Understanding Japan (3): Analysis of Japanese people’s working methods. Advantages and disadvantages

July 20, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.

A way to understand what work means for Japanese people is observing the bees: They have an excellent system of work organization, spend almost all their live time working without complaining despite the toughness of their work and when they cannot do their job properly, their reason for living comes to an end. Now, let’s see the topic from two different angles:

Positive aspects of Japanese work system

(+) Strong feeling of belonging and loyalty to the company

From USA to France, from China to Kenya, from Australia to Brazil, that is, wherever you go, you will find the same way of thinking of workers with respect to the perception they have about their company: A job done for a salary. “I’m here because I receive a salary that lets me put food on my table. As long as they pay me, I keep working. As soon as I get something better, I am leaving them. If the company goes well or wrong, that’s not my business. After all, it is not mine.

”What’s wrong?” I asked my student, Mariko. “You look a little bit worried.”

”Few customers come to the store where I am doing a part-time job after class. “Taihen” (What a problem!)” She said.

Mariko’s wage is 850 yen per hour (around 9 dollars, as I write this article). Regardless the number of customers, she will get her same wage. In the same circumstances, how many people do you know who will be worried because they do not have many things to do at work? But not in Japan, where employees feel themselves responsible for the path the company has taken and feel the company’s failures and problems as theirs.

(+) ”I” goes behind “we”

The biggest secret and foundation of the Japan’s business success is not related, in my opinion, to this country’s technology advance, as many people think (Germany, USA and many others countries have great technology too), but to the idea and feeling of acting in unison, which are instilled in its citizens at early age. Japanese people put the “I” and the string of problems caused by the egoism that this word usually brings behind them to give priority to “we”. That gives them greater synergy for better collective development.

One day, some people were in front of their office to plant a small tree. One employee was holding the plant, another employee had a shovel, the boss had a stake, the youngest worker had a shower and a girl had a good camera to capture some happy and productive memories. I tried to imagine what Ted (a hypothetical employee in other country) had said in the same situation after being told to do the same job, but alone: “Who the hell does he think I am to send me to plant this f…g (expletive) tree alone? How about Richard or Carmelo? They are doing nothing as always!” As you can see, the boss’s decision only “helped” to add one more problem in an already very troubled relation.

(+) High sense of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is something relatively new. In practical terms, it has been in the last three decades when companies have focused their attention on the society’s growth besides their traditional operations for profits. In Japan, however, this idea is older than that and, considering the country’s collective thinking, perhaps it has always existed. The society is you and vice versa. You improve to the same extend as your society does. add to that the fact that any step a Japanese company takes, no matter how big or small it is, underscores its commitment to offer quality in its products or service to the Japanese society.

(+) The pursuit of satisfaction for each task accomplished

There is a worldwide perception that Japanese people are always working. It is not 100 per cent right, but it is not far from reality either. To work is not an easy task. Otherwise, we would not be paid for that. The question here is how they can bear marathon work hours day by day. The reason might be that they find and feel some kind of pleasure in each task accomplished. Now let’s see the other side of the coin:

Negative aspects of Japanese work system

(-) Obsessive search for perfectionism

Japanese people are perfectionist and attach importance to the idea of change. They are constantly looking for something new, which means for them profits and growth. Consumers frequently see new products, qualitatively or commercially improved. Perhaps, Japanese people do not invent many things, but improve everything. The idea of perfectionism is good at first, but later tend to become obsessive for them. The stress caused by being pushed to be perfect, to do the right things all the time and to come up with something new have led thousands of people to commit suicide every year for decades. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: There are millions of workers who need sleeping pills or cans of beer to sleep. This is in addition to the retirees who are struggling with the same situation.

while having a cup of coffee inside a department store, I watched the way a Japanese shop assistant worked. The girl could not stay still for a minute: She was changing the position of the skirts, doing new combination for dresses and scarfs, etc., until a customer came. The motto seemed to be something like that: “If you do not have anything to do, then, just invent a new task.” In Toledo, Spain, I saw the opposite situation when I went into a store ran by members of a same family. They were telling me the story of the city, their store, funny stories and so on until a new costumer asked for a souvenir. I am sure they do not live a modern life as the Japanese girl, but perhaps they are happier. When you polish too much a piece of metal, you do not get more shine, but a smaller piece of worn out metal. To try to live with no limitations of any kind in an obviously limited world brings a lot of headaches.

