shock to many people.

Really. Ask non-whites what they think about racism in Japan. I think you'll find that most people will tell a very different story. It's usually something along the lines of, "The amount of ignorance is astounding sometimes, but I haven't really felt hatred/hostility directed towards me because of my race, which is refreshing." The ignorance is certainly bad, though also isn't all that surprising if you've had no meaningful conversations with someone of a particular race all your life.

Yes, if you're talking about anti-discriminatory laws, there's a world of difference. They're almost non-existent in Japan. Anti-discriminatory laws didn't come about in the US overnight. A lot of people suffered and fought a long war before we even saw a positive change. Again, not exactly fair to compare the two countries here. It doesn't make it right, but let's put it in perspective please. The US has a very, very dark history regarding race, and it's not even close to being over.

There's also one other important difference in my opinion. In the US, you're dealing with extremes on both sides. People who absolutely abhor you for being a certain race or having a certain sexual orientation, and others who will loudly defend your rights and speak out when they see injustice. In Japan, you don't have much of either. Which is worse I guess depends on your perspective... but it shouldn't be too surprising why a lot of people think the former is worse. Hostility is a very difficult thing to deal with.

A kid's parents can be instructed to not attend public school in Ogaki, by a school principal, in front of a room full of witnesses, not one willing to contradict him, on the basis of his race.

I have very little desire to litigate American attitudes on race. As a positive statement: there is no city in the United States where a public school principal can literally say "I do not allow $GROUP in my school." at a PTA meeting and expect to be employed 48 hours later.

Having lived in Japan myself I can attest to similar incidents. Another point to make is that some people mistake Japanese politeness to mean they are also being "nice" or favourable; Japanese people on the whole are invariably polite, even when they are being rude or exclusionary.

And one last point to make is that in Japan racism has a somewhat fluid hierarchy; certain races are viewed more favourably than others (occasionally markedly so), the amount of racism is also affected by the social status of the foreigner.

Non-white, I take it? What was the proffered rationale, if any?

Even in Japan, I'm pretty sure that principal was way out of line, but it would certainly take way longer than 28 hours to do something about it.

The rationale was "His presence would be disruptive to the educational environment." (That's a very generous translation of「皆に迷惑かけるだろ。」) Forgive me if I have to be oblique about the rest of the story, but it does not include "When apprised that this happened, people in a position of authority immediately said 'That is outrageous! Enroll the kid!'" A school which would take him was eventually located.)

This is so wrong I don't know where to start. Have you lived as a non-white minority in both Japan and the US? I have, and so have many friends and family. We can unanimously attest that we're far better treated in the US than Japan.

But let's put aside personal anecdotes for a second.

In the US, how many minorities serve as executives of large companies? The number of black, Indian, etc executives in a company like Google probably outnumber what you'd see in all Japanese companies combined.

How many minorities serve in the US government? How many serve in the Japanese government?

How many minorities do you see working in the US media? What about Japan?

I can go on all day.

I don't think that comparing the number of black CEOs in both countries is necessarily a good benchmark of the experiences of black people in general.

This is further confounded by the fact that all ethnic minorities are a much lower % of the Japanese population than they are in the US.

It's funny you mention that, because the low percentage of ethnic minorities in Japan is a direct consequence of their famously restrictive immigration policy... which even further proves the point.

And of course, no benchmark is perfect. So why not provide a better one and compare the US and Japan using your own benchmark? I'd love to hear your results.

Japan has a very large population and appears to value cultural conformity very highly, it doesn't necessarily imply racism to keep immigration low.

There is no single good metric for racism because it is complicated but the average person is probably more concerned about whether they are likely to become a victim of crime because of their race than whether they could theoretically become CEO of a megacorp.

>the average person is probably more concerned about whether they are likely to become a victim of crime because of their race than whether they could theoretically become CEO of a megacorp.

Has the average person been polled on whether they would prefer restrictions on employment or freedom from racial violence? I'll take my beating, please.

You should look at overall employment statistics rather than just CEOs, very few people become CEOs.

