text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Although Japan operates based on the Gregorian calendar (and yes, this transition was also made during the times of the Emperor Meiji) there are two big fields, finance and education, that use April and not January or September as the beginning of the year; parenthetically, Japan isn’t the only country in the world separating the calendar and the fiscal year, neither the only country in the world that puts the latter’s start on April 1st. And, similar to the other countries following this practice, the choice is an effort to not burden even more the already very busy (both with business and with celebration preparations) end-of-the-calendar-year period. At any rate, besides balance-sheets and budget discussions, the beginning of the new business year is also accompanied by another event: the hiring (often in big numbers) of new employees and the transfer of older ones. And of course, by the corresponding social functions of welcome and farewell.
Given the omnipresence of the corporate uniform (black/dark blue suit for both men and women, light-colored shirt, dark flat shoes, briefcase) due to the millions of sarariman and “offisu-redi” (the Japanese version of “office lady” i.e. “female office worker”) it is very possible that some will miss the groups of “shinyu-shain” (新入社員) that get added these days every year to the companies’ workforce. But if you look a little closer you will notice the marks: the well-rested but quite uneasy eyes, the flawless suits and the brand-new briefcases, the scarcity of comments, the constant re-checking of the name cards hanging from their necks as if they want to make sure that they really are part of the Company, the attention to the seniors guiding them to the grounds and the enthusiasm with which they speak about their experiences of the first day or the first week.
Every time I see them, the image that comes to mind is that of army recruits. And even though some will point out that the army recruits are much more frightened, my impression and one that has been reinforced by the looks on their faces and by some conversations I hear in the trains (invisible, like all foreigners) is that several among the shinyu-shain have already started seeing the extensions of their choices and their prospects and this casts a faint shadow on their smiles. Of course, they now belong somewhere (and this covers what is probably the Japanese’s biggest insecurity) and of course, their financial stability has been ascertained (to the extent that this applies in the era of the “lost decades” following the big bubble of the 1980s) and of course they have started the process that at some point will make them “sempai” (先輩, i.e. “seniors” or “elders”) but I’m almost certain that the generation growing up while Japan is attempting its third big opening to the world, is wondering –at least superficially- if these are enough…
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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