(-) Lack of flexibility

I still remember that night when I was leaving a restaurant on a Friday night. I saw an impeccably dressed Japanese office worker hitting lightly with his head a light pole. He was drunk, but the reason of his action was not the amount of alcohol he had ingested, but some mistakes he had made on that day. The obsessive pursuit of perfection we mentioned before leaves little margin for error and flexibility because of competitiveness. While in other countries people work for a fixed period of time (“Well, it’s 6:00 p.m. It’s time to go home. See you tomorrow, guys.”), in Japan, you work until your job and your coworkers’ are done. It means that if “the things to do” they had planned for today are not done yet, do not expect to leave the company. Because of that, Japanese workers spend marathon hours at work working overtime. Take a walk at night and you will see those Japanese office buildings with lights on even at eight or nine. We are talking about more than 10 hours per day, not counting commuting time. In Africa, you might die of hunger; in Latin America, for lack of medicine or for an armed robbery, but never because of overwork. In Japan, on the contrary, Karoshi (death from overwork) killed more than 2000 workers in 2015. A case, extensively publicized in the national and international media, was the suicide of a 24-year-old young worker who did 105 hours overtime the month prior to her decision of taking her life. Many other cases like this one never come to light and are solved by the companies involved with the offer of millions of yen to the families affected as compensation. In most cases, workers find a way to cope with stress and long hours of work by thinking that at night they will be drinking like crazy, and they drink like crazy on that night because next day they will be working in that way.

Except for work, few expectations in life

If you go to a party with coworkers, you will quickly notice a lot of food, alcohol and, after drinking and eating, a lot of conversation about… work at office. While people try to detach working life from everyday life, in Japan, in practice, there is only one life: work. Hours of work surpass those ones devoted to their families and rest. Workers are usually transferred to other cities. Fathers move alone and rarely see their children and wives. In the last years, many Japanese couples don’t even have children, in part because of their jobs, so children are replaced with dogs and cats.

Japan is an aging society, but different from other countries with similar situation, the acceptance of immigrant workers is minimal and restricted to very skilled workforce. Today, Japan’s unemployment rate is low (less than 4 per cent) and enjoys economic stability and security. However, if there are no changes in its labour policy, the country will face a terrible workforce shortage and, family imbalance or breakdown or household comprised of one individual with consequences that are not at all promising to a point that I would prefer not to predict about them.

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Major cyberterrorist attack: Just a matter of time

May 27, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.

In the field of technology, invention and discovery, perhaps we still have a lengthy path ahead, but when it comes to behavior, the way we use to response to critical situations is always the same, as the old proverb says: “There is nothing new under the sun.” That explains why we focus our attention on making progress in the first idea and have already forgotten the second one. We have digitized almost everything, our job is centered around a computer and Internet and, on the other hand, we have forgotten valuable pieces of advice from former generations like this one: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, a mistake we are doing today by depending almost exclusively on computers and smartphones without making paths for other options.

It is almost undoubtedly to say that the change from the analogical to digital era, from paper to screen saves us an enormous amount of time at work and makes our lives easier. Despite this fact, the most recent cyber-attack that temporarily crippled websites in more than 150 countries, affecting more than 100,000 organizations made clear the vulnerability of our apparently safe digital world and showed us the other side of the coin: We are taking the risk of losing all our data and since everything is there, we could be in the future without past and present. We are living in an era of major technical breakthroughs that periodically change their channels to distribute information and their data storage system. There are people who still use CDs or DVDs for that purposes; others opt for USBs and we can find people today who are going for iCloud only. Those different formats, rather than being considered a great help, they may be perceived as “the tower of Babel” that only a computer can decode. The next question seems to be forced under these circumstances: What would happen if our computers, because of a world cyber-attack, lost their capacity of reading and examining data? From our family albums to all valuable information of a company, everything would disappear as quickly as a bunch of cookies in front of a group of children with empty stomachs after school. Scientists and experts on the subject like Eugene Karspersky, for example, have been warning us about this possible chaos on the world’s computer systems. That means we are not in front of a hypothetical case, but in front of something likely to happen

Every time burglars find a way to circumvent a sophisticated security system to enter houses to steal, a new one is invented to make them “their job” more difficult. This situation turns into a repetitive circle. Fortunately, in the field of computers and Internet, it is not the hackers, but computer programmers who are in the vanguard, which gives us more time to be better protected against them. That does not mean, however, that the current situation will continue like that in the future, which has raised alarm bells world-wide once you think about England and Scotland, for example, places where many hospitals where hit by the ransomware cyber-attack, forcing to cancels surgeries and treatments for patients.

