The Jinya inn in Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture, changed the working style of its employees with the introduction of IT. (Video taken by Shigetaka Kodama)

Editor's note: The economic development of postwar Japan has been supported by people working long hours without refusing to go on business trips or submitting to job relocations.

Meanwhile, such a way of working is difficult to go along with family life, such as providing child-rearing and nursing care, which become obstacles for women to landing jobs. In addition, it has been pointed out that Japan’s productivity is low in comparison with overseas nations.

“Karoshi” (death from overwork) and “black companies,” which overwork their employees, have become social problems.

Meanwhile, the working population is decreasing due to the decline in the number of children and the increase in the number of elderly. Because of that, the labor shortage has already become serious. The effects have spread.

Even in the service industry, which has continued to expand, many restaurants have been forced to shorten their business hours. Moving service operators have refused to accept some requests during busy periods. To rectify the situation, the government is engaged in reforming the way of working.

The following is a success story of a changing working style that coincides with SDGs Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

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HADANO, Kanagawa Prefecture--When a ryokan inn here closed its doors for three days a week, its sales more than doubled, and the average annual salary of its staff grew by 40 percent.

It may sound too good to be true, but a few simple yet highly effective changes to the way the business is run made all the difference.

The Jinya ryokan, located in the Tsurumaki “onsen” hot spring resort in Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture, marked its 100th anniversary in 2018.

Jinya’s watershed moment came after the sudden death of its company president in 2009. His eldest son, Tomio Miyazaki, now 40, left his job as an engineer for a major automaker to take over the business.

His wife, Tomoko, also 40, became the landlady of the ryokan just two months after giving birth, even though she had never worked in one before.

In those days, the inn had debts of 1 billion yen (about $9 million) due to careless business practices. Stock management of food was sloppy, leading to excessive waste. When the couple attempted a management analysis, they found only paper ledgers to provide data.

Viewing information technology as the solution to the business’s problems, they developed software to manage a range of jobs, from reservations to accounting, in a unified way.

They distributed tablet devices to all staff, making it possible for employees to share information, such as customers’ preferences, to improve customer service. The system led the staff to develop a more positive approach to their work, too.

They also installed sensors on the communal bath so that employees would be notified when the number of customers who had used the bath exceeded a certain number. The installation meant staff no longer had to go to the bath repeatedly to check whether it needed cleaning.

With the introduction of IT, they reduced wasteful working practices, and channeled their employees’ energies toward creating better meals and other selling points. They raised room rates gradually, and created an extra revenue stream by selling the management system to other inns.

The business’s performance improved, but at the same time, a new problem emerged--Tomoko was exhausted from working continuously without taking any days off.

“Even if customer satisfaction rises, it is meaningless if the workers’ quality of life does not improve too,” she said.

In 2014, the couple made the radical move to close the inn every Tuesday and Wednesday, a decision that drew complaints from customers expressing disbelief that a ryokan would be closed on certain days.

They went further in 2016, deciding to close after lunch on Mondays and stop taking overnight guests on Mondays.

In spite of the changes, total annual sales for the inn and its group companies increased from 290 million yen in 2010 to the current 726 million yen, partly due to its food gaining a good reputation.

The number of regular employees was 20 before the changes, but under the new system, the team has been reconfigured to include 25 full-time staff and fewer part-timers.

Staff are sharing in the benefits of the business’s growth, and the regular employees’ annual average income has increased from 2.88 million yen to 3.98 million yen, while the ratio of employees quitting their jobs has dropped from 33 percent to 4 percent.

“The service industry has taken for granted workers’ dedication to customer satisfaction,” said Tomoko.

Though people in the industry work hard, their incomes are not high. Because of that, one of the inn's male employees left his job when he married.

“I want to promote a way of working that can accommodate stages of life, such as child-rearing and nursing-care, to the entire (service) industry,” Tomoko said, adding, “I’m aiming to make inns an industry in which people long to work.”

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Editor's note: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 outlines 17 goals toward which nations of the world should work on and seek a solution.

These sustainable development goals (SDGs) include achieving gender equality, ending poverty in all forms and taking action to combat climate change.

The Asahi Shimbun supports the global effort to achieve these SDGs and has reported on efforts being made in Japan and abroad toward those goals.

The following is one in a series of articles on SDGs to appear on the AJW website.

Visit our website to read other articles about SDGs.

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