The Japanese salaryman サラリーマン
Salarymen in Tokyo
Salarymen (and office ladies) at a nomikai in Kumamoto
Salarymen during rush hour at Shinjuku station
An essential part of the Japanese economy
Shinjuku station, 8pm: among the Japanese youths wearing the latest colorful fashions, a tide of men in identical suits and ties rushes in, briefcases and umbrellas in hand. The salaryman, the symbol of Japan's post-war economic success, is finishing another long day of work.
A lifetime commitment
The economic model built after the war consisted, at the level of employees and non-managerial executives, of recruiting "white-collar workers" straight from university, who would join one of the big Japanese companies and build their career. The salaryman was granted employment for life, with a very low chance of dismissal, in exchange for giving their complete loyalty to the company, over any other companies or even their family life. This model, although less prevalent since the crisis of the 1990s and the "lost decade", remains widespread in the country.
The company as a center of social life
The salaryman's working hours are known to be long, easily reaching 12 hours a day. These long hours aren't the only link connecting the salaryman to their employer. Indeed, even after work is over, many of them participate in activities with colleagues, and every evening the busy streets of the Japan's cities see clusters of men in suits going to an izakaya to participate in a nomikai, or heading to a hostess bar. This sociability, found at the bottom of a glass of alcohol, has a
huge impact on the salaryman's family and social life outside work, as he often comes home on the last train and has just enough energy to go to bed before returning to the office early the next morning.
The salaryman in Japanese culture
In Japanese culture the salaryman is often an object of ridicule or even contempt. He is seen as a mindless soldier with a bland personality, nonexistent outside his professional circle. This negative image particularly developed from the bursting of the housing bubble and the so-called "lost decade" of the 1990s, during which becoming a salaryman looked far less appealing to the younger generation, who began to question the system and look for alternative ways to live and work.