Japan's 'Live-to-Work' View Drives Families Apart

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Japan owes much of its economic prosperity to the relentless work of the Japanese people. They not only work hard, they've learned to prefer their company's welfare over their personal needs. 

"Here in Japan, work is everything," said Graham Orr with Overseas Missionary Fellowship International, or OMF.

"Unlike for many of us in many countries where we have social lives outside of work, family activities, and long holidays in the summer -- here in Japan, continued economic prosperity has kept them at the relentless pace of growth that they now have and they can't stop," he said in a report for the mission group.

In Japan, it's not uncommon to work 16-hour days, seven days a week.

"(I) leave home at 7 a.m. and I leave the office at 10 p.m.," Japanese businessman Mr. Shaji said. "If I didn't do all the work of the day, I will do more in another day and many of my colleagues work on Saturday and Sunday."

But this extreme commitment to work has brought its share of suffering to Japanese workers and their families.

"All Japanese have two faces: a public face and a very private face. The public face is kind, considerate, polite. The public face at work always says the right things to the boss; always says that it will do what it's been asked to do," Orr said.

"The inner self is private, lonely, isolated.  ... Even within marriage, husband and wife would guard open disclosure from each other and still second-guess how each other is feeling," he added.

Japanese couples lead very separate lives. The husband's social life centers on work and after hours drinking. The wife's social life centers around children and education. 

"Most fathers are not really involved in parenting and their children may feel very lonely, just being with their mothers only," Shaji said. 

"The husband and wife have very little time to relate with each other, and often you find divorces happening after the husband has retired because they can't live easily together in a small house," Orr said.

The stressed lifestyle of Japanese men leads many to sex outside of marriage. Men consume large quantities of alcohol, and many slip into depression.

"We would have a number of people in church who have been on medication for 10 and 20 years," Orr said. "Serious cases we know have led to people being in hospital four or five years and then day care rehabilitation centers for a number of years.  ... They can't return to work life; they're largely unemployable," he added.

Japan's small Christian community hopes to expand its outreach to these needy individuals. 

"I think God wants to increase the number of churches in Japan. Because Japan has a very big economy, there are so many people, but church numbers are still very small," Shaji said.

"OMF has a strategy to plant churches across Japan.  We still want to create communities that love and care and share the love of God for these people," Orr said. 

"We want to found new churches in new places so Japanese can feel accepted, loved and cared for by the God who so loves them," he added.

Japanese Christians are few in number: only one percent of the population. 

But as Japanese workers and a growing number of youth question their society's values, Christians are finding new opportunities to share God's love.

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CBN News
Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.