sábado, 23 de junio de 2018

Bento, karoshi, inemuri

Japón es un bello, extraño país. En más de un sentido nos anticipa tendencias futuras de las sociedades desarrolladas. Su curva demográfica va en descenso, crece la población anciana, bajan los matrimonios y la tasa de nacimientos está por el suelo. ¿Cómo solucionar el problema en un sistema típicamente capitalista de crecimiento infinito? Respuesta: trabajar a destajo, rozando lo inhumano, en un esquema donde cada segundo cuenta. Reproducimos hoy cuatro notas del New York Times sobre distintas situaciones relativas al trabajo en el Japón actual. Advertencia: lo que sigue es de contenido inapropiado para el empleado público latinoamericano promedio. La primera de las notas es de Yonette Joseph y Makiko Inoue: 

Título: He Left Work for 3 Minutes Before His Lunch Break. Now His Pay Is Docked

Texto: For the want of a bento box, a Japanese worker who habitually left his desk three minutes before his official lunch break has been docked half a day’s pay.

The transgression prompted four senior officials at the city waterworks department in Kobe to hold a news conference offering a public apology for the worker’s conduct.

It’s deeply regrettable that this misconduct took place. We’re sorry,” one bureau official said, as all four bowed deeply.

The unidentified 64-year-old employee was fined thousands of yen and reprimanded after an investigation found that he had left the office to order a bento box ahead of his lunch break on 26 occasions over a seven-month period, an official said.

The case caught the eye of social media users in a country known for its struggle with maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

It’s sheer madness. It’s crazy,” said one Twitter user.

Is this a bad joke? Does this mean we cannot even go to the bathroom?” said another.

Japan’s work culture can be brutally punishing, spawning cases like that of Miwa Sado, a young journalist at a public broadcaster who died of congestive heart failure after clocking 159 hours of overtime in one month. She was 31.

Employees consider napping in public — or in the office — a badge of honor. It telegraphs a sign of diligence and commitment: You are working yourself to the bone.

Public acknowledgment by officials and leaders of perceived wrongdoings is also expected in Japan, where rail conductors will beg forgiveness when a train is even a minute late, or early.

Such was the case November, when the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company in Tokyo apologized on its website because a train left a station in Chiba, a suburban prefecture, 20 seconds early.

But the case of the waterworks employee calls into question the country’s efforts to address a rise in karoshi, or death from overwork. In a 2016 government report on karoshi, nearly a quarter of companies surveyed said some employees were working more than 80 hours of overtime a month.

Months later, Tadashi Ishii, the president of the advertising agency Dentsu, announced his resignation after an outcry over the 2015 death of Matsuri Takahashi, 24, an employee who had killed herself by jumping from the roof of an employee dormitory.

In May, the Lower House of Parliament passed a bill to improve working conditions, setting equal pay for equal work by prohibiting unfair treatment of non-regular workers. If approved, the bill would place a cap on overtime work, with penalties for violations: Annual overtime would be limited to 720 hours, with a monthly curb at fewer than 100 hours.

But critics argue that some of the provisions would worsen the problem of excessive working hours: The bill would exempt highly skilled and highly paid workers since their salaries would be based on results, not hours worked.

Residents whose loved ones had died or had killed themselves were in the chamber, holding photos of the deceased, as the voting took place, according to local news outlets. The bill was sent to the Upper House.

Gen Oka, who is in charge of personnel affairs of the waterworks bureau of Kobe City, said in an interview on Friday that the employee had “left his desk about three minutes or so between 11:30 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. 26 times between September 2017 and March 2018.”

The employee, who is in charge of inventory control, told his supervisors that he went to a nearby restaurant to order a bento lunch because he needed a “change of pace.” But, the official said, “ordering lunch should be done during his lunch break, between noon and 1 p.m.

The worker was caught when a senior colleague looked out his office window and spotted him walking to get food. Senior management calculated how much time he had spent away from his desk and docked him “thousands of yen as punishment,” Mr. Oka said, adding, “He said, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I will never do that again.’ ”

The official acknowledged that since making the announcement on June 15, the department had received some blowback, with people calling or writing on its website to complain. “We received about 50 or 60 such opinions,” he said.

But the department also got some support, he said, from people who said “we shouldn’t hire such a person who leaves the desk during working hours.

He defended the department’s decision, saying, “It is our obligation as public servants to devote ourselves to the work.

On Twitter, the waterworks employee’s punishment drew puzzlement and criticism.

