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Society Report 8/26/95

During my stay in Japan I have noticed the common use of the word shakai-jin. The literal meaning of this word is "society person," or "member of society," but as it is used by the Japanese, it indicates a person who is employed.

Noting the use of such a simple word, however, can tell a great deal about what the Japanese consider society to be. Children are identified as children, college students as college students, and housewives as housewives. But working men and women are consistently called shakai-jins.

Does this imply that Japanese do not consider themselves members of society until they are working in some company? If so, then this must be interpreted as proof that the Japanese worker considers his place of employment and his society to be one and the same thing.

In general, this thought pattern is not difficult to observe. Japanese men simply spend more time at their companies than anywhere else. Unlike the American worker, who considers overtime as an exception to normal routine, the Japanese shakai-jin considers overtime to be the rule. Going home when the quitting bell rings is an extremely rare situation, and in my company, at least, it is rather looked down upon.

I know, because I go home at 5:30 almost every day. Once an American, always an American, I guess.