Dulling of the sword. (Japan) David H. Ahl.
Grade B Movie Plot: Aliens land on Earth with plans to take over. All of our conventional weapons fail to stop them. Finally, our germs--or pollen, or water, or something which is commonplace to us--defeats them. Today, a parallel situation may be taking place with respect to Japan and the U.S.
Until quite recently--15 to 20 years ago--nearly all Japanese marriages were arranged. With such a system, neither the man nor woman looked to the marriage for much personal fulfillment. The social life of a man was with his business associates, and it was rare for a wife to meet her husband's friends or vice versa.
However, largely as a result of American movies and television, the concept of romantic love has blossomed in Japan. Thus, today, more than one-quarter of Japanese marriages are "love marriages" rather than arranged ones. As a result, marriage partners are beginning to look to each other for fulfillment. Moreover, beyond the man/woman relationship, the wider effect is an erosion of values and changing of expectations.
The widely held perception is that Japanese workers love their jobs so much that they willingly work long hours, skip vacations, and sacrifice their personal lives to their employers and their country. Not any more, says a recent report issued by the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. The study examined how well jobs and worker values were matched.
Of the six countries included in the study--Britain, Israel, Japan, Sweden, the U.S., and *west Germany--Japan ranked lowest. Only 32 percent of the Japanese questioned felt their jobs and values were well-matched; Britain was second lowest with 36 percent. In contrast, 49 percent of American workers and 55 percent of Israeli workers felt their values and jobs were well matched. As for Japan, the report concludes, "The changing value standard of the younger Japanese job-holders may well cause significant changes in tomorrow's Japanese--and world--economy."
Many Japanese researchers and managers agree. Tamotsu Sengoku, director of the Japan Youth Research Institute, observes that younger Japanese workers are more like Americans than the older generations. They work very hard on the job, but when the workday is over, they move quickly to their own pursuits, to family and friends. Traditionally, before and after the formal workday, Japanese workers spent time with their peers and supervisors in quality control circles or having a drink discussing how to improve their company's products. Say Atsuko Toyama, author of A Theory on the Modern Freshman (the name for a new college graduate), "The younger workers do what they are told and not one iota more."
According to a study by the Japan Recruitment Center, more recent college graduates describe themselves as oriented to the home (72 percent in 1983 compared to 66 percent in 1976). On the other hand, the divorce rate has also increased sharply in the past five years. Still far less than the U.S., about two percent of all Japanese households consist of a mother raising children under 20 years old. Furthermore, the number of women raising children born out of wedlock has increased by 250 percent over the past ten years.
Unlike the U.S., divorced women in Japan generally do not receive alimony or child support from the father. Instead, it is common for men to pay their wives a lump sum upon separation. While this trend has not had a noticeable impact on the economy to date, it is likely that in the future an increasing number of women will have to work during the years they are traditionally expected to spend at home with their childred. This is likely to further erode the traditional work ethic and values of the youngsters in these households.
In an article about the Japanese work ethic in Fortune (May 14, 1984), Lee Smith opines, !In a sense, the rejection of work as a total way of life is not only understandable but healthy. Economic prosperity isn't supposed to be an end in itself. It's supposed to deliver people from exhausting drudgery so they can find pleasure in life beyond day-to-day survival."
Smith concludes, "The Japanese work ethic will almost certainly not collapse, although it may sag enough to slow the country down."