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The "Busy" Myth (Feedback)

Thanks for all your contributions to the discussion. I’m afraid to say that I agreed with pretty much all of the comments on the Japan Today article. In other countries, companies do things called “time and motion” studies. This means that they follow individuals around for a whole day to see what they are doing. The idea is to give them advice to help them to become more efficient. I remember thinking when I first came to Japan that if any time-and-motion people visited a Japanese company, they would probably die of a heart attack!

I realise that my opinion is biased because I have mostly worked in educational establishments, and of course, I do not think that Japanese people are lazy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The problem is expressed in an English proverb: work expands to fill the time available. Put simply, this means that if you think you have two hours to do a job, it will take two hours; if you think you have three, it will take three; and if you think it will take one, it will take one.

I think the reason that Japanese people end up working until 9 or 10 p.m. is that they begin the day thinking that is going to happen. This means that their whole day becomes geared to that final point. When I worked in another university, I had a friend who worked in the admissions (入試) department, which is one of the busiest offices in a university. She was very smart, and she was a very hard worker. One day, the boss of the university decided that all office staff had to leave by six. I remember her telling me 絶対に無理!そんな短い時間で私たちの仕事を終わらせるのはどう考えても不可能! I saw her again about three months after the system had been introduced, and I asked her how it was going. Her answer was とても不思議なことに、なんとか間に合っています.

Anyway, here is some feedback on your comments.

All of them are very nice and atmosphere in each room looks cozy.
… very nice, and the rooms all look cozy. (There is no need to translate 雰囲気)

And regarding to Tomo’s problems,
Regarding Tomo’s problems…

When I go somewhere abroad, I’m really surprised by the way people continue chatting with their co-workers right in front of a customer!
There was an interesting story in the news yesterday about a shop in England that is now refusing to serve customers if they are talking on their mobile phones when they come to the checkout.

A woman, who excels the others, doesn’t work overtime.
One woman, who was a much better worker than the others, didn’t do any overtime.

These things made me think that they were just scared to be left out from the group, or they thought like if they had missed something just because they weren’t there, it would cause a great damage to their career success.
I think this is a very accurate observation.

I saw your comment right after I posted mine!
This is a useful sentence to learn if you don’t know it.

I am not sure though, “middle-men” in this case not 中年 but 中間業者.
中間業者 is correct.

The book says that there’s an old English Halloween game, called “Bobbing for apples”. Have you ever heard of it?
I’m going to do this with my students next week!

Yes, we do have a trick-or treating every year and I’m rushing to prepare these days.
“These days” is used for more permanent things and longer periods of time. “At the moment” would be better here. (A-Z: now)

but I assume situations have been changing little by little.
… but I think that things are changing slowly.

I think I’m not smart enough to understand your “tweet” above.
I don’t think I’m smart enough… (A-Z: negative sentence word order)

By the way, your sentences sometimes rack my brain
By the way, your sentences sometimes make me think

People have to overwork, sometimes unpaid
People have to work overtime, sometimes unpaid. (“Overwork” means 過労.)

Most of people don’t like that, I think.
Most people don’t like that, I think. (A-Z: almost)

I mentioned about time management before and I think that women can manage time more efficiently than men. (Sorry, David!)
No need to apologise. I agree 100%! I think women tend to do most things better than men, which is one of the biggest problems in Japan because they are not given any responsibility.

How cool he is to be great at his job even if he leaves the office earlier!
“How ‘adjective’ he is” is quite old fashioned. I would say “It’s pretty cool that he is great at his job even though he leaves the office earlier than his colleagues.”

because I haven’t been worked in such offices.
… because I haven’t worked in offices like that. (A-Z: such)

Sorry, “Your right” should be “You’re right”.
Native speakers make this mistake all the time.

Unfortunately, we Japanese have been protected under lifetime employment and the seniority system.
It is better to avoid the phrase “We Japanese” in English. If you didn’t know this, please read the entry “Ten things you should not say to people from other countries” on my blog for teachers.

If you are interested, here is a link of the definition of “odd”.
… here is a link for the definition of “odd.”

Ishihara announced to resign his post just now.
Appalently, he’s going to form a new political party.
The day has finally arrived….
I hope Japanese people will stop voting for nationalist politicians. They will cause great damage to this country. Look at all the money Japanese companies have lost in China because of his idea of buying the islands. And do you really think an 80-year-old should be a political leader?!

Actually until about the half of it, I didn’t feel much interested, but after about the half it become very interested. What I learned in the book was full of surprised.
I felt the same.

