a salaryman in Japan is not for the faint-hearted.
For those that have studied, you would be aware of the inhuman
traits of these dedicated individuals.
I have written this article as an experience reference for those gaijins
(foreigners), like myself, who intend to live in Japan as a part of Japan.
“I work in Japan, doesn’t that make me a salaryman?”
but in my experience, absolutely not.
Many gaijins will come to Japan with no particular goal (in
a business case) or with a plan to experience the wonder of this country
for a short time. Such people
usually find jobs teaching
English, though if you are bilingual the
prospects are wider. Another
category is those that are transferred to a Japanese branch, usually
within large corporations. In
both cases, these people will mostly retain the work habits of which they
feel most comfortable with, even if they stay in Japan for many years.
“What do I have to do to become a salaryman?”
simplistic statement, just become like the swarms of Japanese businessmen
that you see in the news. Uniqueness
is not tolerated for working professionals.
This means presentation, attitude, work commitment and above all,
respect. Like the rest of the
world, Japanese salarymen can be divided into three major
mid-management, and senior. Let
me elaborate on some of the details of the senior position, as this is the
most complex, yet desirable.
must maintain the utmost cleanliness at all times.
This includes short neat hair, shiny shoes, clean pressed suit and
shirt (the press line in the pants is very important), plain tie with only
a simple pattern, no additional jewelry and nothing other than the most
conservative adornments. Also
note that any items, such as a binder or meishi (business card)
case must be black only, with no patterns.
suits must be dark colored, and shirts with collar buttons are preferable.
You should also have at least five different suits and a minimum of
three different shoes. It is
a definite minus if you are attending a meeting with other executives and
you are wearing the same suit and shoes as the last meeting.
too surprisingly, the brand names that most Japanese people are crazy
about, also apply in this area as well.
It is not actually a requirement, but definitely a bonus. Examples are Salvatore Ferragano shoes,
Rolex watches and
Mont Blanc pens. All these
items carry the prestige that is expected from senior executives in Japan. Lack of items that do not carry a certain prestige by salarymen
can be viewed similar to those teenagers not wearing the latest fashion in
crazy as it may sound, this is the standard, traditional way of a senior
executive in Japan. The
tradition bends from industry to industry – some are more lenient than
others – but ultimately following this guideline will
keep your career
in the right direction.
“Does a salaryman work 9 to 5?”
definitely not. A salaryman
has the utmost commitment to his work and his
company, even above his
family. Often a
will stay in the same company his entire life, hoping one day to reach the
senior level. In my
particular case, I work an average of 13 hours per day, with a 1/2 hour
lunch-break, and usually at least every other weekend depending on work
requirements. Typically, you
are also on call 24 hours, 365 days a year to your superiors – and there
is no hiding since the ketai (as the Japanese dearly call their
cell phones) should be turned on at all times.
“What is a salaryman’s social life?”
usually relates to the level of the salaryman.
Junior level salarymen are not burdened with the responsibility of
the higher level categories, so can indulge in a life other than work on
occasion. Put simply, the
higher in the hierarchy you are, the less personal life you tend to have.
There are no rules or definitions for this – it is simply the way
that it is. The dedicated
young salaryman will often give up his personal life to continue
working to create a good impression on his superiors.
It is not surprising that over 50% of marriages in Japan are “in
office”, that is co-workers marry, or are introduced through a
“Do I really have to be like this to be a salaryman?”
depends on what your goal is. As
mentioned, many gaijins will not have a
clear business or career
objective when they come to Japan. And,
if it is the first visit, the culture shock and work environment is weird
enough to drive even the sturdiest of non-Japanese professionals away.
What I have described is from my own experience dealing with senior
executives from some of the largest corporations in Japan.
Hence it may be a little overkill, but as mentioned, it is
do not treat this article as a be-all and end-all statement about being a salaryman.
Remember that Japan is no different than any other country in that
everyone has different experiences.
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