The Trouble of Order

Japan is organized. It’s hard to argue with that viewpoint, and it’s obvious why. If Japanese culture wasn’t based on systematization how could the country possibly crank out the likes of World Order?

The beauty of top MMA fighters in business suits.

And yet, I think Japan feels more like organized chaos.

Up until last month, I worked as a SIM card/cell phone salesman in one of Tokyo’s larger electronic stores. There is a striking contrast between American and Japanese retail culture, something that can be felt even before entering the main entrance. For those of you who’ve visited any Asian farmers market such as the Tsukiji Fish Market, you would know that it’s common practice for shopkeepers to attract customers through indirect or direct yelling. You would assume this wouldn’t extend past areas that wanted to keep a sense of tradition, and you would be entirely wrong.

This store (the Akihabara branch) has 9 floors filled with consumer electronics. I only had the liberty of working on the first floor, and was never allowed to leave the small corner that was my company’s vendor. But that was enough. From 9 AM to 10 PM everyday nobody could hear themselves think. If someday power could be generated from noise, I would install the system right there. And it wasn’t the sound of thousands of footsteps flowing through every hour. It wasn’t the noise of advertisements blaring out of display monitors from every vendor. It was the single word coming out of every salesman at the rate of 5-10 times a minute.

いらっしゃいませ! (irasshaimase)

For trainees, that’s about it. For seasoned employees? Monologues. Freakin Monologues. Of course, they also hired women to stand in front to do the same AND look good doing it. You’d be surprised how well that worked.

Yet, this was all order. Japanese Order. The reason it’s so chaotic is due to Japanese work culture: The Customer is God.

Japanese work ethics work something like this: The Customer—> The Workplace—->Your Boss—-> You

What you find is that no matter what you do, as an employee your number goal is to please the customer. That means making them feel welcome the moment they come into the store (with a smile and a greeting), answering any and all questions asked (even if it doesn’t pertain to your niche), and never facing your customer from a downwards angle.

Order creates hierarchy. The Japanese are notorious for their modern bureaucracies.

It’s why women are still discriminated in the workplace. It’s the reason that salarymen have to stay overtime simply because the boss hasn’t left yet. It’s why the word すみません (sumimasen) becomes your vocabulary bread and butter.

Because if you so choose to go against the flow, you’ll be socially sanctioned.

Nobody likes to break routine, but for Japan maybe it’s time to westernize a little more in the right direction.


11 thoughts on “The Trouble of Order

  1. You must have such headaches after a day like that. One thing I’d love to have in France though is a salesperson who helps you even though that’s not his department. In Japan that’s great I even had someone close the cash machine and guide me through the shop to find a book. A paradise for gaijins!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Headaches, footaches, you name it. Standing for 8 hours a day in a suit was required.

      Definitely one of the aspects of consumerism the western world lacks is that sense of customer support. As a gaijin in Japan, they’re basically required to show that dedication, but isn’t that just another racial issue?


      1. As a student I also worked for a while in a shop and my feet were killing me at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s a racial issue since they’d be helping Japanese people too. In France they’re required to be helpful I guess but some are and some not at all. In Japan most of them are.


        1. High five, retail sucks and we know it.
          There is definitely a difference between service to a Caucasian vs service to Asians. Of course, staff have to help everyone but the quality is always the question. You should see how they treat Chinese customers.


        2. I guess there is a big difference I only once experienced racism in Kyoto when a shop assistant went over my head on the queue as if I wasn’t there!!! I guess Chinese people must experience that more often. I had some strange experiences in China though Chinese people don’t behave like the Japanese they are really less polite.


  2. They are dedicated to helping the customer but sometimes their focus on good service has just caused me more problems. I had to buy a RAM chip a few months ago and the guy at Bic camera was so insistent on helping me find it despite him not knowing what it was or where it was. He kept trying to give me blank CDs.
    I’ve had quite a few annoying experiences in Bic. Whenever a female member of staff helps me the actual sale and I assume the commission/ bonus/ career advancement is passed off to a male employee.
    I’ve had the same happen for large items in AEON mall too.


    1. I have yet to experience that level of enthusiastic service. Usually, it’s just them vulturing around until my eyes land on a product. I do think that’s because a large portion of the salaries are based on commission

      Liked by 1 person

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