For some of Japan’s lonely workers, the pandemic brings a homecoming Part 1

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. drag on / dræg ɒn / (phrasal v.) – to continue for a long time

    Many businesses didn’t expect the lockdowns to drag on for so long.

  2. far-flung / ˈfɑrˈflʌŋ / (adj.) – found in a very distant place or location

    The new teacher was assigned to a far-flung school on another island.

  3. long-established / lɔŋ ɪˈstæb lɪʃt / (adj.) – continuing or existing for a long time

    The residents of this town have a long-established tradition of organizing a huge street party on Christmas Day.

  4. impetus / ˈɪm pɪ təs / (n.) – something that causes another thing to start or happen

    The death of his grandfather was the impetus for his sudden interest in the family business.

  5. abolish / əˈbɒl ɪʃ / (v.) – to stop or end something

    The new president promised to abolish corruption.


Read the text below.

After four years spent working and living alone, far from his family and friends, Tsuyoshi Tatebayashi packed his bags at the end of March and returned, at last, to his wife and two daughters.

Like hundreds of thousands of other white-collar workers, the 44-year-old IT engineer had been on a solo assignment, known as tanshin funin, and wasn’t expecting to return to his family so soon.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, his employer, Fujitsu, decided to send its far-flung workers home, becoming one of Japan’s first big firms to start to end the long-established practice.

Solo assignments have been a regular duty for white-collar workers since at least Japan’s recovery from wartime devastation, becoming a crucial step in career progression despite their unpopularity among many workers.

“If it can be helped, I don’t want to have to go on a solo assignment again,” Tatebayashi said from his home in Fukuoka, around 1,000 km from his work base near Tokyo. He was one of 4,000 solo workers at the IT consulting and equipment maker.

Manabu Morikawa, a Fujitsu personnel manager, said technology has made remote work possible and ending the unpopular practice may help Fujitsu hire workers.

“There had been discussion in the past about people working away from their families, but COVID-19 provided the impetus for change,” Morikawa said.

Snack maker Calbee Inc. is another company scrapping the practice, last year abolishing most solo assignments.

Solo workers at companies where teleworking has become a norm are also going home. At some, including Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings and beverage maker Kirin Holdings, that change may be permanent. (Reuters)

To be continued…

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Fujitsu decided to send its far-flung workers home, becoming one of Japan’s first big firms to start to end tanshin funin. Other companies have also started to do the same. Do you think tanshin funin will ever be completely abolished in Japan? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • If you were asked to go on an assignment in a far-flung area, would you prefer to go alone or take your family with you? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • A Fujitsu personnel manager said ending tanshin funin or solo assignments may help Fujitsu hire workers. Do you agree? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • In your opinion, what other policies or benefits will help companies hire more workers in your country (ex. flexible schedule, four-day work week)? Why? Discuss.