Leaving the desk for three minutes to order bento is not O.K., while leaving for 15 minutes smoking is allowed? That’s strange. Kobe City should explain it,” one person wrote.

Honestly, who cares? This is an unprecedented apology news conference,” another social media user said, adding, “Is it much of a loss for the city that four managers hold a news conference like this?”

Another person said: “What about all the politicians who sleep in Parliament? They ought to be fired, then.”


La que sigue es de Makiko Inoue y Megan Specia. Habla de una chica, Miwa Sado (foto de arriba):

Título: Young Worker Clocked 159 Hours of Overtime in a Month. Then She Died

Subtítulo: The newsroom of the Japanese broadcaster NHK in 2012. Inspectors determined that the grueling work schedule of a young journalist who worked there led to her death in 2013.CreditKosuke Okhara for The New York Times

Texto: Miwa Sado, a young journalist for Japan’s state-run broadcaster, spent the summer of 2013 frantically covering two local elections in Tokyo.

Over the course of a month, she clocked 159 hours of overtime. She rarely took weekends off. She worked until midnight nearly every night. On her birthday, June 26, she emailed her parents, who thought she sounded weak.

Not quite a month later, just days after the second election, she died of congestive heart failure. She was 31.

The case — the latest high-profile example of karoshi, or “death from overwork” — came to light only after the broadcaster, NHK, announced it this week.

Karoshi became widely recognized as a phenomenon in the late 1980s, as stories of blue-collar employees keeling over at work appeared to expose a sinister side to Japan’s postwar economic miracle. Over the years, cases of karoshi have been reported among white-collar executives, automotive engineers and immigrant trainees.

In a 2016 government report on karoshi, nearly a quarter of companies surveyed said that some employees were working more than 80 hours of overtime a month. Months later, the president of the advertising agency Dentsu resigned after an outcry over the 2015 death of an employee, Matsuri Takahashi, 24, who jumped from the roof of an employee dormitory.

Like Ms. Takahashi, Ms. Sado was a young woman making her way in a blue-chip organization. Her employer is considered one of the most prestigious companies in Japan, a country where exhaustion is often seen as a sign of diligence.

A 2014 government investigation found that Ms. Sado’s death was a direct result of her work life.

She was under circumstances that she could not secure enough days off due to responsibilities that required her to stay up very late,” the labor office in the Shibuya section of Tokyo said in a statement to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The office described her as being “in a state of accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation” at the time of her death.

The broadcaster said it had delayed revealing details about Ms. Sado’s death out of respect for her family and timed the release to coincide with planned workplace changes.

We decided to disclose her death to all of our employees and to the public to share the company’s resolve to prevent a recurrence and follow through with reforms,” NHK said.

Ryoichi Ueda, the president of NHK, said that Ms. Sado’s parents “hoped we would take utmost efforts so that another such case won’t happen again.”

But Ms. Sado’s parents criticized NHK’s response as inadequate. In a statement published by the Asahi Shimbun on Thursday, they said they feared that her death would be forgotten and “wondered if the company would keep hiding it, or why the union kept silent.”

Her parents also asked why the company had not limited their daughter’s working hours.

It is an abnormal work situation to work almost every day on Saturday and Sunday, working until late at night every day, so we cannot understand why such a situation was overlooked,” their statement said.

Although they did not immediately publicize their daughter’s death, they said that Ms. Takahashi’s case had spurred them to publicly discuss it.

They also criticized NHK for not disseminating news of their daughter’s death throughout the company. They said that other employees — even journalists who had reported on other cases of karoshi — did not know that one of their colleagues had died from the condition.

Karoshi, which has included the burden of entertaining clients or bosses in some industries, has long prompted calls for legislation.

The Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, in a white paper released last year on the prevention of karoshi, noted that the “undeniable problems in Japan’s work environment” were especially detrimental to regular employees under age 35.

National guidelines use a threshold of 100 hours of overtime in a month — or an average of 80 hours of monthly overtime in a six-month period — to determine whether a worker is at risk of physical or mental harm. Those guidelines were put forward by a government panel in April, but critics say that more is needed.

In February, the Japanese government and the Keidanren, Japan’s largest business group, introduced an effort dubbed “Premium Friday” that encouraged companies to allow workers to leave the office at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of the month.


Esta que sigue es By Bryant Rousseau; cuenta la simpática costumbre del "inemuri":

Título: Napping in Public? In Japan, That’s a Sign of Diligence

Subtítulo: Sleeping in public is especially prevalent on commuter trains, no matter how crowded, in Japan. It helps that the country has a very low crime rate

Texto: In most countries, sleeping on the job isn’t just frowned upon, it may get you fired.

