Sal-a-ry-man (サラリーマン) 1) a person whose income is salary-based; a white-collar businessman 2) that un-genki dude on the train, dressed in black, reeking of Chu-hi and low-level distain.
I didn’t know what a salaryman was when I came to Japan, but it didn’t take long to figure out that the ubiquitous herds of dark-suited automatons rushing through Shinjuku Station were the not-so-mysterious breed in question. Sure they all dress alike and carry the same weary-of-the-world expression (have you ever seen a bubbly salaryman?) but I wanted to get past the veneer and investigate the nuances of the core Japanese workforce. Turns out, not all salarymen are equal–check out this brief and mildly offensive taxonomy:
Potatoes are everywhere. Middle-aged and middle management, The Potato can be identified by his rotund physique and clammy countenance. He’s all business, but seldom uses his cell phone on the train because he has more important things to think about, like fax machine repair and world domination. Usually staring straight ahead at the air, The Potato knows his place in the world and is seriously content to occupy it.
Potato Junior the slightly younger version of Potato, minus the taciturn eyebrows. May or may not be related, P-Jr. is found sitting next to his co-Potato(es) on the Kehin-Tohuku, nodding vehemently at the floor to the low-decibel wisdom being espoused by his superior. Surprisingly expressive, often to the point of a closed-mouth grin.
The Lady Boy
Perfectly coiffed, The Lady Boy is the Ken doll of salarymen. He can be identified by his ultra-lean physique, pointy shoes, and auburn, J-Pop hair. Not to be mistaken for a Host, The Lady Boy lacks the knock-off Versace shirt, jewelry, and concealer, but will have a stuffed animal charm hanging somewhere on his person. He’s usually preoccupied by SMSing his lady friends, so you can unabashedly admire how his shoes match both his belt and his man-purse.
The Biz-Frat: Also see: Potato Junior after midnight.
The Biz-Frat can be found at any Izakawa, Yoshinoya or train floor between the hours of 11:00pm and 3:00am. May or may not be wearing a tie, if so, it’s around his head. Often spotted giggling to himself or whispering sweet nothings to train doors, strangers, and Suica machines.
The Train Wreck:
Overworked, underpaid, and abused by a tier of upper management, the Train Wreck can be identified by his rumpled suit and expression of utter defeat. He is always alone on the train after 11:00pm, and, unlike the Biz-Frat, The Train Wreck has nothing to say, to anyone—ever. His near-lifeless body is piled onto the seat like week-old laundry, head tiled back, mouth agape. You can be sure you’ve spotted a Train Wreck when pangs of bureaucratic rage course through your body as a sympathetic reaction to his presence.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it is a summary of the most commonly seen specimens in the greater Tokyo area. When you happen upon a salaryman in your daily travels, be nice. Life truly has to be a bitch for these guys, and the bubbling fury underneath that cement expression is not to be trifled with.
But… before you smirk knowingly at this little primer, my fellow expats are not off the hook: Next Up: The Anatomy of a Gaijin. Stay tuned. 🙂