Thanks to a feature that appeared on the front page of the Dec. 31 issue of the Asahi Shimbun, oidashi beya is the first topical neologism of 2013 if you don't count "Abenomics." It's not clear if the term, which translates as "expulsion room," was coined by the newspaper, but since then the blogosphere and social networks have picked up on it and the concept it describes, a holding area for full-time workers deemed unnecessary but who won't quit. These employees are retained but given little or no meaningful work.

Other media had already covered the subject, but none struck a nerve the way the Asahi did, probably because they didn't use the term "oidashi beya," which seems to have captured the public's imagination. The idea of exerting psychological pressure to get employees to leave is not new. In the past, companies passively ostracized redundant workers by moving them "next to the window" (madogiwa-zoku) or figuratively "tapping them on the shoulder" (kata-tataki), but these phrases were utilized in relation to people approaching retirement.

Under the so-called lifetime employment system regular employees received pay raises and promotions as they aged, but there are only so many positions at the top of the pyramid. When Japan was still developing and growth seemed limitless, excess management could be farmed out to subsidiaries or partner firms, but after the bubble burst even these options became fiscally untenable. Older workers were pressured to leave early, and if they didn't they were shuffled around and given nothing to do until they got the message and quit out of frustration or humiliation.