「車の両輪」means “a pair of wheels” directly , and it includes all the meanings written above. Does the phrase in English include all those meanings, too? Does everyone get it when I use it like “Work and private life are like a pair of wheels”?
Sorry, that just sounds weird to me. It is often not possible to translate expressions like that.

That’s it for today. I’m going away this weekend, so I might not be able to check the blog very much. If you have any questions, I will answer them on Monday.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


  1. Biwa on 2012年10月26日 at 13:13

    Thanks for your feedback, David.
    I’m glad I asked you if the expression was correct or not. As you say, I think you have be careful when translating these things, too. Also, it’s really good to look into more than one dictionary.

    Talking about Ishihara, I agreed with this sentence below which is from the article in Japan Today. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why many people still keep voting for him. Isn’t it sad?

    >His bluff public persona and straightforward manner chimed well with an electorate that felt worryingly cast adrift by an absence of strong political leaders.

  2. Biwa on 2012年10月26日 at 14:24

    Sorry, “have be” should be “have to be” and “the article” should be “an article”.

    Good luck with your bobbing for apples!

  3. Biwa on 2012年10月26日 at 17:00

    Hi everyone,

    David’s story about the proverb “work expands to fill the time available” made me think again that women might be better at managing time. I’m saying this because lots of you seem to be 主婦(including me!), and for us, doing things within a limited time is just what we do every day, isn’t it? I think this is why his friend who worked in the admissions office was able to adjust herself to the new rule quickly. (I hope I’m not making enemies by saying this!) Perhaps, if all the 主婦s work as one to solve those difficult problems in this country, it might be a great power! Well, we’re just smart enough not to do that, I guess. LOL!

    Have a nice weekend, everyone!

  4. Kimi on 2012年10月26日 at 22:23

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback.
    I knew that “we Japanese” shouldn’t be used as I read it in your blog for teachers earlier. However, in this case I used it on purpose because I judged foreign national shouldn’t be involved in Japanese own problem. – I wanted to emphasize this was Japanese own problem. Do I should avoid this phrase in the case like this? I also don’t know which word to choose to express “外国人”. I’ve heard that we had better avoid “foreigner”.

    “we Japanese”は使わないほうがいいと、以前教師向けのブログで読んでいたので、そのことは知っていました。ただ今回の場合、日本特有の問題に外国の方を巻き込んではいけない、と判断しあえて使いました。(日本の問題であると強調したかった。)こういったときも、このフレーズは使わないほうがいいのでしょうか?それに、”外国人”を表現するとき、どの言葉をつかえばいいのかわかりません。foreignerは避けたほうがいいと聞いたことがあるので。

    Hi YU and Biwa,

    Thank you for telling me about David’s explanation for “should”. I read it. I’ll try it! When someone new asks the same thing again, I hope I can explain it.


    Hi Anne,

    > I’ll start reading again from where I stopped.
    Can you also say “I’ll start reading again from where I left off.”?
    This blog is interesting that we can learn a lot not only from David’s comments but also from others’ comments.

    “I’ll start reading again from where I left off.”とも言えますか?このブログはDavidだけでなくいろんな人のコメントから得られるものが多いので楽しいですね。

    Hi Fumie,

    The book sounds interesting. I want to read original, but it must be difficult for me. I’ve only read books geared for English learners. First, I am thinking to read a paperback written in simple English. Do you know “Tuesdays with Morrie”? A friend of mine who I met through English recommended me the book. I’m reading it. I like to hear more from you.


    Hi YU,

    >I knew a coworker who always worked inefficiently by design to work overtime so that she would be able to earn more.
    It is irrational that such a thing goes unmentioned. It is one of reasons why the other workers get stressed out. If any time-and-motion people visited a Japanese company and observed these phenomena, they would probably die of a heart attack!


    Hi Biwa,

    >I know by experience that a person who can organize his/her work well tends to be a very attractive person who enjoys his/her private life.
    I think your comment represents one aspect of the proverb: Work expands to fill the time available. A person who can organize his/her work well is managing time efficiently by sharing their time properly. As a result, he/she can enjoy his/her private life well. A person who enjoys both his/her work and private tends to be a very attractive. It is a bit tough for me but I want to be that kind of person.


    Hi amo,

    > I don’t allow my staff to work unnecessary overtime.
    Your subordinates must be fortunate. An excellent boss means not only the person who is great at work but also the person who can motivate his/ her subordinates to work more. I hope that the number of that kind of person will increase.


    Hi Tomo,

    I hope you can take a good rest on the weekend.

    Have a nice weekend, all of you!


  5. YU on 2012年10月26日 at 23:55

    Hi David and everyone,

    Thank you for your feedback!

