During an opportunity I had to speak with women working at television stations, they told me that their employers had recently been warning them against working too much, and that they were working late nights less frequently than they used to.
"It's a positive trend," one of the women said. "But our jobs entail not just the actual production of TV programs, but also research leading up to production. Going to the library or using the internet at home to do research is also part of our work, depending on how you think about it."
Another woman added, "Some of the research we do is really interesting and we learn a lot from it, so being told not to do too much of it kind of puts us in a bind."
We all looked at each other and smiled. "It's difficult to control how much time we allot for work, isn't it?"
There's work for which time allotment and management is much harder, such as household chores, child-rearing, and nursing care. You can't just stop doing it because you've left your office, or because you've already put in a certain number of hours. Even if, at some point in the future, a robot were to take over child-rearing after you've put in 40 hours a week, some people are likely to want to continue doing the work themselves because they enjoy it. Conversely, some people probably feel that nursing care is too hard even when they do have support from others. Household chores, child-rearing and nursing care do not have easily definable boundaries. On top of that, such work is generally unpaid for.
The late sociologist Kazuko Tsurumi introduced to Japan the idea of "shadow work" -- referring to work that is indispensable for everyday life, but goes unpaid -- that had been discussed by intellectuals in the West.
Whenever light shines upon a person, a shadow is created. No one is without a shadow. Even if that person receives attention or praise, applause is never given to their shadow. You could say that those who take on the work of raising children, or caring for elderly or disabled people are "shadow workers."
If working hours were to be cut back for people who work for companies and other outside employers, what would the impact be on shadow work? Would there be an increase in the number of people who go out of their way to take on shadow work, saying, "Since I'm not working overtime tonight, I'll make dinner?" Or will they say, "Since I don't have to work overtime, I want to go out. Don't force me to do housework or look after the kids," thereby forcing shadow workers to continue working endlessly as they have?
In spite of the declining birthrate in Japan, I get the impression that the amount of work one must do outside of the home and the amount of shadow work that must be done within the home are increasing. Cases of depression resulting from overwork, child-rearing or nursing care remain high. It's time we rethink what "work" means, as well as where it begins and where it ends. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)