Western work ethic is wanting

In his July 11 letter, “Abnormal way to run a workday,” Grant Piper raises a philosophical doctrine that is very Western: We live not to work, but we work to live. Indeed, this supports the utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, two British philosophers of capitalism who promoted selfishness and greed, which cannot be on God’s side.

As Buddhism grew out of Hinduism and Japanese psychology came under the influence of Buddhism over the past 17 centuries, self-sacrifice from “overtime” or voluntary work was accepted by the Japanese people as virtuous. One could find a pleasure in work that could not be found elsewhere.

From primary school on, Japanese society encourages community spirit and voluntary service, such as when children clean their schools and help junior students. Individualism is discouraged. In school sports, group competition is the rule. Stronger children compensate for the performance of weaker ones.

In the workplace, there are regular consultations on how to improve company performance. Organizations try to create a community of workers of one for all and all for one. There is no separate staff canteen for workers and executives. In this environment, “overtime” becomes a duty toward fellow workers.

The result is a unique society with very little crime, where women can walk home from work at midnight without being molested, where 5-year-old children can go to school alone.

What will happen if Japan adopts Western ways?

Expect millions more homeless, uneducated, unemployed people. The Western system and its philosophy aren’t even attractive to many Westerners. Wasn’t that the reason for the Occupation movement against Wall Street?

dipak basu

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • tomado

    Yeah, it must be just horrible living in Sweden, Norway and Denmark where men and women can equally share family life and family vacations. Why do fathers need to see their children anyway? I’m sure they would just get in the way of their dutiful housewives. All for one and one for all! That’s how people feel as they toil away on the line! Yes, Japan is unique. Other countries are just all the same. And Japan can thank the “psychology” of Hinduism, after all. Individual human freedom is such a corrosive and western idea. Down with the west!

    • Cecilia Flynn

      Yeah as it’s so great in the west where men are no longer paid a living wage so can no longer support a family, now the wife must work full time also just to make ends meet, handing over their children too strangers who are working for minimum wage, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, children farmed out to strangers ,growing up without the love of either a Mother or Father . Working conditions in Britain are no better than Japan you are paid for 40hrs but expected to work 70, workers rights have all been removed there is no job security so through fear of losing their job they are prepared to work these hours without complaint. Family life has been destroyed by this taking away not only fathers but Mothers as well.

      The west is collapsing in on itself , in 50yrs Britain’s will be a minority in their own country at present the hospitals, schools and housing are all in crisis standards of living have fallen back to Victorian levels due to lack of infrastructure to support the enormous population which has more than doubled in the last 100yrs, due to massive immigration brought in to undercut British workers wages. This is happening Europe wide as can be seen from the rise of Neo Nazi groups in Europe.
      Yes Japan is unique and long may she stay so, Japan may not be perfect but she sure is far superior too the West.

      • tomado

        You and Basu can give all the anecdotes you like. My statement is not to show that X is better than Y but, rather, that this whole discussion is ridiculous. There are many reasons why workers have lost ground in Japan as well as in various western countries. There is also no doubt that Germans are not significantly less productive than Japanese working nearly half the hours. That is not to say that Germany is better than Japan. What I do think is important is the idea of the future. Basu is saying that young Japanese had better not choose more family time or their country will turn into the inferior west. Coincidentally, the superior Asian mentality all derives from superior Hindu psychology. What a joke! I believe that young people should be empowered to choose the future they want and I certainly don’t think that having more family time will make them less “Asian” or inferior or cause society to fall apart. I reject this chauvinism and I would be embarrassed to tout the place where I came from as “superior” or to make such facile arguments. Anyway, “the west” is such a nebulous concept I’d also be embarrassed to make these kind of wild assertions. I mean Sweden and the U.S. are part of the west, right? They are the same thing? This whole line of thinking is just silly. But it’s also destructive insofar as it promotes a false view of reality and the future.

    • Viva75

      You’ve actually cherry picked the three western countries most similar in fact to Japan and ARE definitely seen as vastly different systems to most other western nations. There is and there should be a great debate in the west as to what is the better system to emulate and improve the lives for everyone. Your sarcasm and obvious bias against anything Japanese ads no nothing to what is a very non provocative, interesting and legitimate article. The Scandanavian and Japanese systems are a more egalitarian and fairer system, not perfect but definitely more on the right track.

      Nobody in this article said asians are superior. Generally speaking though, through history and religion, they have a different philosophy….big deal?! Maybe Scandinavian countries through their history or religion is why they have very different systems from the rest of the west?? Who knows? But find out why and perhaps learn from them instead of being negative and sarcastic. The fact that you seemed to take offense to this article in anyway says more about you and your own prejudice.

