Uncle Sam has plenty of work-alcoholics, but their drive and dedication is peanuts compared to the sacrifices that some Japanese bureaucrats are willing to make.
Competition is so tough in the Japanese civil service that the road to bureaucratic job happiness sometimes requires junior G-men to follow the Take-My-Wife, Please, road to success. Example:
Atsuyuki Suzuta, senior editorial writer for the Minichi Shimbum, did a story about "The Way of the Bureaucrat" for the respected magazine Japan Echo. It provides fascinating insights into the daily power struggle in the bureaucracy. None is more interesting than the extreme example of the executive who chose overtime as the way to get to the top.
Spouses of U.S. bureaucrats, with visions of Grade 16 status dancing in their heads, may not find the story amusing, because of the parallels in their own situation.
Writing of the upward-bound Japanese bureaucrat, Suzuta says: " . . . the first thing that he is tested for is his willingness to sacrifice himself (and his family) to the demands of his work. It is often said that the hardest-working bureaucrats are those at the deputy director level . . . " who sometimes put in 200 overtimes hours monthly.
"During budget season," he continued, "these Budget Bureau deputy directors cannot go home even to take a pregnant wife to the hospital." (If he is that busy, one wonders how she got that way.) Anyhow, he continues:
"In fact, one division director lost his wife to the budget wars. He was working every day until after midnight drawing up the budget requirements for a national project when his wife came down with pneumonia. Her illness was not discovered until it was too late."
Like many sad stories, this one does have a happy ending. Or at least 50 percent of one.
"The bureau director and the vice-minister paid her the highest homages of grief at the funeral. As a true bureaucrat's wife she had been 'killed in action.' It was a home-front death in the bureaucracy's most important campaign, the battle of the budget.
"Extreme though it is," the writer notes, "this is indicative of the expectation that the bureaucrat be willing to sacrifice all for the state . . ."