Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's hard work at a Japanese company...

Before accepting the job offer from my current employer, I was given a short tour of the office. I found this a little uncomfortable since everyone was staring at the foreigner who hadn't made up his mind about whether to join or not. One of the areas that my HR tour guide was particularly keen on showing me was the 休憩室, literally translated as the "resting room".

Our offices are on the top floor of a twelve story building and this room is very pleasant - it's spacious and located in the corner of the building with large windows looking north and east over the Tokyo skyline. It has large tables where people eat their bento at lunchtime and comfortable arm chairs in front of a television. Quite a few people, notably only men, take a nap in these arm chairs after finishing their lunch. Everyone gets an hour for lunch.

Coming back to the tour that I mentioned - my guide made a point of saying, "Look! We also have a massage chair." These contraptions are popular in Japan and the ones located outside the changing rooms at onsens can be very pleasant. It's great to sit back and have your warm, hotspring-soaked muscles massaged after coming out. However, at work, it's not my cup of tea at all. Some of my colleagues love it but I'm in work mode at the office and I'm also in a suit. I gave it a try a couple of times but it doesn't push my buttons (although it certainly tries). If you get the settings wrong on one of these chairs, or if your body is tense, it can be pretty painful as it batters you and squeezes your flesh.

I thought that it was interesting that the company had spent a considerable sum of money installing this chair but what really caught my interest was the machine next to it (see right).

"What the hell is that?", I hear you ask. It's a machine that measures your blood pressure and I know what you're thinking.


I've got a few theories. Japanese companies like to look after their employees. We can apply for free medicine at regular intervals and everyone gets a health check once a year. At first glance, this seems like another addition to this caring service. But I think there's more to it, and I'll get to that in a minute. First, let's continue the tour.

Next to the blood pressure machine, is the pull-up machine.

If you feel the need to do some pull-ups in the office to keep yourself in shape, this is for you. I have never seen anyone use it.

Other items in the resting room include:

A book shelf full of magazines, newspapers and books. No one ever seems to read any of them.

Two vending machines, full of hot and cold drinks. Canned tea and coffee, bottled green tea, fruit juice, corn soup, strawberry milk and water can all be yours for between 80 and 100 yen. I use this machine way too much and almost always have a 500ml bottle of cold green tea or water beside me while I work. The prices are cheaper than the vending machines outside the office, no doubt because vandalism insurance costs less.

Microwave, fridge, and green tea/coffee dispenser.

So, this resting room has everything that you could hope for. That's great, right? Well, I think there's a subtler and slightly more sinister side to this. Japanese people work hard and they're expected to work hard by their bosses. Having a blood pressure machine and a massage chair in the office seems to imply an expectation that people will need them because they're working so hard. So the hidden message that I am suspicious of is, "You're going to work hard at this company and you'll need these machines to keep you going." But it's more than that, Japanese people like working hard. The presence of these facilities might on some level imply an acknowledgement of their hard efforts. Acknowledgement of hard work and effort is an important part of working culture in Japan and I might write a post on that at some point.

Anyway, I've been working especially hard today, I'd better go and check my blood pressure...


  1. Amazing posts you got in your blog. Will visit again.

  2. Working for a Japanese manufacturing company like PAPTI is really great! You can learn a lot from the Japanese.