Becoming Shachiku: involuntariness in Japanese workplace

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This photo shows a lot of office workers commuting by train in front of JR Shinagawa Station in Tokyo on July 13, 2017. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )

What is Shachiku (社畜) ?

The term “shachiku” combined kaisha (会社), company in Japanese, and kasaku (家畜), livestock in Japanese, was a metaphor that describes office workers at the bottom who discard self-esteem and sacrifice their private time for the company in Japan.

This term doesn’t pop out recently; in fact, it debuted in the book published in 1992. In the book, the author calls the office workers as shachiku rooted in the atmosphere of involuntary job transfer in Japanese society, which makes the author feel that the office workers are like the animals nurtured by their company.

After the term “shachiku” popped out, the working environment has changed a little. However, with the new problems (or actually the original problems) surfacing, the term shachiku doesn’t disappear. Instead, the concept is increasingly penetrating into Japanese society. Not only does it mean that there are many people who call themselves shachiku, but also the comics’ themes of shachiku are becoming more popular than ever.

The fad of shachiku in Japanese comics

Many Japanese comics not only take shachiku as a theme, but also perfectly present all kind of things and conversations that frequently happen in the Japanese office workers daily.

Image taken from JPnet

The Japanese comics about office workers have changed a lot. The mainstream that describes the characters realize self-fulfilment has almost disappeared in recent years and been replaced by the story of shachiku.

Actually, the working environment in Japan has made this fad. Although the Japanese government has been trying hard to improve working environment, karoshi (death from overwork), workplace bully and even suicide because of works still happen every day. Therefore, instead of promoting the positive value of working, the story of shachiku which is close to the readers’ real life is more able to resonate.

Image taken from JPnet

Ineffective new projects of company

To solve this problem, many Japanese companies have a policy called “no work overtime day”. Obviously, there are the provisions that employees are not allowed to work overtime, and they must go home from work on time on some specific days. It seems nice for the workers, yet the policy in fact helps the company to save a large amount of overtime pay, and the employees still have to finish the work at their own place.

In addition, some companies in order to improve employee’s productivity and reduce working hours, have tried to carry out the policy of 3 days for weekend (one week a day). However, when you are off the day, other companies are still operating, so you still have to deal with the business directions and operate in coordination with other companies.

Japanese office workers cross a road as they rush to their office at the Tokyo central railway station in Tokyo Friday, Nov. 10, 2000. Despite a high-profile effort by the government to get people to take more time off, the still shaky economy and deeply entrenched social pressures keep Japan’s work force glued to the office. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara)

All the Japanese office workers are shachiku?

In Japan, there is not a clear definition of shachiku of which more generalized usage is equivalent to the meaning of office workers with a little bit banter. Generally, those who work not for themselves but only for the company, and those who are unsatisfied with the company and want to quit but cannot take action are called “shachiku.”

In the atmosphere of “Company first” and “Endurance is goodness” in Japan, due to the social value system, the Japanese white-collar workers are shackled by the company much more than other countries’.

A Japanese worker passes by a laid off white-collar worker who spent the morning sleeping on a bench in Tokyo’s Hibiya park, March 22, 2001. The park is a common place for laid off men of white-collar middle class to spend their days. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder