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Japan's job-for-life culture has survived war, earthquakes and now a pandemic

June 30, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Nanami Kodaira hasn't worked since her hair salon in Tokyo cut its hours in April in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the millions of people in Nanami's position suggest that Japan has avoided the mass layoffs seen in countries like the United States, economists say it still masks a serious threat facing Japan, which is already mired in recession.

That's because Japan's practice of holding onto workers through economic tumult could actually backfire, they say, since doing so could make companies and their employees less nimble.

One-fifth of the working population has been employed with the same company for more than 20 years in Japan, or double the comparable figure in the United States, according to government data.

Legal hurdles also make it more challenging for companies in Japan to cut jobs compared to their western counterparts.

What's more, like in western countries, a person in Japan has to be actively looking for a job to be counted as unemployed — a practice analysts have long criticized because it may conceal the true jobless rate.

Over the long term, analysts say Japanese companies may lose flexibility and productivity by keeping workers employed, even if those people can't actually do their jobs.

So entrenched are Japan's labor practices that new words have cropped up to describe the idly employed, from calling them the "madogiwazoku" (a phrase meaning "tribes at the windowsill") during the 1970s, to the more recent phenomenon of "in-house unemployment" — the concept of a worker who goes to his or her job but is assigned nothing to do.

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