As the light turns green it yields way to a vast army of drones in black suits, neckties, and black leather shoes. They walk carrying black suitcases, while wiping away with neatly folded handkerchiefs the unstoppable sweat that drips from their emotionless faces. The majority of them were most likely heavily drinking the previous evening up until the final train home, just to wake up several hours later with their gear set in automatic for the same daily routine. My amused smile vanishes as I am forced back into reality when I look down to see the same black leather shoes, black suit and a small sweat stain gathering on my buttoned shirt. My head pounding, wondering “How do they do this,” I squeeze myself into the Tokyo Metro train along with the horde of Japanese “Salary-men.”
Salary-men is a term used for people in Japan who hold salary-based white-collar jobs. This title is reserved usually for men, and women in similar positions go by “career woman” or, if they hold pink-collar jobs, “OL” – Office Lady. Salary-men can be categorized into three groups – Junior, Mid-Management, and Senior – yet they all share the same stressful and brave lifestyle. A Salary-man’s job is not a 9 to 5 job. A Salary-man’s job is a Salary-man’s life, and he is on call 365 days a year. He works hard and strives relentlessly towards promotions and bonuses. Albeit better working conditions in modern companies, Salary-men traditionally work for about thirteen hours a day with a quick half an hour lunch break. In the good old days, there weren’t any cigarette breaks either, as smoking was allowed in the office. Traditionally, Japanese Salary-men are committed to one company in hopes of reaching a senior level someday, but nowadays they tend to move horizontally (or diagonally if lucky) in the corporate ladder. The higher they go, the more their responsibilities grow, along with their wardrobe expenses.
But surely the Salary-man gets to go home and relax after a long day at work? The office and the company is not just a day-job; as I mentioned, it’s the Salary-man’s life. After working hours, his corporate life simply becomes his social life, as co-workers (including bosses) go out frequently for food and drinks (mainly drinks) – whether on special occasions or simply to unwind. The partying could go up to the last train home, and even beyond. Though when morning comes, it’s a fresh set of clothes and a straight face. It’s no surprise that one research even shows that most of the marriages in Japan are between office co-workers.