I’m sorry, but I can’t help but comment on this silly story today via CNN about how Canon employees in Japan are being sent home early from work twice a week as part of a national campaign to replenish the dwindling population. With the country’s birthrate at an abysmal 1.34, the Japanese have been fretting about how to deal with their reverse-pyramid demographics for more than a minute now. According to a company spokesman, “Canon has a very strong birth planning program. Sending workers home early to be with their families is a part of it.”
First of all, full disclosure: my dad has been working for Canon for almost 40 years. I think they’re a great company and have consistently been innovative (as far as Japanese companies go) in how they manage their global workforce. It’s pretty comical that CNN (and the other news outlets that have picked up this story) have focused on the “Check out what these weird Japanese are doing! Sending workers home to bonk!” aspect of the story–because if you bother to look beyond the misleading headline you’ll get to the real story in the final sentence: “(The 5:30pm lights out program) also has an added benefit: Amid the global economic downturn the company can slash overtime across the board twice a week.” DUH. If you ask me, that’s Corporate PR in its finest hour: taking a cost-cutting measure and spinning it into a CNN-worthy piece about companies doing its part to grow the population!
Also, anybody who has actually spent any significant amount of time in Japan can tell you that a few more hours at home every week is not going to solve its population problem. The important questions about Japan’s unrealistic immigration policies have yet to be answered; and nobody is really asking if Japanese women would choose to “go forth and multiply” even if they had all the flex-time and apartment space in the world. The fact is that more and more Japanese women today are delaying marriage or not getting marrried at all…and it’s not necessarily because they’re stuck at the office. What needs to be acknowledged is that a growing number of people are discovering an alternative paradigm for personal happiness that doesn’t necessarily involve marriage and kids. Instead of trying to bribe its citizens to procreate, the Japanese government should be opening up its borders to fill its growing labor shortage. Elder-care robots are fun to read about and all that, but frankly, if it came down to it I’d rather have my grandmother looked after by a warm-blooded immigrant than a souped up Wall-E.