    > And do you really think an 80-year-old should be a political leader?!

    Indeed. He should retire now and enjoy bonsai at home.

    “まさしく80歳!なんで俺がこんなことしなきゃならないんだ!若い奴しっかりしろよ!”, Ishihara stated in his speech yesterday.

    Who on earth asked you to do そんなこと? Hashimoto?

    Apparently, lots of Japanese people are supporting Ishihara’s return to national politics and expecting that he will do a great job with his new post.

    I simply can’t understand why most Japanese people don’t realize that he will cause great damage to this country, especially in diplomacy. I wonder if they have been brainwashed.

    South Korean media, for example, reported that Japan is leaning to the political right, China seems to be displeased, too.
    But why only Japanese people are blind??

    Why bother to choose a troublemaker for our political leader?

    Hi Kimi,

    > それに、”外国人”を表現するとき、どの言葉をつかえばいいのかわかりません。foreignerは避けたほうがいいと聞いたことがあるので。

    people from other countries がいいと思います。

    Have a great weekend all!

  6. Anne on 2012年10月27日 at 05:17

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback.
    >very nice, and the rooms all look cozy. (There is no need to translate 雰囲気)
    —-I see. This kind of the thing is the difficult part and I need to learn.

    > … but I think that things are changing slowly —I thought present perfect was good because situation had been changing. I got it.

    I made lots of mistakes and thank you for correcting lots of my sentences. It was very helpful.

    Hi Kimi,
    >“I’ll start reading again from where I left off.”とも言えますか?—Yes, I think it’s OK, too. By the way, I read “Tuesdays with Morrie” many years ago. I enjoyed reading it.

    Have a lovely weekend,everyone,


  7. Fumie on 2012年10月27日 at 05:54

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback.
    I thought “time and motion” was a good system and Japan should follow this system to help people to be able to work efficiently.
    >“How ‘adjective’ he is” is quite old fashioned.
    I didn’t know that. Thanks for telling us. I’ll avoid using it. So how about “what a ‘adjective’ noun”? e.g. “What a beautiful girl”, is it also old-fashioned?

    Hi Kimi,

    >Do you know “Tuesdays with Morrie”?
    Yes, I’ve heard of that but I’ve never read it.
    >I like to hear more from you.
    Thank you. I want to do that too.
    BTW, I always learned some new words/phrases from your comments. This time I learned “left off” 中断する、”geared for” ~向けの、~に対応した、”represent”
    表している。Thank you!

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone!


  8. rinko on 2012年10月27日 at 13:51

    Hi David.
    Thank you for your feedback!

    About time-and-motion studies, I agree with you that if any time-and-motion people visited a Japanese company, they would probably die of a heart attack.But I really hope this system will be introduced in Japan!
    Also the story about your friend who worked in the admissions department reminds me of a workemate of mine when I worked.He usually worked overtime saying that”there are too many things to do to leave my work on time…” But he could finish his tasks so quickly and leave on time when he had plans to go for a drink with his friends after working!

    Have a great weekend everyone!!


  9. Kimi on 2012年10月27日 at 23:31

    Hi David,

    Hope you are having fun. I’m afraid my last comment was very long. When my comment is too long, I will split it into some parts and post them.

    Hi YU,

    Thank you as always. I am sometimes confused because English I have learnt doesn’t work. I have to absorb some knowledge by reading and hearing real English a lot.


    Hi Fumie,

    I’m always writing comment looking up some vocabulary and expressions in an online dictionary. So listing words helps me memorize them. Thank you!


    Hi Anne,

    Thank you for answering my question. You read that book, didn’t you? I will try it when a book I’m reading is done. The book I ‘m reading is written Japanese, though.



  10. amo on 2012年10月28日 at 00:40

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback. I don’t know where you are now, but hope you have some fun 🙂

    Hi YU,

    >but I guess some are just wily.

    Yes, you are right, but I would like to spend my time for myself, so I strongly prefer time to money 🙂 Maybe I am getting old so I don’t want to waste my precious time.

    Hi Biwa,

    >I’m saying this because lots of you seem to be 主婦(including me!)

    Mmm, so I am the odd one out here because I am single lol Anyway, I totally agree with you. Your words reminded me of the housewives who manage the limited budget. You know, those housewives are introduced on TV sometimes, how they make do with what they have. When I see those women on TV, I always think if they were politicians, they could avoid making the financial situation any worse.

    It’s really difficult for me to say those things in English.

    Hi Kimi,

    >An excellent boss….

    I am flattered, but I am not that good. As I mentioned before, they really don’t like working late. I forgot to tell you this before, but I had a look the link that you posted, and I wish I could work like that company.

