Elias Pelcastre

Depressed Japan: The harsh realities of too much work ethic


Twenty-one-year-old Tomoki Takahashi decided to part ways with his home country, Japan, on March 17 this year to live life in the United States. Takahashi currently attends California State University, Northridge as an international student studying the English language. One of the main reasons Takahashi decided to come to the U.S. is to live a happier life. According to a study found in the documentary “Happy”, Japan is the most depressed nation of the wealthiest countries in the world. Takahashi wanted to escape this lifestyle and live in what he considers a happier country.

“The number of smiles is really different,” Takahashi says. “That’s kind of my stereotype. American people are usually laughing with their friends or with their family. On the other hand, Japanese people seem not so happy. They like being with their friends, but not as much as Americans. They are modest. They don’t show their internal emotion.”

Takahashi claims that cooperation and a high work ethic are two of the most important values instilled in Japanese children growing up. Although Japanese children still find time to play and have fun, hard work is still the core value taught to most Japanese children. From the start, they are taught to be serious and condone themselves in a cooperative manner in order to do well, succeed in school and get a good job. Despite these values, BBC news reported that nearly 40 percent of Japanese citizens are unable to find stable jobs.

“Getting some job is really important for Japanese,” Takahashi says. “If you have a family to pay for, they are always dedicated to pay for their family, pay for their partners… they are always trying to be dedicated, work hard and have a good work ethic.”

Japanese culture instills this work ethic into children to become contributing members of society. According to Takahashi, teachers always teach children to be nice and it is within Japanese culture to rid their society of any sort of trouble. Children are taught to behave and earn a status within society.

The high societal pressure in Japan is one of the leading causes of their high suicide rate. The children who don’t grow up and work hard punish themselves because they were not able to achieve what they spent their whole life learning. According to BBC news, suicide is now the single largest killer of Japanese men aged 20-44.

The societal demands and pressures push people beyond their limits and results in many working beyond their capability. Stories have even been recounted of men working themselves to death.

“I’ve heard of some stories of this, watched documentaries and news,” Takahashi says. “Some of my teachers told me the suicide of the working place is kind of common and the number is increasing. The main reason… is because they don’t have any free time to relax with their families and invest their hobby so they are always working… at least they are always working hard for a long time.”

Takahashi experienced the effects of working too hard by observing his dad’s behavior and lifestyle.

“My father is one of those people because he has free time two days a week but during the weekdays he works a lot,” Takahashi said. “He comes home from work and says ‘I’m tired’ or ‘Don’t speak to me’ and even in his free time he looks really tired and doesn’t want to go out to enjoy his weekends. He just stays home and that’s it.”

Takahashi claims that his whole childhood, he was not happy.

“I am not satisfied with my childhood life,” Takahashi says. “I was kind of alone and sometimes I cried because of this.”

Takahashi is just one of many children in Japan that feels neglected by overworking parents. An example of this extreme work ethic is showcased in the documentary “Happy”. The film shows a man riding the subway day after day to go to work where he finds himself pushing his limits to put food on the table. The man eventually collapses at work and is pronounced dead before he makes it to the hospital. In an interview this his wife, she claimed he literally worked himself to death and his heart stopped beating due to the tremendous amount of stress he endured and the unhealthy lifestyle he tried to manage while working too much.

Despite knowing this realty of working too hard, Japanese people continue to work and push themselves for the money and status.

“They are always trying to find their jobs…or to pass the test of getting some jobs,” Takahashi says. “They are always complaining about it but they don’t want to be the person who doesn’t have work. They want a job for status to get some money.”

Although Japanese citizens work hard for the majority of their lives, many people still try to work after they retire around age 65.

“They still try to work in community center, to help children, to help… elderly people,” Takahashi says. “They just want to continue their skill and knowledge.”

Despite the fact that a shocking number of Japanese people are unhappy, committing suicide or are dying from overworking themselves, they continue to live their lives without making an attempt to improve their overall happiness.

Japanese culture centers around cooperation, according to Takahashi. They care about how others perceive them and don’t want to bother the public with too much emotion. Thus, those who are overwhelmingly elated are seen as strange in Japanese culture.

“Sometimes the happy people are seen as weird,” Takahashi says. “It is weird or strange to be super happy. A lot of people try to stay away from them because a majority prefer the quiet.”

This discontented environment drove Takahashi to pursue his dreams of traveling around the world.

Takahashi says his experience in America has helped improve his overall happiness due to the cultural differences.

“I realize that it’s friendly and really important for my life,” Takahashi says. “I communicate with a lot of people and I can share my feelings and what I am thinking about and it’s really helped my life.”

Takahashi expressed his happiness in his decision to come to America but still plans on traveling to different countries to see what culture makes him the happiest.

“For now I am going to travel the around the world,” he says. “That’s for my happiness and to make my life better, to acquire other culture and knowledge.”

Me interviewing Tomoki Takahashi, 21
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