I want to thank Akky Akimoto of Asiajin for pointing out a story in Japan's Mainichi newspaper about Exemptions for Jury Duty in Japan (article in Japanese). Akky points out that "Systems Engineer" is one of the jobs in a special list compiled by Japan's law courts; a list of people who have valid reasons to be exempted from jury duty …

Background: From May 2009, Japan will introduce a "lay judge system" in which ordinary citizens will help decide the outcomes of trials. Japan's supreme court anticipates that some citizens will try to dodge jury duty with excuses ranging from "I'm a beautician. New graduates are relying on me to style their hair and kimonos for the graduation ceremony season" or "I'm currently the top favorite hostess at the bar where I work."

In order to provide guidance to district courts regarding which excuses should be viewed with sympathy, the supreme court conducted some research and came up with ten examples of jobs and circumstances that may qualify as worthy excuses for declining to do duty as a "lay judge".

Some of the examples in the list are the kind of "traditional" jobs that require tremendous dedication and happen to be quintessential elements of Japanese culture.  For example –

– Toji. (Master Brewers). During the season for brewing Japanese sake, master brewers must attend closely to their vats of fermenting rice to monitor how the fermentation is progressing and make minute adjustments.

– Ryokan Okami (Landladies of Japanese Inns). The general managers of Japanese inns oversee the entire operation from the start of the working day to the early hours of the following morning. Their presence is the "soul" of the inn.

There are some other curious inclusions which are very specific to certain locations or events:

– Hiroshima Oyster Cultivators. Their oysters may spoil if there is one day of delay.

– Residents of Tanegashima island in Kagoshima, Kyushu. During the local festival, festivities would be dampened by their absence

All of this provides a very picturesque image of a nation of devoted artisans. If Norman Rockwell had been Japanese, these are the people he would have painted. So… what on earth are "Systems Engineers" doing in this list? The Mainichi article explains that they are included because "they may be needed to respond in the event of a problem"

What should we infer from this?

– Japanese Systems Engineers are in short supply. They're stretched – working long hours and with little or no spare capacity. Japan's Ministry of Technology and Industry has acknowledged "There is a lack of skilled IT engineers, in terms of both quality and quantity." (2007 ASOCIO conference in Tokyo — Katsuhiko Kaji, director, Information Service Industry Division).

– Japanese Systems Engineers are tied up with "fire fighting". There have been some very high profile disasters with corporate IT systems in recent years. Most famously, the Tokyo Stock Exchange was brought to a comlpete stop on a few occasions because of bugs in the computer system created by Fujitsu. (And it's not the busiest stock exchange in the world – by a long shot). Many Japanese companies are struggling to cope with IT systems that have been cobbled together over the past few decades. When Forrester interviews Japanese IT executives, we find that too few are taking steps to make their IT infrastructure more flexible and more manageable (as I explained last year in my report: Japan Technology Investments And Priorities).

I have heard business leaders comment that it's hard to attract young Japanese people to work in IT. Jobs in IT are perceived as the modern day equivalent of "3K" jobs. ("3K" originally refered to jobs that were "kiken, kitsui and kitanai": dangerous, hard and dirty). Because of the long hours, tough conditions, and lack of glamour, few Japanese graduates dream of becoming Systems Engineers.

But who knows, maybe a jury duty exemption will put the sparkle back into the IT career track….