    Hi Anne and Fumie,

    Thanks for your words:) Yes I had a good time in Taiwan. The weather was fine and the people were kind. To tell the truth, I was a bit of worried about the trip, though. As you know, the Senkaku Islands issue, but there was no need to worry about it. As I said the people we met were really nice 🙂

    Hi everyone,

    How’s your weekend? I went to get a massage this afternoon, and am going to see a musical tomorrow.

    Good night and sweet dreams,

  11. Biwa on 2012年10月28日 at 07:54

    Hi amo,

    Ooops! Sorry amo, I didn’t mean to pigeonhole you! Perhaps I should have said “生活人” instead of “主婦”. I still think that you must be very good at handling your everyday chores and hard work, and are also very keen to study English because you sometimes comment when you’re on your way to work.
    I really agree to your idea about the women who are good at handling limited budjet. However, I have to admit I’m not good at those things at all. For me, budjet seems to expand to fill the money available! lol!

    Hi everyone,

    Hope you’re all having a nice weekend.
    Yesterday, I went to the wholesaler to get tons of snacks for Halloween. It’s always fun to imagine children’s excited faces when they see all these!
    Today, I’m going to my sons’ school festival. They’re going to do plays. I hope it doesn’t rain too much.

  12. amo on 2012年10月28日 at 10:11

    Hi Biwa,

    Don’t say sorry, I just wanted to use “odd” in my sentence 😉
    By the way, it must be typo but in case you learnt that incorrectly. “budjet” should be “budget”
    Anyway, enjoy your sons’s festival. Is it raining your area? It seems that already stopped raining here my area, though. Hope it won’t last long.

    Have a good day, everyone 🙂


  13. Tomo on 2012年10月28日 at 13:30

    Hi Fumie, Biwa, and Kimi,

    Thank you for your messages 🙂 I had to work every day this week, so I really thought to myself, “TGIF!” on Friday. Anyway, I’m glad I managed to get through the week and didn’t have to work on Saturday.

    Fumie、Biwa、Kimi、ご心配いただきありがとうございます。  今週は毎日出勤だったので、金曜日は本当に“Thank God, it’s Friday!”という感じでしたね~ まあ、何とか1週間を乗り切りました。 土曜日出勤じゃなくて良かったです。

    Hi David and everyone,

    I read the article on Japan Today and your comments on the last entry. It seems that I missed an interesting discussion. When I was working in a bank, we(my female colleagues and me) always tried to get everything done on time and get out the office as soon as possible, but men always stayed late. For men, there was definitely the pressure of not being allowed to leave before their boss, but even if the boss left the office early, men didn’t go home. I guess some people were just staying at the office to get paid overwork, but as we discussed before, most companies are trying to reduce overtime now, so I think things have changed. My husband used to work really late, but he usually comes back home at around 7 or 8 now. He told me that employees in his bank cannot work late(even when it’s necessary) because the head office check the time. Also, the boss of the branch will be considered as an ineffective leader if s/he cannot manage their people.

    Japan Today と前のエントリーのコメントを読みました。 どうやら面白いディスカッションを逃してしまったみたいですね。

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and stories. They were all interesting.

    Anne and YU, I’m glad that you think of my English as easy to understand 🙂 I learned the key to expressing my thoughts in English on the blog – “KISS”(Keep it short and simple)

    Kimi, I’ve heard that some people don’t like to be called a “foreigner”, too. I would say “people from other countries”(the same as YU) or “non-Japanese people.”

    Biwa, I hope you and your son is having a nice time at the festival!

    See you soon,


  14. YU on 2012年10月28日 at 14:41

    Hi Tomo,

    I’m glad that you managed to get through the week and didn’t have to work yesterday. Please take good rest! 😉

    Hi amo,

    You seem to have had a great time in Taiwan!
    I agree with you that people in Taiwan are kind.
    Some of them speak good Japanese, don’t they? When I made a trip to Taipei with my father about 10 years ago, many older people talked to us in Japanese. When we lost our way, they voluntarily offered to guide us. 感動した!
    By the way, did you take a taxi in Taiwan? My father and I used mostly a taxi for the means of transportation. We found it vey nice and comfortable because the fare was quite reasonable, and the taxi driver took us to anywhere we liked only if we showed him a memo written our destination in kanji!

    Hi everyone,

    I’m going away from tomorrow to Wendnesday, so I I can’t translate David’s next entry, I’m afraid.
    I’m going to be a bit busy next 10 days, for change(珍しく)! (入学願書提出、入園面接、制服採寸等). Besides, I have to work as usual. My life flows much slower compared to Tomo’s, though!!

