Shima Kosaku

Background and Popularity of Shima Kosaku

It is said that the salaryman plays a vital role in the re-making of post-war Japan. Widely regarded as the class of people who molded today’s Japan, 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 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.

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.

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.5 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.” 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.8

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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. 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.

Timeline for Shima Kosaku


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 countries14. 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).

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.

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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 improved17’. Unions at the time not only sought benefits and higher salaries for their members from management, they were concurrently demanding more power and control in order to introduce greater change to the lives of their members.

The 1973 Oil Crisis bought about new visions by the Japanese

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.22’

Environmental pollution

Rapid industrialization during this period had bought 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.


A period of stable growth

The 1980s general and economic situation in Japan was reflected in the Section Chief’s series. The main issues that were bought up in this series basically are the Japan’s ties with America, Japanese idealization of America and the emergence of the women workforce. 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 the 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.28 Many industries in Japan started global operations. By the end of 1986, approximately one-third of Japan’s industry operations come from overseas factories.29 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 US30.

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American Idealization

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 also carefree life style.

In addition, the manga also reflected the different Japanese men’s perception of Western and Japanese women. Western women were often portrayed as smart, interesting and straight forward. Like Eileen, one of the main female character during Shima’s stay in New York – she was smart, caring and understanding towards Shima, yet she was not afraid to confront him about his marriage problem. On the other hand, Japanese women (like Shima’s wife), was seen as submissive, not understanding and uncaring. The Section Chief series started off with a scene whereby Shima was deciding whether he should tell his wife about his promotion, but he felt that all she cares about was household chores and their daughter, therefore in the end he did not break the news to her. There was a strong contrast between the friendly and warm Eileen who Shima could confide in, against his cold and distant wife.

At that time Eileen was two-timing Shima and her lover Bob. This kind of situation would definitely be frowned upon in Japan, yet the three of them managed to get along very well in New York. Shima and Bob even became close friends in the end. This reflected the free and open lifestyle in America, which the Japanese people were longing for but could not possibly find in a conservative country like 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. All this might be a true reflection of the discriminations Japanese faced in reality during their stay in America.

Increasing number of women in the workforce

The employment growth in the 1980s was remarkable – particularly in the female workforce34. More and more women were entering the labour market. This phenomenon was also reflected through the manga, whereby there are more female characters in the work place for the Section Chief’s series than the Young Shima’s series. During this period major legislative development took place in the female working environment35. In the late 1970s to 1980s, companies in Japan began to hire female part-time workers on a large scale8. Yet, despite the increase in the number of female workers in the work force, equity in treatments between different genders at the work place had not been achieved. This fact is pointed out in the manga, when one of the female character told Shima that it was so much harder for women to find jobs than men in Japan. However, this period was very significant as it marked the beginning of women’s liberation from their traditional domestic role in Japan, and paved the way for the emergence of more females joining the work force in years to come.

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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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