Before I came to Vancouver two and half years ago, I had been working for a small company in Japan for 4 years as a new university graduate. As a matter of fact, I was and still am working long hours (now the difference is I come home to continue working). It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s not that bad as you think.

Why do Japanese people work such long hours?

Ever since I started my career in North America, I’ve encountered a lot of answers to this question which criticize the Japanese mentality. Some of the answers I’ve come across are:

– They are not allowed to leave until their boss leaves
– They don’t have hobbies to spend their time on.
– Their productivity is extremely low.

Though I know a few Japanese people who stay late at work for one of the reasons listed above, I would argue that it hasn’t always been the case, or at least not in my circle of friends.

In this article, I’m hoping to show the rationale for working long hours from a young Japanese person’s point of view, or at least my own. Here we go.

We Love What We Do & Want To Be Good at What We Do

I have a favorite quote from someone (forgot whose quote it was) which is: “If you want to do something, use money. If you don’t have enough money to play, use your brain. If you are not smart enough, then use your time.” This quote has taught me that even if you are not fortunate enough to have either wealth or intelligence, you still have time to invest.

When I first landed a job in Japan as a new university graduate, I wasn’t capable of doing anything and had to work harder than anyone else to stand out and to make myself worth being hired. Along with some luck, I ended up being promoted to a department manager in my first year of employment. To be frank, I wasn’t (and am not) that sharp of a guy and just patiently spent time working and studying hard to figure out what worked and what didn’t work.

From this experience, I learned how I can become better at things: spending time. Especially if I want to get good at it in a short period of time, then I need to work longer hours – it’s simple math.
You might say that I’m not planning my day well enough. Although I’m not good at planning ahead, I’m getting to see what I am capable of doing within 8 hours a day, albeit on one condition: only when I work on tasks I’m used to do.

When I do something challenging or that I’ve never done before, I usually fail to estimate hours and go over time. It happens a quite often, which may be because I’m young enough to be willing to take a chance and to make it work without sacrificing the original timeline laid out.

We Ensure We Deliver What We Promised

We ensure we deliver what we promised. That’s what it’s called being a professional, isn’t it?

Work is a never ending process and it can never be completed regardless of how much longer you work. We’re cognizant of that fact.

However, there is always an unexpected event happening during a project. It may cause delays in a project even if you’ve put in buffer beforehand just in case. For instance, as mentioned in The 3 Worst Mistakes That Devastated My Marketing Projects, I was in a devastating situation where the vendor I worked with disappeared all of a sudden near the deadline (to be fair, it wasn’t their fault, but was me being a jerk to them), but I still had to deliver what I had promised to deliver.

Though I could say to my client at that point that I can’t deliver what I promised due to the incident, I ended up choosing an option to cover up their work by myself because I felt it was partly my fault that the vendor had run away and I couldn’t justify the reason for being behind schedule.

My point here is that it hasn’t always been easy to provide what you promise consistently, especially when you do something challenging.

Bottom Line

It might have sounded a bit hostile to state these things, but you must understand that I couldn’t stand all the negative comments about Japanese people working long hours and I want you to know that there are some positive motivations behind the long work hours for Japanese people.

Header Image: Unsplash