I was fortunate to have lived and taught in Japan for …two…..well…..let’s just say……interesting years. I repressed my memories of Japan for so long. It’s hard to explain but when you live in another country and you are distanced from family, friends and life in America, you change. There are only so many stories that you can tell someone who doesn’t understand Japanese culture. You start to get into a story and then you watch your friend or your family member’s eyes glaze over. So what naturally and tends to happen is that those memories, stories and feelings of your past life in a different country become compartmentalized. The only way the stories resurface and come back is when someone asks you a random question about Japan or when I meet up with my expat friends. Like a magician with a rabbit and a hat, stories start popping up….crazy…..wacky stories that once made me laugh and sometimes gasp. So here are a few of my memories of Japanese businessmen in Japan.
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression that I am bashing Japan. Japanese people are some of the most warmest, caring and polite people in the world. Just thought a few silly stories would make you laugh or make you remember something similar that you experienced.
In Japan, there is a name for the notorious businessman. His name is Sarari (salary) man. I spelled it in closer form of romaji, so that you can pronounce it better. The Sarari man wears a cookie cutter black suit, white shirt and tie and carries a brief case. They are EVERYWHERE! It’s very easy to spot a Sarari man. Just jump on the local JR trains in the country, suburbs or city and you’ll spot one within minutes. The other place to find them is after work in an izakaya (Japanese pub), snack bar, kissaten (coffee shop) or enkai (party) of some sort.
Story #1: Train Man
On one occasion, I was on my way to a friend’s house. I had to take the local JR train to a town called Tomobe in Ibaraki-machi. By train from Mito, it is about a 15-20 minute ride or so. My friends and I went to go get some Italian food. Trust me when you live in a different country, you have splurges for other familiar ethnic foods like Mexican food (San Diego Native) and Italian Food. You can only eat so much Japanese food. Going out and indulging in Italian food tastes like heaven. We came back to the town of Tomobe via train later in the evening. We were so consumed with talking that we didn’t pay attention to the Sarari man ahead of us. He was SOOOO drunk that he passed out literally on the ticket entrance gate. I’m not sure what they are called, but he passed out on the silver rotator bar that doesn’t allow you to pass through if you don’t pay. You know the same things that turn when you are at an amusement park, the counters. I have a picture somewhere in the abyss of my thousands of printed out photos. We couldn’t get through because he passed out standing up on the bar. We didn’t know what to do, so we just kind of laughed and took photos of him. Finally we had to give him a nudge. He managed to kind of wake up and stumble at least 3 steps and then he just passed out on the ground and went to sleep.
Story #2: Umbrella Man
Each weekend I had the luxury of traveling to Tokyo since I was only about one hour away via fast train (Super Hitachi). I would have my list of addresses of restaurants, galleries and cool stores to go check out. On many occasions I saw drunk salary men wandering around clueless as to what train station they were at. If you have lived in Tokyo a long time, you know that each station in Tokyo has a different song that plays that alerts the train passenger where you are. The chime song at the Shibuya station is different from the Shinjuku station. They even have cell phone ringtones of the train stations if you are an enthusiast! One evening, I was transferring from the Ueno Station to the train line that would take me to my hometown Mito. A Japanese businessman was in front of me on the escalator going down. He was cursing at his umbrella in a loud and very obnoxious tone. He got so angry at it, he started to swing his umbrella at the wall. The first time he did it, a plastic piece went flying and almost hit me so I had to duck. He continued to yell and scream and trip all over the place. He wandered to an empty wall and continued to smash his umbrella to pieces. What do Japanese people do when they see drama unfold, they walk the other way. One eye will peer from the side while the other looks in the direction of their destination. For me questions start going across my mind like a speeding typewriter. What happened to this guy? Did his girlfriend break up with him? Did he lose his job? How much did he have to drink? What kind of drinks did he have? Who is he going home to? Whatever the story may be, if he is married, there will be a futon folded out on the tatami floor with a triangle fold that will allow him to easily slip into and pass out. Most likely there will also be a hot bath waiting for him. Japanese women are resilient people. If their husband comes home drunk, they won’t complain. It is expected that they are good wives and that they help make life easier. Now this could be changing with the new generation. Some of my Japanese friends would not put up with this.
