Coronavirus Changes Workplace Culture in Japan

Change in traditional Japan? Yes, its true and we are only just beginning to see how culture is changing all over the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (not a bold statement, I know). Here is a summary of what is going on in the “Land of the Rising Sun” from Deutsche Welle (DW).

The coronavirus pandemic is changing many aspects of the ways in which Japan works, with analysts suggesting that the crisis offers a chance for companies that still hold deeply traditional views of what work entails to ditch the old ways and catch up with their leaner and more nimble rivals overseas.

There are arguably two most glaring symbols of just how old-fashioned and conservative the average Japanese company is: the fax machine and the “hanko,” or carved official seal. …

“But I already see a change happening,” he added. “Older workers are beginning to retire and the new generation coming through are more comfortable with modern technologies. The fear of not having a physical paper document that can actually be held is fading.”

The government appears to be paying heed to calls for modernization, with Masaaki Taira, the minister who oversees Japan’s information technology policy, announcing that from May 10, doctors will be able to send data on coronavirus infection cases to public health centers by electronic mail.

Similarly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself has instructed a review of the custom that requires official documents to be stamped with a “hanko” seal. He pointed out that insistence on applying a seal to paperwork flew in the face of official government guidelines for people to keep their distance from everyone else and avoid being in an office environment as much as possible.

The evolution has been swift, with a number of companies coming up with ideas for “virtual hanko” that can be applied to online.

More flexible and resilient’

Another change in the work environment has been working from home, another inevitable innovation as the authorities called on companies to reduce the number of people in offices by 80%. Achieving that would also dramatically cut the number of people crammed into commuter trains and buses and potentially sharing the virus. …

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said he believes that Japanese workers — many of whom detested their congested commutes, long hours in the office and the inefficiencies of their organizations — will want to continue their new way of working once the lockdown is eased.

“I feel that the pandemic will see all the arguments that were put forward in the past for not changing work habits simply fade into the rear-view mirror,” he said.

“It has already demonstrated that antiquated systems can be injurious to public health and the national interest, while the generation that is wedded to fax machines and so on is also fading away,” he added. “I see Japanese work culture slowly but surely becoming more flexible and resilient.”

Read the full story here.

How is your culture changing as a result of the pandemic? Time will tell.


  1. I’m anxious to see how American church culture can potentially change. I’m pretty sure that Evangelicalism in the US is just as steeped in tradition as the Japanese workplace, so will there be changes? Which ones?

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