Japan – A season of change

The last two weeks have been very busy in Japan as March 31st marks the end of the fiscal year for most companies. Conversely, April 1st traditionally marks the start of many new things including the newly graduated college students who start their new jobs and the start of spring when the cherry blossoms bloom – a very big event here. The sheer amount of change is something I found very interesting to experience both first hand and from several different perspectives.

For the last few weeks in March, companies and especially their sales people, it is a very hectic time where everyone is trying to book any last minute sales for the fiscal year. This rush actually creates a measurable increase in the amount of traffic – both on the streets/highway and on the train. During this time, its hard to get anything done (with another company) that is not directly related to sales.  Conversely, as I had mentioned in a previous entry, many (especially) public entities are busy using up any remaining budgets before the close of the fiscal year for reporting purposes. Any money left on the books could lead to penalties and/or lower apportionment the following year. In parallel, the recent college graduates are probably enjoying their longest and perhaps last stress free extended vacations they will ever have before the start of their careers on April 1st.

In the last week of March, many companies will celebrate the retirement/farewell (soubetsukai, 送別会) of their now former co-workers. The word farewell in this case may mean that they were transferred, promoted or let go. Regardless, this is a time where all co-workers are supposed to get together and have a “last drink” together. The person leaving is usually given a bouquet of flowers and everyone gives a quick speech on their experience together (usually positive) and finally ending with a speech by the actual person(s) leaving. At this point, most people (co-workers) tend to show up because it would be bad form not to and because it usually involves (usually company provided) food and alcohol. What happens after is always pretty interesting since, after the final speech and group pictures, many people break up into their different cliques and go for a second round of drinking, partying and/or karaoke. Depending on which clique you belong to, it might be a continuation of festivities or it might be the start of bashing and complaining (where the true feelings come out) about the guy that just left (obviously, he’s in another group at this point).

Since I also teach a class, some of evenings during this last week I celebrated with my newly graduated students (gakusei, 学生) who will soon (on April 1st) become a fellow member of society (shakaijin, 社会人). Many of these students have spent the year prior looking for their new job and were accepted around six months ago. On April 1st, all the new employees of Japan then attend the “opening ceremonies” of their new company where everyone from the founder, president and various HR people will make speeches about the philosophy, history, goal or whatever about the company. I have actually given a couple of these speeches and it is an interesting sight to see when you may have several hundred college graduates sitting in their seats, impeccably dressed in the same black suit looking and acting the same way! From this point, the students will be put up in a hotel, bussed off to a training center or commute to a training facility and spend the next 3-4 weeks getting “trained” by HR and future managers. This training includes (almost always) how to exchange business cards, how to bow, how to speak to customers, etc… as well as the ritual hazing by older colleagues. Depending on the company, some may make new employees (only a few days old) obtain a quota of new business cards by approaching random people on the train platform (or similarly awkward places), introduce themselves (usually in a very loud voice) and request to exchange business cards. The first time I saw someone running up to me and do this, I was freaked out. Anyway, back to the night of March 31st, it is sometimes disconcerting to see your students have one final drink right before the last train leaves at 12:30am of April 1st. I hope they all made it to their first day without any problems

Finally, this is also the season of the all important cherry blossom. The season is officially opened by Japanese meteorological agency who actually have very serious bureaucrats that go out and measure specific trees around the city and determine whether or not the correct percentage cherry blossoms have opened up on a set of trees. Once the agency announces that the cherry blossom season has started, people are generally allowed to stake a plot of land around a cherry tree, enjoy the blossom, party well into the evening (many trees are lit up by environmentally friendly LED lights) and legally allowed to be a public nuisance within their own plot (usually demarked by a blue tarp). To tie this whole story together, at certain companies, one of the first jobs of the newly hired is to go out in the morning in order to make sure they stake out the best/appropriate venue for their fellow (could be dozens) co-workers when they arrive later that evening.

Anyway, as you can probably imagine, the common theme here is a LOT of drinking (present company included). Some evenings, it means going to 2-3 events per night. Next week, it is assumed to be a slow week in Japan because everyone will be nursing their hangover.  In a few weeks, one more official party left – to welcome the new co-workers and/or to break-in the green employees.

For the rest of my cherry blossom pictures, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whsaito/sets/72157623640320137/ Your comments are always welcome.

Posted by whsaito

  1. Great read! You should definitely follow up on this topic..

    Kind Regards,


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William H. Saito