Out of Japan: When a career move turns into a soap opera

TOKYO - Japanese companies can be similar to the mythical Hotel California - you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. A career- minded female friend, whom we shall call Ms Suzuki, recently decided to resign from a prestigious Tokyo bank to take a more interesting job at another financial company. And in the period betweeen jobs she also planned to get married to her long-standing boyfriend.

In theory it was a clean-cut move to change her life, take the marital plunge and gear up for new career challenges. But in practice, far from being a simple 'exit stage left, re-enter stage right in new costume', the whole manoeuvre took six months of tortuous planning, deception, romantic self-denial and ruthless office politicking. When it was over, the saga had become a comedy of manners revolving around the complex social relationships that bind every Japanese to his or her company or work group.

Ms Suzuki's first problem was how to resign from her old company. A simple resignation letter or a private chat with her immediate boss was out of the question. This would be far too blunt and would involve humiliation and social wounds which would take many years to heal.

'Superiors lose face if someone working under them resigns - it reflects badly on them as superiors,' Ms Suzuki said.

The fact that the bank had not treated her very well, promoting her more slowly than less talented male colleagues, was immaterial. Face had to be preserved at all costs.

So emerged the first part of her plan: convert a weakness into a strength. Aware that some of her bosses knew her talents were not being exploited to the full, she applied for a transfer within the company to a job which she knew she could do, but which she knew would never be given to her because she was not sufficiently senior in the bank's rigid hierarchy.

When the transfer request was rejected on the grounds that Ms Suzuki did not have sufficient experience, she was able to feign disappointment and say that maybe she was not good enough to work in the company - that she was an inconvenience to her bosses. The best solution, she theorised out loud, would perhaps be for her to resign.

By now her bosses had realised that she wanted to resign, and was conducting this elaborate charade to save face all round. The delicacy of her stratagem was much admired.

While all this was going on, Ms Suzuki was negotiating her new job. The main obstacle here was her prospective husband. Japanese women are expected to work in their early twenties, usually doing menial work at less pay than their male colleagues, until they get married. Then pressure is put on them by their bosses, with the promise of a 'goodwill bonus' to resign.

Ms Suzuki could have used her marriage as an excuse to get out of her old job, but she was afraid that it would compromise her position with the new company, or even cause it to withdraw her job offer. To make matters worse, her fiance was a foreigner, creating a two- fold risk that she would leave her new company shortly after joining either to have a baby, or to follow her husband back to his native country.

The plan was to keep her marriage secret, at least until she was established in her new job. But she was tipped off by a friend that the company she was joining was very thorough in investigating recruits, and would probably send a private investigator to where she lived to check out her background. At the time she was living with her boyfriend, but maintaining a small flat of her own in another part of Tokyo. So for several months, fearful that her dark romantic secret would leak out, Ms Suzuki dutifully slept alone in her flat.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan until Ms Suzuki found out that a female colleague in her old company had got wind of her marriage intentions. This colleague had a grudge against Ms Suzuki because of an office power struggle and seemed on the point of revealing everything. Fortunately Ms Suzuki happened to know that her rival had been having a secret affair with one of her married male superiors. A mutually beneficial silence was quickly agreed.

Ms Suzuki is now happily working with her new company, still keeps in contact with her former colleagues at the bank, and has moved back in with her man. The soap opera of the last six months is over, but it was compelling viewing.

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes