Aventures missionaire

Work and values in Japanese society

Publié le 19/07/2023

Young Christian Workers (YCW) was founded in Japan after the war, when the country was still under the occupation of General Headquarters (GHQ). Okae Tazuko, who accompanies the YCW group in Tokyo, explains her understanding of the evolution of attitudes towards values at work.

Le père Pierre Perrard, MEP, avec les jeunes de la JOC de Tokyo.


In the 1960s, the Japanese economy grew considerably. A plan to double national revenue was launched, and life for workers began to change. Material wealth and values that prioritised the economy began to dominate people’s minds. YCW grew significantly during this period of radicalisation of the Japanese trades union movement.

In 1999, following the introduction of a law allowing temporary employment, the life of young people became more precarious.

The unions, which are supposed to protect the rights and interests of workers, are unable to wage effective opposition, and there is a steady decline in union membership. As a result many workers have no choice but to fight individually.

Full-time employees are pressured with overtime and performance-based work. Workers, physically and mentally exhausted, suffer from depression, which has led to an increase in deaths and suicides due to overwork.

One in three workers is in part-time employment. Numbers of the working poor, even if they have a job, areincreasing. Poverty prevents a growing number of young people from getting married or having children, even when they want to. They have no hope for a better future. If their health deteriorates, they are immediately forced to live as refugees in internet cafés (in train stations, in temporary and very cramped accommodation) or in homeless shelters. Only a handful of young people are able to work in a stable environment.

Young people who have no place to live look for accommodation on social networking sites, but there is insufficient security. Some live for a while in a room in accommodation provided on a voluntary basis by people in the neighbourhood.

Young people in poor health find it difficult to work full-time and are often forced into informal jobs. It is difficult for them to meet even their daily needs. They have to overcome many obstacles before reaching the final safety net: social assistance. Young people who are able to work as full-time employees are forced to work in poor conditions. This includes long working hours due to a chronic labour shortage.

One of the reasons why many Japanese women leave the workforce following pregnancy or childbirth is that men rarely take parental leave. Therefore, the entire burden falls on working women who are unable to balance work and childcare. Society as a whole, whether executives or workers, has not succeeded in freeing itself from a division of labour based on gender. The gender gap index in Japan’s economy shows that women’s salaries are 60% of men’s and the proportion of women in managerial positions is 15%, which puts Japan’s ranking as 116th out of 146 countries. Can one say that work is a value? I don’t think so, not in the way values such as justice or fraternity can be; no, work is rather a means of ensuring a human and dignified life, a life lived in the image of Jesus.

Some people want to continue working even after retirement, in order to earn some money, but even more to maintain social contact.


YCW’s view of evangelism

The YCW movement has a special way of living evangelism.

Father Cardin, who launched the YCW in Belgium, considered young people at work as his preciouscompanions. He did not close his eyes to their suffering. He started by listening to young people, he washimself profoundly affected by the tragic situation in which young people found themselves. He reflected deeply with them on why they were in this situation, and saw how it affected their lives.

He came into contact with young people, not from the outside, but by listening to each of them with his heart. This is exactly how Jesus was with the people of his time.

The YCW is a movement of young workers that gives hope. It aspires for, and is  building, a new society. It isa movement of active young workers who hope to realize their deepest desires (their hearts’ desire).


Young people want to live with dignity

The YCW is a movement that aims to create a community in which young workers can share all aspects of their lives. They use a ‘life review’,  and the ‘see-judge-act’ process as their principal methods for changing their current situation. By questioning their own conscience on what they should do, the contrast between their own desire for fulfilment and actual reality comes into focus, and the motivation for their actions becomes clear.

Without this motivation, young people become discouraged.

It is also necessary to locate the issues that affect their lives. One of them relates to economic, political and cultural structures.

As regards “judging” – this is a term that we would no longer use today, we would tend to speak of “reflecting”. It is important for each young person to be able to think for themselves rather than repeating ready-made ideas. Young people refer to the life of Jesus and to the image of the man presented by the Bible.

The YCW is convinced that through action and the “life review” young people grow as human beings, workers and Christians. It also believes that evangelism is the way for each of them to become human and to create a society in which they can live together.


by Okae Tazuko