    See you !

  15. Biwa on 2012年10月28日 at 16:22

    Hi amo and everyone,

    Tha~~~nks for pointing out my misspelling!! It’s not a typo, I just believed it was a “j” for 40-odd years! きゃー、恥ずかしすぎる!(I wonder how you say this in English) I’m glad I didn’t have to teach this word to elementary school children…(汗!)

    By the way, it stopped raining here, too, so everything at the festival went okay, and the plays were really fun and also crazy! My elder son played 村人その1in “The Wizard of Oz” and my younger son played 死人その1in the horror film “Sadako” and did a haunted house in their classroom. Well, in my younger sons class, all his 39 classmates were 死人, except for the girl who played Sadako. Those teenagers are really crazy!
    Every year, I’m really amazed to see how energetic and lively the boys and girls are, and feel a bit surprised and happy to see my sons showing another contrast from what they show at home. They’re right in the middle of “youth”, I guess.

  16. Gussan on 2012年10月28日 at 16:24

    Hi David,

    I have a question.

    You corrected a sentence as follows:

    If you are interested, here is a link of the definition of “odd”.
    … here is a link for the definition of “odd.”
    I think another preposition is also correct in this case. That is ‘to’.

    … here is a link to the definition of “odd.”

    What do you think about the usage of ‘to’?

    I’d like to listen to your opinion.

    See ya.

  17. amo on 2012年10月28日 at 23:58

    Hi YU,

    >You seem to have had a great time in Taiwan!

    When we went to 九份 on the second day, we got lost and we were very upset because we were running out of time. We had to be at the meeting place in a few minutes, and we were really not sure if we were heading to the right way, then a woman came to us and helped us. If she hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have made on time (lol) Yes, people in Taiwan are kind.

    >did you take a taxi in Taiwan?

    As you said, the taxi fare was really reasonable. We used both subway and a taxi depending on the time and situation.

    Hi Biwa,

    >Tha~~~nks for pointing out my misspelling!! It’s not a typo, I just believed it was a “j” for 40-odd years! きゃー、恥ずかしすぎる!(I wonder how you say this in English) I’m glad I didn’t have to teach this word to elementary school children…(汗!)

    Oh, it wasn’t a typo? So, I did a good job 😉
    About “恥ずかしすぎる,” sorry I couldn’t think of any good words in English, but one Japanese phrase sprang to my mind. I am not sure if it suits in your case though. How about ”穴があったら入りたい?”
    You might know that those phases in English though. Here are some:

    I wish the earth would swallow me up.
    I want to crawl under the rug/seat.
    I with I could sink through the floor.

    Good night and sleep tight.

  18. kyarako on 2012年10月29日 at 00:19

    It is my first time to read David’s blog.
    I live in China now. Neither Chinese nor my western expad friends’ husbands work over!I was so surprised!
    My husband come home around 9 or 10.(Nevertheless for japanese expad,he come home early)I’d love to my husband come earlier,have dinner together and play with our son!I think it’s not good our son contact with Dad only in the morning and weekend.

  19. Biwa on 2012年10月29日 at 07:59

    Hi amo,

    Thanks for the useful expressions!
    They all seem to suit my case perfectly. However, I hope I won’t have to use them so often!

    Hi kyarako,

    Nice to have you with us!
    It seems that Japanese companies just can’t change their ways of thinking wherever they are.
    Life must be a lot different in China. I’d love to hear from you again!

    Have a nice day, everyone!

  20. David Barker on 2012年10月29日 at 10:49

    Hi Kimi,

    I would recommend that you never use the phrase “We Japanese” in English at all. It sounds exclusive and a little bit racist. As for “foreigner,” how about “people from other countries”?

    Hi Gussan,

    I suppose “to” would be okay as well, but “for” sounded more natural to me in that sentence.

    Hi Kyarako,

    Nice to have you with us. Look forward to reading your comments. I’m sure that living in China will give you a different perspective on many of the topics we discuss.

  21. Biwa on 2012年10月29日 at 11:00

    Hi everyone,

    By the way, I read an article which said in the UK, they made a rule that the Muslims don’t have to wear helmets when they ride motor bikes. This is because they wear turbans on their heads and they just can’t wear helmets over them.
    So, they simply took a very flexible approach instead of just banning the Muslims to ride motor bikes.
    This made me think that if the same thing happened in Japan, it must have took hundreds of more time to make a new rule. Also, it reminded me of the story about the stores refusing to serve the cell-phone-customers David told us in the feedback. I’m not sure why, but it just seems that other countries are much better at making/trying new and flexible rules than us.
shemale lesbian.