Lesson 9: Everyone is actually fucking poor

In many ways despite almost 20 years of no growth, Japan looks like a very vibrant and prosperous country.  City centers such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi are full of activity both during the week and on weekdays.  People still spend on nice dinners, bars, clubs and wear stylish cloths.  Japan Inc. must still be growing strong, right?


Absolutely wrong.   This prosperity is in many ways an illusion empowered by debt and unsustainable spending.  According to a Shinsei Bank survey on salaryman spending, the average Salaryman has a monthly allowance or discretionary spending of 39,600 JPY (almost 40o USD).

Wow.  And I have met so many Japanese salarmen and career women who are working at top Japanese companies for 7+ but are still making less than 300,000 JPY (about 3,000 USD) a month.  Some with unpaid overtime.

Think about that; I have actually met full-time college educated salarymen who work for companies in Japan who are making around 250,000 JPY a month while working 40+ hours of overtime a month.  That means an hourly wage of only 1,250 JPY.   This is actually less than a wage a college student can get worker at a bar or izakaya in Tokyo.  Unbelievable.


“Security of a full time job at a large company” is still the symbol of status, even though there is no longer any long term security, and the short-term gain is a shitty wage.  It’s amazing how people can still cling to this outdated model, even though all the facts are clear in that the current corporate system of wealth creation in Japan is absolutely broken.





Lesson 8: Are bureaucratic organizations really pyramid schemes in disguise?

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of pyramid or ponzi schemes.   The schemes are funded by entrance into the program, and the founders along with the early joiners get a payoff based on the funding from later entrance.  The problem results from the need for endless growth of new members on a geometric scale, and the schemes eventually collapse as they rely on an unsustainable model of growth.

What is frightening is that the model is eerily similar to large bureaucratic organizations such as many large publicly traded organizations, public offices and large educational institutions such as universities.

While there are exceptions to the general rule, career “success” and/or “development” are based on increasing salary and title, which go together. In other words, people make more money the farther up the management ladder they go, which means they are valued more by the organization the more subordinates they manage.

Of course, large corporations make money on providing products and value added services, so they are much more robust and sustainability than a ponzi scheme.  That’s why a large company like Panasonic or IBM don’t go up in flames with a single year of red ink or reduction in business growth.  They also don’t need to add employees endlessly in order to grow.

However, these organizations still can suffer same disadvantages as pyramid or ponzi schemes as they require geometric growth to create more middle and upper-management positions.   So while maybe the organizations can still sustain themselves and create profits without geometric growth in their workforces, from the perspective of a single employee, the opportunity for you to increase your “career” and earning potential is limited by similar forces.

It is simply much easier for a smaller organization of 5-20 people to double growth and earnings than for a company like IBM, GM, Panasonic or Hitachi (Organizations which can be as large as 200,000-300,000 employees) to double the amount of earnings and positions.  So if you get into these companies during a fast growing phase, you have much higher potential for career growth and promotion.  The more the company puts an importance on seniority, the more the timing of entrance determines your potential for growth as opposed for skills and ability.

Companies also have a limited life, much like a product cycle.  Even the top firms of their era, such as IBM, Panasonic, Sony, Hitachi, Toyota, GM and others all entered a period of losses/decline after they reached a certain size.  Then they either go bust or enter a period of uncertainty where they must restructure their workforce and business model.


So if we are honest with the facts and history of large prominent firms, you are taking a huge career risk if you attempt to join a company at it’s height of success and popularity because it’s highly likely it’s largest growth spurt is already behind it and the accelerating pace of technological change and globalization will make it much more difficult to maintain it’s rate of growth and most likely cause the firm to enter a period of loss, decline or bankruptcy.



Lesson 7: Take this job and shove it

If you read up on Lessons 1~6, I think you can understand I have tried hard to make the case that the Salaryman lifestyle has absolutely no future.  Not to mention being a dog for one’s company completely sucks.


I used to think that I was one of the few philosopher kings that Plato fortold who as able to escape the delusional cave that the rest of society was trapped in.  However, I have recently had a chance to meet many young entrepreneurs in Japan who have cult the bullshittery and started out on their own.

What I find so awesome about these people is that they are so fun and cool to talk to.  It’s like their “normal” people.  It’s not that Japanese people are “abnormal” per se, but they seem so much more relaxed, genuine and fun-loving.

In other words, they seem far less stressed out than their so-called “safe & secure” salaryman counterparts.  For all the bad rap that Japanese people get for being a “group-oriented & group-think society” I can’t help but notice even the “domestic” Japanese with no English or experience living overseas get incredible motivation in managing their own destiny and having the freedom to call their own shots.


Maybe this is the human experience; that people are most motivated and energized when they are free to do things their own way, outside the confines of a constricting company atmosphere or rigid caste society.


I certainly think so, anyway.






Lesson 6: Horrors of the 追い出し部屋 or “Banishment Room” part-2

“Your next assignment to join the Business and HR Development Center”

Wow!  A division called the ” Business and HR Development Center.”  Sounds impressive; that must be a division in order to fast track top management talent, huh?