Story #3: Yakitori Men
In Tokyo on a crazy night, you have to consider that anything can happen. Japanese businessmen will party hearty and drink tons of sake (fermented rice wine) and eat tons of yakitori (grilled chicken bits). I decided to take some newbies to a yakitori bar in Shinjuku since I was the only one in the bunch that could actually speak Japanese, not fluently, but enough to order for the bunch. I was trusting my Japanese to host at least 8 people. Come to find out, I was a bit rusty. Still to this very day, I have no idea what I ordered. We may have been eating chicken hearts, chicken butt, liver and who knows what else. I can distinctively remember looking around as if we were in an Alice and Wonderland tale but with Lewis Carroll drinking absinthe. The whole place was filled with black suits. The smell was of cigarettes, sweat and roasting meat. There was something very carnal about this place and the only thing that could cool us down and make us a little more relaxed was a Sapporo beer. That cooled us down, but as we drank tons of beer the salary men around us were getting more and more plastered. There cheeks were pink like the dolls in the Nutcracker, and they must have went through 4 boxes of cigarettes. I remember looking at one of the newbies and her face was mortified. It appeared as if she had rings of smoke curling around her face like she was either God or the Devil. Her glasses fogged up from the humidity and smoke. I felt bad that the environment was so masculine and crazy. But it will always be a crazy memory of Tokyo that I will never forget.
Story #4: Capsule Hotel Man
On a rambunctious night, a salary man or salary men that may have had too much of a good time will 90% most likely miss a train. They will do anything in their power to make the 12:30 A.M. train. They are almost programmed, even when drunk to be able to auto-pilot their way to the last train, but when they miss is, what do they do? They check in to a capsule hotel. A capsule hotel is a strange phenomena, but economical and efficient. They are literally capsules stacked on top of each other at least 3 stories high. They cost about $40 a night and they get super packed with people. You capsule is literally about 3 feet longer than a coffin and it is equipped with air conditioning, a light and a t.v. Because the salary men are the #1 clients, they also feature porn on the t.v. as well. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ve heard of Japanese salary men being so drunk that they fall from their capsule and just sleep on the ground. But in most cases, they will wake up, put their suit back on, grab a quick breakfast at a Gyu-don bar (meat rice bowl shop) or a ramen shop and grab their brief case and go back home or in some cases back to work. A majority of time, if the salary man runs into their colleagues that they partied with the night before, they won’t disclose information that happened the night before like “hey man, that was a crazy night, we got wrecked”, instead it will be business as usual.
Final Story: Trust me, I have hundreds!
Never take the 9:00 P.M. train if you are not feeling well or are sick. The 9:00 P.M. train is a popular train for salary men to get home. It gave them enough time to decompress after work and have dinner with their colleagues. The 9:00 P.M. train is the DRUNK TRAIN. A majority of the salary men are plastered, so drunk that they are either:
- Reading Anime Porn right in front of you. They don’t care because they are so drunk.
- Are passed out snoring in fetal position or with their head laying on the person next to them who is probably a complete stranger
- Reading actual porn and looking at the centerfold and studying it. Even extending their arms out so that they can see the centerfold from a further distance
- Texting….not sure to whom…but drunk texting
- drinking more sake or beer. There was a popular hit of a super cheap sake that is in a glass jar. This was extremely popular on the 9:00 P.M. trains
- or chatting up a storm in drunken Japanese to their colleague or a stranger
I remembered how one time I was super sick from a bad oyster. When I got on the train to get home, I almost vomited because I was feeling so sick already and the fumes from the sake, sweat, and drunken businessmen made me feel even more ill. Luckily I made it home ok, but that train ride was unbearable.
So, remember if you go to Japan….you’ll probably see a funny story of a famous salary man!