Salarymen trope in Shima Kosaku

In this report, our team would be examining how the salaryman is represented in an important aspect of Japanese pop culture- the manga. Our aim is to explore how far the “Shima Kosaku” series created by Hirokane Kenshi reflect the realities in the Japanese corporate business environment. Our team would begin by providing a brief introduction to the salaryman class in Japan, followed by a general overview of the Shima Kosaku series, its popularity and author Hirokane Kenshi’s intentions in creating such a character. From analyzing the material in various manga excerpts from the four Shima Kosaku series (Young Shima Kosaku, Section Chief Shima Kosaku, Division Chief Shima Kosaku and Managing Director Shima Kosaku), our team argues that the series is a fairly realistic portrayal of the Japanese corporate business environment, and will attempt to explore this aspect in two important areas. Firstly, we will draw parallels between key events and trends seen in the manga to real life events and societal concerns in Japan. Next, our team would move on the examine the values of protagonist Shima Kosaku and some main characters in the manga series, and discuss how far they relate to the values of the typical salaryman in Japan.

Background and Popularity of Shima Kosaku

Following the economic surge of postwar Japan to the number two economic superpower in the world, both Western and Japanese scholars have tried to search for answers to explain Japan’s unprecedented four decades of growth. Numerous theories, like those of Japan’s cultural characteristics, Japanese style management strategy, the diligence of the people and other social factors have been offered as possible explanations. Yet ask any Japanese for a class of people who supported their nation’s post war economic prosperity, the answer would almost certainly be unanimous: the “salaryman”. These white –collared salaried workers have been lauded as the “backbone of the century”, the “corporate warriors” and the “samurai in modern dress”. The rise in prominence of the salaryman in Japan has much to do with the rapid growth of Japan in the 1970s. After decades of relative seclusion, Japan was increasingly extending its global presence. As households of salaried men gradually developed into the largest social class, a whole culture specially tuned to their needs, preferences and desires began to develop in Japan. The stand-out characteristic of this culture is that it thrives on the salaryman stereotype.

The term salaryman can refer to a wide range of white-collared workers in Japan, from employees of huge companies affiliated with the financial combines (zaibatsu) of the prewar era, to the men who work at small cottage industry factories. The salaryman in Japan is often viewed as the uncomplaining economic drone that is willing to work long hours, in the name of service to the corporation or nation. This notion of the salaryman as economic soldier has been portrayed in an array of Japanese media, from movies to television to commercials, but it is mainly the manga (Japanese comics) that has helped reinforced this stereotype. In the words of Yoshihiro Yonezawa, “when the Japanese adults became avid manga readers in the mid 1970s, it was the white collar employees who was more and more the comic book hero.”

These mangas that gained huge popularity usually revolve around the life of a salaryman, placed in everyday setting at companies, provided a tinge of reality which readers (mainly white-collared workers) could easily identify with. Yet at the same time, readers look towards the adventures and idealism of such manga characters to provide them an opportunity to escape from the mundane reality. In a society where conformity is deemed a necessity and assertion of individual view is viewed as unacceptable, manga offers a rich fantasy world. These manga superheroes usually “achieve something valuable for their companies, triumphs over rivals and remain true to their ideals- taking on heroic proportions for readers.”

One such popular manga that emerged in the early 1980s was Hirokane Kenshi’s Section Chief Shima Kosaku. The manga series first appeared in 1982, as part of a weekly series of 20 continuing comic strips found in Comic Morning. From then, loyal fans of the series have followed almost 2 decades of the progress, promotions and globetrotting adventures of salaryman Shima Kosaku. The company which Shima works for, Hatsushiba is loosely based on the highly diversified Matsushita Electric conglomerate. Author Hirokane himself was a former management track salaryman at Matsushita and this early allegiance has been consistently useful to Hirokane’s research, which has included personal interviews with leading businesspeople and policy makers.

The popularity of the “Section Chief” series was a great success from the very time it was introduced in Japan. Touted as the “salaryman bible” among office employees under 45, the publisher of Morning printed 1.35 million copies every week and the manga was sold at newsstands every Thursday. However, because the manga was so popular, it sold out by Thursday afternoon. When Shima was promoted from Section Chief to Division Chief, national newspapers ran stories on it. The Manichi Shimbun reported: “Japan’s most famous salaryman gets promoted.”6 More interestingly, in a survey by a Niikei newspaper in 1995, almost 30% of new company employees named Shima when asked whom they hoped to emulate in their professional life. The success of the Shima Kosaku series has resulted in a large number of merchandise and related articles, including business guide books, office software, video games, power drinks and even clothing such socks. A number of lifestyle advice books have also appeared applying Shima’s fictional adventure to the real world. This shows that the Shima Kosaku manga not only reflect corporate reality, but also aim to influence the salaryman life.

Author Hirokane Kenshi’s Intentions

The success of the manga can be partly attributed to the ability of Hirokane to connect with his audience. In creating the series, Hirokane said that he was well aware of the struggle of a typical salaryman in Japan and explicitly intended to encourage the salaryman class, particularly those in the baby boom generation like himself.9 Shima’s life story in the manga is used to reflect that of a typical Japanese man. The success of the manga stems partly from its touching storylines and its ability to stir readers’ emotion. Human relations (ningen kanke) are vividly portrayed throughout, a indication to a certain extent of how relationships are developed in reality. There are lots of characters in the manga, each with their distinct attitude and image, resembling the various types of people whom the Japanese meet in their everyday life, allowing readers to relate to them easily.

At the same time, Hirokane has shown that he really understands the needs and desires of the typical salaryman. Shima is an idealist who refused to adapt to the ways of others. He would solve one problem after another, all the while working hard on the job. Shima’s boss Nakawaza Kiichi is bighearted, frank and without the desire to engage in faction politics, a person held up as the ideal kind of superior that most salaryman wish to work for. Shima would sometimes travel overseas on assignment and become involved in love intrigues and fights with rivals who are wreaking havoc in his organization. These stories, with their tinge of realities, presented a dramatic hero who was greatly appreciated by his readers.

After seventeen paperbacks as “Section Chief”, and thirteen volumes following his promotion to “Division Chief”, creator Hirokane started the third series in 2002, tracking Shima’s rise to “Managing Director”( torishimariyaku). The Managing Director series has yet to end its run in Japan, but very recently in 2004, Hirokane added a fourth series “Young Shima Kosaku” which portrayed Shima during his early years in Hatsushiba, before he became section chief.

In creating the series, author Hirokane also tries to integrate important events and trends in Japan into the storyline. The setting of “Young Shima Kosaku” series is loosely based on Japan in the 1970s, while the “Section Chief” series protrayed the corporate environment in the 1980s. The “Division Chief” series was written shortly after the burst of the economic bubble in Japan and reflected the business sentiments of the Japanese in the 1990s. Lastly, in “Managing Director” series, Hirokane explored key issues like Japan’s ageing population and the problem of corporate suicides, which reflect the societal concerns in Japan currently. Our team believes that the overall setting of the manga is a rather realistic portrayal of the Japanese corporate business environment. As non-Japanese reading the series, we learnt a lot about key events and trends in Japanese society. In the next section, our team would be using the various excerpts from Shima Kosaku manga to present a timeline of important incidents and trends in Japan from the 1970s to early 2000s.


Japan in the 1970s

The series Young Shima Kosaku reflected the general economic situation of Japan in the 1970s. The growth in this period for Japan is phenomenal11. During this period, the author was working in a large electronics corporation in Japan, hence this series of manga also reflected some of his personal experiences.

According to the author, he hoped that through his manga, readers will be able to have a better understanding about the situation of Japan at that time, as well as gaining some insights to the lives of Japanese salaryman back then.

A period of economic growth

The Young Shima’s series started off with a scene whereby the newly employed graduates in Hatsushiba were attending the company’s welcoming ceremony, and Shima was one of them. This reflected the general trend of employment in Japan during this period. The ratio of job openings had reached its peak in 1973. In particular, the rise in employment rate is most apparent in the steel industry, electrical appliances industry, and construction industry etc.13 In order to meet the rising demand, large enterprises like Matsushita employ large number of new graduates. These graduates were looking forward to work in the large companies, which mostly would guarantee life-time employment. The lives of the people in Japan at this time were generally good.

