(This is a response to a reddit thread, which was locked while I was composing it. Since misinformation about work conditions in Japan is widespread, I’m posting it here. I don’t have any particular special insight here, other than that I pay attention to news stories about labor problems in various japanese industries & to how those issues are covered in japanese media.)

Japan isn’t doing capitalism “correctly”; if anything, ideas about expected behavior have caused it to be more warped. Normal white collar office work in Japan looks a lot like the warped work culture of SV and of the AAA game industry in the US, with unpaid overtime being extremely common. (This is a big driver of Karoshi.)

The Japanese media industry relies pretty heavily on exploitative labor practices, because it’s considered low-status even though it accounts for a lot of exports.

For instance, comics & fiction typically get serialized in cheap magazines in a kind of pulp model, where people are signed and paid per chapter but will lose the ability to continue if they submit chapters late, and the pay rate isn’t really sustainable for what amounts to 80 hour weeks (which is normal for weekly manga written & drawn by a single artist).

Live action film and television is also low-status, although I don’t know about pay or working conditions offhand.

Animators are independent contractors paid by the cut (and required to do corrections for free, often on a very short deadline — in other words, if they receive inadequate initial instruction & draw something that doesn’t match the previous or following scene, they will need to completely redo the animation for free, and this sometimes happens several times).

The pop music industry in japan is extra exploitative because it has a heavy focus on girl groups / pop idol acts consisting of minors, with anybody over the age of 14 or 15 typically getting expelled from a group and replaced; the big players in this industry take copyright litigation a lot more seriously than is done in the west, and merchandising and tie-in stuff is done at a much larger scale, while the artists are considered disposable figureheads.

Sure, Japan has collectivist tendencies which sometimes manifest as thinking of the greater good. However, more often, those tendencies are warped by capitalist incentives into tolerating exploitative practices out of a feeling that this toleration helps one’s immediate peers or family (ex., not doing free overtime would be screwing over your coworkers, even though these death marches only exist because everybody does free overtime).

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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