Actually, this the official name of Panasonic Group’s 追い出し部屋 or “Banishment Room.”   This is actually part of a subsidiary company of the Panasonic Group located in Yokohama.  It contains rooms with old desktop computers and the employees are expected to use them to find other jobs whether inside or outside the company.

Employees assigned are told “You no longer have a job to do, so you need to go to the Business and HR Development Center to look for another job within the company.”


You see, in Japan it is nearly impossible to fire or layoff a single full time employee without overcoming huge legal hurdles.

  1. Necessity
    The company must prove that its business circumstances are such that redundancies are unavoidable and necessary.
  2. Effort to avoid redundancy
    The company must prove that it has made serious managerial efforts to avoid redundancies such as by re-assigning staff and advertising for voluntary redundancies.
  3. Reasonable selection
    The company must prove that the standards by which it selected those to be made redundant are reasonable, and that redundancies were carried out fairly.
  4. Reasonable process
    The company must prove that it conducted sufficient consultations with workers and labor unions.

It takes incredible amounts of time and effort to do the above and even then you still have a legal risk of being sued by the fired employee.  The above burdens are high and it can be a challenge to prove that you took “all possible steps.”

So it’s much easier to encourage employees to voluntary take early retirement or a severance package and leave on their own.


“You no longer have a job to do, so you need to go to the Business and HR Development Center to look for another job within the company.”


Translation:  “Get the fuck out!  We don’t want you so after you are unable to find a job inside a group company you will finally see the writing on the wall and get the fuck out!”

Lesson 5: Promises of bullshittery

According to a survey by one of Japan’s top staffing/headhunting firms, in 2012, Panasonic ranked in the top 5 of the most popular companies in Japan for workers to join.

It’s true, Panasonic did indeed have a record breaking year.   It lost more money than any other none financial firm in history.  It lost 7.65 billion yen, at that time well worth over 9 billion US dollars.  It also announced plans to lay off 39,000 workers.

Incredulous. Dumbfounding.   What words can express this unbelievable paradox?  How can a company in such dire financial straights remain such a popular company for job seekers?

“To be successful and have security you must enter a large & famous Japanese company”

This is the phrase that has been repeated continuously by parents, teachers, peers, and society in general.

The only problem is that it’s complete bullshit.




Lesson 4: Horrors of the “Bansishment Room” 「追い出し部屋」

In my ongoing quest to destroy the myth concerning the supposed security in following the salaryman path in Japan, I spent some time looking online in Japanese while searching for the terms “restructuring” which is リストラ in Japanese.

I discovered an incredible new word in the Japanese vocabulary; it is called the 追い出し部屋 (oidashibeya) or literally translated “expulsion room” or as some English language news sites call the “banishment room”.  Incredible!

Basically, large Japanese firms like Hitachi, Panasonic, Sony, Sharp and others are doing a really shitty job at business and have increased their core competencies of losing money in all of their primary divisions.

Because of this they are becoming forced to layoff more workers then ever before in Japan, absolutely obliterating the social contract of “servitude in exchange for financial security”.  The Japanese flagship companies Panasonic, Sony, Sharp and NEC together laid off around 90,000 workers in 2012.

However, Japanese law has extreme protections for full time workers, so it can be legally difficult to fire workers without undergoing many time-consuming steps first.  In order to get around these legal hurdles, Japanese HR professionals created new “divisions” that employees targeted for layoffs can be transferred and encouraged to quit voluntarily and/or taking part in early retirement programs.

However, there are tons of personal horror stories on the internet of the emotional shock of lifetime Salarymen who are told by their companies they are no longer needed and should quit.  Even though companies give these new divisions cool names, critics call these divisions “Banishment Rooms”.   One of my favorite names for these so-called  “Banishiment Rooms” is Sony’s “Career Design Room”.  The naming games are simply amazing……

In the next lesson I will introduce some actual stories from those brave souls who have experience the true nature of these banishment rooms…

Lesson 3: Waiting for a rest that never comes…

tokyo-2104TrainPhoto credit: tokyoform / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

we spend all of our lives goin’ out of our minds
looking back to our birth, forward to our demise

we made it to the moon
but we can’t make it home
waitin’ on a rescue that never comes

– “They Stood Up For Love” by LIVE

Ahh, the concept of retirement.  Spend 40 years do things you don’t want to do, sometimes with people you hate, for the promise of the “privilege” of being able to start living the life you want at age 60 with some combination of public & private pension.

Does this not strike you as odd?  While obviously there is a truth to delayed gratification and working now to get something of greater value later.  But 30+ years?  What if the payoff isn’t worth it?  Aren’t we taking a huge risk by spending the best years of our lives in exchange for a promise that things will be better later?  What if this promise isn’t realized?  Doesn’t that means we’ve given up the most valuable thing we have in this life, which is our prime years?

The demise of the salaryman shows us the horrible truth, the promise of retirement is a lie and and the promise of a deferred life is a cruel deception.