In this period of economic growth and general improvement in people’s standard of living, there was a new vision adopted by the Japanese; they no longer feel inferior towards the western countries. They have great hope for their future. This was further reiterated in the manga when one of the main character, Nakawaza envisioned that Japan would soon become the super power which will be superior even to the west. Rapid economical growth also bought a change in the people’s lifestyle. They slowly began to shift to a more westernized lifestyle, which in turn led to the growth in certain industries. (for eg, electrical appliances).

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Student’s rebellion

The occurrence of student rebellion in the late 1960s to early 1970s was avidly mentioned in a scene from Young Shima Kosaku. One of the female character who was involved in a relationship with Shima was actually a student union member. She joined the company so as to gather first hand information on electronics technology. Her scheme was later found out by Shima, who threatened to expose her if she refused to leave the company immediately. In the end she left the company but was subsequently arrested for involvement in some illegal activities. This reflects a generation that grew up in the state of economic growth.2 The state of affluence enjoyed by people began to lead them in search for other things in life, as material comforts were no longer the major concern for many Japanese. Some students were intrigued by ideas of Communism and Marxism that were introduced to Japan after the war. It made them question about the Japanese political system and these rebellions were generally a form of expressing their discontentment with the ruling government. The student’s constant uprisings and riots at this time not only disturbed social security, but also jeopardized Japan’s economic stability to a certain extent.

Unions becoming more powerful

1970s was a period where unions were very active in demanding for rights and improving the general working conditions for their members. This brought about many conflicts between the union and the company on wage problems. During this period, the unions began to gain interest in participating in politics, and many work unions were also getting more powerful as they were organized in large groups15. In general, 1970s was a time when union confrontations were at its peak.16 They began to demand for more rights, as illustrated in the manga by Hirokane. In a scene, Shima’s senior in Hatsushiba was trying to gather support from the union to participate in politics. He claimed that unions must ‘unite together to form a power bloc so that they can exert influence on the top level decisions, and it is only by participating in politics that the lives of the workers can truly be improved’. Unions at that time not only sought benefits and higher salaries for their members from management, they were concurrently demanding more power and control in order to bring greater changes to the lives of their members. In general, worker’s welfare was better protected during this time as compared to the past.

The 1973 Oil Crisis

The 1973 oil crisis has bought the Japan’s period of rapid economical growth to a halt. It was the worst inflation Japan ever had since the Korean War. Japan was hit quite badly by this crisis because at that time, three- fourths of its energy needs were supplied by the Middle East18. As a result, there were outright panics in Japan, the prices of oil related and unrelated products increased in large fold19. People began stock piling. There were fear and insecurities among people, a feeling which they had long forgotten ever since the economic growth in the post war era20. Yet Japan managed to recover much faster than some of the western countries21. As a result, they began to see themselves in a different light, thus reinforcing their vision in the beginning of the 1970s about becoming the super power. This was illustrated by Nakawaza’s vision mentioned earlier on. He believes that, ‘In the twenty-first century, Japan will become a very advanced country, and her production capacity would be one of the largest in the world.’

Environmental pollution

Rapid industrialization during this period had brought about environmental pollution. Almost all toxic substances designated as harmful to humans were originated from the factories.23 This is illustrated in the manga when Shima was told by his superior to throw the old unwanted television into the river. Shima objected to it but the superior said that it was no big deal as this was what everyone does in Japan. Slowly however, people began to realize the side effects of rapid economical growth, which led to a series of protests; one of which was the boycott of Matsushita Electronics’ products.24 Everywhere the complaints about air and water pollution began to be heard. In the early 1970s, there was a backing away from economic growth at the expense of everything else, and the general introduction of antipollution legislation. There were also initiatives to protect the natural environment.25 In general, the awareness of environmental protection had increased among the people during this period.

Japan in the 1980s

A period of stable growth

The 1980s general and economic situation in Japan was reflected in the Section Chief’s series. The author had made a trip to New York and stayed there for a period of time while he was working on the manga. Hence, the manga was a reflection of his experiences, as well as those Japanese who were working in America during this period in general.

Japan had achieved political stability and economic prosperity in the 1980s27. Throughout this period, Japan’s GNP grew at respectable rate, and inflation was under control. Standards of living were generally good.

