Photos by Label Networks

In a major campaign across most of Japan taken on by big businesses ranging from Nippon Oil to Keidanren, Japan’s largest manufacturing organization with 1,632 companies, the last 2 weeks ending November 22 have been all about getting the salaryman home to spend time with his wife (or get a wife), and have sex to produce more kids. According to Bloomberg, Nippon Oil last week would play “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Disney’s Pinocchio each evening at 8 p.m. to get the industrious workforce “in the mood” so to speak, and head home.

But before you can blame it on another wacky-sounding Japanese cultural thing, these businesses are quite serious: Their work force is dropping faster than any other country in the world. In just 5 years, people over 65 will out-number children 2-to-1. And in a survey by the Japan’s Family Planning Association, people under 49 are simply having less sex because of the long work hours, lack of energy, or, as some say sadly enough, “it’s just boring.”

In response, Keidanren has initiated “family weeks” to give employees more time off to help offset the declining birth rate, but for many young men in Japan, who are used to working insanely long hours (3rd after South Korea and the U.S.), it seems weird to be around the wife and kids, or the wife alone. Nippon Oil’s two-week family campaign which ended last weekend, encouraged people to go home early. As Nippon Oil President Shinji Nishio announced, “We expect all workers to actively participate.” We’re guessing that means procreation. Workers at Nippon Oil are also no longer allowed to work weekends and have to ask for permission to work past 7 p.m. from now on. Even Toray Industries, the well-known textile manufacturer, participated in the family weeks campaign this month, along with Nippon Airways.

For those dear readers of Label Networks who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture, please search “Japan” to get up to speed, or better yet, subscribe to our Japanese Youth Culture Studies. As a quick historic snapshot of the workman aesthetic, this is a country that is taught from the beginning that industriousness is key to being a good citizen. Stepping out of line and being individual (but usually in a group-sense of individualism) is OK until you’re about 22-25, when white collar workers go into the workforce and become what’s known as “salarymen.” This applies to women too, but not as much so.

However the strict cultural aspects of working hard for a company your entire life, the drone of getting on and off packed trains for sometimes hellishly brutal commutes, has also lead to an extreme backlash among today’s youth generation coming into their mid-20’s with suicide rates in Japan among the highest in the world. (Death-by-jumping in front of a train is still a preferred method.) This also answers some of the more fringe cultural questions about the whole school-girl fetish-thing, not to mention young girl’s thoughts on sex (with salarymen) in general. But that’s another, longer, and far more interesting story.

What’s important in terms of the new “family weeks” being offered by Corporate Japan addresses the serious problem of stepping-up the country’s declining birth rate, because frankly, who’s going to be left to work once this entire baby boom turns to retirement? It’s a national problem that’s been lurking in Japan for years -actually they started programs as early as 1972, but have clearly stepped-up in the last few months.

For more information on Label Networks’ Japan Youth Culture Studies covering 15-25-year-olds, please email; (323) 630-4000. The Japan Studies are free to Premium Subscribers.