But in Japan, napping in the office is common and culturally accepted. And in fact, it is often seen as a subtle sign of diligence: You must be working yourself to exhaustion.

The word for it is “inemuri.” It is often translated as “sleeping on duty,” but Brigitte Steger, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies at Downing College, Cambridge, who has written a book on the topic, says it would be more accurate to render it as “sleeping while present.”

That, she said, captures Japan’s approach to time, where it’s seen as possible to do multiple things simultaneously, if at a lower intensity. So you can get credit for attending that boring quarterly sales meeting while also dreaming of a beach vacation.

Inemuri is most prevalent among more senior employees in white-collar professions, Dr. Steger said. Junior employees tend to want to stay awake all day and be seen as energetic, and workers on assembly lines can’t just nod off.

Both sexes indulge in inemuri, but women are more likely to be criticized for it, especially if they sleep in a position that is considered unbecoming, Dr. Steger said.

Inemuri has been practiced in Japan for at least 1,000 years, and it is not restricted to the workplace. People may nap in department stores, cafes, restaurants or even a snug spot on a busy city sidewalk.

A 2015 study found that 39.5 percent of Japanese adults slept less than six hours a night.

Sleeping in public is especially prevalent on commuter trains, no matter how crowded; they often turn into de facto bedrooms. It helps that Japan has a very low crime rate.

It’s very unlikely, if you are sleeping on a train, that someone would try to rob you,” said Theodore C. Bestor, a professor of social anthropology at Harvard University.

Sleeping in social situations can even enhance your reputation. Dr. Steger recalled a group dinner at a restaurant where the male guest of a female colleague fell asleep at the table. The other guests complimented his “gentlemanly behavior” — that he chose to stay present and sleep, rather than excuse himself.

One reason public sleeping may be so common in Japan is that people get so little sleep at home. A 2015 government study found that 39.5 percent of Japanese adults slept less than six hours a night.

An unwritten rule of inemuri is to sleep compactly, without “violating spatial norms,” Professor Bestor said. “If you stretched out under the table in the office conference room, or took up several spaces on the train, or laid out on a park bench,” he said, that would draw reproach for being socially disruptive.

Dr. Steger pointed out that closed eyes may not always equal shut-eye: A person may close them just to build a sphere of privacy in a society with little of it.

That’s part of why Dr. Steger said she could imagine inemuri waning in Japan. These days, smartphones can transport people to their own private zones with their eyes wide open.


Por último, acá va una nota de Motoko Rich y Makiko Inoue:

Título: Japanese Train Leaves 20 Seconds Early. Cue the Abject Apologies

Subtítulo: It may have been the most profusely regretted 20 seconds in history.

TextoLiving up to Japan’s reputation for being precise as well as contrite, a train company in Tokyo delivered a formal apology on Tuesday because one of its trains left a station just 20 seconds early.

In a country where conductors will beg forgiveness when a train is even a minute late, the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company posted an apology on its website Tuesday for “the severe inconvenience imposed upon our customers” when the No. 5255 Tsukuba Express train left Minami-Nagareyama station in Chiba, a suburban prefecture east of Tokyo, at 9:44:20 a.m., instead of as scheduled at 9:44:40 a.m.

According to the statement, the train arrived at Minami-Nagareyama on time, at precisely 9:43:40 a.m. But when it came time to leave, the overeager crew closed the doors prematurely and pulled out of the station ahead of schedule. According to Metropolitan Intercity, no passengers missed the train or complained about the jump-start.

The effusive apology was in keeping with a culture where an ice cream company ran a television advertisement to express regret for raising the price of an ice cream bar by 10 yen last spring.

As the foreign news media began to cover the news Thursday, observers abroad expressed envy on Twitter at the trainspotting exactitude.

People overseas are half amazed and praised Japan but even Japanese would laugh at this,” a user with the handle @gaishi_black wrote on Twitter.

According to one article this month on the Gendai Business website, Tsukuba Express, which carries 130 million passengers a year, markets its “safety and high speed.” The article listed what it described as “concerning” incidents from earlier in the year, including two cases of trains stopping in the wrong position and an episode where customers were stuck in elevators at a station for 30 minutes.

Thursday’s microscopically early train passed with no apparent impact other than a few laughs on social media, unlike a deadly crash in 2005 that killed more than 100 passengers when the train driver began speeding to make up for a lost 90 seconds in the schedule.

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