Life in Japan: an Overview

street tokyoJapan has long been regarded as having one of the strongest economies in the world but according to recent reports this could be set to change. The nation’s increasingly strict immigration policies, low birth rates and aging society means that Japan’s population is said to decrease by 500,000 a year over the next few decades. Which could mean life in Japan could dramatically change.

But what does daily life look like for those who live in Japan today?

In Japan, more than 126 million people live in 145,000 square miles – that makes for pretty tight living quarters. Many Japanese are packed together on crowded sidewalks or are crammed into subway cars like sardines. Thus, personal space is hard to find, and the concept of privacy has evolved to be more of a state of mind rather than actually being alone. Which is why you might spot a businessman comfortably taking a nap on his commute home.

And perhaps that man is sleeping because from an early age the people of Japan are known to be very hard workers. It’s common for students to have little free time. Instead, they focus on after-school activities or attending ‘juku’ — that’s additional “cram school” classes that train students to get ahead on their educational path. On top of this, students are expected to care for their classrooms through ‘honorable cleaning’ – there are no custodians here, students and teachers alike pitch in to do their part to maintain the school.

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The pressure to succeed is incredibly high in Japan, so much so that according to Japan’s Suicide Prevention Office – September 1st, the first day of classes, is known to be the worst day for teen suicides. Receiving high grades isn’t the only cause for this, it’s also the desire to conform and fit in. One student explains, “In Japan, you have to fall in line with other people. And if you cannot do that, you’re either ignored or bullied.” And when you enter the workforce, the expectations to succeed are even higher. If you work in corporate Japan, you can expect to work long hours on top of overtime, which is typically unpaid. But it’s considered the norm to endure this stress in hopes climbing the corporate ladder. And believe it or not, part of getting ahead means drinking alcohol – a lot of alcohol. Here, having beers with your boss is no short of a requirement. This extracurricular activity may seem like fun to outsiders but in Japan, it’s seen as an essential way to build trust within the office.crowds japan

Now, while men in Japan typically work and play hard, if you’re a woman life can be very different. Traditionally women have stayed at home and though many want to enter the workforce, limited childcare facilities, a lack of career support, and what some call deeply entrenched sexism has kept them out. But this could be about to change. In order to safeguard their economy, Japan’s government has approved legislation that requires companies to hire and promote more female employees. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has even pushed for more child care centers and better-working conditions for women. But there’s still a long way to go. Many pregnant working women experience harassment from bosses and co-workers who imply they should be fired. And, unsurprisingly, the wage gap is large.

When facing old age in Japan, you probably couldn’t ask for a better quality of life. The term ‘ikigai’ – or, “a reason for being” means that Japan’s elderly are eager to embrace new purpose in their lives. You’ll typically see many aging individuals walking by themselves on the streets, practicing calligraphy, or learning a new sport – like Japanese fencing.

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