text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
In a society needing uniforms to ascertain everyone’s place in the hierarchy, the most prominent uniform is the one that is not considered a “uniform”: the dark suit of the company employees, the ones for whom the Japanese language employs the neologism “sarariman” (サラリーマン) i.e. “salary man”. A phenomenon that first appeared in the pre-war period together with the organization of the state bureaucracy and the big industrial complexes “zaibatsu” (財閥) and climaxed after the war when both the public sector and Nikkei’s top companies promised lifelong employment and reassurance to a people that was trying to recover from a defeat crushing on many levels, they are today the most visible middle class in the world; and at the same time, the one receiving the harsher criticism from the society that created it.
“Company sheep”, “unimaginative”, “counterproductive”, “responsible for the fall of the Japanese economy” –the sarariman have been and still are accused for almost everything wrong in the Japanese society. A big percentage of the women thinks of them as dull, an even bigger percentage of the young consider them as an example of what is to be avoided and the rest of the world believes they are proof that Japan never managed to escape the Confucian-feudal paradigm as expressed by the heirs of the shogun and the damiyo warlords i.e. the monolithic companies many of which still use as their logo the crest of the family that built them.
Although many of the clichés thrown at the sarariman are probably valid, it would be unfair to accuse them for all the evils of Japanese society; if nothing else, they were the ones who supported it as per its request (or per its demand) and they are the ones who pay the steepest price of the “comforts” their life offers –this is very easily confirmed if one takes a look at the statistics of suicides and deaths from over-work, the infamous “karoshi” (過労死). This is the reason some of them decide to go against everything they have been taught since they were born and try the “datsu-sara” (脱サラ) the heroic exodus to a life with less crowding in the trains every morning and every evening, less golf and fewer mandatory beers with coworkers at the izakaya and the karaoke.
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.