Public Junior High Schools in Japan are the Hidden "Black Companies"

by Chris Dempsey
(Tokyo, Japan)

Public Junior High Schools in Japan are the Hidden “Black Companies”

There is a word in Japanese: karoshi. It means death from overwork. I think few if any countries have a word for this. Though death from overwork happens in all countries at times, it seems to be so prevalent in Japan, that the Japanese have coined a term for it. There is so much I love about this country, however, one thing I dislike is how educational institutions and companies here treat their employees.

Lives with a good work-life balance are rare in Japan, but some companies border on abuse or even slavery in the way they treat employees here. Many foreign interns have died while training in Japan. It`s very sad. Another young intern, dying of a heart attack or suicide, seems to make the news monthly.

Matsuri Takahashi took her own life at just 24 years old when she jumped from the Dentsu company dormitory after falling into a depression from working 100 hours of overtime the previous month.

Fuji Film employees regularly work until 10pm. They have relatively recently made a rule that you must go home earlier on Wednesdays, however the fact remains that you are given a project to complete or work to do, and if you do not finish it, you may have to work on Saturday or Sunday.

I find it ironic that while the government is doing some to alleviate this crisis by enacting new laws, they do not address the fact that some of the government`s own employees are working long hours much like the Dentsu employees were.

“Black Company,” is a term in Japan that equates to a company that disregards Japanese labour standards law. These companies may force workers either through group pressure or pressure directly from the boss, to work longer hours than normal, work in unsafe conditions, or force employees to do other things that go against the labour standards law of Japan.

I have interviewed many Japanese junior high school teachers, and it seems that most of them work for public junior high schools that act like black companies. Of course, none of them wanted to be quoted by name, and none of them would allow me to mention the name of their junior high school. But trust me, it seems most junior high schools in this country overwork their teachers, ask them to work overtime unpaid! Ask them to work on weekends for less than 2,000 Yen to “volunteer” and take care of a club activity. Moreover, many must be on committees in charge of various aspects of education.

Furthermore, many junior high school teachers are given a homeroom to take care of, and a great deal of paperwork to complete. For example after working a full week, they may have to come to school or go to another city, to take care of the soft tennis club. Further, by running the club, they must confer with the parents as well. It is a job that never ends.

But don`t they get a long summer holiday?

No they don`t. Even if they did, few would dare to take it. No even though the students are not there and classes are not in session, the teachers are forced to work through the long hot, and humid Japanese summers.
Plus Japanese junior high school students are not the easiest to teach. There are fights, there is bullying, there are crimes committed, and the teachers are the ones who must pick up the pieces, deal with the police and deal with the parents. It is the job that never ends.

After all of this:

When do they have time to prepare to teach?

Many report having to concoct lessons on the fly. One said, “teaching is easy, that`s the least of my worries. I am buried under so much paperwork, I have no time to do anything else.”

Why is the government not cleaning up it`s own house? Is it trying to deflect blame onto the companies?

The government is the power that makes the laws, and yet government owned public junior high schools abuse their teachers. Not only are the hours long, but if you make a small mistake you may be screamed at in front of the whole staff. In some countries this would be bullying or abuse of some kind. In Japan it is common.

One junior high school teacher I interviewed recently, has been getting three hours of sleep. She has so much work to do for the school, plus she has her own family to take care of. She is responsible for a major committee at the school, and has barely any time to sleep.

“The Labour Standards Law states that employees must work no more than eight hours a day and that violators face up to 300,000 Yen in fines or up to 6 months in prison.”
—Daisuke Kikuchi, The Japan Times

It is so shameful that the central government is revising the law on overtime, while not addressing the same problem in public junior high schools! Government employed teachers, are asked to work overtime unpaid. The Japanese government is a criminal. They are breaking their own labour laws in the way they treat junior high school teachers in this country.

It is common here to place a piece of tape where welding is really required. Laws are routinely made, but not enforced. These latest laws regarding companies, are just the latest piece of tape.

We have labour standard laws in Japan, if they are followed, the work-life balance for most in Japan, including junior high school teachers, would be quite good. But without enforcing them, and allowing abuse of them across the country, not only are you dooming your children to a poor education, you are dooming the schools into having a difficult time recruiting new teachers for the future.

About the author:

Chris Dempsey has taught in junior high schools in Japan, and is married to a junior high school teacher in Tokyo.


Mayuko`s Blog on Teaching at a Junior High School in Japan (in Japanese)

Is Japan overworking its teachers, One exhausted educator says, "yes"


To How to teach English in Japan (home)

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Jan 14, 2017
Chris Dempsey NEW
by: Anonymous

Chris Dempsey, you are a hell of a writer!

Jan 13, 2017
Article NEW
by: Anonymous

Great article! Bang on! Thank you!

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