Salaryman Wednesday in Tokyo

Walking from a client meeting.  Man on bridge.

Walking from a client meeting. Man on bridge.

Among other things, I had an long talk with one of my co-workers about working in Japan, superior-subordinate relationships, Japanese office culture, hard work and lifestyle.
As I am leaving my company at the end of this month, I have been reflecting on my time, what I have learned and have been chatting with coworkers about it all.
It was never more evident of the reality of “rank and position” (similar to the military) than was in our conversation yesterday.
I tought that, at times my coworker was deliberately making me feel subordinate (when that language or stance wasnt necessary in the situation) in order to maintain his superior ranking position.  I guess you could say that he wouldn’t level with me on some points in our conversation.

Book in his hat, fast asleep on the train. Doors closing.

Book in his hat, fast asleep on the train. Doors closing.

In general when working at a Japanese based firm (traditional):

He said “that you need to just simply obey, even if you disagree with something” in order to follow the rules.  Even if I had an opinion, I should hold off on it, complete the task, then “reflect” on the task afterwards and then, at that time, suggest my idea or state my opinion.  This would be harmonious.
I further felt that if I did provide my suggestion (without simply obeying the rules), my superior would take it as a personal attack on him (and disrupt the harmony of agreeing to obey the rules).

Conclusions he made:  I am not flexible, I don’t match the Japanese traditional company style, and I have too much pride.  I could say that I am adaptable to a certain degree (which means sacrifice of your internal beliefs aka hiding your own opinion), the Japanese traditional style will be augmented to be more of a hybrid style (not based on rank, but rather skill), and my “too much pride” is more of “confidence in myself.”

Taxis line up for pickups at the station.

Taxis line up for pickups at the station

Real Example:
We leaving a clients office lobby area near the elevator.  In the corner of my eye, I caught another man (not the client, but a visitor) and temporarily held the elevator door open, while saying to the man “Are you getting on?”    My coworker pushed my arm off the “door open” button, pressed the “door close” button and was upset at me for talking to the man.
The problem was that I shouldn’t have talked to the man, because:
“he has nothing to do with me” and
“don’t concern yourself with others” and
“if that man wanted to get in the elevator, he would have said something, so you don’t need to care about him” and
“you probably scared him as he wasn’t expecting you to say anything to him”

I am sorry for having common courtesy – is what I wanted to say to my coworker, but that would disrupt the harmony – so I said nothing, bowed my head and said “I am sorry” 大変

On the way home, West Shinjuku - glowing in the moonlight.

On the way home, West Shinjuku - glowing in the moonlight.

Mind you, at the end of our long discussion about Japanese culture and my role and rank in Japanese society, he started telling me about his 3 trips to New York City in his youth, how awesome it was, how he used credit cardsand how he knows more about Manhattan than me.

Later at home, after eating leftover chicken pasta, I had a talk with my roommate Tyler about having strong inner morals, sticking up for yourself and internal beliefs.  That was interesting.

Please comment on this topic!!!  I would love to hear (and learn) other peoples perspectives on the above story and thoughts!!

~ by frischfarms on November 13, 2008.

6 Responses to “Salaryman Wednesday in Tokyo”

  1. Your coworker sounds less Japanese and more like a pompous egotist. My experience with Japanese people has been that they are unfailingly courteous, regardless of the circumstances. (Unless they are a lower on the socioeconomic totem pole, then they are THRILLED to treat me like the worthless foreigner that I am.)

    No worries though, good for you for acting like a mature adult and not losing your head!


  2. That area of Shinjuku is one of my favorite in Tokyo, and I’m not just saying that because I live 10 minutes from there!

    I’ve stared many times up at those skyscrapers at night. Damn, NPR on the radio just said “skyscraper” as I typed that.

  3. Tokyo Cowgirl,

    Thanks for the comment. “Pompous egotist” sounds fitting. I am just trying learn as much as I can without trying to push him to the ground. Japanese people are generally very kind.

    That area of shinjuku is nice, yes. And funky about they saying skyscraper as you typed it. “synchronicity” as The Police would say.

  4. That guy seems to have what some would call a stereotypical Japanese way of thinking. Pretty interesting to get hit with a dose of it yourself, though.

  5. billywest,
    I agree. I have learned a lot from him.

  6. That is rather typical Tokyo salaryman culture to some extent, though your guy sounds hardcore, especially with the elevator. It may just be an asshole Tokyo salaryman thing though. I’ve worked in serveral regions in this country the only time I experienced a superior like that was when I was working in Toranomon in Tokyo. I got out of the job, it wasn’t worth the stress at the end of the day.

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