Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Date therapy for Japan bureaucrats

January 22, 2010

If there is one thing you can be sure of when it comes to Japanese bureaucrats, it is that they work long hours. When parliament is in session, they’re handling urgent questions or requests from lawmakers all the time, and I’ve heard some say they hardly remember seeing the sun when parliament is sitting.

JAPAN-ECONOMY/KAN

But new Finance Minister Naoto Kan has come up with a plan to review the work styles of sleep-deprived bureaucrats, saying he wants to make it possible for finance ministry staff to go on dates on weeknights.

Government ministries have tried before to get bureaucrats to go home sooner. Wednesdays are “leave the office on time” day for all ministries and an announcement encourages everyone to get out at 6:15 P.M. At the finance ministry, senior officials are encouraged to tell younger team members to leave early if it’s not busy.

Some say such efforts have helped them shorten their work hours a bit, but the ideal of an eight-hour working day is still a long way off. As one bureaucrat put it: “In the end, we just have too much to do.” 

How exactly Kan plans to get the bureaucrats to go on dates is still unclear, though. In good bureaucratic fashion, he is setting up a team to come up with the details of the plan.

But whether he can fundamentally change the bureaucratic lifestyle is anyone’s guess.

“If we can go home early, I’m sure I could go on dates more often,” one bureaucrat told me. “That is, if I can find someone to go with.”

Photo credit: Kan arrives at MOF, Yuriko Nakao/REUTERS

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