Overseas Investments (Esp. US)

The first two books of the section chief series generally evolved around Shima’s experiences when he was transferred to New York. From the manga, we can see that it reflected the growing trend of Japanese investments in US at that time. In the 1980s, Japanese corporations began to acquire assets overseas at a rapid pace. Within this period, the electronics sector, in particular, continued to grow and expand satisfactorily. Many industries in Japan started global operations. By the end of 1986, approximately one-third of Japan’s industry operations came from overseas factories. Japanese industries began to set up subsidiaries overseas, especially in America. At the end of 1970s and early 1980s, there was a constant flow of investment funds from Japan to US.

Diversification of products by Japanese firms

The strong value of yen during this period also forced some of the Japanese companies to diversify their product lines so that they can export more goods. By doing so, it will help to offset the trade deficit experienced by the Japanese economy at that time. This is illustrated in the Division Chief’s manga series, whereby Shima recalls how Hatsushiba had to diversify their products and start looking into the wine industry in the 1980s period. This reflected the general trend of the diversification of interests in Japan at that time.

American Idealization and influences on Japanese lifestyles

The closed ties between Japan and US at this time contributed to the acceleration of American influences on the Japanese in general. Slowly people in Japan began to adopt a more westernized lifestyle and an idealized image of America. In the manga, the author often associates America with freedom. The manga’s portrayal of America was rather positive, like the cheap delicious food, great dining places, the artistic environment and not forgetting the beautiful American women. The westerners in the manga were often portrayed as intelligent, motivated and witty. For instance, Shima talks about how Americans insisted in leading a healthy lifestyle by jogging every morning and evening despite a hectic day at work. He complimented on their self-discipline and their carefree life style31. Japanese longed for a free and open American lifestyle which was not possible in Japan. Japan and US were bound together not only by common interests (economically), but also by common political values such as free elections, freedom of speech and respect for human rights32. Japanese tend to see their relations to the US as a form of relation to the free world.

The manga also brought up the racial discrimination problem in US. For instance, when Shima first met Bob, they had a fight after Bob said that Eileen had affairs with the two of them because they were both ‘coloured’. Also, there was a scene whereby Bob was initially accepted by a company based on the art piece he sent in, but was later rejected because they found out that he is a black. Some of this might be a true reflection of the discriminations Japanese or other non-westerners faced during their stay in America.

Japan in the 1990s

The manga reflected some trends of Japan in the 20th century, among which industrial globalization, an increasing number of women in the workforce and the effects of the Bubble economy in the 1980s were the most significant.

In the manga, Japan saw an increasing interest in the global market. More Hatsushiba firms were set up in various parts of the world i.e. Vietnam and France.
In these countries, they diversified and extended their product line. More electrical goods

and household appliances were manufactured and sold in the market. They also went into the winery business. In reality, Matsushita Electric Company in Japan engaged overseas partner’s help to speed up new product development and improve marketing strategies (Keith Jackson & Miyuki Tomioka, The Changing face of Japanese Management; Losing Patience pp.139). With their help, they were able to face up to fierce competition from the Asian rivals.

The number of women in the workforce increased significantly in the 20th century. Women were no longer holding mediocre roles in the company like in the past generations. We see the females getting more involved in the managerial work. Tien, a female secretary to the managing director of the Hatsushiba branch in Vietnam, is commended for her contribution to the company. Shima Kosaku’s had various secretaries that were very capable and made much important decisions. They had a considerable amount of influence over the outcome of matters in the office. In Japan, the Equal Opportunity Law was passed in 1990s. The average number of women in a company increased to 38.8% in 1994. (John Lorriman & Takashi Kenjo, Japan’s winning margin; Fifty years on from the Second World War pp.219).

The effect of the burst of the Bubble economy is reflected in the manga. At the beginning of the Bubble, land prices kept on rising and the stock market index rose significantly. The government’s financial measures increased domestic demand and together with the increased investment in real estate property, people began to grow in affluence. Shortly after, the change in government’s monetary policies and high interest rates led to a fall in the stock market index. The decrease in land prices spiraled off a downward economy in Japan. (, Bubble economy, 20/10/2004).

Japan in the early 2000s

The 21st century saw recent trends of Japanese economy. The demographic concern in Japan is reflected in the manga too. Hatsushiba was concerned about the changes in the consumer trends in Japan. In a business discussion between Shima Kosaku and one of the section chiefs in HSC Private Limited, the problem of Japan’s aging population was raised as a concern when talking about the issue of providing delivery service. In 2004, Japan’s elderly population is the biggest among the industrialized nations while the birth rate is the lowest (, 25/10/2004).

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The executive suicide phenomenon is unique to Japan. Brought about by the recession, Japan hit the highest record of 34,427 suicides in 2003. All suicides were related to economic concerns. (TIME, Asia home,, 25/10/2004). In the manga, there was an employee that was asked to leave the company when the economy was not doing well. This employee later came back to threaten the company with his life. He committed suicide in the company lobby subsequently. Economic situations affected company’s survival, which in turn affected the employees’ lives. The Japanese attitude towards work has always been serious. Work in the company is their priority above their families and personal lives. Thus, when the company life falls apart, the impact on them is greater than the norm. As a result, many resort to suicide as a solution to their problems.

Due to the increasing stratification in Japan, the egalitarian society is disintegrating. Unemployment and differences in income brought about an increase in class differences. (Bai Gao, Japan’s economic dilemma, the institutional origins of prosperity and stagnation, Fighting the stagnation pp. 259). In the manga, we see some Japanese salaryman who differentiates themselves from the others. These people rise to the upper end of Japanese society while others who are affected by the burst of the Bubble became unemployed. The differences in status became larger and more distinct.

Finally, the growing interest in the China market is reflected in the manga. Shima is sent to China to study the foreign business market. He did a research in China to study if Japan could enter in. He studied the strengths and weaknesses of China’s operation systems. He surveyed the demographics and plan strategies for possible actions. In reality, there are business links established between Japan and China. Both countries did more than $80 billion of business together in 2001. (, 25/10/2004). Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) expressed interest to cooperate with China in international trade. (, 25/10/2004).

The trends seen in the manga through 1700 to the 2000s follows very closely to the current trends observed in the Japan economic situation.

Shima’s values

Shima Kosaku Manga series depicts the joys and frustrations of a salaryman’s life. It provides us the insight into the life and values of a typical salaryman. This comic is largely based on the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer electronics company, Matsushita Electric. The founder of this company is Konosuke Matsushita, who is widely regarded in Japan as the supreme master of the “Way of Wa”34. In the 1970s, Matsushita codified his wa approach to management in seven objectives, namely national service through industry, harmony, cooperation, struggle for betterment, courtesy and humility, adjustment and assimilation and gratitude. We can see that Shima’s values are mostly based on the “Way of Wa”. However, many of his values are better known as ideals rather than in reality. Over here, we are going to look at the values that are held by Shima which is the way of wa and other values such as diligence and social responsibilities are included too.

National service through industry

Shima holds on to the belief that social contribution is an important aspect. Hence he’s involved in corporate philanthropy. Even though it was in the midst of recession, he believes that the company must serve the society first rather than their own interests. This is also one of the values held by the founder of Hatsushiba. They are willing to cast aside company gains, for the benefit of the nation. This is reflected as a reality for Konosuke Matsushita. He mentioned (1989), “… Profits are necessary for companies to fulfill their social responsibilities in the form of taxes, dividends and philanthropic activities… A private enterprise is a public entity, and profits make it possible for the enterprise to carry out its mission in society….”


In the Manga, we often seen many drinking sessions held after work to foster better relationships with one another. We often found Shima in drinking sessions more than in his office. Japan is a collective country. Japanese are typically fond of doing things together in groups, whether they are social events or business occasions. Hence one of the core values commonly shared by Japanese in the business world is harmony and group orientation. Japanese are socialized from early childhood to consider themselves as member of a group – as interdependent members of family, community and company. Japanese has this deep-rooted belief that group action yields a far more productive result than individual action. For example, Motonari Mori, a feudal shogun and philosopher, quoted this, “When bound together, shafts of bamboo become stronger enough to make a solid arrow, yet when divided they are nothing more than a bundle of sticks which hardly serve any practical purpose.” When introducing themselves, Japanese businesspeople describe themselves first as members of a group, and then give their names within the context of their position in the company. Thus, they place emphasis on teamwork, rather than individual action. There’s this saying, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. This shows that Japanese salaryman place a high value on group conformity.

