The term “salaryman” [サラリーマン] is a Japanese-coined word that refers to the masses of salaried company employees that devote their lives to work. The popular image of a salaryman is a sleep-deprived, overworked, middle-aged man who works long hours from early morning until late at night, sometimes barely even seeing his family for long stretches at a time. To let off steam, he may indulge in drinking parties with his fellow coworkers. While this stereotype certainly does not fit all company workers, it is prevalent enough for many foreigners to take notice. In fact, some foreigners recently listed the odd and downright silly behaviors of overworked Japanese salarymen that they have observed firsthand. Can you guess what kinds of things they mentioned?
Let’s start with the observations of 31-year-old Mike, a worker employed in human resources who has lived in Japan for eight years. He says, “I had always heard that the Japanese were hard workers, but I never thought they could be so ridiculous.” For example, he describes a company drinking event that he once attended. Their firm had reserved a room at an expensive all-you-can-eat and all-you-drink restaurant for two hours, but their boss was running late. Out of politeness, everyone waited for him to show up for 45 minutes, greatly reducing the remaining time they had to feast. Although few drinks were had that particular night, Mike also makes a remark about how common it is to see drunk salarymen stumbling around on the streets as early as 8 or 9 PM in Japan.
▼Has he been busy working, or drinking?
Another funny observation is the all-too-common sight of a businessman smartly dressed in a suit and tie and practicing his golf swing with an umbrella in a public place. “My friend burst out laughing when he saw someone practicing golf with an umbrella,” Mike says. “He thought too much work must have meddled with the guy’s head! Lol.”
▼A common sight on train platforms especially. Apparently this “umbrella club” is even a real thing for the hardcore players!
Finally, Mike comments on their attire.”When I see a salaryman wearing a shabby suit, I get the feeling that he bought it before the economic bubble burst in the 90s. It shows just how much the Japanese love the concept of “mottainai” (not being wasteful).”
Next, we have Sara, a 27-year-old who has been working in Japan in the IT industry for the past six years. Salarymen using foreign loanwords, which are usually written in the Japanese katakana script, seems to bother her the most. “The Japanese language is beautiful, so it’s stupid that they try to use so much weird English,” she says. “They may think that they sound cool using foreign-sounding words, but to us it just sounds ridiculous.”
Furthermore, wasei-eigo, or Japanese-coined fake English words (such as salaryman!), contribute to her bewilderment. Take the Japanese term “nomad worker” [ノマドワーカー], for example. While an image of say, a nomadic tribesman may come to mind for most foreigners, Japanese people understand the term to mean a worker who shuns working at an office or at home, instead preferring to drift around to various cafes with a laptop to get work done.
▼A “nomad worker” in the Japanese sense of the term
Lastly, let’s hear from Jessica, a 28-year-old researcher in Japan. She is baffled by attitudes toward men’s “grooming.” “Many Japanese men have long hair and look like women. And even if they’re kind-hearted people, they often get shy in front of women and can’t do anything. They care too much what the people around them think, and that makes them idiots.”
▼Maybe popular band Golden Bomber was onto something with their smash hit “Memeshikute” (“Effeminate/Unmanly”)…
Can you think of any other strange behaviors exhibited by Japanese salarymen? Let us know in the comments section below!