“The Blue-eyed Salaryman” is Irishman Niall Murtagh’s account of working for Mitsubishi.
It’s not quite a tell-all: colleagues’ names are disguised with cute monikers — sometimes a little too cute — such as Kawaii (cute), and Majime (straight-laced), and in keeping with the time-honored tradition of salarymen, it’s never quite clear exactly what Murtagh and his colleagues do.
The book does present a detailed picture of the work culture inside a Japanese firm: It’s funny, revealing, frustrating and tedious, as are most full-time jobs anywhere. Back when Murtagh joined Mitsubishi Electric in Yokohama in 1991 — he’d studied in Japan after a few years of wanderlust — he was the only non-Asian permanent employee in his division.
Reading this now, it’s interesting how much hasn’t changed: The culture of overwork is as much a topic today as it was back then, as is the conservative nature of the Japanese corporate world.
As a narrator, Murtagh is modest and personable, focusing on the humanity inside a Japanese mega-corporation. He examines the tension that comes with being both insider and outsider in a system that emphasizes conformity and hierarchy. In his workaday style he reveals the grey zone,where atypical salarymen like him existed. In the end, though, he hangs up his Mistubishi hat after 14 years at the company.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.