The Japanese have a reputation for working very long hours. Traditionally, Japanese workers were recruited from high school or university by large companies. Most people stayed with the same company all their working life. Companies treated their workers well, often providing them with housing and health insurance. In return, they expected loyalty and hard work. Even during their spare time, workers would often engage in work-related social activities. Today, however, economic problems have weakened the bond between employers and employees. Young people are less likely than their parents to devote such long hours to work.
Japan industrialized rapidly after the Second World War. Today the country is known for the high quality of its manufactured goods. Japan is also one of the world’s most important shipbuilders and car manufacturers. It has advanced industrial plants for making electronic goods such as computers, cameras and televisions. In addition, Japan produces steel, synthetic rubber, aluminum, sulfuric acid, plastics, cement and pulp and paper. 

Japan has limited farmland because of its vast mountainous territory. Instead, the country relies on the sea as a source of food. The Japanese fishing fleet catches more fish than any other country in the world. However, in recent years, the fishing industry has faced problems because of overfishing and water pollution.

  Did you know?
The high pressure of the Japanese workplace has led to a number of deaths from stress-related disorders. The Japanese call this problem karoshi, or death from overwork.
The stock market crash in 1992 and the decline of property values pushed the Japanese economy into a recession. Many companies declared bankruptcy. Others reduced wages or laid off workers. Because work is so important to the Japanese, these problems have caused great social stress. 

Women make up 38% of the work force, but most senior jobs are held by men. Although Japan has pay equity legislation, women usually make less money than men. Attitudes toward women are changing, but many companies still have a two-track system for women: a general track where the work pace is slower and the assignments less challenging, and an integrated track where women are given the same work as men and are expected to work the same hours. Women who leave work to raise children have difficulty getting promoted when they return, since promotion is often based on length of service. The government is working to improve equality in the workplace.

In Japan commuting to work and school is an accepted way of life. The Shinkansen or bullet train is a high-speed train that travels between major city centres and reaches speeds of 300 kilometres an hour. Commuter trains are very crowded at rush hour and carry more people than they are designed to hold. Platform attendants wearing white gloves push people into the cars so the train doors will shut.
  Did you know?
Robots do much of the welding and painting in factories. They cost less than people and can work in unhealthy environments. There are also factories in Japan where robots are making more robots.