In 2013, Japan saw a meteoric rise in internet photos that depict part-time workers’ silly and sometimes idiotic antics while on the clock (remember the freezer diving phenomenon?). Though the term “bakattā” (a portmanteau word that’s not restricted to part-timers and combines baka, or idiot, and tsuittaa, the Japanese pronunciation of Twitter) was coined back in 2010, it gained even more popularity last year and took fourth place in the 2013 Internet Buzzword Awards, sponsored by the Tokyo company Mirai Kensaku Brazil.
The craze of bragging about law-breaking or idiotic behavior on social networking sites has thankfully died down, partly due to publicization of the serious repercussions faced by some perpetrators. However, it seems like a couple of young guys working at a major revolving sushi chain had not been watching the news, or were looking to get fired: a photo uploaded on the evening of September 24 with a Tweet that said, “I invented a new menu item with [name deleted] today! Lololol” spread like wildfire, only to reach the head of the company by the following morning. D’oh!
The incident took place at a Hamazushi restaurant in Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture. On the night of the 24th, possibly during business hours, two male part-time employees coated a six-inch pair of scissors (equipment used in the restaurant kitchens) in tempura batter, deep-fried it, and turned it into sushi in the food prep area. In the photo, one young man is cheekily making a scissors sign with his hand (well, at least he remembered the mandatory plastic gloves).
▼ An example of Hamazushi’s roughly 340 locations.
By 12:30 AM on the 25th, fellow Twitter users who saw the photo were aghast and fired off comments such as, “This is unforgivable!” At some point the uploader deleted the image and made his account private, but by morning the company was notified of the situation by an outsider and soon after, the two sushi mavericks were brought in for questioning.
The employees have not been allowed back to work since then but how they will be dealt with has yet to be decided (given Japan’s reverence for customer service, though, they will most likely be looking for a new gig).
While the company won’t disclose the pranksters’ motives, it quickly apologized to the public by stating that they will thoroughly retrain their employees and ban cell phones along with other unnecessary items from the kitchens. By the time the restaurant opened at 11 AM on September 25, all cooking equipment had been cleaned and the frying oil had been replaced. Online reactions to this bit of news included:
“Ugh, I’m never eating there again.”
“I have the same pair of scissors at home, lol.”
“They don’t get paid much, let them have some fun. I wouldn’t let full-time employees get away with it, though.”
“↑ That’s not the point!”
“SNS: of the idiots, by the idiots, for the idiots!”
“This is actually a nice break from all the horrible news, IMO.”
“Maybe it was a case of baito-tero?”
To be sure, this sort of joke may be a funny one to pull on your friends at home, and the photo in question may induce giggles if it weren’t for all of the previous cases of bakattā that resulted in various penalties. Not only have students been expelled and employees fired, some restaurants and convenience stores have been shut down because of part-timer shenanigans. Other companies have opened civil court cases to ask for monetary compensation; in one case, an estimated 2 million yen (US$183,850) was said to have been demanded.
News reports say that many of these foolhardy people only realize the gravity of their actions when it’s too late, and some later develop a fear of society and turn into hikikomori, or shut-ins. As I’m writing this article, I can’t help but feel like I’m perpetuating such behavior by giving bakattā folks their moment in the limelight, but in any case let’s hope that this incident serves as a warning for any part-timers who get the urge for on-the-job hijinks.
Do you think the Japanese public as well as employers react too extremely against this type of misbehavior, or are gags that disregard hygiene policies, however small, no laughing matter? Do these pranksters deserve a break, or are they much too naïve about the power of SNS and did they bring it upon themselves?