- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Profile Books; Main edition (February 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1861977891
- ISBN-13: 978-1861977892
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Blue-Eyed Salaryman: From World Traveller to Lifer at Mitsubishi Paperback – February 1, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
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"Full of wonderful vignettes and details. "- Spectator
"Murtagh gives a fascinating account of a system that is misunderstood, even satirised, in the West."- Culture Vulture Books
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Murtagh rose to a middle-manager position, almost unheard of for any gaijin (foreigner) in a Japanese corporation. He was always the only gaijin in the room. Because his Japanese was flawless he was always looked at askance. The Japanese feel that their language is to difficult for gaijin to learn let alone speak fluently. He tells of his daily commute to work on a bicycle, his unpaid overtime, company uniforms and he even the company song.
He says little of his personal life. His courtship and marriage to Miyuki is a good example of this. He sums up this chapter of his life by saying Miyuki's parents approved of their marriage because of his Mitsubishi credentials.
Murtagh keeps the story moving in a conversational style. He has an eye for the irony of the cultural differences between the west and the east.
I have a friend in Tokyo who is also a salaryman. I got this book for that reason. I wanted to see some of the things that he had to go through. He said that many of the experiences that Murtagh went through are quite common for a gaijin salaryman.
It is an entertaining book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has friends or family working in Japan. And for those of you who don't, it is still an interesting read to compare the cultures.
Must bullet train reading!
Before the collapse of its economy in 1989, Japan's manufacturing might had amassed Croesus-like wealth, fueling a spending spree that famously included the Exxon Building and Rockerfeller Center. However, the years since, the main thing Japanese companies seem to be acquiring is foreign CEOs (Nissan, Sony). While Japan still boasts champions in a number of fields (Canon, Toshiba, Toyota), there is no Japanese version of Microsoft or Apple, of Cisco or Oracle, Nokia or RIM, Allianz or AXA, Pfizer or Bayer.
Mr Murtagh was another international acquisition of Japan Inc., and although his book is not written as an analysis of the country's economic malaise, the symptoms are all there in his account. Through his plainly told, straightforward account of his graduate studies in Tokyo, recruitment by the Mitsubishi Group--one of Japan's largest and oldest conglomerates--his growing disenchantment and final resignation from the company, you can start to get a feeling for how myopic and parochial Japanese corporate culture can be. His final, damning analysis is that "The fundamental problem is that the managers making the decisions have no experience of anything other than the company they work for ... they don't even realize their decision-making leaves much to be desired".
After working for 10 years in both the public and private sector in Japan, including a term at another one of Japan's largest companies, I can attest to the accuracy and universality of much of Mr Murtagh's observations, from corporate daddy-cultures that have managers admonishing staff not to walk with their hands in their pockets, to meeting minutes that focus solely on the lofty pronouncements of senior executives.
If all this sounds rather heavy-going, the book itself is a surprisingly light read. Mr Murtagh's style is understated and simple, if a little heavy on sarcasm. It's not exactly sparkingly funny; the tone lurks just beyond the penumbra of wit, exuding a sort of black humor born of corporate cupidity and indifference. The book is at its best when it has management in its sights. A bit like Dilbert, minus the cubicles and punchlines.
The book is not all overalls and overtime, which is a pity, for the bits that aren't about work are easily the book's weakest. In between meetings and business trips, Mr Murtagh details his neighbor troubles and love life--none of which is especially insightful. I'd suggest readers looking for a better treatment of an outsider's life in Japan read Bruce Feiler's "Learning to Bow" (somewhat dated) or even Dave Barry's "Dave Barry Does Japan" (also dated, but hilarious). For the insider's look on daily life, try Alex Kerr's polemical "Dogs and Demons", Karl Taro Greenfeld's "Speed Tribes" or Michael Zielenziger's "Shutting Out the Sun".