I have a life long interest in Japan and pretty much everything concerning the country, it’s past and future. I recently watched a documentary one night at around 4am, another one of those sleepless nights. The documentary was called "Coming here soon, Japan Fall of the Rising Sun." a three parter series where the young presenter explores how the recession effects different countries and cultures.
First she visited Greece with its major financial difficulty and concerns with violence and possibilities of leaving the euro, next was northern Ireland with its long history of unrest and unemployment. And lastly was Japan, who has spent the last 20 odd years in a recession and shows no signs of recovering.
Japan been in a state of economical crisis since the late 80's which occured from what was called the "bubble economy", as with recessions, there was a mass cuts to jobs, umemployment went up as well as the cost of living and increase in working hours to cover redundancies.
The documentary followed this young lady to interview a series of people throughout Japan, the japanese culture is one that encourages ethics of working hard, no complaining and keeping the family's honour by doing the right job, employment, career, lifestyle etc...
This has always been the Japanese way for as long as there's been Japan. If you failed to uphold honour well...it doesnt bear thinking about.
There was a strange outcome to the recession. It became a media sensation where across the country, white collar workers, in their prime and with no hint of illness suddenly started to drop dead.
The media and eventually the people called it Karoshi...meaning "worked to death."
Government figures state that 300 people a year due as a result of karoshi but unions in Japan believe the actual number to be in its thousands.
Its common place for worker to work six days a week 18-20 hour days on poor pay. Many people are homeless but sleep in 24 hour cyber cafes that now cater for the mass demand by making the small cubicals furnished with sleeping mats. The presenter slept in one of these herself, reporting they were hot, noisey and the constant hum of computers, people moving around made getting sleep a chore.
Students fighting over each other for employment but not any job, jobs that are deemed respectful in their parents eyes. If they are successful, they then often have to do roughly 2 week training courses and exams and need to pass these before actually being a succesful recruit...a somewhat stressful route!
If they fail to pass, many have threatened they would kill themselves.
The presenter even went to a forest that stretches for many miles, popular with people who venture into its depths to commit suicide. There, she found many meters of ribbons tied and strung from tree to tree. She was informed that each ribbon was tied there by a person who then ventures into the forest, if they changed their mind and aborted their suicide attempt, they would follow their ribbon back out the forest, a place so easy to get lost.
If however they go through their attempts, the ribbon would help volunteers find the body and take it back to the family for burial.
It was eerie as a viewer to watch people climb through the forest, stepping over all these ribbons fluttering in the breeze, so many lost souls coming to one place. You dont know the outcome for each person, each ribbon tangled in the forest, an untold story.
Trees covered in graffiti with things like "we are dead" and where bodies have been found, small shrines and white flowers were laid.
Its amazing to see how a recession can affect a country and a generation like this, especially when the youth, the young 20-somethings are indeed becoming the lost generation.
And Japan with by our standards, its extreme pressures, traditions and views...combined with this econmical disaster, it is having a deadly result for this lost generation that can't go anywhere and left with limited or even no options at some point.
Like the presenter, I too wonder how long will our country start going this way? Maybe not to the extremes of Japan as cultural differences regarding honour and need to have a respectable job is different but eventually the pressures of trying to find work, keep a roof over your head and trying to basically live day to day could become too much and push people to make their final fatal decision.
The recession is already had a devastating effect in my family with a member of family commiting suicide after the closure of a popular high street brand here in Britain just being the final thing that pushed him over the edge towards ending his life. Although the recession isn't entirely to blame, it is a contributing factor in this circumstances and I'm guessing in others too.
Couples are too broke to divorce are having to stay and live in the same house together as they simply cannot go anywhere.
It is cheaper now to have a mortgage than it is to rent...which is fine but very people can afford to buy a house and having to pay out more for the simple cost of living which has gone up whereas the wages have stayed the same or worst, gone down.
And the people who have houses are losing them too....! Which is pressuring people to stay in dead-end jobs they hate and working all hours to bring some money in...
The documentary revealed that many of the lucky japanese who find work will work straight up to 18-20 hours a day, go home to rest for a few hours then come back and do it again for 6 days a week. There is even reports of people working 24 hours a day up to ten days in a row! And due to work cuts, people are having to do the work of many but with only one person. they don't complain about it, their culture discourages complaints so this isn't really something that is openly talked about.
Karoshi..."worked to death." If we are not careful in this, we too in Britain could eventually head this way. There is already a huge influx of people being diagnosed with mental health problems, it wont be long before the worst starts to happen and we stress ourselves to an early grave, due to the economic crisis that was beyond our control in the first place...stupid banks!
I will admit to knowing very little about economics, politics etc... but the programme remided me that Japan although different is also the same, a lost generation of workaholics in a society that encourages you to buy and live beyond your means could be ending up heading to the same destination as each other.
The word karoshi describes the situation and everything so well, and one I wont be forgetting as well as its lesson.
What do you think?