If I had to choose one word to sum up my fascination with Japan, it would be contradiction. It’s a culture in which the more quickly you can become comfortable with extremes, the more quickly you can assimilate. This range of seeming opposites is prevalent in many aspects of Japanese society, and evident with just a quick stroll around business-cultural hubs like Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Ginza or Roppongi neighborhoods at different times of day or night.
Growing up in America, I had often heard of Japan’s extremely serious “business” mentality—from the pressure put on children to perform on academic tests at a young age to the dark, homogenous suits and long business hours in the workplace. In other words, when I saw this group of identically-dressed businessmen on the 6:10am JR Keihin-Tohoku line train from Yokohama to Tokyo Station, or this cluster of early risers walking from the station trying to be first to the office, again dressed alike, I wasn’t surprised.
However, over the course of rushing to catch the last train home each night (usually around midnight, depending on the line and station) whenever I’m in Tokyo, which is a common nightly exercise for many, I was initially shocked each time I saw one of these traditional Japanese salarymen, bland dark suit and all, sprawled out completely unconscious on a train platform floor.
As if working 12 hour days is not enough, you’ll quickly discover drinking to be a major part of Japanese business culture. While intended to ‘relieve’ stress, it is more of an expectation and obligation than voluntary pursuit, yet another contradiction to mirror the simple idea of an intimidating, business-savvy, demanding boss to many by day knocked out on a public floor like a flunking college freshman by night.
Ah, the beauty of Japan…