Country-Western Song Makes No Sense In Japan

Country-Western Song Makes No Sense In Japan

David Surdam /

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Johnny Paycheck’s song, “Take This Job and Shove It,” expresses a fundamental human right in the United States. Many workers fantasize about the day they can use Paycheck’s song title in confronting their boss. Yes, it is a rude and crude sentiment, but it is an American right.

For Japanese workers, however, Paycheck’s lyrics may not resonate. Japanese law provides similar rights for workers seeking to switch jobs as do American laws. Our friends in Japan, however, face cultural strictures against quitting their jobs, much less thumbing their noses at their supervisors. The Japanese culture inculcates loyalty between employers and employees. Once a young Japanese worker chooses an employee, the worker is expected to remain with that employer for his or her working life. Conversely, employers are supposed to demonstrate loyalty to their employees.

Dissatisfied workers in Japan fret about the ramifications of quitting their jobs. They fear angry confrontations with bosses and even social stigma from quitting their work.

Journalist Yuri Kageyama writes, “In Japan, a nation reputed for loyalty to companies and lifetime employment, people who job-hop are often viewed as quitters. And that’s considered shameful.”¹ The Japanese people are now among the most pacifistic on Earth, but there are vestiges of the extreme aspects of wartime sacrifice: “People often stick with jobs even when they’re unhappy, feeling as if they are ‘kamikaze’ sacrificing their lives for the greater good, he [Yoshihito Hasegawa, taishoku daiko] said, comparing his clients to pilots sent on suicide missions in the closing days of World War II.”

Some Japanese employers expect extreme amounts of overtime from their workers. Other employers mislead prospective workers as to job characteristics and expectations. Once hired, workers may discover their employers deceived them or that they dislike the working conditions.

Disgruntled Japanese workers can enlist help in the job termination process. Taishoku daiko are “job-leaving agents.” For a relatively modest fee (usually less than 65,000 yen…roughly $450), these agents will help employees tender their resignations with a minimum of fear and rancor.

Economists would argue that increasing the ease of entry and exit from jobs would make the labor market function more efficiently, as workers and employers end up with better matches in employment. Underemployment wastes potential productivity. Japanese employers, however, would disagree. They would argue that the promise of lifetime employment and company investment in company-specific training and skills requires worker loyalty. Such arguments have merit, but many employers, as well as employees, could benefit from granting workers great flexibility in choosing employers.

Striking the optimal balance between workers changing employment and employer needs is difficult, of course. Economists’ textbook or blackboard exercises often miss the messiness of real life.

From an ethical perspective, allowing workers greater leeway in changing employment in the face of employer misrepresentation is important. Employers should not have disproportionate bargaining leverage in the tussle between employee and employer self-interests. We can hope that our Japanese friends gain an understanding of Johnny Paycheck’s sentiments.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.

1) Kageyama, “In workaholic Japan, ‘job leaving agents’ help people escape the awkwardness of quitting,” The Asian Reporter, July 3, 2023, 3-4