Salaryman (サラリーマン, Sararīman?, salaried man) refers to a man whose income is salary based, particularly those working for corporations. It has gradually become accepted in Anglophone countries as a noun for a Japanese white-collar worker or businessman. The term salaryman refers exclusively to men; for women the term career woman or, for lower prestige jobs office lady is used.
Japan's society prepares its people to work primarily for the good of the whole society rather than just the individual himself, and the salaryman is a part of that. He is expected to work long hours, additional overtime, to participate in after-work leisure activities such as drinking and visiting hostess bars with his colleagues, and to value work over all else. The salaryman typically enters a company when he graduates college and stays with that corporation his whole career. Other popular notions surrounding salarymen include karōshi, or death from overwork. In conservative Japanese culture, becoming a salaryman is the expected career choice for young men and those who do not take this career path are regarded as living with a stigma and less prestige. On the other hand, the word Salaryman is sometimes used with derogatory connotation for his total dependence on his employer and lack of individuality.
According to researcher Ezra Vogel, the word "salaryman" saw widespread use in Japan by 1930, "although the white-collar class remained relatively small until the rapid expansion of government bureaucracies and war-related industry before and during World War II."
The term does not include all workers who receive a set salary, but only "white-collar workers in the large bureaucracy of a business firm or government office." The term includes those who work for government (e.g. bureaucrats) and major companies (e.g. those listed in Nikkei 225). Workers in the mizu shōbai (nightlife) and entertainment industries (including actors and singers) are not included even though their income may be salary based. Similarly, doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, musicians, artists, politicians, the self-employed, and corporate executives are also excluded.
A typical description of the salaryman is a male white-collar employee who typically earns his salary "based on individual abilities rather than on seniority."  Salarymen are known for working many hours, sometimes up to sixty hours per week. Oftentimes, because of his busy work schedule, the salaryman does not have time to raise a family and his work becomes a lifelong commitment. Companies typically hire the salarymen straight after high school, and they are expected to stay with the company until retirement, around the time they reach the age between 55 and 60. As a reward for the demonstration of their loyalty, companies rarely fire the salarymen unless it is under special "dire" circumstances. There is also a belief that the "amount of time spent at the workplace correlates to the perceived efficiency of the employee." As a result of this incredibly intense and depressing lifestyle, salarymen may become so pressured that they may commit suicide.
The media often portray the salaryman in negative fashion for lack of initiative and originality. Because of this portrayal, communities may be less willing to help the salaryman with his emotional problems, which often leads to clinical depression or even suicide. Corporations are often more willing to fire salarymen to lower costs, and many Japanese students are attempting to veer off the typical path of graduating from college to enter a corporation and become a salaryman. The act of escaping from the corporate lifestyle is known as datsusara. A vivid portrait of this can be found in the 2002 Takeshi Kitano film, Dolls.
The prevalence of salarymen in Japanese society has given birth to many depictions by both the Japanese and American media. Some films in Japan about salarymen include Mr. Salaryman, Japanese Salaryman NEO (based on the TV series), and a drama series entitled History of a Salaryman. There is a certain expectation among the middle and upper classes for Japanese men to become salarymen. For many young Japanese men, accepting anything less than becoming a salaryman and conforming to its ideal is considered a failure, not only of him, but of his parents.
The life of a salaryman revolves around work. The activities that he does outside of work typically involve his coworkers, which lessens the distance between him and work. Due to this expectation, there have been a variety of derogatory names given to salarymen: shachiku (社畜?) meaning corporate livestock, kaisha no inu (会社の犬?) corporate dog, and kigyou senshi (企業戦士?) corporate soldier, to ridicule salarymen.
Changing social circumstances have greatly diversified the life of the salaryman outside of work. Though the importance of social drinking has not declined, its image has changed over time from mass partying during the economic bubble to conservative consumption at home after the collapse of the economy during the 1990s. Mahjong was an immensely popular game among the 1960s generation of salarymen, who brought the game into company circles directly from high school and college groups. The 1970s generation saw a gradual decrease in the number of avid mahjong players, and by the 1980s, it became common to not show any interest at all. Some current salarymen do not partake in the game.