  • Cecilia Flynn

    The trouble with the west is Mothers also must work full time if you don’t want to live in virtual poverty, Germany being the exception where stay at home Mothers are encouraged but for how long as things are changing even there. You were originally criticising Japanese fathers for not having enough family time while chauvinistically calling their wives dutiful housewives and holding up the West as the fairer option Sweden in particular.
    in the West children are denied not only fathers but Mothers also as they are farmed out to strangers in day-care how you see this as an improvement, I can’t begin to imagine!
    I agree with Basu Japan has little crime, woman and children are safe on the streets, that
    In the workplace, there are regular consultations on how to improve company performance. Organizations try to create a community of workers of one for all and all for one. There is no separate staff canteen for workers and executives. Whereas in the West greed is all, the elites exploit the workers, profit before people.
    As for being embarrassed about touting the place where I come from as superior, I only wish I could. Unfortunately I am one of the Westerners of whom he speaks who find it’s system and philosophy unattractive.

    • tomado

      Wrong. It’s called irony. What I was criticizing was Basu’s idea. There is no doubt that many Japanese people don’t enjoy having to be at work all the time, whether it’s productive time or not, and being denied a chance to spend time with their families or just relaxing. I know some of them. Others may think that working all the time is the only way to find pleasure (pace Basu). There is no doubt that it is very tough to improve women’s equality in a system where a job requires a 60-hour work week and women have to choose between family and career-advancement. Things are changing here also. Japan does not remain static and many Japanese women have to work and rely on daycare in Japan as well anyway. Even in the paradise that is Japan! Imagine that! I even know some of them. And I know plenty of people here who are miserable and exhausted from work and unhappy with a situation that they see as pointless. These are anecdotes just like your link and don’t prove that the hundreds of millions of people scattered over vast lands referred to as “the west” are uniformly better than the hundred and twenty-eight million people living in Japan or that Japanese have a better quality of life than Swedes. I cold also provide links to various problems in Japan getting progressively worse, economic and otherwise. Still, the premise that if people have more free time in Japan society will fall apart strikes me as ridiculous. And, the premise that the future must be dictated by the past is a dangerous and faulty view of life – one that I reject with every fiber of my being. Obviously, the embarrassment I was referring to was Basu’s and his superior Hindu psychology.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        What I am saying it is no better in the West people are overworked and underpaid. Workers rights being stripped away. You are saying women are now in the same position in Japan as the men, in which case society will fall apart just as has happened in the West. Their feral children will grow up to be criminals and drug addicts. I also have a female friend in America in much the same position as your friend she has been hospitalised due to overwork as often she has not the free time even to sleep and has huge medical bills from her hospital stays making her financial position ever worse. She is single.

        Women in the workplace is not an idea from the past but a modern one at least one parent home with a child is better than none .

        Women should not have children if they want too work but now they no longer have the choice to stay at home but must work in the West. Why did you call the Japanese dutiful housewives if they are all out working 60hrs per week?

        You seem to be under the illusion that Westerners have lots of free time to spend with their families which is far from the case. Governments and employers in the West must be using Basu’s superior Hindu psychology also.

      • tomado

        I haven’t said very much about westerners. That’s your bag. The “dutiful housewives” line was an ironic jab at Basu’s vision of society. Obviously, some women can afford to stay home in Japan and increasingly, some cannot. All I said about “the west” was that Northern Europeans enjoy their vacations and family time. That doesn’t mean the west is paradise or doesn’t have problems. Japan has problems as well (wouldn’t you know!). Let me tell you this: really this whole argument is totally ridiculous. Perhaps there are some Japanese people who think a more relaxed work environment is a corrosive influence of western values leading to Japan’s decline. I really haven’t met any of these people and it doesn’t surprise me the main purveyor of this attitude is a “Japan is superior” gaijin. Converts are always the most devout. All of the Japanese people I know (I know, now I’m being anecdotal) don’t much buy into Basu’s idea – and I have conservative as well as liberal Japanese friends. Even my conservative friends (I know some people who support changing article 9 and voted for Hashimoto) want more free time and don’t want to be hanging out at work all the time for no reason. One more thing, last night I met a recent graduate who just changed jobs. His first job after graduating Uni was one of those 6-days-a-week 10-12-hour days that you and Basu love so much. He lost 7 kilos in 3 months and quit. Now he has a 9-5 5-days-a-week job. He doesn’t seem to have any time for your arguments. And most people I know feel that way. The women I work with also have no time for the “you should be back in the kitchen” argument. You and Basu are just not in the same reality I guess. What’s really perverse to me is how those Gaijins that are uncritical of Japan and think it’s superior to the dying west think they’re helping Japan and feel good and pat themselves on the back for being cheerleaders. But I think Basu is actually hurting people (whether Japanese or otherwise) as he gives ammunition to those who would deny the next generation their right to create their own future. He wants to imprison people in the past with his idea that there is a sacred order to society that can’t be changed. I reject this kind of nihilism.

      • Cecilia Flynn

        If women want to work they should not have children it’s selfish to put her needs before that of a child. You can call me gaijin as much as you like, if you have to resort too name calling you have already lost the arguement. You are a very rude person.

