Office Mornings in a Japanese Company

When I enter the office of my Japanese company at 8:15 am there is only the rustling of newspapers, like bamboo in a gentle wind, punctuated by low greetings of "ohaiyo gozaimasu" (good morning) as the salarymen trickle into work. It is quiet; most of the men are at their desks, skimming the newspapers and keeping a sharp eye out for articles related to the company, competition, or industry. If a relevant article appears, it is photocopied and glued onto a separate piece of paper, the date and source neatly noted in an upper corner and stamped with the names of those who are likely to want to see it -- almost always the section and division leaders.

Early mornings are the most relaxed time of day. Interspersed among the Nikkei, (Japan Economic Newspaper), the Mainichi (The Daily) and the industry reports are a sprinkling of sports newspapers. Sometimes joking comments pass back and forth between the men as they discuss baseball teams and sumo.

Cups of coffee and ocha (green tea) steam in front of several men, and one man lights up several cigarettes during the 45 minute interlude before the day begins in earnest. Despite the usual morning commute of up to two hours, they are intent and focused on their reading. It takes me a little over one hour to get to work, and I am grateful. I only ride two train lines and a subway. At 8:30 one of the office ladies comes around to clean out the refridgerator area and ensure a solid supply of tea, coffee and juice for the day. She also cleans off our section and division leaders' desks. She is the youngest office lady (or "OL" as they are known) in our section, and until a new batch of young women employees are hired on in April she is responsible for basic cleaning chores in the morning. She is very bashful and shies away from conversation with me.

Minutes before 9 am the atmosphere vibrates with heightened tension. The men place the newspapers, folded as though they have not yet been touched, neatly into the appropriate boss' box. Office ladies glide to their places, murmuring their morning greetings. I always know when our kacho (section leader) enters our work area, despite the fact that my back is to the hallway. Several things happen simultaneously. I feel a whoosh of air behind me as he strides by, pulling off his jacket. I hear a loud chorus of "Ohaiyo Gozaimasu!" rise up. I witness the mobilizing impact of his presence on the salarymen: some men grab computer disks and pens and rush for the computers while others pick up phones and hastily dial. Mere seconds later there is another strong round of "good mornings" this time for the bucho (division leader). I am reminded of the enthusiastic "Irrashaimase!" greetings of sushi shop owners when customers step through the door, waving aside the cloth noren. With the presence of management a few desks away the tempo picks up and a day-long flurry of activity begins.

The mornings are one of my favorite times of the day.

Copyright, 1995. Debra Carlson, WorldWeave Publications.