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Other pages in this series:
»The "competent" employee
»Life of a Salaryman
»Apologizing to your customer
»US Training Issues


The Life of a Salaryman: time, space, career path

A day in the life of a salaryman

6:30 get up

7:30 leave for commute

8:50 at desk ready to begin at

9:00 work group has brief start-of-day meeting

12:00 lunch (a lunch box from home, company cafeteria, or out at a restaurant)

13:00 afternoon--concentrate on work

17:00 Part time and hourly workers go home. Overtime starts now.

19:00 through 20:30 Socializing with colleagues

21:00 commute home

22: 00 bedtime

Repeat 5 days a week, shorter on Saturday, with golf and outings and other company-related activities (maybe entertaining clients) on many Saturdays and Sundays.

Office Space

While noting that every company arranges space somewhat differently, here are some general patterns in U.S. and Japanese corporate offices:

  • Large spaces, large desks, distance between desks/offices.
  • Workers have separate cubicles, separate offices.
  • Sit with backs to others--work requires privacy, concentration.
  • Each employee has a set of their own papers, information, PC etc. in their office.
  • To communicate with someone, use phone, or get up and walk to their desk.
  • Work spaces are personalized (photos, art etc.).
  • Windows=status
  • Compact use of space. Small desks, closely spaced.
  • Desks of a work unit are put together to form one large table.
  • Everyone faces the others.
  • Not much room for papers, etc. Must be very neat, use collective supplies.
  • Supervisor sits at the head, youngest sits at the foot.
  • You work on projects with those who sit nearest you.
  • Communication is continuous because you talk to or overhear everyone else's business.
  • Workspaces are for work only; only a few personal touches, if any.
  • Window=exile from active working group.

A typical career path for a salaryman

This is the "ideal", now fracturing under the pressures of Japan's recession, but still the model for managerial workers.

  1. Companies hire once a year and once a lifetime. During recruiting season, companies select from this year's crop of college seniors and recent graduates. Your teachers, family, friends, and other connections will help you find prospective employers, and you may face rigorous entrance requirements.

  2. Employment begins April 1. For career-track employees, there will be several months of orientation and training. They learn the company way, starting with learning again how to bow, how to speak. The new cohort begins to get to know each other. They will belong to this same cohort for the rest of their careers.

    The new hire is assigned his (usually men) first job. A few people who are several years ahead will work with the new hire, so that he learns the job with constant example and mentoring.

  3. Job rotations: Every March, the personnel department determines job assignments for everyone for the next year. Promising young employees will be given stints in a range of positions & divisions so that they get a broad overview of the company's business.

  4. Kacho: first line supervisor (30's) Members of a cohort are promoted to this level about the same time because it is uncomfortable to supervise people older than you. The kacho oversees daily work, and may also be busy taking education and certification classes.

  5. Tanshin-Funin: Several times during a salaryman's career, he may be transferred to a branch office or overseas, often with very short notice. Once his children reach Jr. High age, usually the family stays behind, and he commutes home occasionally.

  6. Bucho: department head (40's).

  7. ....madogiwa ("by the window"): the failures are put out to pasture by getting a desk next to the window and not much significant work to handle.

  8. Senior management: By this time, members of the cohort who have not been promoted to the top have been given vague titles or positions in subsidiaries.

  9. Retirement: 55-65 for most, much later for those who reach top positions. Usually the company can place retirees in less strenuous jobs with affiliated companiesat great cut in salary and prestige.

  10. "Silver Years" As in the U.S., corporate retirees in their 50's through early 70's are often healthy, well-off, and ready for new adventures, often travelling or taking up hobbies with their spouses.

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