Thursday, October 9, 2014

Japan's sozzled salarymen: the lost tribe in a modern pickle

Japan's sozzled salarymen: the lost tribe in a modern pickle

Commercials for energy drinks and stomachache relief tend to lionize the salaryman.  AKB48 members cheer for them as they drink their instant remedies and soldier on.  They're the dudes-- and some women-- you see all over the trains in the morning and evenings.  White shirts, black suits and ties.  The young guys sometimes sport pointy-toed shoes and trendy hairstyles, but they're all off to the office to grind out another day.

It's a hard life, no doubt.  Up early, out late.  The company comes first, even above your mental and physical health.  There's a word for dying from overwork.  The buzzword is "black company," used for businesses that bully and abuse their employees, demand unpaid overtime, pay little, allow for no sick days and no paid vacation days, expect employees to work six or even seven days a week.  But the real word is just "company."  People are complicit in this exploitive system as well because they respond passively, but you can't really blame someone because the system grabs them as early as kindergarten.  Everything is preparation for tests and tests are preparation for lifetime employment of 60-80 hour weeks, after hours drinking and eventual retirement to a house you're not very familiar with to live with a family who have become strangers.  And resentful strangers because you lack basic social skills and disrupt their otherwise orderly lives with your disheveled presence.

And as lousy a time as these guys have, women involved in the workplace have it much, much worse. You work just as hard for even less money and then you're expected to act as hostess at these after-hours parties.  Sexual harassment and stalking cases are on the rise but this is only because women are learning to report these crimes rather than suck it up as they've been trained to do at every stage of their lives

Increasingly, too, the entire idea of lifetime employment with attendant security and safety has become a lie as well.  Companies depend on dispatch workers or temporary workers to skirt labor laws.  But even then you just define an employee to suit your corporate whims.  I had a friend who was listed on the payroll as a part-timer but worked 60 hour weeks, every week. 

Some people break the mold, though.  The "going my way" people.  That same friend introduced me to a co-worker of hers who eventually quit to become a full-time theramin instructor and performer.  I had a conversation student who quit one job with higher pay for one that allowed him to leave the office every day at 5pm and be with his family and have his weekends free for cycling.  Some people drift through a variety of part-time jobs, getting one then leaving it when the mood strikes them to live abroad for a while.  I see young families sometimes on weekend outings and the father's the one wearing the baby-carrier.  Shoot, just seeing an entire family unit together warms my heart.

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