Alongside its humor, Michael Howard’s recent memoir, “The Salaryman,” provides an insightful look at Japan’s corporate workforce. In 2008, Howard was a 32-year-old product manager at a small LA software startup who suddenly landed a high-paying job with a Japanese corporation of over 50,000 employees. Howard spent eight years working in four different Japanese companies, and his various struggles to thrive make for a thoroughly entertaining read.

The Salaryman, by Michael Howard.
230 pages

The book sidesteps the whole West-meets-East complaint narrative. He first introduces readers to the concept of “Manner Mode,” what he calls the underlying “way” that governs Japan, a veneer of politeness that directs the status quo in all walks of life. Howard then walks the reader through a guide of how to become an authentic salaryman, with chapters ranging from “The Art of the Tokyo Nap” to “The Foreign Guest Honey Trap,” which details how Japanese businessmen will generously wine and dine their foreign guests only to flummox them the next morning with persnickety details and drawn-out meetings in order to triumph during crucial business deals.

Illustrated throughout by Rena Saiya, the memoir untangles the intricacies of Japanese business culture as Howard uncovers why he was reprimanded at the office for tearing the toilet paper too roughly or for napping on the basement couch. Amusing and astute, Howard’s memoir is worth the read, a true insider’s look at corporate Japan.

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