11 Types of Office Personas Found in Japanese Society

  • We meet all kinds of people with different behaviors in the office, but perhaps do not have a label to identify them like the Japanese do. Some mentioned below are necessary for survival in the office, some are for climbing the corporate ladder, and some are simply descriptive characteristics of certain personalities. These do not necessarily have bad connotations, but are interesting to note if you relate to or recognize some of these office personas. I for one have had the chance of seeing non-Japanese people exhibit some of these behaviors!

    1. The Window Seat: Madogiwa (窓際)

    Literally meaning to “pray by the window”, madogiwa refers to an employee who has been put in cold storage at the window seat. He is redundant and given meaningless or unimportant daily tasks. As the Japanese office layout is very tight and people sit around those whom they work with, the madogiwa is isolated and does not belong to a team. He is usually old and kept around only because Japanese companies never fire. They may pressure you to resign, but it’s ultimately out of your own “free will”. This seems to be a thing of the past now; as offices become more high-rise, window seats are prized.

    2. The Snoozer: Inemuri (居眠り)

    This is an amusing term which refers to the act of an employee actively pretending to sleep in the office so as to mislead his boss into thinking that he is so busy and hard at work that he has no time to even sleep at home, and hence has to catch his share of forty winks in the office. The Snoozer is still expected to sit upright and put on a show of “wanting to be noticed while pretending to be inconspicuous.”

    3. The Mundane Workers: Dobunezumi zoku (ドブネズミ族)

    Literally translating to the “Drain Rat Clan”, this term refers to company employees who are dressed in dull office garb. They are plentiful, they are everywhere, and they all look the same scurrying through the sewers in the rat race.

    4. The Nonchalant Phantom: Hodohodo zoku (ほどほど族)

    Hodohodo means as-is or status quo. The Nonchalant Phantom keeps a low profile while still maintaining a satisfactory work ethic. His main objective is to try to avoid promotion so as to reduce work-related stress and also gain more personal free time. He is neither an over- nor under-achiever; if your job is just a job to you and not your passion, this is the way to work smart. He is of course very dispensable, but may even avoid redundancy exercises if no one remembers him!

    5. The Smokers: Hotaru zoku (蛍族)

    The “Firefly Clan”, where the only light in their lives come from the cigarettes they chain-smoke.

    6. The Salary Man: Sarari man (サラリーマン)

    The ultimate power hungry go-getter who drinks, sleeps and lives at work 24/7. He comes from a background of elite schools and hence already has a mindset trained to survive the relentless body-damaging working hours and activities. His life belongs to the company from graduation until retirement, and has been known to result in death either by overworking or by suicide.

    7. The Legacy Generation: Nure ochiba zoku (濡れ落ち葉族)

    Known as the “Clan of the Wet Fallen Leaves”, these are clingy retired salary men who cannot let go of the fact that they are past their prime and no longer in the scene. A comical, bittersweet sequel to the aforementioned Salary Man.

    8. The Bootlicker / Kiss-Up: Hetsurau-hito (へつらう人) / Gomasuri (ごますり)

    No one can deny that they have encountered one of these types before! His pet moves are groveling and being at his target’s beck and call. This one could overlap with the Backstabber, and is never a crowd’s favorite.

    9. The Gossip Monger: Chicchai-ningen (ちっちゃい人間) or Usagi-Mimi (兎耳)

    Chicchai-ningen literally means a small person, figuratively referring to his aptitude and magnanimity as a human being. Usagi-mimi means rabbit ears. These both refer to the resident nosy-parker who takes pleasure in spreading rumors.

    10. The Backstabber: Uragirimono (裏切り者)

    Literally meaning “traitor”, the backstabber works particularly well in Japan’s collectivist and passive-aggressive environment.

    11. The Freeter (フリーター)

    The word “freeter” is a portmanteau of “freelance” and “arbeiter” which is the German word for “worker”. These are the counter-culture, free, or perhaps lazy, lost youths who choose not to join the routine Japanese workforce immediately after graduation. It may be because they have other dreams to pursue, or plainly because they cannot find a job. They may also still be staying with their parents.