In the Manga, Shima refused to conform to the group norm of throwing used appliances into the river. In so doing, he angered his supervisor. This is more of an ideal than reality. Most Japanese salaryman would conform and not voice out their private opinions, afraid to offend their superior. However, often, the role of Shima contradicts the emphasis placed on group conformity. Shima does things according to what seems right to him, even if it means not conforming to the group norms. Following one’s own values and not afraid to challenge the norms, which are wrong, is a dream to most Japanese salaryman rather than a corporate reality.
One of Shima’s friends cheated in one golf competition. The friend went to an isolated area to retrieve his golf ball, however, instead of using his golf stick to throw the golf out, he used his hands. Someone saw this and took a photo of it and showed Shima. Shima did not expose his friend in public but confronted him in private. Most Japanese will avoid confronting or exposing the mistakes publicly done by other people. Many would avoid using direct or excessive feelings or emotions. They prefer to ‘save face’ for the other person due to the great concern on social harmony.

Being talkative is not only likely to be offensive to others’ ears but can be harmful if harmony is to be maintained. Adults who speak their minds freely also tend to be scorned. Hence, most Japanese often don’t mean what they say, and don’t say what they mean. They prefer conformity than individual voicing out. They also prefer to settle things harmoniously than having direct conflicts.
In an incident where Shima has to lay off a capable and devoted man, Mr. Kitano because he violated the culture of respecting his superiors. He humiliated his boss, even though what he said was completely correct but because he did not save his boss’ face in the meeting, the personnel department fired him. Even though Shima is his direct supervisor, he did not have any say in this matter. The personnel department decides the laying off of people. There is often ambiguity in who is the main person in charge of laying off and transfers of workers. We can see in the above example that Shima did not want to do that. This is because in the minds of many Japanese, an organization is a community. Not only is it a great shame for any employer to lay off or fire employees, but it is also considered to be a disgrace to the community in which it operates. It is a breach of the “gentleman’s agreement” between the employer and the employee concerning employment. Hence most companies resort to various actions to avoid employee layoff or dismissal. For example, in this case, it’s encouragement of early retirement. Others include curtailment of hiring, lending of company staff to other organizations including subsidiaries and subcontractors, sending home redundant employees, placing them “on call” until conditions improve and so forth.

Another aspect of harmony is to maintain harmonious and good interpersonal relationships. There’s this incident in the Manga, Shima was been promoted to be a managing director. His duties are to attend conferences to conferences. But yet in this case, he was willing to forsake this work responsibility to celebrate the retirement of his colleague. This shows that Shima places great importance on interpersonal relations. This is because in Japan, business is done often on the basis of human relations networks or personal “ties”; success or failure of one’s business depends a great deal on what personal connections he or she may have. Thus every businessperson tries to establish new “ties” and maintain them. We have seen that Shima has good interpersonal networks and he always manages to solve his problems not just because of his own talents but also through his interpersonal ties.


Shima trusts everyone easily. Our expectations of trust are shaped by socialization into believing how people should behave. These socialized assumptions become qualified by individual experience (good or bad) of who to trust and why. This dual nature of trust (i.e. highly individualized and highly collectivized) explains why some of Shima’s colleagues struggle to communicate and interpret mechanisms and processes of trust in other cultures, is this case, China.

Francis Fukuyama defines trust as ‘a key by-product of the cooperative social norms that constitute social capital. If people can be counted on to keep commitments, honor norms of reciprocity, and avoid opportunistic behavior, then groups will form more readily, and those who do form will be able to achieve common purposes more efficiently’. The shared experience of trust among staff members should motivate them to cooperate with one another more readily and work towards a common goal.

However, there are instances whereby people breached the trust. For example, in the corporate suicide by Shima’s doki, the reason why Shima trusted him was because he was his doki. Shima finally persuaded his doki to put down the knife and he trusted him to honor his words hence Shima did not try to take away the knife. But the doki breached that trust by suspecting the motive of Shima and he killed himself.

