Japanese Salariman Given No Work in Empty Room, Instead of Layoff?
February 4, 2005 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Somewhere I read (in English) about a Japanese salariman whose company, rather than laying him off, assigned him to work in an empty room doing nothing all day, hoping that he would quit. Can anyone find a reference to this case? Bonus points if there's a Japanese name for this practice. Arigato!
posted by sagwalla to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
(i know wisecracks dont help...but I cant help it)
It sounds like Milton Waddams .
posted by ShawnString at 7:57 AM on February 4, 2005

Sounds a bit like the film (although it was a she) "Fear and Trembling" (Stupeur et tremblements), a 2003 film by Alain Corneau. Search imdb.com or rottentomatoes.com...
posted by keijo at 8:11 AM on February 4, 2005

Wasn't that an episode of Seinfeld, too?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:14 AM on February 4, 2005

I used to work for a large, well-known technology company that had grown rather bureaucratic. It was extremely difficult to get fired from this company. When mid-level managers fucked up, they would be assigned to a "penalty box" -- that is, they would be reassigned to manage a department which had no actual employees. They had an office and desk and everything, just nothing to manage -- it really was very much like "work in an empty room doing nothing all day". This wasn't urban legend either -- I knew someone who was in a penalty box. He certainly deserved it, too -- he was so incompetent, I'm not sure he even knew what had happened to him.

(I must say, when I found that definition on google, I was highly amused to see that it was provided by my former employer).
posted by casu marzu at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2005

i remember reading about that too, sagwalla...

*goes off searching*
posted by slater at 8:19 AM on February 4, 2005

I heard a report on NPR (All Things Considered, I think) several years ago about cases of this happening at American companies... an executive being reassigned as a janitor without any cut in pay or benefits, and a salesman being given a night shift and required to call businesses that were closed all night long were two examples. So it's not uniquely Japanese.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:25 AM on February 4, 2005

Although I found now google references to this, I had a Japanese teacher who said that this was a tradition called "Window Side Tribe" (like the English Window Manager), and there was a gag along the lines of the secretary had to come in and turn him halfway through the day so he wouldn't get an uneven tan.
posted by plinth at 8:26 AM on February 4, 2005

Where can I get this job? I'm sure I could bring a laptop and find an open access point.
posted by angry modem at 8:29 AM on February 4, 2005

Jeez, we got whole buildings full of people like these where I work.
posted by fixedgear at 8:59 AM on February 4, 2005

This in all likelihood stems from the idea of "permanent employment", sagwalla:
Perhaps the most distincitve feature of the Japanese labor market is the permanent commitment system of employment. Under this arrangement, the large corporations and selected employees are honr-bound to maintain their employment relationship until retirement. The corporations promise that they will not dismiss their permanent employees, except under the most extreme circumstances (for example, embezzlement). The employees pledge that they will not abandon their employer for a more attractive job. The system is another reflection of the family aspect of Japanese business.


Lifetime employment never applied to the majority of workers. It always excluded women who traditionally quit their jobs when they married, and returned to paid employment in their late thirties or forties when their children were grown....The permanenet comitment system is not practiced in smaller enterprises, which employ the majority of Japanese workers, and it does not even apply to all the males in large corporations. About 33 percent of the labor force was covered by an employment guarantee in 1972, but that proportion fell below 25 percent during the late 1980's and early 1990's.


Lifetime employment also has its problems. From the employer's persepective, many workers who are redundant, incompetent, or unmotivated must be retained. Some of these are assigned such tasks as messengers and doorkeepers; sidelined middle managers are sometimes assigned to the madogiwa-zoku, "the window-seat tribe." As the name implies, they are expected to do little more than look out the windows, while the valued employees work in the inner offices (which often have no windows).
Quoted from this textbook, which, incidentally, was written by a former professor of mine. FWIW, he cites "Sethi, Namiki, and Swanson, The False Promise, 232,235" for that final paragraph if you feel like researching this a bit more.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:08 AM on February 4, 2005

That sounds like my dream job. I'd bring books and magazines and happily page the day away.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on February 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, good stuff. Window seat tribe, or some variant. As I remember the story, you weren't allowed to bring anything with you and there weren't any windows, either. It was just a brightly lit plain white room with a table and a chair in it. Your new office...see how long you last.
posted by sagwalla at 9:45 AM on February 4, 2005

If I recall correctly, this was actually done to Lee Iacocca in the late 1970s when he was still at Ford. He was given an office in a warehouse.

Iacocca then went to Chrysler and put Hal Sperlich's concept of a FWD minivan into production -- the same idea, from the same man, that Ford had declined to build.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:14 AM on February 4, 2005

Best answer: Apparently, Sega of Japan got sued for something similar.
posted by curse at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2005

It happened to me once. I had enough autonomy in my job to start a research project to document the actual number of subscribers we had to a free online service. This was fairly valuable information to us; it dramatically impacted how we would go about distributing ads. I cobbled together the necessary resources to complete the project without having to make any budget requests.

When we got back the numbers they were surprising, to say the least. My boss, who knew the value of the information, went to show the head honcho, who declared that he did not want anyone to know about these numbers, and that I had to be fired immediately. My boss convinced him to make me a member of the window-seat tribe instead, and I did crossword puzzles for six months, until I found another job.

That said, there was no formal or informal name for the condition I was in that anyone ever used in my presence. I never knew the window-seat tribe phrase until today, but it fits the story perfectly.
posted by roger at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2005

Response by poster: Curse...I think you've found the reference I was looking for. This article cites The Times in 1999:
WHEN Toshiyuki Sakai was assigned to a desk in a windowless room at head office, with no outside telephone line and no work to do he knew that his days with Sega Enterprises, the video-game maker, were numbered.
Thanks. I tried hard on Google but my grasp of the details was a little vague to find the report.
posted by sagwalla at 3:34 AM on February 7, 2005

« Older Good calling-off-work excuses?   |   Finding my way into the world of indie music Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.