Work Culture in Taiwan vs Japan vs South Korea vs (Hong Kong & China) vs Singapore vs Thailand

Hey all,

I was studying some articles about the Japanese work culture yesterday as I was trying to find out more about hiring some talent scouts in Japan. An interesting article caught my eye…

Japanese show business definitely has a feudal side. Talent agencies control their tarento (talent) much in the way the daimyō (feudal lords) controlled the samurai in their clans, supporting their livelihoods in return for absolute fealty. And just as samurai were expected to stay with one clan their entire lives, talents typically find it hard — if not impossible — to leave their agencies.

This unequal relationship, observes veteran entertainment reporter Harumi Nakayama, is deep in the DNA of the entertainment industry.

“It’s always been like a factory,” she says. “It doesn’t nurture talents as individual artists. Instead, they’re interchangeable. In Japan you can make your professional debut just by being cute.”

When Rena Nonen, the perky star of the popular 2013 drama series “Amachan,” parted on acrimonious terms from her agency, LesPros Entertainment, in 2015 she found TV network and ad agency doors closed.

“They were afraid of the agency,” Nakayama says.

How in the hell can these companies put so many rules onto people like slaves?” asks Adam Torel, an independent British film producer based in Tokyo. “In the case of many large agencies, talents are lucky to get 10 percent of payments,” he continues. “They treat (talents) like dirt and make them work till near-death with no rights. They make them sign contracts that ban them from working a year or more after leaving. You’d think movements like #MeToo would give actors, directors and idols empowerment, but they’re just too scared to speak out. None of them have freedom.”

Then I came across a second article.

[How Japanese-Style Management Gave Birth to the Corporate Slave]

Since I started working in Japan I, like many other foreigners who come to work here, was particularly surprised by how dedicated my coworkers were to their jobs. Even coworkers that weren’t particularly interested in the work they were doing, and were not compensated in a manner I would consider befitting to the amount of work and overwork they would do, would put the company before themselves and toil away endlessly at their desks. From an American point-of-view, it was hard to think about it without the word “slave” coming to mind.

A few months ago, my Japanese friend who used to work in America with me pointed me to an article called " How Japanese-Style Management Gave Birth to the Corporate Slave " that drew some connections between how Japanese companies are managed to this seemingly slave-like behavior employees exhibit. I found it to be such an interesting article that I went on to translate it to English, (as well as some of the other articles by the same author that are referenced in this article).

How Japanese-Style Management Gave Birth to the Corporate Slave - By Eiji Sakai

(Original: 日本的経営が社畜を生んだ理由 - 酒井英禎)

"‘Corporate slave,’ it’s a word used to ridicule employees that have a strong loyalty to the company at the expense of their private lives, who put their work at their company before everything else. One interesting topic in regards to corporate slave theory is the blog of a self proclaimed “foreigner NEET (Not In Employment, Education or Training)” [link broken] who couldn’t hold a job in Japan and later got a masters degree in Australia and is currently working in Singapore.*

Recently I have written several articles including "Working With People From Another Culture, " and "Overtime is Shameful, " that criticize the labor environment in Japan. I once worked at a local business in Canada for about two and a half years, and later lived in other countries such as Korea, China, and Vietnam, and had the chance to observe the working habits of the local people in those cultures.

One thing I can say is, the work atmosphere and way of thinking in the Japanese workplace is vastly different from that of other countries. Additionally, although naturally the working environments in North America (USA, Canada) and the rest of Asia (Korea, China, India, Vietnam) are different from each other, they still have more in common with each other than they do with the working environment in Japan. In other words, Japan alone stands out as having a particularly strange working environment.

Late last year, a young woman newly recruited to powerful ad agency Dentsu, in Tokyo, tragically committed suicide. Her death, linked to overwork, has given rise to a debate among the Japanese about their work habits.

