In the West, the Japanese tend to be portrayed as untiring worker bees and stalwart company warriors – sometimes even leading to death from overwork. The results of many recent surveys, however, indicate change. This becomes most apparent in the decrease in average annual working hours since the early 1990s. An NHK survey on lifestyles and time budgets, conducted every five years, indicates that opportunities for individual ways of time-spending have increased and that there has been a clear change in preferences for more spare time and its fulfillment. Moreover, “work-life balance” has become a common catchphrase among the urban middle class and many large companies have implemented corresponding measures. Yet, how significant this trend towards a ‘leisure society’ (Linhart 1988) really is, can only be understood if the situation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in more rural and poorer regions is taken into account.
My presentation focuses on the grey areas between work and spare time, which are often characterized by fluent transitions. Drawing from data collected through participatory observation and semi-structured interviews at a medium-sized company in Fukui prefecture, my study offers insights into the social reality of the employees embedded in a specific working environment. The case study demonstrates how the shift of values manifests itself in and outside of the workplace, and how it affects the lives of the individuals in different context.