January 30 and February 2, 2017
3W was shorthand for three sales a week. For us put-upon salespeople, it meant work, work, work! That was my ancient past as a life planner for a Japanese insurance company in Manila. Our big boss, Sawaki-san, demanded nothing less than Japanese-style work ethic. I had never looked back on it as fondly as I did in Tokyo Metro 20 years later. I fancied myself as a salaryman for a day.
1st W: Itochu Corporation
I emerged from Gaienmae Station Ginza Line in jeans and hiking shoes; I was on vacation, after all. Only my black winter coat allowed me to blend in a scurrying crowd of salarymen in Aoyama, one of Tokyo’s sleek financial districts.
I was on an unofficial client visit at Itochu Corp, an umbrella company of various subsidiaries based in Tokyo. The HQ had been sending batches of employees for language training and cultural immersion to my university. After years of e-mail correspondence with the program head, I deemed it time for an EB with her on this personal trip to Tokyo.
Hatsumi-san was a burst of warmth on this otherwise chilly day. The straightforward, friendly-but-not-friends online persona was chatty and funny in person. Her Okinawan features betrayed a wider range of emotions than the usual Japanese reticence. I turned out to be the shy and stiff one during our casual lunch meeting at nearby Royal Garden Cafe. She had chosen another restaurant that seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. She laughed it off and apologized. Endearingly so. She wasn’t the perfect, precise, and prepared Japanese employee I had judged her to be.
After lunch we went up to her floor and talked shop in a conference room with a panoramic cityscape view. I was forever distracted. I imagined the rows of ginko trees below to be aflame with bright colors in autumn.
2nd W: Family Mart
A recent realization was that Japan was the capital of convenience stores in Asia. One such Japanese chain was Family Mart, a subsidiary of Itochu. A date with my trainee-turned-friend Yuka at their HQ in Ikebukuro was a no-brainer.
Unlike at Itochu HQ, I could not go up to their offices at Sunshine 60. Staff was allowed to receive visitors only at the lobby. No biggie though. Yuka rounded up former trainees from different years: Junko from the maiden batch some four years before, Aki from two years ago, and Nao from Yuka’s batch. We had a brief catch-up at Seattle’s Best downstairs before they all had to – dutifully – hurry back to work. And it was sundown when I got there!
3rd W: Waseda University
The highlight of this unofficial trip was a visit to our partner in the international academic community. Apart from a student exchange program, Waseda University also sent staff for English classes. As a faculty member, I was most curious to see one of Japan’s most prestigious private universities.
My former student, Koji, toured me around the campus. Waseda, over a hundred years old, had the vibe of stately Western universities, sans the open fields. Okuma Auditorium with its iconic clock tower, Koji pointed out, was a venue for entrance and graduation ceremonies. It conjured up period films set in Great Britain or New England.
Koji proved to be an all-around guide. He walked me up and down the library, narrated the story of Waseda founder and Renaissance man Okuma Shigenobu, whose statue stood prominently in the middle of the campus, and even sang the Waseda anthem with fervor.
Alas, Koji had to run off to finish the day’s tasks. But no worries, Shin, also a former student, took over babysitting duties and killed time with me at Cafe 125 (in reference to Waseda’s age) before we took a bus to Ueno for my reunion with former students.
And like any salaryman worth his, well, salary, I capped the day with dinner and drinks with my “clients” at Isobe Izakaya. Kudos to Shige for getting Waseda and Itochu peeps to join forces in welcoming me with an izakaya experience to remember. They admitted they never had the time to meet after their study stint in Manila. Until I got to Tokyo.
Shige, the closest to a sake master I had ever known, gifted me with a bottle of Dassai sake. He also ordered an all-exotic array of izakaya dishes to test my palate. It was payback time. I had them do a blood soup (dinuguan) challenge in Manila. It was my turn to sample strange creatures and either their eggs or testicles, which I downed with big gulps of draft beer amid shouts of kampai. Karma was never this oishi!
It was a fitting end to a day in the life of a salaryman. Professional network and friendships strengthened, mutual understanding fostered, tummies and hearts filled – except my wallet as this was an unofficial and unpaid client visit.