-By Caoimhín Ó Laoghaire
This actually ties into what I have been writing about the past few years. My home country, the United States is so disconnected from anything resembling a comprehensive solution to their ills. Crime is out of control, skilled workers idled, 70 percent without basic healthcare coverage, working age people lined up for disability payment and a general lack of cohesion among our people. It will likely take generations for America to recover our place on the world stage again. It is absolutely terrifying to see my country from abroad. However, when you are living in the middle of it, you can easily become blind.
Conversely, Japan weathers their storms and seems to hold it together a whole lot better than the United States. Why is that? Based on my simple observations, I notice one factor is dependent on the other in Japan. For example, if a company desires worker loyaty to the company, it is necessary to offer a high likelyhod of secure longtime employment to the worker. There are many other differences between America and Japan. Some of these would seem like a horribly cruel disparaging of American society, but they need to be considered if we want to recover again. Make no mistake about it. I am an American patriot. I want the United States of America to succeed again. Certainly Japan, by no means is a perfect society. Being a foreigner in Japan who has earned more yen than dollars has taught me Japan is for the Japanese and only the Japanese. I am not nor will I ever be looked at as an equal member of their economy and society. I am not in the Japanese circle and my participation is pretty much at their pleasure. Discrimination affects me, but I do my best to navigate the system and provide support for my family.
Some areas that Japan approaches differently include:
1. Employment Security of their Citizens
2. Worker Loyalty and Productivity
3. Healthcare for their Citizens
4. Maintenance of their Infastructure
6. Connection to their Community
7. Seeking Assistance from Family v. Assistance from the Public
Recently, Sensata, an electronic component plant in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois closed dispacing a number of workers. It is an all too common occurance in Freeport and Rockford. Workers are told their last day and basically left to fend for themselves. It really got me thinking about a time when I heard of time a plant in Japanese closed up and the workers made redundant. I could not. The next week, I polled some of my business students at Sony, Bridgestone and Daihatsu if this has occurred. They told me it certainly does happen as technology advances and ecomomical necessity required closure. However, although the plant changes it is extremely rare that workers are not provided transfers, early retirement packages, retraining or guidance into another job. Incidentally, Sensata did not close their operations in Japan although they are tech centers and marketing. Layoffs are clearly a very last resort in Japan. It is almost treated as a criminal offense to abandon workers so casually as it is done in the United States.
I have found Japanese workers to be far more loyal to their company than American workers. That is very clear to me and common sense as the company provides security and the likelyhood of a mutually profitable relationship long term. Contrary to popular belief, I have not seen Japanese workers any more productive than American workers. We Americans like to work hard, but we need some assurances in return.
Here are some interesting articles on the Japanese approach to large scale layoffs.
Worker Loyalty and Productivity
It is my pleasure to smash the myth that Japanese simply work harder than Americans. It is just plain not true. So, I would not suggest occupying your mind with little Japanese men running around like worker bees on steriods. I work with some really lazy bastards. Shout out to that guy who barks orders to me using just my last name. I frequently advise him to work the muscles in his legs and arms more than his mouth. I am senior to him by 2 days at work. Most of the slackers are in the education business, but some are in production positions as well like one of my collegues . I do not mind giving him a little grief. He is the only openly racist person who practices his ignorance on a daily basis. He once told me it is peculiar and a bad idea that Watami hires foreign people. Sometimes, I gently push back with a sense of humor. However, despite this example, workers will not willfully do anything that would affects the productivity and profits of the company. My co-worker does jobs he likes to do and I do jobs he doesn’t like to do. I have no doubt he would step in for the company if I was not there. Overall I word with pretty good quality folks.
Even though most conservative Americans oppose it, I think we need it in America. It is a mess. I had what was considered to be a good plan with Aetna from my employer I had in America except the co-pays. Very expensive. Even if you did not have insurance in Japan, the cost of treatment is considerably less than in the United States. A small ticket item, the MRI. $1600 dollars in the United States, $160 in Japan. Let’s ramp up the crisis to an emergency appendectomy. $20,000 in the United States. $3,600 in Japan. I could be way off on the US figures now. Last week, a guy posted his appendectomy bill online from Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, California. His came up to 55,000 dollars. It’s beyond ridiculous. Sharks have taken medical care out of reach of almost everyone. I wrote a few thought in a previous blog I did during the American election season.
