Last month, I ranted on about 5 things that I think Japan could import from other countries. One thing that I missed on that list, and this list as well, is a work-life balance. Japan definitely doesn’t have anything resembling a work-life balance, and with the recent belt tightening, it has only gotten worse. I’ve heard stories of a few people taking on the job of two and burning a lot of midnight oil to keep their jobs.
I could probably write an entire blog post about work-life balance (and probably will at some point), so I’m not going to discuss it in too much detail here. Instead, I’d like to give the next 5 things that I’d like to see in Japan:
5. Education reform
Okay so this is a horse that has been beaten bloody way too many times, but as a father of a 3 year old that will soon join the education system, I think it is important to at least mention the state of education in Japan. The problem has multiple facets that need to be addressed in order to really build more efficient system. As a matter of fact this probably another topic I could write a full post on, so I’ll just go over the key points here.
First, every public school across the nation follows pretty much the exact same curriculum and exact same books. This would be a good system if the people at the top were perfect and could write accurate and truthful textbook. But, of course no one is perfect, and so I encounter students on a regular basis who are stunned to find out that we pronounce the word ‘the’ pretty much the same even if it comes before a vowel sound. And why students regular respond to ‘How are you doing?’ with ‘Yes.’ The list goes on and on, because the same wrong textbook was used.
Second, is the immense amount of time and energy that goes into shoveling raw facts into kids’ heads. This raw information without any critical thinking applied is next to useless in an age of Google and on-demand information. The way things are going, we are already searching for things using voice, and it is not unthinkable that we will have the ability to search for things with our thoughts. With that instant connection to information why is there such a focus on memorization?
Now, knowing facts about the world is important, don’t get me wrong. You can’t, for example, have an effective discussion on the effects of the cold war on current policy if you are spending half the time looking up facts on Google. But, learning of facts is a lifelong process. And to make use of those facts you need critical thinking.
4. Unique Women Heros
Legally speaking, women have a lot of rights in Japan. There, in theory, are no obstructions to receiving equal pay and equal opportunities in the workplace. However, women still occupy considerably small portion of the leadership workforce. Most of the women working in companies today are forced on to a cleric track that, at best, will allow them to be executive assistants to the president. But, this seems to be a huge misuse of resources to me.
The problem is incredibly difficult to solve due to a lot of entrenched cultural norms. The Economist has an amazing article that captures almost every angle of the problem that I encourage you to give a read if you are more interested in this topic. But, just to summarize, the company culture in Japan is still set to men are the leaders, women are the clerics.
I’ll just give you one example. In the States, I worked in sales for a large B2B company. At least half of the sales reps were women; women tend to be good sales people in my opinion. Anyway, I’ve taught a few corporate lessons to sales staff here in Japan and the entire team is men. In sales, this is a tough problem, because sales staff usually take buyers out to hostess clubs and such, which obviously female staff would have a hard time doing. There are other ways of doing business of course but this is the usual way.
Another problem is that some women simply don’t want to work. And to be honest, I can’t really blame them. I have more than a few friends that are married to doctors, execs, etc… and they live a life of luxury. They are still busy and working hard to raise their kids, but they also typically go on a weekend trip once a month and a long (sometimes up to a month) trip once a year. Meanwhile, the husband puts in long hours, barely sleeps, and is maybe rewarded with a week long trip a year. If you have that going for you, who wants to work outside the home?
Japan is slowly changing though. More woman are interested in working and staying employed their whole lives (instead of simply quitting after getting married or having a baby). This change is a bit too slow, though. So, I propose my own weird solution, unique women heros.
Okay, so the right word to use here is role model, but I hate that word because it has too much of a school guidance counselor feel to it. Hero sounds so much cooler. And that is what is needed really. It needs to become popular and cool to break from the norms.
For whatever reason, I was always a poor reader in school. I read way too slow, and just didn’t really enjoy it. These days, I have a lot better time with audiobooks. It is a lot easier for me to listen while I’m walking, cooking, cleaning, or doing some other kind of physical activity. I have been able to ‘read’ a lot more material than I ever would if I simply read books.
And audiobooks are a great resource to learn languages because you get listening practice in as well as reading if you put the audio together with the text. It is especially helpful in Japanese where you are sometimes unable to actually read the language because you don’t recognize the kanji.
That’s why it is a little sad that there is an utter lack of good audiobooks in Japanese. Most of the audiobooks that do exist are short, self-help type books from what I’ve seen. Luckily, the first two books of Harry Potter were recorded as audiobooks, but that is where they stopped. Obviously audiobooks aren’t as popular in Japan as in other places. I’m not sure why this is. It seems like it would be pretty convenient as well as discrete to listen to an audiobook on the train to work instead of having to open up novel on the train.
2. Buyer’s Market for Jobs
Why is it that companies hire employees almost a year before the even graduate college? Then keep them on for years, even when they obviously aren’t a fit for the company? I could understand if there were shortages of good employees, but their aren’t. There are always people looking for jobs, so why do you need to hire people that you barely know, and haven’t even completed the basic requirements of graduating from college yet?
Nobody wants to lose their job obviously, and everyone likes job security. But, sometimes in life you make the wrong decision about your career and it would be helpful to be able to turn that around and work somewhere else, but you can’t so easily. And keeping on unmotivated, uninspired workers is draining to a companies efficiency. If those employees could jump ship to somewhere that motivates them more, everybody wins. The new company gets a happy new employee, the old company can hire a new hopefully more motivated employee.
1. Las Vegas of Japan
There is some buzz going around about the possibility of building ‘integrated resorts’ on par with those in Las Vegas and Macau. The bill recently got shot down due to some political scandals in Abe’s cabinet, but I would like to see it be revived. I have personally never been to a casino, and probably won’t be frequenting one anytime soon, but I think it would be a good boost for the economy.
Some were suggesting that the resorts could be built in Osaka bay, where a large section of land lays relatively vacant waiting for some Olympic games that will probably not come anytime soon. And although that could be a good use of space relatively close to a large international airport, I think it would be better to revitalize a rural section of the country that is dying out like Tohoku or Chuugoku (no not China, the section of Japan between Kansai and Kyushu).
My reasoning for this is simple. A lot of anti-casino lawmakers are against the bill due to concerns of gambling addiction, which is a valid concern. So, how about putting it in a place that is a little hard to get to? Much like Las Vegas in the States, it can isolate the casinos and make it more difficult for individuals to make a regular habit of going there. And we get to have a lot of nice cheap hotels and shows like Las Vegas.
Is that all?
What else would you like to see in Japan? Let me know in the comments.