If you read the article, you would find that discrimination in employment and housing isn't limited to who gets to be a CEO, that was just synecdoche. I'm energetically disagreeing that the primary worry (or even the secondary worry) of people getting discriminated against for their race is the threat of physical violence.

The article is written from a white person's perspective and doesn't delve deeply into whether discrimination is equal against all foreigners or whether it is worse for some ethnic groups over others, my comments were a direct response to asdfologist's comment.

It seems wrong to conclude that violence would not be a possible concern though, there are many minority groups across the globe for whom it is a very serious concern, though I don't know the situation in Japan.

Restrictive immigration policy is a form of cultural isolationism, but not necessarily racism.

There's a fairly large literature in labor economics on discrimination in the labor market. Reductive summary of consensus'ish opinion going back to 1996 [1]:

  1) Very large gaps between average wages of whites and blacks
  2) Controlling for ability* erases almost all the disparity 
  3) White and black infants have same distribution of ability  
  4) Large disparity in ability develops between white and blacks by age 18
Disparities between whites and blacks seem to be more a product of poverty rather than bigoted employers. There is obviously more to racism than employment and wages, but this is a significant. To be clear, this is not to hand wave away a serious social problem, but rather to focus attention on the actual causes of it. If it were simply racism, there are easier solutions. Just appeal to the greed of rapacious capitalists: perfectly qualified workers from visible minorities would be underpriced wrt the majority. If instead differences in wages instead reflect differences in skills (from crappy schools, dysfunctional family environments, etc), then the problem is a little more insoluble.

[1] https://ideas.repec.org/a/ucp/jpolec/v104y1996i5p869-95.html

More recent summary from Roland Fryer (abstract alone is good): http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/racial_inequali...

* Ability is obviously a fuzzy concept. "ability" here means a score on a version of the Defense Dept's ability test from the 80's (the National Longitudinal Study of Youth). Results hold up pretty well with different measures though.

I (a white male) was once going to clubs in Tokyo with an Indian friend when he was denied entry into a fairly low-class establishment. Flabbergasted, I ranted and raved in shock at the overt racism of a type I'd never before witnessed. He calmed me down, saying that Japan had actually been far milder in its racism towards him than most nations, and that he felt more comfortable there than in the U.S., Australia, and certainly India.

What ethnicities/races are you talking about here in particular?

I suppose African-Americans will probably experience less animosity in Japan than in the US. But I think the ones subject to severe racism in Japan are rather other Asians, such as Chinese or Koreans.

Japan is a very ethnically homogenous country with almost zero immigration, and it is my understanding that that is due to the fact that foreigners are not very well accepted. Since people of different races hence represent almost negligible parts of the Japanese populace, you might consider it less of a problem than in the US, where racisms exists between citizens of the same state.

Disclaimer: I've never been to Japan, please correct me if I have the wrong impression.

A bit into the article I had the strangest feeling I was reading a dark Orwellian story. OMG - is _that_ how Japanese employees spent their lives?! I wonder what the suicide rates are over there.

> I wonder what the suicide rates are over there.

High. Japan is in the top 10 countries world wide, roughly twice as many suicides per million as in the United States.

Sounds like a massive dystopia to me. I don't even get how their country works, it's like a weird totalitarian state

That was an amazingly thorough writeup. I very much enjoyed it. And I no longer want to move to japan...

Fantastic article, read all the way through it.

Love the small bank anecdote

May as well be entitled, "Reasons to never work in Japan."

Brilliant article.

While reading the article, I'm also reminded of the working culture in Vancouver tech scene without any of the benefits a worker might receive in Silicon Valley.

Just crappier pay, crazy uncompensated overtime, next to nothing in terms of salary bump. You don't like the long hours of work with meager pay and high living costs? You don't like coming in on the weekend? You don't like leaving at 9+ pm? Quit and good luck finding a job in the tech scene here, forever banished to the life of high hourly wages from contract jobs serving some American overlord, getting paid for overtime, not having to commute for hours in the crap public transportation system.

> You don't like the long hours of work with meager pay and high living costs? You don't like coming in on the weekend? You don't like leaving at 9+ pm?