A particular object of scrutiny is the long hours workers put in at the office, never daring to be the first to leave, or to go before their immediate bosses. More than a fifth of Japanese companies surveyed in a government study acknowledged that some staff work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, a level officials consider a threat to health. Matsuri Takahashi, the Dentsu trainee, had put in more than a 100 hours of overtime each month in the nine months she worked at the company, her family claimed.

Scandal-hit Japanese model-cum-actress is not the first to learn the pitfalls of taking on an entertainment industry that enjoys close links to the criminal underworld.

From being a perky-but-ditsy mainstay of Japan’s television tarento (foreign celebrity) scene six months ago, Rola has moved to the covers of the tabloids amid allegations that her agency has engaged in blackmail, financial chicanery and even plied her with prescription drugs to keep its most lucrative name on its books.

The weekly news magazine Shukan Bunshun has reported that the hugely popular 27-year-old actress-singer-model-television talent is locked into a 10-year “slave-like” contract with her agency, Libera Production.

And, given the power that talent agencies hold over their assets, it is very likely the agency could effectively end her career by calling on other agencies to ensure that she never gets any more jobs.

Another concern is the agencies’ close ties to Japan’s underworld groups, who can be quick to resort to violence against anyone who crosses them.

“This business is hard work, but it is even harder for young women than for men. The girls get paid so little when they start out, but they put up with it because they are told they are going to be stars,” he said.

“These talent agencies were created by yakuza groups at the end of the war because they very quickly realised that there was going to be great demand for entertainers and they are still essentially run like underworld groups to this day,” he said.

“They have very clear ties to organised crime, they have the industry completely under their control and they are ruthless towards anyone who crosses them,” he added.

And they do not seem to mind if the police or authorities know it, he said, pointing to the recent release of the memoirs of Kazuo Kasaoka, the former head of a Kobe-based underworld group. Among other experiences, the book details the time he spent working for the head of the Burning Production talent agency, such as threats made against its own stars, the harassment of their families, unflattering stories leaked to the media and pressure on advertising companies and other clients not to hire black-balled performers.

But Japan is a free country, right?

I’ve said it many times: “If I was Japanese, I’d never live here.” And now that I’ve come to a point where I’m sort of turning Japanese ( I really think so ), I’m gearing up to leave. Well, why is that?

Because, NO; Japan is free in theory but not in practice.

What Akihito is experiencing is what many Japanese experience on a daily basis. The day by day grind of the office is mind numbing and soul crushing. It’s a seemingly never-ending exercise in futility and play-pretend. We’ve written about it before: Very little is getting done while everyone pretends everything is getting done. Then, lots of company workers leave the office… only to go back to their room in the company dorm .

It’s endless meetings, piles upon piles of paperwork and dead-serious coffee breaks. Respite is only found in the flatulent release of a drunken outburst locked away in some karaoke booth; immediately forgiven due to alcohol, a god given bout with influenza, retirement (which some are unable to even consider) or death.

Although, rarely talked about (I am having trouble finding sources), it is not uncommon for Japanese company workers to continue working… even when they aren’t getting paid .

Off the top of my head I can think of nine cases over the years of people I knew working in companies who continued to work despite not being paid for months at a time. I also can’t remember a single case in which those late funds were refunded.

So, these people go to work, want to quit but are told they can’t, and then sometimes even work without being paid for their labor?

Idk about Thailand but for the rest it’s suffice to say they are all really bad.


Long hours, no extra pay: what it’s like to work in Japan

Workers in Japan are struggling to overcome a culture of unpaid overtime and long hours which threaten their health and sacrifice family

We have Japan to thank for the practice of conspicuous overtime. From the 1950s onwards, post-war Japan set a benchmark for hard work the world over. In its golden age of growth, Japan’s corporations offered lifelong job security and high wages in return for long hours, loyalty and service. A job for life as a regular worker at a respected firm demanded personal sacrifice – unpaid overtime and relocations – but it was a price that was accepted freely.

