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Posts Tagged ‘grooming’

Home at work.

In Japan, People on April 11, 2011 at 9:19 am

I walked into work today to see one of my bosses (the third in command) sitting at his desk shaving with his electric razor. Japanese offices are communal, with the desks facing each other, so it’s not like he was in the privacy of his own space or had a door to close.

Here’s the clincher, I’ve been there just over a week and the first thing through my mind was nowhere near “What the . . .” It was more along the lines of  “Wouldn’t it be better if he had a mirror and some water?”

I should clarify. This is a new place of employ for me, but I’ve had this job for a while. We rotate regularly. Needless to say, I think I’m getting used to this kind of thing. I see people brushing teeth at their desks after lunch, clipping nails, changing ties, gargling. This is all perfectly normal behavior. Slightly more out of the ordinary examples include a couple times when a coworker brought his guitar and sang Beatles songs while the rest of us were working. Or, in her free time, at her desk, the woman who would segment and peel oranges to make marmalade and candied rind. The entire room smelled like a Florida grove. I wasn’t complaining.

I’m pretty sure a few American managers who would balk at all this. I have absolutely no understanding of business. And, I’m not culturally  aware enough to offer more than a fleeting glimpse of things here. Certainly nothing definitive. But, in it’s own strange way, it makes sense to me. These people are there all day. Truly. My Protestant work ethic has nothing on them. I have coworkers who bike home after 10, 11, 12 hour days. Then they work a good part of the weekend. So, the barriers break down and they treat the place as their home.

I think the physicality of the space encourages them too. There are no cubicles or room dividers. In a way, things aren’t as regimented. And, the idea of what’s mine and what’s yours is far more nebulous. If someone needs a room key that’s in an absent coworker’s desk, they open the drawer and get it. It isn’t even an issue. No matter how many times I transfer to a new office, my desk is always near the coffee pot. I cannot tell you how many mugs get forgotten on my desk while I’m gone. It’s like a ceramic wasteland every Monday morning.

This isn’t to say Japanese offices aren’t hierarchical. They are. Extremely so. The bosses are at the front, lined up in order and facing their subordinates. Desks are grouped together by common division, and similarly ranked by seniority. It’s very top down. There is always an order and everyone is aware of it, but this doesn’t necessarily make people feel out of place or cut off from their coworkers. So far, everyone seems to coexist quite well here, even with a fair idea of coworkers’ comparative salaries and grooming habits.

Oh, and if you want to know where I rank, I’m one pay grade up from the coffee pot.