Most might have heard of the jingoish term salaryman (sararii man ｻﾗﾘｰﾏﾝ), which actually entered the oxford dictionary .
What is so special about this phenomenon and why are the Japanese ones so different from foreign white-collar workers?
First, they are not only employed but are an important part of the company. They are so so committed, that they believe that the company will go bankrupt, if they are absent.
That is why they practically never take vacations, except when they are down with the flu. Japanese companies have sick days, but salarymen would first use all holidays before actually using real sick days. It is a contradiction indeed.
The so-called “service zangyo” (サービス残業) or free overtime, is not something happening once or twice a month, but are in most companies part of their daily routine. Moreover, as the name suggests, they are usually not paid for overtime work.
There used to be tons of benefits being a slave for a company. Salarymen used to live in company apartments where they did not need to pay rent, there used to have annual company trips, some companies even had access to free memberships at golf clubs, gyms and similar facilities. Today, most of the companies have only basic benefits like paid health insurance and pension, though most of the smaller companies, or so-called “black companies” (ブラック会社) actually do not offer even these anymore.
Working in Japan can be tough. But the business world is tough in general, it has never been easy. And if you happen to be lucky enough to work for a foreign employer, you might even be able to finish work on time and benefit from western standards.
Nonetheless, working for a Japanese employer can be fun, too. You get to practice and improve your Japanese, get to know Japanese culture first hand and have a wonderful opportunity to interact within it. Ganbatte! (頑張って Don’t give up!)