Isn't that the games scene, not the Vancouver tech scene? I've worked in a Vancouver tech company that was happy with me working 11-7pm and paid enough to rent in the city (28 min commute) and save half of the salary...

Heh. Yeah, if you value your free time at all I don't think the games industry is right for you in any country.

You've lost me at "crap public transportation system". Bash Vancouver all you want, but public transit is one of the awesome things about it.

So? Outages happen in any transit system. It's not like it happens often. Vancouver public transit is much better than in other cities, especially in North America.

lol then you have not lived here long enough. not many people here really boast about it because we all know bc transit is a dysfunctional garbage trainwreck. yes outages are common, bus drivers are jerks, its filled with weird fucking people all the time. I don't know any native vancouverite who'd claim it was anywhere close to the best. Yeah, it's pretty great if you come from Detroit or some far off remote city in the states.

I've been in Vancouver for two years. That's more than enough time to appreciate the reliability of public transit here, which I use every day.

> I don't know any native vancouverite who'd claim it was anywhere close to the best

I'm just curious which cities you/they're comparing Vancouver to, and whether they have actually lived there.

Can you briefly outline where you've lived that transit outages are not common and bus drivers are not frequently jerks? I can tell you that it's also the case in Toronto, Seattle (well, bus service outages), San Francisco, and London, so I'm curious what you'd hold up as a good transport system.

So why are you in vancouver when seattle is realllllly close.

I'd have to get some kind of sponsorship and visa to work and live there. I'd go there in a heartbeat if there was opportunity there.

Don't get me wrong. I lived in Vancouver all my life. I love it, it's home. But we also have the lowest salary in the country in the tech industry, we have zero protection from exploitative employers, crowded labour tech market with a small job market.

Well about the time I was out of university in Victoria, I got a few linked in recruiter pings from Seattle, and then a few months later 'the flood' started and I started getting a lot of interest. I would really consider just contacting Seattle recruiting firms directly, you might just not be visible to them because you don't have any us linked in connections. What are your skills?

I'm really surprised that Vancouver is so low, since your just a relatively instant TN visa away to Seattle a 2hr drive away. The only people who would be 'stuck' there are non-canadian immigrants, and I'm guessing that's relatively low.

Oh yeah, at the border, only say your job description to them when they ask. So if your TN visa letter says 'software engineer', do not say 'software developer'. Your job description to the border people is only what is officially allowed for your job category in a TN visa too. Make sure the employer's letter is done properly by a lawyer.

The basic process is:

1. Get an email invite for an interview

2. Print out this email and tell the border people your only going for an interview and they'll do the proper TN paperwork in the country afterwards while you wait in Canada

3. They should mail/email you the TN offer letter, tell how the process works if they decide to hire you.

4. You go to the border with the TN visa letter, you tell the border people your applying for the TN status/visa. You'll walk into the office, they'll review it, might make you do a bunch of shit and answer questions and if they accept they'll stamp your passport with the TN status.

5. You now can work in the USA.

Well, you could always head over to Victoria...


Should HN come up with a generic way to handle burn accounts? Is there a large graveyard of them?

The graveyard is the right spot for them. Flag it and downvote it.

You made an account just for that?

Easy, tiger.

> That said: is racism a bigger problem in Japan than e.g. in the United States? Oh, yes. Unquestionably.

This is totally ridiculous. I lived in Japan for a year and as a white male, it was the first time I experienced being on the receiving end of racism. It sucked, but was a good lesson into how it feels.

That said, I'm pretty sure minorities in America have to deal with the same experience on a daily basis often with far more tragic results: http://www.vox.com/michael-brown-shooting-ferguson-mo/2014/8...

>I lived in Japan for a year and as a white male

Racism in Japan when you are white is not that bad. Ask your Korean or Nigerian friends in Japan what it is like and you will get a much different answer.

Add Chinese and other dark skinned Southeast Asians to that list and they will all agree.

Or being a half-Japanese, half-white American. I seriously believe this is one of the worst racial profiles to be in the land of my ancestors.

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