The “Salary Man” Lifestyle: A Japanese Work Ethic?

It has been debated that overload working has become a ‘big issue’ as Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. After researched online, I found that there is a word to describe Japanese male who is extremely busy and live under a huge pressure everyday— the ‘Salary Man’. Is this about the natural personalities of Japanese who are always hardworking and diligent to get success? Obviously not, who wants to do countless work without enough breaks and under so much pressure in daily life? It is more about an issue around cultural values and traditions which were ingrained since ancient times.

FILE - In this March 29, 2013 file photo, people cross a street in Tokyo. Legislation that will be submitted during the parliamentary session that began Jan. 26, 2015 aims to ensure workers get the rest they need. In a break with past practice, it will become the legal responsibility of employers to ensure workers take their holidays. Japan has been studying such legislation for years. There has been more impetus for change since 2012 as a consensus developed that the health, social and productivity costs of Japan’s extreme work ethic were too high. Part of the problem has been that many people fear resentment from co-workers if they take days off, a real concern in a conformist culture that values harmony. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama, FIle)

Gender roles in Japan

 In most western countries, the gender equality has always been a significant topic because female should be treated as the same as male; while in Japan, women are considered to become housewife after marriage and female have the responsibility to do the housework, take care of kids and learn multiple skills such as cooking, flower arrangement and tea ceremony. In contrast, male seemed to dominate the business world in Japan and they are responsible for making money for the whole family. That’s how the perception about gender roles became traditional thoughts and handed down from ancient periods to nowadays.

As nowadays there seemed to be increased young people under work pressure and being unhealthy due to the competition in work environment, some claimed that this type of work ethic needs to be discouraged by government through implementation of series laws and strategies. From my perspective, the ‘big issue’ could be dressed through compulsory laws, but the challenging task is to change people’s cultural perception. Maybe what we expect is to encourage women be more independent and get engaged in work even after marriage in Japan.




Slurp your noodles loudly but keep quiet on the train?

When travelling to a new place, you might encounter a “culture shock” which could make you frustrating and embarrassing. But it could also be interesting as you will come across something new. Let’s go and explore a different Japan!

  • Dining Etiquette

There are some similarities about table manners between Japan my home country China, for example we do not play with chopsticks while eating and point your chopsticks at others which are very impolite. But when I searched online, I found some uncommon things and I was a bit shocked. The first thing is never pass food with your chopsticks, if doing so it would remind Japanese of the ritual of passing cremated bones between chopsticks at funerals. The second custom is in Japan you can never waste any food and if you ask waiters to take home all the leftovers at restaurants it is seemed to be inappropriate.


Another difference is when you have Ramen in Japan; you need to slurp noodles loudly. The louder you eat, the yummier your food is. And eating noodles too quietly could be seen as lack of enjoyment of the food.


  • Keep to the beaten track

It is well known that Japanese are extremely mannered as they follow rules everywhere. It seemed to be unbelievable that you aren’t allowed to make phone calls on the train or bus, people talk in low volume or keep silent in public area because speak loudly can be a rude behaviour.


There are so many things we can barely understand and sometimes we might feel confused, but what we need to do while travelling is to embrace culture differences and enjoying them instead of complaint. Each culture is a unique identity, just experience, indulge in and be challenged by a new place.


Rodgers, G. (n.d.). Japanese Dining Etiquette and Table Manners. Retrieved May 11, 2015.