Writer’s note: This is an excerpt from an interview with a salaryman who wishes to remain anonymous.
Kafka’s character woke up one day to discover he’d turned into a giant bug. Often I feel a similar rush of odoroki (驚き, surprise) wash over me as I realize that this year I’ll be 41, a single Japanese male employed by an electronics mēkā (メーカー, manufacturer) on the outskirts of Tokyo.
I may not be a giant bug, but I’ve turned into a statistic, and I feel like I’ll go crazy if I don’t get this stuff off my chest. Actually, two of my dōryō (同僚, colleagues) were diagnosed with utsu (鬱, depression) and took leaves of absence. Very likely they’re not coming back. I don’t want the same thing happening to me, and they do say that hanaseba raku ni naru (話せば楽になる, “Talking about it helps”).
Shall we start with my job? I’m an engineer but I’m actually better with numbers, so I’ve put in an idō negai (異動願い, transfer request) to go to the keiribu (経理部, accounting department). I’m not optimistic about it — these days, everyone wants to go to keiribu because there’s little of the intense kyōsō (競争, competition) and harassment of all kinds that define life in departments such as engineering and sales.
My tedori (手取り, take-home pay) is about ¥280,000 a month, which is hashitagane (はした金, peanuts) compared to other 41-year-olds in hanagata kigyō (花形企業, flamboyant and successful companies), but that’s OK as long as I’m hitori (独り, single) and don’t have to worry about supporting a wife and kids. I have a car — a Honda kei (軽, light vehicle), I can afford to live in a 1LDK manshon (マンション, condominium) in Kawasaki and I go to soccer matches.
Here’s the source of my anxiety: I’m daijōbu (大丈夫, all right) with the fact that I will probably be family-less for the rest of my life, along with 60-plus percent of Japanese males.
But . . . why am I daijōbu?
At my age, my father was supporting two kids and a stay-at-home wife. He was paying the mortgage on a house with three bedrooms. Like every Japanese sarariiman (サラリーマン, salaryman), he was never home but was nice enough to come to the kids’ undōkai (運動会, sports day event) every year, and when I got into a yūmei daigaku (有名大学, prestigious university) he actually wept a little and told me, “Yoku yatta!” (よく やった, “Good job!”).
I like my dad. But I’ve let him down, and we hardly speak anymore. I feel his disappointment and resentment that I’m not more of a man, doing otokorashii (男らしい, manly) stuff like working myself to the bone so my children can buy video games or my sengyō shufu (専業主婦, homemaker) wife can go out for lunch with her friends.
So I get this huge rettō ishiki (劣等意識, inferiority complex) when I compare myself with my father, or even with some of my dōki (同期, people who were employed the same year) who got married and have pictures of babies on their smartphones.
At the same time, I think, Jōdan janai yo (冗談じゃないよ, Who am I kidding?). Marriage is a huge, expensive deal. With no deai (出会い, date) on the horizon, I would have to register at a konkatsu (婚活, “marriage activities”) agency, the initial fees of which add up to an average of ¥300,000.
Even if a woman were to take a shine to my face and not be fazed by my shūnyū (収入, income) and age, it would take at least another year of dating before we could hope to tie the knot. And by the time I’m ready to have my first child, I’d be 44 or 45.
My wife would probably be in her late 30s — that is, if I’m lucky enough to get someone younger than myself. When my child were finally to become a seijin (成人, an adult [at 20 years old]), I’d be retired, and to keep the kid in college I would have to look for a day job — most likely at some construction site, waving a red stick.
Is that all there is to my jinsei (人生, life)? Can’t a sarariiman be allowed to have good times and spend money on himself? Is that so bad?
The short answer to that is “Yes, it’s bad.” I feel the emptiness of a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone else. Seven years ago I had a girlfriend and she always told me I was jibun katte de tsumetai (自分勝手で冷たい, self-seeking and cold). She left when I told her she would have to keep working after marriage, because there was no way I could support her and a couple of kids on my salary.
Warugi wa nakatta (悪気はなかった, “I meant no harm”), but looking back, I never did anything to give her real joy. I never cooked her a meal, or walked her back to her apartment after a date. My permanent excuse was “Shigoto de tsukareteru” (仕事で疲れている, “I’m tired from work”), which is the classic sarariiman excuse for everything.
It’s too late now to change. I must continue to be the single sarariiman, staring at my phone to avoid noticing any elderly or disabled people in need of my seat on the train.
Gomen nasai (ごめんなさい, I’m sorry), but I’m so tired.