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Low-tech Japan Challenged while Working from Home during Pandemic


In this March 2, 2020, file photo, commuters wearing masks stand in a packed train at the Shinagawa Station in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Low-tech Japan Challenged while Working from Home during Pandemic
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Japan’s government declared an emergency to help limit the spread of the coronavirus earlier this month.

As part of the declaration, the government asked the Japanese people to work from home. A short time after the announcement, many people hurried to electronics stores to buy computers or other things.

Many Japanese did not have the equipment they need to work from home. While the international image of Japan may include robots and high-tech devices, in some ways the country has problems with technology.

But the bigger problem for the work-from-home idea is Japanese business culture, experts say. Most offices do not use email. Documents must often be signed in front of office managers with special seals called “hanko.” Many homes lack high-speed internet connections.

A study by British market researcher YouGov found that only 18 percent of Japanese were able to easily work from home or take online classes. Most had to go into their office or school. Nearly 80 percent, however, were afraid of getting the coronavirus.

Japan has over 13,500 confirmed cases and nearly 400 deaths, public broadcaster NHK said. In Tokyo, nearly 4,000 cases have been confirmed. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Monday the number of new cases each day has started to decrease.

Working online from home, known as telework, would help.

People wear face masks at Shinagawa station during the rush hour after the government expanded a state of emergency to include the entire country following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, April 20, 2020.
People wear face masks at Shinagawa station during the rush hour after the government expanded a state of emergency to include the entire country following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, April 20, 2020.


Yuri Tazawa is a big supporter of teleworking. He says one of the biggest issues is that Japanese workers often do not have clearly defined jobs. They work in teams and are always in contact, talking to each other to decide the best way to undertake a project.

“But this is a matter of life and death for the workers and their families,” said Tazawa. She is the president of Telework Management Inc.

Tazawa is offering an online class on how to start working from home. She teaches workers how to use just mobile phones, if they do not own a personal computer.

She says workers should use the video conferencing app Zoom for voice connections. With the Zoom app, two or more people can see each other and discuss anything. Tazawa tells workers to keep the program running all day so they can hear their co-workers and feel as if they are in the office.

“Teleworking is so important in the fight against the coronavirus,” said Tazawa.

Japan’s biggest companies, like Toyota Motor Corporation and Sony Corporation, have begun asking their employees to work from home. The biggest problem is the smaller businesses that make up about 70 percent of the economy.

Nicholas Benes is a business expert who has been offering a free online class on teleworking for Japanese workers. Benes says he is surprised by the lack of interest in the class.

“Telework requires that managers trust” employees to make decisions “because it takes too much time in email…to check with the boss, he said.

Japanese workers like to “smell the air,” or “read the air” of their office, Benes said, using common Japanese expressions.

This means the commuter trains are still full, even as the number of infections is growing.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

manager – n. one who is in charge of other people

seal – n. an official and legal signature or symbol of ownership

mobile adj. a personal phone that one carries

app – n. an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device.

commuter – adj. something that carries people to work

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