Struggle for betterment

Shima wants to be perfect in whatever he does. This can be seen in the way he searched for the ‘perfect’ wine for the company. He went high and low and made use of many connections just to secure that wine for the company. In order to be Kaizen or struggle for betterment, Japanese people places emphasis on aesthetics and perfectionism. During the 1940s, Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Matsushita Electric, in launching a campaign to sell the company’s high-value added items, left this message to company employees: “As industrialists, whether in manufacturing or sales, the only way to gain the confidence of customers is to provide them with only quality products which meet their needs in every way… we must be perfect in satisfying.”

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There was once in New York, Shima came up with an advertisement for the company. His advertisement did not include the products of the company but rather there was a lady in the poster to portray the image of the company. However, his colleagues could not agree with his idea. This reflects the traditional mindset of most people. They are fixed in their styles of doing things and are not so willing to adopt new ideas or innovations, which are in fact better. However, from this we can see that, Shima is different. He is constantly interested in adopting foreign ideas and innovations in the company. In doing so, Shima strives to be relevant in his work as he keeps up with global changes. This makes the quality of his work excellent. Mercer (1996) generalizes on this culture-specific propensity, concludes that: “Japan’s secret is that they thoroughly understand and apply the existing textbook principles. The Japanese came to the United States to study marketing and went home understanding its principles better than most US companies did”

This explains why most of the latest innovations came from the Japanese. Example is Japan’s I-mode wireless Internet. In addition, Japan’s industry provides for most of the R&D funds, showing that they place great emphasis on better innovations.

Courtesy and humility

For Shima, he’s always very courteous to women. Throughout the whole Manga, he respects women and treats their views as important. Furthermore, he recognized that Japan Business Management had some flaws in them and he tried to observe and listen to the views of other people who were not from Japan. This showed that Shima is humble. In fact, courtesy and humility are two important aspects of Japanese culture. Upon meeting someone for the first time, a Japanese businessman will first bow instead of shaking hands. Shortly thereafter, business cards are exchanged.

Adjustment and Assimilation

Shima went to China for business trip. Over there, he’s willing to try new cuisines and listens and respect for the Chinese over there. Most Japanese feels that they are more superior to the rest of the countries. Furthermore, most Japanese businessman is bound by traditional ways of doing things. However Shima is not a reflection of that. He’s flexible and willing to keep up with the changes of the world by adjusting himself, in this case, his eating styles and habits. He is also constantly observing other people in Vietnam, New York and China, with the intention of bringing what he observes as excellent back to his Japanese company. From the advertisement example, we can see that he assimilates the idea of the ‘Western’ style of advertising into his own.
Shima also has very good foresight. He foresaw that there’s a growing ageing population in Japan. Hence his company must provide services such as delivery services to cater to the needs of the older population. He recognized the trend of moving from DIY period to meeting needs period. So he adjusted his company working styles to suit this changing social situation.


Shima is very loyal to his company. He found out that his girlfriend was a rebel and wanted to steal information and equipment from the company. His girlfriend asked him to cooperate but he refused. He even asked the girlfriend to quit the company. Another example is he readily accepts any new posts and transfers without complaints and conditions. Japanese companies have developed a variety of systems for encouraging, directly or indirectly, a sense of belonging in their employees. Incentives include lifetime employment, low interest loans, and yearly bonuses. Some companies even provide a company graveyard for their employees. In addition, employees owe the company for their identity. This can be seen when giving an introduction of themselves at business meetings. Employees introduce the company name, followed by their position in the company before their own names. The company gives them a sense of belonging and serves as a kind of emotional “home” for the employees. As such, most salaryman remains fervently loyal to his company.

One retiree actually cried on the day of his retirement. He even knelt down outside Hatsushiba and shouted “Hooray for Hatsushiba” very loudly. He was not just loyal to his company but felt a sense of gratitude for the company who took care of him in terms of providing him a home and salary. Over here, it shows us that most Japanese salaryman feels that they owe who they are or what they have accomplished to the company; hence this strengthens their gratitude and loyalty to the company.


When Shima first entered the company, he and his supervisor went to install a television set for their client. After the work was done, instead of heading back to their office, his supervisor told him to laze around before going back to the company. But Shima did not agree with his supervisor’s work ethic. Furthermore, we often see from the Manga that Shima worked wee hours into the night. Even on Christmas Eve itself, Shima worked till late hours just to get the report done on time for his boss.

