Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

How the body of the salaryman is utilized

The body of the salaryman is maintained and utilized in several ways. One way the body of a salaryman is used is for extensive work. Work culture in Japan is extremely straining for salaryman, so much that “one in five workers are at risk of working themselves to death” (Jozuka, Wakatsuki). Karoshi, which means “death by overwork” in Japanese is a common occurrence because it is normal for salary man to “work excessive hours” (Jozuka, Wakatsuki). Salaryman use their body to literally work themselves to death for the sake of the company. This idea of karoshi reminded me of the sumo wrestlers we discussed in class. Just like how overwork became normalized for salaryman during the economic recovery after World War II, the sumo wrestlers had double the required tournaments they needed to attend compared to pre-war times, in addition to participating in social events with patrons. These were due to the idea that the wellbeing of the collective, rather than the individual, is more important which is a common in Japan. Salaryman sacrifice themselves to support their company and family while Sumo wrestlers do the same for their patrons. Capitalism in Japan takes advantage of this cultural idea to completely harness the power of the individual body.


    The body of a salaryman is also used to express masculinity and power over woman. In an ideal salaryman household, the salaryman is married to a sengyo shufu (full-time housewife) who focuses solely on taking care of the children and the household. Even though women have worked throughout Japanese history, wives of salaryman are often relegated to work at home and even when they do work, only “men were seen as representing and epitomizing paid work” (Dasgupta, 192).   This is similar to how the bodies of Japanese women’s soccer players were exploited by male-dominated corporations discussed in class. First, companies that sponsored the Japanese women soccer players labeled the players that won the World Cup as “lucky” and were undervaluing their achievements, similar to how the idea of paid work for Japanese women is understated.  Next, companies that portrayed women’s soccer players as modern and mobile to improve company image were like the salaryman, utilizing women for the benefit of themselves.  Furthermore, the paternalistic perspective of the companies and salaryman are similar; the companies “take care” of women’s soccer players by sponsorship while salaryman “take care” his wife by providing income for the family.


Additionally, both salaryman and companies that sponsor women’s soccer players emphasize the idea of heterosexuality and hierarchical gender roles. For instance, the salaryman harnesses the power of a woman's body not only through domestic labor, but also through the birth of offspring through heterosexual relationships. According to Charlebois, some Japanese companies promote heterosexuality by giving “marriage bonus[es]” with extra benefits for every child in the family (Charlebois, 92). Also, male coaches in company-sponsored female soccer teams discussed in class treated other types of sexuality as irregular, ridiculing Japanese female soccer players interested in same-sex relationships. While some women consider being a full-time housewife of a salaryman to be a “unique gendered privilege because the option is unavailable to men” and they can avoid work, it is generally true that the masculine body of a salaryman exerts power over women (Charlebois, 93).

The power of the masculine body of the salaryman is maintained in Japanese society through various means. For example, there are many Japanese media, including “manga, magazines, television programs, ‘pop-management’ self-improvement manuals, and books” that instill particular values about salaryman (Dasgupta, 196). In these sources, there are advices related to sex, marriage, and work so Japanese salaryman can “live up to the appropriate ideal of masculinity” (Dasgupta, 196). Ideas about gender roles are not only emphasized for adults but also for children. There are Japanese terms otokorashii and onnarashii, which means man-like, and women-like respectively that label “demeanor, activities, interests, and preferences” which are common in childhood. This is related to Foucault’s idea of biopower; common societal beliefs spread by media and others are internalized and reproduced by people so power is maintained. This idea also applies to Japanese workplace culture; when new salaryman receive training from companies, they usually are isolated to a place called a kenshu sentaa. The new employees get a very strict schedule that manages even their time to eat and bath, “attend[ing] a wide range of seminars and lectures delivered by management personnel as well as outside ‘experts’” (Dasgupta, 195). The purpose of these intense training sessions is to develop “irresponsible students” into “kaisha no kanban,” a term for an ideal “representative of [an] organization” (Dasgupta, 195). These influences affect salaryman and give a sense of responsibility for the company, leading to overwork and karoshi.

The body of the salaryman is used for work and heterosexual relationships, and is propagated through media, corporate culture, and more. The feeling of having to be responsible for the group, such as company and family,  influence Japanese males to conform to societal expectations and work themselves to death.



Charlebois, Justin. "Herbivore Masculinity as an Oppositional Form of Masculinity."ProQuest. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1417585410?pq-origsite=gscholar>.


Dasgupta, Romit. "Performing Masculinities? The 'Salaryman' at Work and Play." Academia. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.academia.edu/3691372/Performing_Masculinities_The_Salaryman_at_Work_and_Play>.


Edwards, Elise. "The Promises and Possibilities of the Pitch: 1990's Ladies Soccer Players as Fin-de-Siecle Modern Girls." Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan. By Alisa Freedman, Laura Miller, and Christine R. Yano. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013. 149-65. Print.


Jozuka, Emiko, and Yoko Wakatsuki. "Death by Overwork: Pressure Mounts on Japan to Act." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://money.cnn.com/2016/11/30/news/economy/japan-workers-overwork-death/>.


Tierney, R. Kenji. "Bodies Steeped in Stew: Sport, Tradition and the Bodies of the Sumo Wrestler." Asia Pacific Journal of Sport and Social Science 2.3 (2013): 187-97. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.


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