Workplace conventions which were once a boon to productivity have begun to have a perverse effect. Working overtime has become a proxy for working efficiently and a whole culture has evolved around enabling absurdly long hours. It is considered impolite to leave the office before your boss and workers are hesitant to do so before their peers. Convenience stores sell clean shirts for those who haven’t had a chance to go home and a genre of literature, kodoku, romanticises the loneliness of workers who have little time or inclination to see friends or find a partner.

Japan’s working culture has become life-threatening

Death by overwork, karoshi , claimed 191 people in 2016 and, according to a government report over a fifth of Japanese employees are at risk through working more than 80 hours of overtime a month, usually unpaid. More serious still, one in ten Japanese workers clock over 100 hours of overtime each month.

Please share your experiences and stories with us.

This is the story which really break my heart.

A Japanese city official has been docked half a day’s pay for repeatedly leaving his desk for a few minutes, sparking a heated debate on social media over the severity of the punishment.

The 64-year-old man, who has not been identified, is employed by the waterworks bureau in Kobe, according to bureau officials who gave a televised press conference last week to apologize for the employee’s actions.

The man had left his desk for three minutes to buy a takeaway bento lunch box before his lunch time started. He did this 26 times over a seven-month period.

As a punishment, he was reprimanded and docked half a day’s pay.

I once thought that China, being the least civilized and most barbaric out of all the asian countries in the world, lead the world in its treatment of its slaves aka Chinese Communist Citizens.

I once thought that Japan, being the most advanced and most civilized out of all the asian countries in the world, lead the world in terms of civility, politeness, morals.

If you are a really civilized, polite, moral manager boss, would you treat any and all of your employees like your feudal slaves?

The true samurai remains true and loyal to the spirit of bushido.

The fake samurai slave behaves like a loyal dog to his master damiyo hoping for tiny handouts to move up the ranks.

In the movie Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, you can see how all the samurai of the particular damiyo treat a particular fallen impoverished samurai like shit forcing him to commit suicide in the end in the most brutal manner.

If you really have compassion in your heart, even if you are living in the feudal samurai ages, would you have turn a blind eye to the suffering of anyone who is impoverished, have a pregnant wife who is about to give birth, yet there is no food to feed your family, etc.

Well, I guess I must be the most stupid fool in the world to think that slavery has been abolished in the most advanced country in the world which is called Japan.

I guess I must be the most stupid fool in the world to think that Japan which is called the land of the rising sun is really the first country to greet the “Sun” “Son” the Life-Giving Star of our world.

Maybe the Japs are the first to give the finger to the Sun Son instead of greeting Him.


Your 2 minutes of hate is up.


Japan has its own style.

Have you been to North Korea lately?

I could probably move to Japan but I’d have to work in Japan.
Therefore it’s a no go for me.
It’s bad, much worse than Taiwan. Their working hours across most industries are very long, whereas in Taiwan the long working hours are not always expected in every office and certainly not as extreme except for electronics and maybe advertising.
Also their treatment of female co-workers is really poor and many of them still smoke. There are few female managers. They have commutes (at least in Tokyo) of up to two hours both ways everyday. They are often expected to join drinking activities after work but show up on time in the morning. They often look lethargic because , I guess, they are exhausted.

Korea is almost as bad and in some ways it is worse (aggressive and shouty when drunk). You need to pretend that people a couple of years older than you are wiser and worthy of more respect.

The sector with the longest working hours in Japan is the PUBLIC sector. I have a friend whose (Japanese) boyfriend works for the government there and he works till 12 or past 12 every. single. day. Sometimes Saturday too. It’s madness.

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When I visited Tokyo it was really easy to spot the foreign visitor vs the foreign resident. The residents all looked like they’d been awake for days on end. Utterly zombified.

I would love to live in Japan for a bit, learn the language, travel, would be great. But the idea of working there just makes me shudder.
The other thing in Japan now is they make you work till 70 or so until you can get a decent pension. Because the economy has been in long term decline many people just take the abuse from management in case they lose their jobs.

But isn’t there a part of Japan outside of Tokyo that is more mellow on the work ethic, cheaper to live relatively?

It’s probably a much better option.

I hear Taihoku is nice.

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