I work in Japan, but I would never want to be a Japanese worker. Teaching English is half-in half-outside the Japanese workforce. You are given a lot more leniency than your Japanese co-workers (like being able to take all your vacation time, a big no-no for Japanese) but there are still things you have to do that would be unacceptable abroad.
But that’s another post. For now, I’m focusing on the life a Japanese worker, and doing so via a few words that have (somewhat) recently entered the Japanese job sphere, interesting words that I would share. They should give you a glimpse into the life a typical Japanese salaryman (or woman.) And honestly, it’s…well, you’ll get the idea.
Karo means overwork. Shi means death. Karoshi means death from overwork. Hours are long in Japan, and the extra ones don’t count. Overtime pay exists, though it’s underutilized–or completely ignored under the concept of “service overtime.” The service is like the fun towel animals you find waiting in your room on a Carnival cruise ship, except in Japan it’s five extra hours of hard work sacrificed to the company. Workers are expected to work excruciatingly long hours several days a week under the expectation of termination if they refuse. And since finding a job gets exponentially more difficult with age, there’s no choice but to work, work, work until either retirement or a heart attack puts you down.
If working more than 80 hour weeks sounds beyond human endurance, even Japanese companies would agree with you. That’s why inemuri, sleeping on the job, has become an accepted practice–it proves you’re so dedicated to the company you don’t get enough sleep.
Inemuri means “sleeping while present.” While it does the manager proud to see his employees neglecting sleep for work, inemuri can only be preformed while upright in your chair. This apparently shows you are still engaged in some way, but were just so tired from overwork you fell asleep in the middle of your job. Inemuri has actually become something of a status symbol that some fake to prove their devotion.
Hodo Hodo Zoku
With all this pressure on the salaryman to become a chronic workaholic, the inevitable resistance, in passive-aggressive fashion, came not so much a violent countermovement but a gradual dwindling of passion. The “hodo hodo zoku,” or so-so man, says to his employer “Your promotion, your responsibility, your raise? I’ll pass…”
Hodo hodo zoku actively avoid promotions which lead to higher paid jobs with more responsibility. They’re working enough already. They don’t want their black hole career to devour anymore of their already sparse free time. Those who have made it into an actual full-time position are happy enough to leave it at that. Naturally, Japanese companies are looking into ways of legally firing these good-for-nothings.
The boldest of salarymen commit “datsusara.”
Basically, they quit. These say “there’s something better out there!” and pursue self-employment in their passion. It’s an incredibly risky move in a culture where quitting means you will probably never be able to find another job. It’s so anti-system the Japanese actually made a special word for it. “Datsusara” itself essentially mean “to leave the salaried life.” Anyone who takes the plunge is putting their entire future on the line, either because their dream of pursuing their passion overcomes all good sense, or they just hate the salaryman lifestyle that much. There are even consultation services to aid in the difficult transition to private entrepreneurship.
A mix of the words otaku and salaryman, an otariman is a salaryman by day and otaku by night–someone with an obsessive interest in his private hobby, usually anime and video games. The otaryman often feels little or no satisfaction from his work, even from relationships with coworkers, whom he often has a hard time connecting with on anything but a superficial level. Then, once the long day is over, otarymen take off their ties and spend the night neck-deep in their favorite obsession. There’s now a popular anime called “I’m Otariman” about a socially inept salaryman struggling to make it in a traditional Japanese company. His day revolves around not looking like an otaku while navigating the stressful Japanese workplace.