And so, of all places, I chose to become a salaryman in Japan.

What is a salaryman? You may ask.

Well, a man who earns salary? Not exactly. It refers to the white-collared office workers in Japan, who carries the following stereotypes: Works overtime on a daily basis, obedient to superiors, lack of initiative and originality, wears a black suit and tie to work, accompanies his boss/ superiors for drinks till late, lives a boring life.

Contrary to popular belief, the stereotypes above are actually true, in most cases. I have heard of various stories that irk me in disgust and disbelief, but convince me that being a salaryman is not the wisest choice to make.

A Japanese friend working in a huge Japanese company once tweeted at 11:30pm: Oh dear, what a heavy rain. What a pity… it is not often that we get off work this early.

Another friend told me she “works” from 10 am to 7pm, but in reality, she ends work between 9:30pm and 11:30pm. And her overtime pay is actually already part of her pay.

We hear so often how punctual and efficient the Japanese trains are. They arrive and leave exactly according to the time schedule, and every minute late is promptly announced and apologized. But are the Japanese really the most punctual people? What time do they actually leave the office when the knock off time is actually 6pm? The peer pressure to stay back till your boss leaves forces you to remain at your desk, not doing anything. What happened to the punctuality and efficiency?

Of course, things have started to change, but in most companies, the traditional practice and customs are still deeply rooted in the office culture.

I turned up for the first day of work today, and was glad to realize that my company was not one of those I have so often heard of. Yes, we do have weekly assemblies where all the office staff gather on the same floor, and through tele-conferencing, connected to offices in Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo. Yes, it was all tense and formal as the respective leaders make their speeches. Yes, I was actually shaking nervously as they called my name for my self-introduction in front of the whole company.

But once the formality is over, the staff put their smiles back on and the day begins. Semi-casual wear is allowed in summer; permission has to be sought in order to do over-time; individual voices actually do count and reach the president. I couldn’t help but smile to myself; perhaps I have found the right company.

However, of course, I haven’t really started work, and haven’t really tasted the toughness of which. Countless obstacles lie before me, that would test my limits and stretch my potentials. I might have done well as a student, but working is another world.

Like a true-blue salaryman, I’d ganbarimasu. douzo yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu.

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