Golf became widely popular during the economic bubble, when golf club passes became useful tools for currying favor with corporate executives. Many mid-level salarymen were pressured into taking up golf to participate in golfing events with their superiors. The collapse of the economic bubble led to the closing of many golf courses, and the ritual of playing golf with executives has become increasingly rare. However, some current salarymen may have golfing experience from their student days, and golf is still acknowledged as an expensive hobby for salarymen.
Because of the pressure that the salaryman is given at work, some die from the overload of work, or karōshi. According to a Washington Post article, the Japanese government attempted for years to set a limit of the amount of hours one can work, and the issue has been prevalent since 1970s. Finally in 2014, after 30 years of activism, Japan's parliament (Japanese Diet) finally passed a law "promoting countermeasures against karōshi." However, even with this new law in place, many Japanese citizens still criticize the government and maintain that the law isn't enough. For one thing, they believe that there should be laws against companies that violate work hour laws and should penalize them for doing so. It seems that the focus of the current legislation that passed is on gathering evidence through statistics of the salarymen that have died of karōshi, as well as providing counseling for the workers. Approximately 2000 applications are filed by family members and loved ones of the salarymen that fall victim to the karōshi, in hopes of seeking recognition for the death by overload of work. However, experts also stated that the death toll is most likely much higher, and "as many as 8000 out of the 30,000 annual suicides a year are thought to be work-related" and "there are as many as 10,000 non-suicide karōshi deaths a year." In addition, the salarymen who survive the long, stressful work life often do become mentally unstable.
Historically, karōshi, literally translating to "overwork death" was first diagnosed as a "circulatory disease brought on by stress." The issue with karōshi first began in the late 1970s after the OPEC crisis occurred, which took a toll on the reconstruction of the post-war Japanese industry. Since then, the number of deaths from this disease has only increased, as competition began to increase between overly-aggressive competitive companies. This has also become even more of an issue at larger companies in Japan, such as Toyota, one of the largest carmakers in the world as well as one of the most prestigious companies in Japan. Toyota has been known to be "publicly embarrassed" by the situation, especially after Kenichi Uchino, a 30-year-old quality-control manager at Toyota collapsed and died in 2002. For six months, Uchino had worked more than 80 hours unpaid overtime every month. After this incident, Toyota had announced that it would begin paying their workers for their overtime hours as well as making an effort to monitor their health.
- Career woman
- Japanese blue collar workers
- Japanese management culture
- Japanese work environment
- Office lady
- Peter principle
- Salaryman Kintarō
- Simultaneous recruiting of new graduates
- Suicide in Japan
- White-collar worker
- Work-life balance
- A Week in the Life of a Tokyo Salary Man. Dir. Stu. Perf. Stu. Youtube.com. N.p., 28 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
- Vogel, Ezra F. "The Problem and Its Setting." Japan's New Middle Class; the Salary Man and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb. Berkeley: U of California, 1963. 1-12. Print.
- Wingate, Kristin (2011). "Japanese Salarymen: On the Way to Extinction?" (PDF). Undergraduate Journal of Global Citizenship 1.1.
- McLelland, Mark. "Salarymen Doing Queer: Gay Men and the Heterosexual Public Sphere." Genders, Transgenders, and Sexualities in Japan. N.p.: Routledge, 2005. 96-110. Print.
- Dasgupta, Romit. "Creating Corporate Warriors: The "Salaryman" and Masculinity in Japan." Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan. By Kam Louie and Morris Low. London: Routledge, 2003. 118-34. Print.
- "Japan's Killer Work Ethic". The Washington Post. July 13, 2008. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
- North, Scott (September 2014). "Japanese Workers Fight against Karoshi, Death from Overwork". Red Pepper. Retrieved April 5, 2015.