      • tomado

        Sorry, I didn’t mean the word as an insult. Gaikokujin? Is that better? Please don’t take it as an offense.I am also gaijin or gaikokujin. I’m glad to see our discussion never dies! Most of us admire figures like Ogata Sadako. Again, I give you points for eccentricity. But if that’s the way you feel… I think she is an admirable figure – in fact all the more so for raising kids and serving her local and the world community.

      • tomado

        I can’t believe you really feel that women who choose to work and raise kids are selfish….amazing!

      • tomado

        “Women should not have children if they want too work” (sic)…Now there is an idea that will be unhelpful to Japan. And I think our argument will go nowhere since we have fundamentally different views of life. I give you credit for the eccentricity of your thinking here!

    • tomado

      Just thinking more about this I’ve changed my mind and adopted the following beliefs:

      “Western” is a useful term; broad generalizations about west vs. east are illuminating.

      Men find pleasure in work that they cannot find in family life or other personal, individual, pursuits.

      Living to work is better than working to live. Nothing good comes from the desire for freedom.

      The idea that women belong in the home, not in the work place, is part of the essence of Japan and changes at the peril of
      Japanese society.

      “The West,” along with progressive liberal humanism, is a total failure.

      Individual human rights (and concomitant progressive movements derived from western liberal humanism) are selfish and destructive.

      If Europeans want to be happy, men should give up their family time, 35-40 hour work week, holidays, etc, and work like the superior Japanese.

      Japanese men who want more family time are anti-Japanese and are, ultimately, dangerous to the future of Japan.

      Japanese women who want to have careers are anti-Japanese and are, ultimately, dangerous to the future of Japan.

      Hinduism is the source of Japanese goodness.

      “Japanese psychology,” ultimately derived from Hinduism, is a coherent phrase.

      Vivekananda and Gandhi erred insofar as they incorporated western values (liberal humanism) into their ways of thinking, etc.

      Bullying, lack of self-confidence, (etc.) are not problematic outcomes of education systems.

      The occupy Wall Street movement was a protest against general western values; it shows that “the west” is inferior to “the east” and, more specifically, Japan.

      Women do not need to advance in the work place.

      The women’s movement caused the downfall of the west.

      Western society is greedy, Japanese society is altruistic.

      Japan is unique. “Western” countries are all the same.

      “Western” countries are doomed to failure unless they become more like Japan.

      As long as Japan adheres to the values of it’s glorious past, it will be successful. If it changes, it’s doomed to failure.

      • tomado

        Well, I’m on your side now. I wonder if you cold help me convince my Japanese

        friend of all that you, Basu and I are saying.

        OK, here’s her situation:

        She is in a certain service industry that I won’t name. People in this industry generally work 6 days a week and

        10-12 hours a day. During the run-up to the national holidays, sometimes she works more than 14 days in a row. Now, they do get a holiday. However, during this holiday time she must travel with her coworkers to a vacation area chosen by her boss. So her boss is very much a “good Japanese”

        in the mold recommended by our good friend Basu. This boss believes that life is work. But she doesn’t like this situation at all and isn’t

        interested in vacationing in Macau with people she works with and for.

        Now, she isn’t convinced by our point of view that this working style is good for her and that more personal time will

        begin the slippery slope that destroys Japan. Perhaps this is because the stress of overwork has landed her in the hospital on several occasions. I’ve

        tried to tell her how selfish and “western” she is being but so far she isn’t buying it.

        It also just so happens that she does have a boyfriend and they hope to get married. However, they don’t anticipate being wealthy enough for one of them to stay home for very long. Somehow, the western influences have poisoned Japan to the point that some women like her have to work.

        She isn’t blaming “the west” for this even though I’ve been telling her that she should.

        She also isn’t convinced by your link to the story about Sweden that Northern Europe is heading for destruction or that Swedish, Germans,

        Dutch, Norwegians are unhappier than Japanese people. She doesn’t believe, at least not yet, that wanting to have some days off and vacation time

        is an insidious selfishness caused by western influences that could destroy Japan.

        You and I have got to get to work to convince her of our point of view!

      • Cecilia Flynn

        Thank you for clarifying your comment, I was not offended more annoyed that it was getting personal. Life in the West was very good it’s in the past 25yrs it has all gone too hell, which is so sad but that’s how it seems to go, all societys seem to peak and dive though history. I don’t think men should sacrifice their lives too work, 40hrs are enough unless one wishes to work more but working standards in the West are no better, worse in fact as there is none of this, ( In the workplace, there are regular consultations on how to improve company performance. Organizations try to create a community of workers of one for all and all for one. There is no separate staff canteen for workers and executives).
        As for your friend she must make her own decisions that’s life! I won’t change my opinion on working Mothers it’s a straight choice career or kids you can’t have it all actually! Another lesson presently being learned in the West.