Japanese Company Lets Workers Set Hours, Profits Soar

Japanese Company Lets Workers Set Hours, Profits Soar

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Sakaguchi Nasen story
Picture: Canva
A Japanese t-shirt company and its unusual CEO are doing business differently - and the employees seem to dig it.

Japanese business has a reputation for demanding long hours and, at times, less-than-stellar working conditions. But one CEO in Gifu Prefecture is trying to change that by abolishing overtime and letting workers set their own hours. And judging from the company’s profits, it seems to be working.

The tattooed, blond CEO

Sakagucki Terumitsu of Sakaguchi Nasen

41-year-old CEO Sakaguchi Terumitsu (坂口輝光) doesn’t look like your typical CEO in Japan. The US-educated businessman sports wavy blond hair and a set of tattoos that would get him banned from many onsen and other “respectable” establishments.

He’s also what you might call “a character”, based on a report from 47 News. Sakaguchi’s visage graces much of his company’s corporate advertising, from posters to calendars. Sakaguchi told reporters that he keeps a folder of his own pics on his phone labeled 俺 (ore, me) and looks through it from time to time. “It gives me peace of mind, looking at myself,” he says.

Sakaguchi stepped into the CEO position of his family business in 2014. Started in 1953, Nasen originally focused on dying cloth for kimonos. Despite its cultural importance, there’s far less money in kimono than there used to be. So the company’s gradually shifted over to t-shirt printing.

In the past several years, Sakaguchi Nasen has seen profits shoot up over 20x. It’s also adding employees at a brisk rate. Part of the reason may be that the unconventional Sakaguchi brings an unconventional management style that seeks to put employees first.

An unconventional approach (because the conventional one isn’t working)

Some of Sakaguchi’s changes fall into corporate ra-ra territory. For example, he’s dispensed with the traditional morning radio gymnastics (ラジオ体操) you find at some companies, saying it’s “unfashionable.” Instead, the company sponsors morning yoga sessions for those who want it.

But other changes are substantial and meaningful. Sakaguchi says he doesn’t mandate set working hours. Employees are free to set their own schedules – whether to accommodate child-rearing or just take care of important life issues. The office also has a room with juice and candy where kids can hang out while their parents work.


Sakaguchi has also eliminated overtime and hires workers regardless of their age. One new employee, for example, is 78.

Sakaguchi says the policies are part of his (shockingly uncommon) belief that happy employees do good work.

“A company that people call ‘black’ [a business that treats its employees unfairly] where people keep saying they want to quit can’t create good products. Employee’s satisfaction with their work is correlated with customer satisfaction.”

An unconventional approach (because the conventional one isn’t working)

Man leaving airport

Sakaguchi Nasen’s policies stand in stark contrast to those of many other Japanese companies. Overwork and 過労死 (karoushi, death by overwork) are such chronic issues that the Japanese government under previous prime minister Abe Shinzo made “work reform” (働き方改革; hatarakikata kaikaku) a pillar policy of his tenure.

Besides overwork, many parents complain that Japanese companies don’t give them the flexibility they need to raise kids. Many say it’s hard to take parental leave, particularly new dads. And some that have claim their companies have punished them for it.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s government has encouraged businesses to do better around parental leave. However, Kishida seemed to contradict his own policy recently when he suggested workers use time with their kids time to reskill.

With Japan’s population rapidly dwindling, the central and local governments are scrambling to find ways to encourage couples to have more kids. Giving parents the kind of flexibility that Sakaguchi Nasen gives sounds like it could, just maybe, be part of a winning strategy.

Karoshi and the Woman That Dentsu Worked to Death


刺青&金髪!クセが強すぎる社長の社員ファーストな働き方改革で売り上げは20倍! 残業なし 出社退社時間は自由 78歳の新入社員も!47 News

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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