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Work Life in Japan - Personal Observations and Reflections

For today's post and a few more after this, I intend to expound upon different aspects of Japan that I believe clearly display the need for the good news of Jesus Christ in Japan. I want to help paint a picture for you to better understand our heart and vision for Japan and God's kingdom.

I read an article today from the Japan times. A Japanese Doctor's suicide in 2015 was determined to be work related (Karojisatsu - suicide from overwork and stressful working conditions) after having clocked in over 200 hours of overtime in 1 month. In fact over the course of three years of his work he clocked in anywhere from 140 to 208 hours of overtime in a month. The month prior to his suicide he had logged 173 hours of overtime. While recent laws have been passed to try and prohibit the amount of overtime the Japanese workforce is allowed, Doctors and medical professionals were left out of the latest legislation in light of their oath to not turn anyone in need of medical attention away. This Doctor was working roughly 16+ hours a day for an entire month! This was typical of his work schedule over the course of 3 years. Can you imagine? In a sermon I preached at our church not long ago, I expounded upon this phenomenon known in Japan as Karoshi - "death from overwork." I found information on it from a study done by the UN in 2013 ( here are 4 typical cases they shared in their report:

  1. Mr A worked at a major snack food processing company for as long as 110 hours a week (not a month) and died from heart attack at the age of 34. His death was approved as work-related by the Labour Standards Office.

  2. Mr B, a bus driver, whose death was also approved as work-related, worked more than 3,000 hours a year. He did not have a day off in the 15 days before he had stroke at the age of 37.

  3. Mr C worked in a large printing company in Tokyo for 4,320 hours a year including night work and died from stroke at the age of 58. His widow received a workers’ compensation 14 years after her husband’s death.

  4. Ms D, a 22 year-old nurse, died from a heart attack after 34 hours’ continuous duty five times a month.

What stands out to you about these "cases"? Not cases, but human lives. Humans who were made in the image of God (imago Dei). Made with a purpose. According to the 2016 Karoshi report published by the Japanese government and explored in the following article from the Japan Times,, the percentage of workers who clocked in over 100 hours of overtime in a month was 38% for truckers and postal workers, 40% in research and technology sectors and 44% in the information and communications sector. These numbers are staggering to me. Another article I read reports that the Japanese government is considering adding a weeklong "kid's holiday" in 2018 to encourage workers to take their paid leave and spend time with their family as currently less than half the working population takes their paid leave yearly. In my next post we'll look at the reality of the declining birth rate in Japan but suffice to say, the amount of overwork in Japan is tied up with less of the population being interested in making babies. How are you going to do that if you are working these crazy long hours?! The implications of this work culture are far reaching and manifesting themselves even today. The government is aware of it and trying to find ways to curb this unsettling trend, but will it be enough? Can a man made government really change a culture or society with more laws? I'm not arguing that they shouldn't try, indeed they should do all they can but I think we can agree that there are plenty of other cases in other countries with other governments, societal issues etc. that still have not been made better despite the best efforts of men and women who deeply care about the well being of their people. I've been (slowly) reading through a book with a buddy from my church called, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, by Tom Nelson. I highly recommend it to any believer who finds themselves just trying to survive to the weekend, or just trying to get the bills paid on time. The Biblical perspective that is offered regarding the significance of our work is refreshing and dare I say one that could even lead to real lasting change. I'll share briefly my thoughts on a wider perspective on the theology of our everyday work. We all have some level of familiarity of the first book of the Bible (Genesis) and the first story in the book (creation). What I want to point out from the second chapter in Genesis is that before sin entered the world, when everything was still good, God intended and even commanded the first man to work and keep the garden. Remember earlier where I mentioned Imago Dei (made in His image)? The first thing we see God do at the beginning is work. Not only that but He gives the first man and woman a clear distinctive, that they too are to work the garden. Have you considered that? Before the fall, before anything went wrong, we were made with the intent to work! Does that maybe change the way you approach Monday morning. That there is actually far more to it then just clocking in and out and getting your pay check for services provided. That there is a divine imprint on your very nature to work. If your at all like me, than anytime I've completed a project, whether it's yard work, making something with my hands, a home improvement project, painting, whatever it is, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment even if it's a small thing. Maybe that sense of accomplishment echoes that original imprint and design of what we were meant to do and be, maybe. But the harsh reality is our work today is a curse to us, right? Genesis chapter 3: we believed the lie that we could handle the knowledge of good and evil better than God and as a consequence, man's work is cursed, it becomes a burden to him and so it is to us today. It's a curse that leads to death. I would posit to you that the curse of work is seen no more clearly than in the culture of overwork in Japan. Where people, image bearers, bear instead a heavy load, a load that wears them out, that brings death whether from Karoshi or Karojisatsu. Death from overwork is not what we are made for, it is not what the people of Japan were made for. We were made as image bearers to show the Glory of God and His attributes that can be known in our everyday work. What would change for you Monday morning if you went to work with that mindset? What would change for the country of Japan if it's people believed and knew that they were made bearing His image to work for their good and His glory leading not to death, but to life? Thanks for reading, I'm interested to hear your thoughts or comments. Feel free to message me as I always enjoy good dialogue. As I said, in my next post I'll look more into this greater issue of relationships in Japan and the declining birthrate crisis they are facing. From there I plan to post on more specifically our hope and vision for what life will look like for the Grove family in Japan, making disciples alongside his church. P.S. as it seems relevant to this post, my last day at my amazing employer for the last 5 years is coming up in October. I'll be going on staff with my church, Karis, in order to continue looking to raise the necessary support to get to Japan next year. I have never worked at a company that loves it's employees so well and I am grateful to have had the privilege to work for them in this season of life! I will miss them dearly.

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