1980s >> 1988 >> no-1006-june-1988

Tokyo’s standard of living

The image of Japanese business methods and industry – happy workers doing their best in a paternalistic environment – has been held up to us as an example to follow if we want a “prosperous Britain” and high living standards for ourselves. The Japanese way of industrial life has been introduced here: no Union or one Union, no strike deals; works managers wearing overalls like machine operators; everyone from the managing director down eating the same food in the same canteen. Equality and prosperity for all . . .  so we are told.

Intriguing therefore to open The Times and see the headline “Tokyo wage slaves resist leisure lure”. It seems that things in the Land of Blossom are not as idyllic as they would have us think.

Life, it seems, is getting harder for the indoctrinated workaholics of Tokyo. The government may be trying to persuade them to take two day week-ends, but, high prices having forced moves into the suburbs, they have longer commuting times, and fewer staff mean longer working hours under greater pressure. Tokyo’s workers are beginning to realise that “their” economy may be booming but they themselves have nothing to show for their extra effort. A recent trade union survey showed that 76 per cent felt overworked and 90 per cent find it hard to make ends meet. Holidays are still the exception rather than the rule as workers fear to lose out on promotion when employers still rate hours worked above results achieved. Is it too much to hope that, after so many years of hardworking unquestioning obedience these first stirrings of awareness are signs that workers in Japan are waking up to their exploited position? Compared with workers in other developed countries their standard of living may be high, but what a standard of life!

Eva Goodman