What in the past was only a figment of Len Wiseman’s imagination (a massive computer attack on the United States infrastructure in his movie Die hard 4.0) is today some closer than ever to be real. “A mayor cyberterrorist attack is only a matter of time.” as Karspersky said once. We should, therefore, try to find balance between our technological wisdom and popular wisdom, and the way we can do that is avoiding putting all the eggs in one basket, which implies to keep hardcopies of certain documents, to have at least one computer without Internet connection (if possible) and to take other preventive measures like these ones. Include in this group, of course, to have some cash at home because banks use computers too. In normal time, normal people always make fun of the well-prepared, but at the end, during stormy times when the unthinkable becomes massive problems, the well-prepared stay afloat while normal people take only one direction: A race to the bottom.

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

It’s time for a change in Venezuela

May 13, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.

People on the streets protesting the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.

If a president’s efficiency during his or her administration could be judged by his or her practical results, President Nicolás Maduro’s four years in Venezuela might be labeled with just one word as unfeasible.

According to the International Monetary Fund, inflation in this South American country is running at 720.5% this year and if it continues at the present dizzy rate, by next year Venezuela’s consumer-price inflation will be hovering 2000%. To calculate how much money a Venezuelan will have to pay for the same product next year is enough to have a splitting headache. Besides, the country is dealing with a massive shortage of basic goods and money.

As the economic crisis deepens, the real monster emerges from darkness in that country: The internal division of its citizens. Venezuela has split into those who defend the dead Hugo Chávez’s memories and his Bolivarian socialism rather than a living Nicolás Maduro and those (like the opposition leader Henrique Capriles) who see president Maduro as dictatorial as his predecessor. Since last March, continuing protests against the Government and demonstrations of force from both groups with irreconcilable differences have created a chaos that has left 41 people dead until now. If Venezuela does not see positive and radical changes in the coming months, for the benefit of the country and citizens, President Nicolás Maduro should cede democratically his position to another person.

President Nicolás Maduro´s supporters.

The world is free and that gives us the right and freedom to think and act freely. If President Maduro and supporters want to keep their revolutionary ideas and other things, nobody should object to them. But, for their part, they should not close their eyes to reality, and Venezuela’s reality says that this Latin American country has not improved during his four years as president, perhaps because of the chasm between his predecessor and him: In Venezuela, people loved or feared Hugo Chávez; they threw object to Maduro. Chávez always found a way to solve or hide problems; Maduro cannot cope with all problems he already has (excluding those that are looming) and try to solve them mystically: Chávez’s apparition as a little bird, a butterfly or talking to cows.

In Venezuela, without present nor future for its people this moment, a change seems to be the best option, an option that could reconcile all groups in this polarized nation. Unfortunately, it is as difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle as for a president to concede power to others once he or she is drunk with power. Latin American’s history is full of presidents who acted in that way and it has few examples of wise politicians who did the opposite. Future will tell us what group President Nicolás Maduro belongs to.

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Dignity or a couple of euros?

April 23, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.

Our world is full of people: Most of them are normal, some of them are endowed with great intelligence and finally, you can find a great bunch called the acephalous. For these reasons, it is not sleep deprivation when you see a group of fans of the English football club Leicester clashing with police officers or committing violent actions in Madrid one day prior to a match.

But things are different when the ignorant threw coins into the air to enjoy themselves by watching beggars running precipitately to pick them up. Under these circumstances, we should ask ourselves why we have sunk to a very low level as human beings and where our dignity went. In practice, the economic position and future of a person depend on the economic condition of the family he or she was born and raised in and his or her home country. Efforts made later by this person (studies, career, etc.) are, in fact, collateral. To the ignorant who threw those coins, not even for a moment did it cross their mind that if they were born in South Sudan (just to cite an example), perhaps they should be at this moment, instead of those women, begging somewhere.

When you lose your dignity, you lose everything. There is no doubt that with their actions, those who threw the coins embarrassed their families, country and club. But if what they did was an undignified act, the same was what those women did when they decided to pick the coins from the ground. The should not do that. Nobody dies for a night without food and they could win by showing and demanding respect. I fully understand that it is also easier to say it when you are not the person who is begging, but if you do not fight for your rights, dignity and respect, who is going to do it for you?

To use people’s woes as a form of leisure speaks itself about our society’s putrefaction levels. We are on the wrong track and that is dangerous. It seems that we went from the Stone Age to a wild and lacking dignity society where people’s heart has turned into stone.

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Drought in Africa and only a shower of promises

March 18, 2017

By Eddy Montilla.

Indifference toward the suffering of others is a common method of payment used by insensitive people. Recently, the world seems to be full of them. You only have to look at Africa, facing a severe drought and famine to verify it. The lack of food and drinking water killed more than 100 Somalians in a couple of days in just one area. Like Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen are also countries where the drought endangers the live of millions of Africans. However, many people around the world keep up their rhythm of life as if nothing had happened, without a single gesture after seeing these people’s woes. Since when the human heart stopped being warm to become so glacial?

