Salaryman – The “Ideal” Masculinity of Japanese Men

The term ” Salaryman” has its origin since the early 15th century. During this time, Japan obtained internal peace and the need for samurai was no more. The samurais then became white-collar workers for their clan administrator. However, it was not until the Second World War that the terms salaryman became popular, as the number of white-collar workers grew rapidly. After the Second World War, with the rise of white-collar workers and their work in stabilizing the Japanese economy after the war, the image of the salaryman became the ideal of masculinity for all Japanese men, the ideal of diligence and self-sacrifice that all men are striving to be.

Fast forward to the present and we can see the current situation of this ideal of the salaryman and we will analyze it in two aspects: psychologically and physically. On the psychological aspect, in a family that has a salaryman, typically a father, the family has been missing the father/brother figure. As a salaryman, you would have an 80 hours work week that span in six days. A CNN Money article described a typical Japanese salaryman as a frantic race from home to work with little time to rest. Imagine the person in the article to be in a household and you are the child of that person, it would be reasonable to argue that you don’t have a father figure in your life. The physical aspect of being a salaryman in the modern era can be sum up in one word: Karōshi. Karōshi means “overwork death” and it has been a major problem in Japan. The latest case of karoshi was a reporter who clocked in 159 hours of work overtime in one month and then died of heart failure. The ideal of salaryman has caused people to work more than 49 hours per week on average and caused many people their lives. Despite being this alarming, Japanese people are still clocking in overtime, work from 8.00 AM till midnight without rest. It seems that the salaryman figure does not seem that “ideal” anymore.

As a person who is interested in the country as a place to work and study, I believe that this current situation of the salaryman should be improved in order to attract the workforce to the country. The government has tried to implement a new policy, including giving the worker a chance to leave at 3 PM on the last Friday of the month. Though seems helpful, the policy has little effect on the salaryman, as it will only make their day busier and more pressure. Another way is to explore the alternatives of employing more women into jobs in order to relieve the pressure from man. But as admitted by a political scientist in Yale University, it will not be easy to use that method. Either way, I believe that there should be a way to revolutionize the salaryman ideal in order to relieve it from it physical and psychological burden.




2 thoughts on “Salaryman – The “Ideal” Masculinity of Japanese Men

  1. I I dont know much about the average pay wage of a typical Salaryman, but I find it interesting you bring up the idea that more women should be brought into the workforce to alleviate the pressures from men. You make a point to critique the government for not actually helping this issue, so is it up to the people ( ie women getting jobs) to help this crisis since the government isn’t doing a great job? I’m wondering if an angle of a broken home life could help move the solution of this issue faster? Let me know what you think 🙂 -Chania

  2. Hi Lam,

    This is a great analysis of the challenges facing salarymen. I am curious about this statement: “But as admitted by a political scientist in Yale University, it will not be easy to use that method.” What points did the Yale researcher make, i.e., what are the challenges of introducing women into the workforce? I suspect there are also some issues that could be explored more, such as Japan’s economic recession, very strict gendered lines about male/female roles and power, and social expectations of work. For instance, lower ranked workers are not supposed to leave before their boss leaves, so if he/she (invariably a “he”) decides to work until 11 pm, everyone works until 11 pm. How might these cultural expectations be changed?


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