This year’s government white paper on people’s lives, the 50th such report since 1956, focuses on the importance (or rather the weakening) of human bonds in Japanese society at home, in local communities and in the workplace. It points out that long working hours, children’s attendance at cram schools, long hours spent on electronic games, and the growing use of irregular workers and computers on the job are all contributing to the weakening of human bonds. Conscious efforts by the government, businesses, workers and citizens are necessary to rectify social and economic forces behind the problem. Regrettably, the white paper does not delve into any social and economic policies the government might take to address these forces.

The white paper says 31.6 percent of men aged 30 to 39 think that they do not spend enough time with family members. Many cite long working hours as the reason. The period in which more than 50 percent of all family members are awake is only from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. About 30 percent of children come back home after 9 p.m. due to attendance at cram schools and various lessons.

About 30 percent of people think that human bonds in local communities have weakened over the past 10 years. While many people want to take part in activities in their local communities and with volunteer organizations, they cannot do so because of the lack of time, difficulty in finding the opportunity and the lack of information. Although a quarter of workers would like to have friendships with coworkers off the job, they are unable to develop such relations.

The white paper says strong human bonds give people peace of mind, a sense of accomplishment (when they take part in activities in local communities) and improve workplace performance. It calls for establishing a work/life balance to support workers in child rearing, including child-care leave and shortened work hours, and disseminating more information on community and volunteer activities. Improvement of working conditions will have the strongest effect in changing society for the better.

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