Then I learned that Japanese employees don’t get sick enough to take days off. And “enough” means edge-of-death.
Japan labor law includes nothing about sick days. The one exception is that females can request time off only during their menstrual period. In a super polite society with sharp delineations between bosses and workers, where every request requires multiple people’s approval, and every request form is very detailed, I am pretty sure that no Japanese female has ever actually taken a day off due to her period. Clever.
Normally employees go to work sick. They will pop out to a clinic for a once-over by a doctor who invariably diagnoses “a cold” and receive prescriptions for a grab bag of drugs that will keep them upright at their desk until they get better. Our own visit to the doctor last week for “a cold” resulted in a prescription for 5 different pills and what appears to be a nicotine patch.
Television is full of commercials showing drunk and happy Japanese businessmen carousing to all hours of the night with their buddies. These businessmen are secure in the knowledge that they can be at their desk the next morning after a quick trip to the local 7/11 for any one of several hangover medications. Having examined some of these remedies, I have concluded that caffeine must be nearly as profitable sold in hangover cures as it is in cups of coffee.
Not only is the idea that there is a medication or an easily available potion to cure whatever ails you, there is also the highly respected “fighting spirit” that most Japanese workers embody. I had a Japanese college professor who told us many times (usually when a student was asking for an extension) about the Japanese salaryman who died at his desk. He was so proud of his countryman who had literally worked himself to death. “That guy had true fighting spirit in his guts” he would tell us. And look how far it got him.
It appears that every sector of the Japanese economy, from the overly polite office ladies to those in civil service jobs is embedded with the idea that being sick and not making it to the office discredits the worker. Bring up the idea that many people believe that getting well happens more quickly if a worker takes a day or two off or that the germs that make you sick pass from sick person to healthy person and you will have proven that you do not understand what “fighting spirit” truly is.
Though I am disappointed there will be no sick days for me at this job— if I see any of my co-workers show up with seeping pustules I will take a day off for them because I will know they are for real.