Another core value of a Japanese businessman is diligence. According to a recent survey (July 2002) conducted by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications, between a fifth and a quarter of male Japanese workers work more than 80 hours of (usually unpaid) overtime per month. Japanese people place high value on someone who approaches a job persistently and wholeheartedly and who devotes long and untiring hours for its successful completion. They hold on to a “Work is Life” attitude, which is clearly displayed in Shima’s life. In traditional expectations, ‘not being there’ (i.e. at work) means ‘not getting on’ (i.e. career-wise). Even though diligence is a virtue evidently seen in Japanese salaryman, there are some Japanese salaryman who work hard only when the boss is around, but skive the moment the boss is gone. We can see this from the life of Shima’s supervisor mentioned above. This is due to the security of lifetime employment. They knew that even if they do not work hard, the company would not lay them off. So they can afford to do the minimum amount of work to fulfill their duty as an employee.

Social Responsibilities

Greater responsibility is taken by Japanese leaders for any failures in their organizations than is generally seen in the West. For example, in the Manga, Shima’s boss, Nakazawa, resigned from presidency, as he felt responsible for the failed investments even though it wasn’t entirely his own idea. The chairman was also involved in the investment making decisions. In reality, in 1989, after the Recruit Company scandal, senior executives in NTT, which was heavily implicated, agreed to cut their salaries by 20%. The Prime Minister, Noboru Takeshita, resigned in order to take ‘political and ethical responsibility’ for the scandal. This scandal was many politicians and industrialists reaped large profits from shares sold cheaply by an information services conglomerate, the Recruit Company.


Shima Kosaku manga reflects the values that Japanese businessmen hold on to. The values of a typical Japanese businessman are: National service through industry; Harmony; Cooperation; Struggle for betterment; Courtesy and humility; Adjustment and assimilation; Gratitude; Diligence; Social responsibilities.

Firstly, social contribution to the society and the country’s economy is an important value that Japanese businessmen have. Serving the country is placed at first priority compared to personal gains and interests. They are even willing to put aside company’s gains for the country’s benefits.

Secondly, harmony is another value that is being held on to. The Japanese have a tradition of conformity to sustain strong harmony within the company. However, more people dare to be more individualistic than ever before. Even though the strong harmony orientation of the Japanese businessman will stay alive and well, the shift from the “homogenous” to the “heterogeneous” in the workplace population will possibly prompt them to behave in a context different from the past – less Japanese tradition bound but more cosmopolitan in interpersonal relations.

Thirdly, cooperation and trust is important amongst Japanese businessmen. Francis Fukuyama defines trust as ‘a key by-product of the cooperative social norms that constitute social capital. When people are willing to commit to their words and cooperate together as a team (company), there will be great benefits that the company can experience.

Fourthly, struggle for betterment is another value they hold on to. Japanese businessman exhibit a strong sense of curiosity in just about every aspect of life that may be different form their own. They embrace Kaizen, meaning betterment or continuous improvement. In fact, most innovations originate from Japan.
Fifthly, courtesy and humility are important aspects of Japanese businessmen’s culture. For example, to bow down as a form of greetings, take place before self-introduction. Showing high regard and respect towards others is an important value.

Sixthly, Japanese businessmen stick closely to their traditional values and are not willing to adjust to others. Most of them have a closed mindset and often feel ‘superior’ to others.

Seventhly, loyalty and gratitude is a value placed highly on Japanese businessmen. They are willing to give off their lives to the company and the company becomes a part of their lives. Most of them feel that they owe the company for their success, hence they hold on to much loyalty towards the company.

Eighthly, diligence is a key factor for Japanese economy to experience a boom. They are willing to lay down their lives to work hard for the company. Drinking sessions are an essential part of Japanese businessmen’s lifestyle. Although certain tasks are not official requirements of their jobs, they will be willing to put in the ‘extra’ effort into the tasks. ‘Work is life’ is an attitude that Japanese businessmen possess.

Lastly, Japanese leaders take on great responsibilities on the actions and decisions made. Although a company’s failure does not lie in one person’s hands, the leader of the company will be willing to step down as greater responsibility is placed on them.

Therefore, these are the values that a typical Japanese businessman holds on. Although there are fantasies that they hope for, most of them stick on to these traditional values and place a high regard on them.

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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