Thursday, 11 April 2013

My Time Has No Monetary Value

Work-Life Balance: A Foreign Term for a Foreign Concept. Work is life...

One of the many unfortunate side effects of Japan’s culture of over-time work is that the concept of an employee’s time having monetary value just doesn’t seem to exist. Because people have to stay at work until late at night regardless, they work inefficiently. Otherwise they get bored. As it is, teachers nap, read the newspaper, spend hours watching youtube videos and gossiping in the tea room. I guess it is similar in other industries, although perhaps not as blatant. I was confronted with the consequences of this way of thinking the other day. We have electric pots (urns?) that heat water and keep it at the right temperature for tea. I finished off the water so I refilled the pot from the kitchen tap. The pot takes about as long as an electric kettle to heat the water. The vice principal asked me to instead boil the water in a copper kettle on the gas stove, then pour it into the electric pot because gas is cheaper than electricity. Can you imagine how little difference it would make to use gas for two minutes versus electricity for two minutes to heat two litres of water? On the other hand, it would take me three or four minutes to do rather than the 30 seconds it took me to put cold water into the pot. My hourly pay rate is considerably more than the electricity bill for the entire day. But that is a fundamentally un-Japanese way of thinking. Here, my time is worthless because it is taken for granted. I'm not being personally upset about it or anything, it was just a reminder of how different cultural values are after a period of time in which I had been feeling pretty settled and "integrated". It isn't just my time that has no monetary value! I asked a teacher once what he did on Saturdays and he said he was a volunteer. I asked where he volunteered, and it turned out that he did the gardening… at school. Teachers also refer to coaching the school sports teams as volunteer work, even though it is compulsory for them. I tried to explain that unpaid overtime and volunteer work aren’t the same thing, but I couldn’t get the point across.  
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