     Parties and carnivals while in Africa many people die of hunger. Celebrations of Lent, Ramadan, etc., and in Africa, many people die of hunger. From USA to Japan, from Japan to the European Union (EU) a shower of food falls day by day into trash bags. In Africa, according to UNICEF, more than 1.4 million children could die of acute malnutrition.

     Politicians raise their voices and say that something must be done. They say that “we have to act quickly”. At the end of the day, no action is taken and we are in front of another tasteless performance. The media is just happy with getting the news and move on to try to get the next one as soon as possible, but in Africa, starving children can hardly open their eyes. Competent international organizations visit the zone, hold long meetings and, when night falls, their members will go somewhere to enjoy an exquisite meal.

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Lessons of life: The lesson of the cinema

March 4, 2017


By Eddy Montilla.

The girl who worked at the cinema took the microphone, looked at me and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the movie is about to start, please go through into the theater.” Just then, I looked all around and noticed that only two people were there: She and I.

     Yes. As you have read it. I was the only person who was there to watch the movie. For a moment, I clasped my hands behind the back of my neck and thought about the first assignment I received in class from my cinematography professor at university: “Go to the university theater and watch this movie….” For you, it might seem a rare assignment; for some of us, however, “A part of our lives changed from that moment.”, because we learned how valuable a good film can be for our lives. On my way home, inside the bus, all passengers (except for me) were using their smartphones, most of them, playing games or browsing dreary websites as if they were looking for something, looking for nothing.

     A movie is not a simple product of entertainment. It is a visual performance of our problems in life. Movies have taught me as many things as all my teachers did. And I am totally convinced that a single word, phrase, scenery or gesture can be enough to give a person some clues to find solutions for his or her problems, including the pressing ones. Today, people have as much fun as people had twenty years ago, for example. But the huge difference between both generations is the quality of the entertainment.

     When I got home and went to sleep that night, on my bed, I felt a mix of happiness and sadness, I mean, bittersweet feelings. Happiness for the way I am and sadness for the way the world goes.

Copyright 2017 littlethingsforall.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.

Jesus’s ideas (2): About forgiveness

February 20, 2017


By Eddy Montilla.

Whenever I think about this topic, I always conclude that the best way to understand Jesus’s ideas on forgiveness is to look at ourselves, that is, to reflect on how each of us understands this situation. If evil did not exist, there would be no need to forgive. This means that forgiveness is not an accident, but the result of our judgements on what is right and wrong. In theory, it is correct. In practice, it seems to take a different path since what we really use as parameters to judge if someone is worthy of forgiveness is how much people’s actions have affected us. If we have been hurt a lot or we have not been affected, but other people, we tend not to forgive.

    It is quite contradictory that we have made incredible progress in technology, but when it comes to human aspects, for instance, the matter of forgiveness, we are exactly as the same level as Jesus was more than 2000 years ago. A good example could be the episode when an angry mob wanted to stone to death an adulteress without even know details in the times of Jesus just because her act was against their rules and verdicts between wrong and right. And what happened? This is the moment when this person called Jesus comes with a new approach to the concept of forgiveness: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” His motto is so convincing that Jesus, himself, closed the debate on the topic. In plain words, Jesus meant that nobody is good here. All of us have an Achilles heel; all of us, sooner or later, play the part of the villain of the movie. Then, since we all make mistakes, to forgive should not be considered as something that depends on our free will, but something “cleverly mandatory” from us because someday someone will have to forgive our mistakes too.

    Jesus’s perception on forgiveness makes a clear difference between Christianity and other religions. Religious fanatics or not, “in name of their god”, many people have killed innocents just because they cannot forgive others. In Japanese Buddhism, for example, people are taught not to do bad things or hurt people, which is an important step to build a fairer and better society. “Gomennasai” (sorry) is one of the words most frequently used in Japan, which implies that it is very important for them. The problem is that the number of times you hear “Yurusenai” (I cannot forgive it) is mathematically higher.

    Jesus said we had to forgive all the time. To forgive someone will not make us “pious and good people”, and this is not the point either. We are not making a favor to someone whenever we forgive him or her, but ourselves because by doing so, we can get rid of the growing grudge that kills us day by day and do not let us live in peace. The human nature that molds our personality always have the possibility of yielding to mistakes and temptation, and that’s why it is so difficult for us to forgive. However, we have no option: To forgive or to be unhappy the rest of our lives. What is your choice?

This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion.

Copyright 2017 littlethings4all.wordpress.com. All rights are reserved.