FOR years Japanese workers have served as a model of industriousness for Americans. Many Japanese employees spend up to 13 hours a day on the job, and statistics show that half don't take their allotted vacation each year. So intense is the pace in what has been called a workaholic nation that more than 40 percent of Japanese "salarymen" have said they fear dying of overwork.
Now this hard-edged portrait of the Japanese worker is beginning to take on softer, more human dimensions. Reports from Tokyo claim that video arcades and pachinko parlors are crowded in mid-afternoon with "salarymen" enjoying a break from the job. Even workers who stay in the office reportedly find ample time to read newspapers and talk with co-workers.
The news may come as a relief to Americans, who have sometimes been made to feel that if they would just emulate the Japanese, who average 200 more hours on the job each year than Americans do, the United States would become more competitive. The implicit message from the video arcades is that long hours of work time don't always translate into long hours of productive time. Japanese unions are sending a similar message by calling for shorter hours.
These revelations come at a time when Americans themselves are considering the negative consequences of a workweek that has lengthened in recent decades.
The debate has been sparked in part by Juliet Schor's book, "The Overworked American." What has been called a "poverty of time" is causing some harried workers to reassess their priorities and decide they would gladly trade a portion of their paycheck for more leisure time.
On both sides of the Pacific, all work and no play makes Jack, if not dull, at least frazzled. Calling "timeout," whether in a video arcade in Tokyo or a backyard garden in Toledo, holds the promise of enriching the lives of workers and their families, which ultimately benefits employers as well.