Dec 5, 2017

"I can't come home until the boss leaves" - the joys of working in Japan

I should preface this by saying that I'm not the party in this equation who has been working in Japan. My husband is the one who has been working here for the last 4 years, the first year of which was spent completing a fellowship program and doing placements within Japanese government departments. During that time was my first insight into what life is like for someone working in Japan - and the starkest difference to me from life back home was the "I can't come home until the boss leaves" concept.

"I can't come home until the boss leaves" - the joys of working in Japan photo

I'm from Australia originally, and I like to think that there, we go by the saying "work hard, play hard". We're not slackers by any means, but when that clock hits 5pm (or whatever designated clock off time might be) then most people are already high-tailing it out of work. Here though, the concept always seems to be "I can't leave until the boss does". I can't count the number of times that I ate late dinners alone and had to let the husband's just go cold, because his boss was sitting around the office and it would have been "inappropriate" to leave.

The nail in the coffin for me though was one night when the husband had to attend an after work drinks event with his colleagues. I expected it would probably be a late night for him, so I hit the hay. I woke up around 2am, rolled over and he wasn't home. My immediate thoughts were "Oh gosh - he must be injured...what if he's in the hospital?" and then those kind of stressed out thoughts began doing the rounds in my head. Naturally I picked up my phone to call him and find out whether he was okay and safe, to which he answered the phone (in hushed tones, no less) and told me that he simply couldn't leave the event he was at because his boss hadn't yet. For the record, he didn't get home until almost 5am...perhaps needless to say I was not impressed!

This concept just blows my mind. Back home for me, there's a reason bosses get paid more than their subordinates - and that's because sometimes they might have to stay back and get extra stuff done - it's part and parcel of the responsibility that goes hand in hand with managing staff and being at the top of the tree. But the expectation that your staff are meant to sit around and wait until you decide you're ready to knock off for the day - or stay out at drinking parties until the next morning's sunrise? Bonkers!



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!