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Confessional Books Blast Japanese Management Methods

April 29, 1992

TOKYO (AP) _ After 11 years at a Japanese bank, Hamao Yokota finally had enough of grinding 14-hour shifts, overtime without pay, domineering bosses and ridiculous company events designed to test his loyalty.

He got revenge by writing a seething, irreverent book about his experiences, ″A Diary of a Misfit Banker on Duty.″ It has attracted widespread attention, selling 140,000 copies in four months, with its rare attack on the hallowed Japanese relationship between man and company.

These days, confessional books - particularly those about banking - are all the rage in Japan.

″Record of a Fuji Bank Employee,″ which ruthlessly bashes one of Japan’s premier banks, has sold 30,000 copies. ″At Major Banks, We Shed Light On Darkness,″ a compilation of exposes originally published in a monthly newsletter for bank employees, has sold 60,000 copies.

″The problem stems from the fact that finance is an area in which a very modern industry is still being dominated by a pre-modern form of management,″ said Takeshi Maejima of Ohesu Publishing Co., which put out Yokota’s book.

″But the times are changing. There is now quite a number of people who agree with our book.″

Prim and proper in a dark blue suit, tie and glasses, a company badge pinned to his lapel and his hair neatly parted, Yokota hardly appeared the rebel in a recent interview.

″I kept quiet for a long time,″ says Yokota, who uses a pseudonym because he still works at the regional bank that is the subject of his book. ″But what I found the most unforgivable was the way Japanese management stripped you of your identity and values and tried to mold you into their image of the desirable, standardized company man.″

Initial enthusiasm for his job faded, he says, when he discovered it required little creativity or intelligence. To his disgust, what counted more was displaying unquestioning faith in the bank, including participation in company-organized field trips and athletic meets.

Yokota’s book shatters the glamorous stereotype of the well-respected and well-paid banker by presenting instead a white-collar peon who runs around as ″a kamikaze pilot for the company,″ courting potential clients.

It also reflects widening criticism of the workaholic attitudes fostered by zealous management policies aimed at rearing the perfect ″organization man.″

Japanese confessional books target other industries as well. ″An Insider’s Accusations Against Sagawa Kyubin″ exposes hellish working conditions at a trucking firm that were forcing some drivers to resort to drugs to keep themselves awake on the job.

″A Report on Journalists″ by a former Kyodo News Service reporter offers yet another unflattering behind-the-scenes study.

The books detail the lives of ″company livestock,″ a term recently coined by Japanese media to describe the predicament of workers who devote almost all their waking hours working for the firm.

When not in the office, they go drinking or golfing on company accounts. They go home to company housing.

″Bankers are like children who can’t think on their own,″ said Takuya Tazawa, who has written a scorching account of work conditions at Sumitomo Bank. ″They do their best to blend in and believe they have made it because they work for some big bank.″

However, bank officials say the books exaggerate. They point to efforts to reduce overtime as part of a nationwide government-initiated campaign.

But the critics say the accounts are accurate and that the public has grown more aware of the sweatshop conditions at banks.

Nevertheless, Yokota says managers resist change because ″they have been transformed over the years like robots″ who are afraid that rocking the boat will cause them to fall off the corporate ladder.

Yokota himself says his book has created quite a stir at his company, a well-known regional bank that he does not name in his book. He says he now has no hope of advancing his career.

Instead, he leaves the office early, works out at the health spa and then bangs jazz tunes on the piano at home to vent his frustrations. He is also working on his next book.

Yokota acknowledges feeling slightly defensive that his co-workers see him as cold, uncaring, even selfish for refusing to give up his entire life for the company.

″But I’m just an individualist. I’m not selfish.″

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