Connection to the Community
I have often said, Americans move in and out of communities. Japanese become one with their communities. Instead of moving to a “better” community, Japanese thrive to “better” their community. We as Americans are very vocally harsh on our elected and appointed officials. It’s “Obama this and Obama that.” “The Mayor is incompetent.” “Morons at the public works department are dragging their asses getting the snowplows and salt trucks out again.” Geez, America! We need grow the Eff up, already! If I remember correctly, we sent Mayor Morrisey and President Obama back for another term. Why can’t we learn to take more responsiblity. For example, last year it took me 2 hours to drive 6 miles to work because the river breached the levees and I was constantly turning back another way. At each intersection, I would meet a farmer or an 80 year old woman telling people dont go there, try that way. When disasters hit, big or small, Japanese grab their shovels first and go outside. Probably, when the tsunami hit in 2011, the locals knew where to look for victims pretty quickly. That is because they would be showing their faces outside. Looting? What is that? Japanese don’t even comprehend how someone could do that. Twice a year, I direct school kids on the street with my little PTA flag. Japan doesn’t waste money on crossing guards. The parents rotate the responsiblity as well as senior citizens do. Every couple months, I do neighborhood cleanup and weed the grass around the community center and remove buildup of mud from the street drainage with my neighbors. For Japanese, its common sense. In America, I heard public housing was going to ask residents who get FREE housing to contribute a couple hours a month as condition for their residency. Some actually complained how it was too harsh for disabled people and single moms.
Taking care of Infastructre
In Rockford, I have never made it down 20th Street from O’Leary Acres to Harrison Avenue without either hitting or swerving around a pothole. Strangley enough, I cannot remember the last time I saw a gaping pothole in Japan. Nuff said.
Fancy word for crime management here. Japan is not crime free. My apartment was burglarized more than 10 years ago. When I called the police in my poor Japanese speech, 8 of them arrived. I was kind of embarrassed because although I had a broken window, I scared the burglar away by coming back suddenly and nothing was taken. In contrast, in Rockford, Illinois my mother had her purse snatched while sitting down eating breakfast at McDonalds. The police there are too busy to come out for calls like that and she was told to come downtown to public safety building and file a report. Luckily, the perp was filmed by the McDonalds security camera which my mother informed the police of. Her card was used to fill two tanks. Once again security cameras. Later, she asked the manager of McDonalds if the police followed up to review the tape and he said no. If that is not incompetence, I do not know what is. A purse is taken from someone nearly 80. It has identification with the address of a property and sets of keys inside to everything. Yet, Rockford Police do not consider that a concern or a big enough priority to look at a tape. WTF, Rockford.
Another point I observed in Japan is a powerful weapon used by police. Shame and shame. A local teen either stole a bicycle at the store or vandalized something. So, I look outside and there are 3 cop cars in front of my neighbors house. The teenager is standing in bright light in front of the cruisers headlights talking with his parents and the police. Its was something minor I picked up on, but the conversation went on for over an hour and the mom was crying. So the police won’t take your troublemaking kid to the station and call you. They take him home and have the conference in front of your house for all your nosey neighbors to hear. The kid will probably not go to court but his parents will immediately pay for the damage and do a lot of bowing to the crime victim.
Turning to Family as Opposed to Public Assistance
Shame works for crime but it also works for keeping many Japanese away from public assistance. It is considered a great family shame to have someone on public assistance unless they are severely disabled or elderly. Actually, I read some time ago, that the local government does home visits to ensure people do not have luxuries and are truly needy. Many Japanese do shun working productive jobs. The hikkomori for example. There is an English acronym for it. Its N.E.E.T which means not engaged in employment, education or training. They might be single men in the 30s still living with their Mommies playing video games all day. That is also a shame but not as much as applying for assistance. Japanese are expected to rely on assistance within and not task the working taxpayers. The numbers of people on public assistance in America is staggering. The number of people on permenant disability grows every year. I cannot wrap my head around it. If one can walk erect, drive a vehicle, have reasonable sight and hearing why America cannot place more of these people in productive jobs is beyond me. Why does the American government find it a better investment to provide cash benefits than to get some retraining programs going? Truthfully, there are people in our clan who haven’t joined the work force recently. However, to their credit they are relying on helo within the family and not tasking strangers with the financial burden of supporting them? Maybe our welfare system is too private and with all stigmas removed, it is easier for people to pursue. What if we listed applicants in the local paper and then the neighbors said, Aha.. He drives an Escalade and sends his daughter to expensive ballet lessons. Sounds draconian, but the numbers of people receiving assistance and the abuses are too great.
Pray for our country. We have a long way to to go.