Book Review: “Salaryman in Japan”

From JTB’s “Illustrated Book Series,” “Salaryman in Japan” is an illustrated look at the typical life of a Japanese businessman, known in Japan as a ‘salaryman.’

Salaryman In Japan Cover

It includes plenty of cute illustrations and, by virtue of being translated into English from Japanese rather than written by a foreigner, also includes quite a lot of unique items, such as a short list of various ways to use a name seal and instructions for what to do at a Shinto funeral.

The edition I have is from 1996, and it paints a pretty bleak picture of the life of our typical Japanese businessman, with everything he does revolving around his job.  In fact, the real strength of the book is that the illustrator consistently uses the same guy for all of his illustrations of our prototype ‘salaryman.’  The result is that by the end of the book you feel that you’ve really come to know this guy, his family, his hopes, his fears.

A salaryman's business life.

And that’s the thing:  although the text of the book constantly stresses how hard he has it, and focuses on all the negative aspects of being a ‘salaryman,’ a certain kind of happiness really starts to present itself in his life.  While his freedom may be limited, there is a definite rhythm and pace to his life that is hard not to envy.  It’s a secure existence that may be short on excitement, but gives plenty of opportunities for fun and satisfaction.

A salaryman's time off.

Obviously the ‘salaryman’ presented represents the most stereotypical of his kind, from which every real-life one will vary a little or a lot.  But despite this inescapable limitation, as well as the book’s brevity and age, I invite you to gaze upon the life of this suit-clad, bespectacled subject and ponder, “Would I trade my life with his?”

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