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Japanese worker fined for starting lunch 3 minutes early

Illustration for article titled Japanese worker fined for starting lunch 3 minutes early
Photo: -/AFP (Getty Images)

Japanese work culture is so stringent that some workers have actually died from karoshi, or chronic overwork. These workers die from heart failure or even suicide, in a culture that can see 100-hour workweeks with very little time off or vacation. While Japan is reportedly trying to loosen that culture to be less toxic for workers, a news story this week shows that the country still has a ways to go. The Guardian and other outlets are reporting that a 64-year old waterworks employee in Kobe “was fined and reprimanded after he was found to have left his desk just three minutes before the start of his designated lunch break.”

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The worker left his desk a few minutes early “on 26 occasions over a seven-month period” to go buy a bento box for lunch. Not only that, his bosses “then called a televised news conference, where they described the man’s conduct as ‘deeply regrettable’ and bowed in apology.” Apology to who?

The man was busted by a senior official who saw him heading out to buy his lunch. The worker said he just needed “a change of pace.” The company consequently added up those 78 minutes and docked him a half-day’s pay. In more heartening news, The Guardian notes, last month Japan’s lower house passed a bill to cap “overtime at 100 hours a month” in response to the rising number of people dying of karoshi. Getting docked for a few minutes leave certainly seems to be going against that positive trend.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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DISCUSSION

Can we not jump right to the “Japanese work culture is so...” and the “...actually died from karoshi...” nonsense? Dying from overwork here in Japan is nothing different from a 70-hr/week executive go-getter having a heart attack, or a three-jobs-and-still-can’t-make-ends-meet unfortunate soul collapsing on the factory floor, anywhere else in the world. Same thing: too many people on the planet are overworked, and some die from stress and exhaustion.

Likewise, there is no special “take lunch 3 minutes early, get your pay docked” thing going on in Japan. Why did this happen? The guy had done it 26 times - was there a problem with his deliberately ignoring 25 requests to stick to the clock? Is the guy a constant discipline problem? Or does a boss have some personal beef with him? Is the boss *nuts*, maybe? Or are some other wacky shenanigans going on in that particular office?

The short news items out there don’t seem to have the full story yet – but the answer isn’t “Oh, that wacky culture.” This is *not* normal here, which is why there’s the hubbub on Twitter, and why it’s all news in the first place.

(Oh, if you want to find a place where disappearing three minutes early actually *is* a by-the-rules offense that may cost you your job, try an Amazon warehouse in the US.)