The Gentle Pleasure of Full-Employment Japan

Kyoto—It’s often you hear Americans say, Yes, Japan is disciplined and quiet, but we couldn’t live like that, all so regimented.

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Well, on my first visit, I say, give me a little of that regimentation, combined with exceptional graciousness.

It’s not that I discovered anything new about Japan on a recent trip to elegant Kyoto. It’s just that I was reminded things at large in my own country: the excessive vulgarity of a place where the F-word is shouted on street corners, in TV to pop songs and in the political realm where gratuitous swearing stands in for sophisticated; where [email protected]@ss has suddenly become a term of admiration for women; and of course, if you don’t agree with me, you’re a traitor, racist, ignoramus or thug.

Also, there was a kind of serene joy to be in a place where everybody, and I mean everybody, works and seems content to do so.

Never have I experienced such courtesy as in Kyoto. Yes, the ritual bowing is alien to me, but still…One becomes awash in Please’s and Thank You’s. I had expected to be greeted by robots, given the Japanese fascination with high-tech. Instead, from the moment of my arrival at Osaka airport, I could hardly make a move without someone popping up offering to direct me to the exit, to the railway ticket office, to the right train track and the right seat, to a taxi…It went on and on.

Which brings me to the realization that that this plethora or people stems from the fact Japan has decided Japanese ought to work, no matter how many factories they have shipped off to China and elsewhere. Apparently most want to, if only because it’s hard to get unemployment benefits from the government and society as a whole looks down on people not working. A Japan expert friend of mine informed me that some of the employment is useless make-work. Okay. I’ll accept that and I’ll also leave the criticisms of Japan’s slow-mo economy to others.

But I’ll take the personal touch anytime over the American obsession with the draining of department stores of attendants, the disappearance from airports of human helpers, the extinction of actual people answering the phones in offices, and soon, thanks to Amazon and its drones, of someone you know sorting veggies and fruit, and preparing meats at a grocery store.

I decided to look up Japan’s unemployment rate. Wow. It’s about 2.4 per cent, compared with 3.9 per cent in booming Trump Land and 3.5 per cent in steady-as-she goes Germany. The other day, a Bank of Japan official said that was too high! He said Japan needs more people to work so that wages will increase, people will buy more and inflation will go up, which Japan wants.

Don’t know if driving down the already absurdly low unemployment figure will work out for Japan, but seflfishly, if it means one more courteous person to stir the shabu-shabu for me in a Kyoto restaurant, gently asking me to take off my shoes before entering a room or quietly directing me to the old Imperial Palace, I’m all for it.

Pros and cons of Japan’s tight labor market policy. 

Some reasons why Japan’s unemployment is low

Hey slackers. The government wants even more people to get a job 




Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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