Feb 24, 2016
Salaryman (in Japan): The Business Symposium
So the other day, the boss and I attended a business symposium in Tokyo. I’ll be quite honest, I had to look up the word (I mean, I’d heard it but … ):
a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject
a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet (and notable as the title of a work by Plato)
(First search on Google)
This covers things nicely actually. There was a meeting followed by food and booze. That said, the atmosphere was lacking in anything Grecian.
Me and the boss rocked up early doors to the hotel hosting the symposium. We had a spot of lunch at a ‘family’ restaurant out front. I’ve put ‘family’ in inverted commas. The menu, food, tables, chairs, toilets, decor all bore the tradecraft of say, Royal Host. The waitresses however, wore short skirts. All of them. Very short. For a weekday afternoon. During my club sandwich, the boss leans over and asks me if I’ve noticed anything weird about the place. I know what he’s driving at. Anyway, if you’re interested in a bit of mild titillation (or bemusement) with your drink bar and doria, the restaurant is called Anna Miller’s (which I now realise might be well known in other parts of the world).
The hotel is a massive operation. So much so, they need an army of besuited, laminated arrow holders to point us to the room. We still get lost. Three or four elevators later … and we’re late. The party has already started.
Of course, I’ve used the word party ironically. The symposium as all the energy and excitement of a Monday morning (and it’s not Monday morning). As usual, there’s another army of coat collectors, business card takers (you always have to hand over two cards at these things), mineral water dispensers, and register checkers at the entrance.
We’re in some kind of grand conference room. There’s a stage, and rows of tables and chairs. The only double-seater left is front and center. No thanks! We separate and I’m wedged in between Salaryman A and Salaryman C. I’m the only foreigner. I feel completely out of place. Plus it’s blazing hot and I can’t ditch a layer of uniform without causing a scene. On stage, Salaryman A+ is rattling out a presentation. Some salarypersons laugh. I copy them. Some of them sleep. I wish I could copy them (spot the only gaijin sleeping). I copy everyone when pages of presentation notes are turned. Honestly, I tried to keep up. Tried and failed (we’re in Japanese here)! At some point I gave up and hoped to God that I wouldn’t be picked on for questions.
A microphone was passed around, but every fiber of my being willed it not to come towards me. It didn’t.
I think Part 1 of the symposium lasted for about 1.5 hours. My strongest memory is of the 10-minute break, during which time I felt like the new kid in school, and loitered in the corridor wishing for my phone to do something interesting.
This is more like it! Jackets off, free booze and free food. This is what I came for. We’re in a swanky ballroom. Wait staff wiz around making sure drinks are in hand. The boss opts for a tea. Someone hands me a beer. I’m not sure if I can start drinking. I know there’s a speech coming. And sure enough it comes.
Part 2 is standing room only; all the better for mingling, swapping business cards, and planting the seeds of a deal. I stick to my boss like glue in the hope that I can deflect any questions on to him. You know that thing foreigners say about Japan, that you’ll have loads of locals wanting to practice their English with you? In the business world it never happens! I wish, wish it would. Instead, fellow salarypersons just waltz in expecting you to be fluent in the lingo. Far enough, I suppose. Under the age old adage, Time is money., nobody expects to fumble through a polite bit of chat that should only take a minute.
The food is amazing. Proper 5-star cuisine. Annoyingly most of the salarypersons take to it like bulimic models. Still, in this world I’m used to being the odd one out, so I decide not to make any exceptions here.
Between gob fulls of Kobe’s finest, and miniature salad/salmon roll things that look like art, I swap business cards with some of Tokyo’s high rollers. A lot of whom are drunk. The host company’s CEO, chaperoned by a shaky assistant, is the biggest fish in this pond. The assistant brings him over to me. We exchange cards …
company name のサラリーマンジムと申します。よろしくお願いします。(company name no Salaryman Jim to moushimasu. yoroshiku onegaishimasu.)
The assistant tells him which country I come from. The CEO remarks that so and so works for a company based in the same country. I act interested. The assistant takes him away. I wet myself with relief.
Closing speech. End.
For more from a Salaryman (in Japan) ...
A foreign salaryman in Japan, documenting life from somewhere near 'salaryman town' Shimbashi, Tokyo. Way out of my depth!