Saturday, July 01, 2006

A.C.T has just finished reading....

The Blue-Eyed Salaryman, an engaging account of an Irish man's experiences in a Japanese company has only fuelled my fascination with this strange and intriguing country. Subservise films such as Visitor Q and Ichi The Killer portray the Japanese as a violent, weird and subversive race, but these films only sctratch the surface.

Niall Murtagh spent years travelling around the world, sleeping in parks and travelling from Casablanca to Martinique for four months on a cement yacht. When he got the opportunity to study on a foreign student programme, he went back to Japan and then studied for a phD at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After that, he went to work for Mistubishi, one of the oldest and most traditional corporations in Japan.

Salaryman is a Japanese term for white-collar worker and is associated with long working hours, low prestige in the corporate hierachy and sometimes even death from overwork. It has obvious negative connotations; one of my Japanese students who is a lawyer recently sneered at the idea of being a salaryman. The female equivalent is an OL (Office Lady).

When Murtagh started work, he was amazed by the huge rule book that he, and every new Mistubishi employee had to read. He learnt amongst other things, that good employees do not walk around with their hands in their pockets and each employee, man or woman, has a 'man-number' which should be worn at all times.

Murtagh who is called 'Murata' by his Japanese colleagues, struggled at first to get used to the bizarre rules when he was told he couldn't cycle to work unless he had a permit and then was reprimanded when he was spotted by a security guard leaving it round the corner of the building. Music marks the end of the working day, with another song marking the beginning of overtime. He was once even told off for sitting in the wrong place on a business lunch as the youngest or lowest in command should always sit nearest to the door.

When a colleague invited him for dinner, it was planned 10 weeks in advance with the following note:

Schedule for Murata-san's visit to my house
Date: 25 April
Time: 5.00pm
Meeting Place:Okurayama Station. Please wait at the central exit
If it is fine, we will walk for ten minutes to my house.
If it is raining, I will pick you up in my car.
Visiting time: 5.10 to 8.50
Return to station by 9.00
Catch 9.04 train.

However, they do enjoy themselves once in a while with an afterwork konpa where they apparently get absolutely sloshed, let off steam and talk about things they wouldn't normally dream of talking about at work. "You can say almost anything at a konpa because all will be forgotten the next morning".

My Japanese student always greets me with a stern "Hello (insert name here)" and a 'let's get down to business' attitude, but halfway through the lesson when he feels more relaxed, he opens up and starts talking animatedly about other things, usually football. I'm fascinated by this behaviour and find it endearing. It's almost English in a way, but a bit more exaggerated in the way that we can't seem to be honest without a few drinks down our necks.

Murtagh had only intended to work for Mistubishi for a short period but eventually he married a Japanese girl and ended up staying and working as a salaryman for 14 years. I'd love to visit Japan one day and spend months travelling around, although it'd be a real culture shock and would take me a while to get used to their ways. Bowing to people and not being able to blow my nose in public might be a bit strange, but I could certainly get used to slurping my noodles very loudly.


* (asterisk) said...

I've been mildly fascinated with Japan since reading Shogun in around 1993. I eben attended evening classes in Japanese for a year, although I've forgotten almost everything.

By and large, though, the new wave of Japanese horror movies doesn't do much for me. I've not seen Ichi, but its director, Takashi Miike, does make some peculiar films: The Happiness of the Katakuris is probably the strangest film I've ever seen in my life! If you've not seen it, rent it now.

And read Ugly Americans.

Red said...

Sounds like a fun read!

I love books that explore a different culture from an outsider’s point of view. Have you read The Dark Heart of Italy? If you follow Italian politics at all, it really says nothing particularly revealing, but it’s still interesting to see how an Englishman copes with the crazy Italian way of life.

a.c.t said...

* I've heard about 'The Happiness of the Katakuris' and it sounds bizarre. Ugly Americans sounds quite good, I'll have to investigate (although I've got so many books I want to get).

Red,The Dark Heart of Italy is in the collection but I haven't read it yet. Have you read any of Tim Park's books? They also reveal a brilliant insight into Italy from an Englishman's point of view.

Lotus Reads said...

Nice review and the book sure sounds fascinating. I love it when people write about cultures that seem inscrutable to me. I will read this book if I can get my hands on it. Thanks!

Always happy to meet someone who has lived in Dubai. We were there for 10 years,from 1990 to 2000. Hubby still travels there on business a lot.

a.c.t said...

Thanks Lotus. 10 years wow!, 1 year was just about enough for me -I found it all a little bit artficial but that's not to say I didn't have an amazing time, especially with all the free booze provided for the ladies ;-)

Camie Vog said...

Off topic... Any more recipes? The fritatta was amazing. I am also thinking of trying the fish stew from your blogmate.


a.c.t said...

Hi Camie, I've just posted another recipe. Really glad you liked the frittata and you should definitely try the fish, it's amazing.

Susan in Italy said...

Hi a.c.t.
This book reminds me of a French one (or is it Belgian?) called "Stupeur et Tremblement" about a Francophone woman who starts as a translator in a Japanese office and ends up as the bathroom toilet paper replacer. I have to say, that book is very harsh in its judgement of Japanese office culture (I couldn't say if the harshness is fair or not).

Aidan said...

Interesting rules - I like the idea of music greeting the start of the working day, the end, the onset of overtime. Wonder whether a blast of Dolly Parton's 9-5 on the way in would inspire or inhibit people... Perhaps every employee could have their own signature tune to mark their entrance, American-wrestling style....