top of page

The Salaryman Philosophy -- How It Gives Purpose

Updated: May 21

A boy watching over a city.

Ms. Tamara Moskal's Synopsis

The Japanese salaryman is a contemporary business version of the samurai, following a strict work ethic. They have a strong sense of duty to their companies and prioritize work over personal life. In Japan, the cultural expectation is self-sacrifice for the company's demands and collective interest, often leading to burnout and even death due to extreme overwork.
A salaryman works to prove their loyalty to the corporation and, by doing that, to gain social worth, meaning the work becomes their life.
In contrast to the salaryman, Hikkimoris are unemployed Japanese modern-day hermits who isolate themselves from the stressful work culture and become societal "leeches."  
The salaryman's philosophy is to achieve success and respect by being a dedicated part of the company rather than for financial gain. The author finds the salaryman's ethics inspirational and applicable to his dedication to philosophy and Philosocom.
He encourages everyone to recognize their jobs' significance and serve their employer and organization with loyalty and competence.

The Salaryman: A Modern Samurai in a Corporate Dojo

The salaryman is, arguably, the contemporary, business version of the samurai, who follows a strict work ethic code like the samurai follows the bushido code. While not carrying swords or necessarily fighting anyone, the salaryman is a "business minion" whose purpose is to work and serve the boss, AKA the employer. The employer is like a "lord" for the salaryman, and thus there is much expectation from the salaryman, which is very stressful.

Today I would like to talk about something a bit different. About certain people from Japan known as "Salarymen". The term, while not Japanese, is probably used the most in Japan nonetheless, due to how strict Japanese work culture is.

The purpose of this article isn't necessarily to criticize the salaryman's life, despite its flaws. Rather, its point is to extract the positive and useful things from what one could call the "Salaryman Philosophy". It's something, which, inspires me greatly in my work. Hopefully, it would inspire you too in whatever your occupation is.

The Salaryman Mindset: Psychology of Dedication and Detachment

Salarymen are instilled with a strong sense of duty to their company. They prioritize loyalty and see their work as an extension of their identity. This can lead to feelings of pride and purpose, but also pressure to conform and prioritize work over personal life.

Salarymen value group harmony and prioritize maintaining a cohesive team environment. This can manifest as a strong sense of "tatemae" (outward conformity) and a reluctance to disturb social harmony. That is even if they disagree with decisions.

Long hours, late nights, and prioritizing work over personal needs are often seen as badges of honor. There's a cultural expectation of sacrifice and "gaman" (endurance), which can lead to feelings of burnout and alienation.

Salarymen often enter the workforce with ambitious dreams, but the rigid hierarchy and seniority-based system can hinder individual growth. Furthermore, the cultural perference towards public interest diminishes personal ambition. This can lead to feelings of reluctance and a focus on job-security over advancement in the ranks.

While the salaryman culture is still prevalent, it's facing challenges. Younger generations are placing more value on work-life balance and personal fulfillment, through the more-contemporary pursuit of startups. Additionally, globalization and economic pressures are forcing some businesses to become more flexible and performance-driven.

Work as Life, Not for Life

The main purpose of work is, of course, to gain enough money to survive. To pay the bills. Keep a roof over your head. Be able to buy food and drinks and, if possible, to buy things which one could consider "excessive", such as traveling abroad, jewelry, and entertainment products.

Even if you are wealthy, you still need to work if you want to grow and preserve your current amount of wealth. Otherwise, you would find that fortune depleted gradually. Thus, unless you are disabled and need the complete the help of welfare, you must work. (2023 note: If you earn enough money to set you for life, then that's also an exception to my claim. Unless you spend it very unwisely).

In Japan, this imperative stays the same, with only one, distinct exception. You don't work to preserve your life. You work to "have" a life. You work to prove your loyalty to your comapny, whereas your value depends on that. In other words, when you become a Salaryman -- work is your life. It defines who you are, it represents you and you represent it. As such you're expected to work overtime regularly as part of their work culture. As a point of comparison, if you worked for a supervillain, you would be a henchman or minion, just like you would be a salaryman.

The salaryman's life is very difficult as one's identity, arguably, has little to do beyond work. Even if you have a regular set of work hours, you would still have to work overtime if you wanted to make a good impression on your boss. Even participate in drinking parties after work, enforced by peer-pressure.

For some, it could give a lot of meaning to their lives, but for many others, such a life is hard and inevitable. Should you work overtime on a regular basis, you even risk death, as indeed there were reports of salarymen actually dying from overwork!

As said before, working is mostly for money. If it was free you would either be a volunteer (Like you can be for Philosocom) or quit it entirely. For the salaryman, however, he is but a "servant" of the company, just like in Japanese feudal times, where the samurai served their lords, the daimyos. Despite the salaryman's high dedication to his or her company, their position in it may be relatively insignificant. Nonetheless, the salaryman is expected to serve the company straight until retirement.

Not all people are capable of such dedication. Of having your life centered around mostly work and little else. Even your free time might get "eaten", from time to time, by having to hang out with your bosses and co-workers after work hours.

This has led, mostly in Japan, to people becoming what is known as Hikikomoris, or modern-day hermits. These folk disconnect themselves mostly, if not entirely, from the external world, and begin to live in their own rooms, rarely going out. In a way, they're becoming unemployed "leeches" of society.

After I studied the Hikikomoris for a few years, I came to the conclusion that the strong desire to withdraw from society, at least in Japanese society, comes from the fact that it is very stressful. As a way to reduce stress, people may escape from society from time to time. The problem comes when it can be addictive. Anyways, the expectation to succeed, while desired by some, can set a high bar. Unfortunately, not all people are capable of enduring such stress, without deteriorating their mental health.

Therefore, it would only be natural to ask oneself: "What is the point of working so much of my lifespan when I can just shut myself in and enjoy myself"? After all, if you have parents or a guardian to take care of you while you live with them, you technically don't have to work and remain a "leech".

A Life Devoted

The decision to become a "leech" could either be a very easy one or a very difficult one, depending on your ambitions and your thoughts about "what others might think of me". If you have no problem not contributing to anyone and just living for yourself while having your family take care of you, then of course you would have less difficulty just being in your room and playing video games all day or whatever.

But when you feel compelled to become a part of society, to contribute to it, and to earn money for it in return, "leeching" would be a very hard state to be in. It would even be a shameful one, in either the eyes of yourself and/or others. Thus, the "common" worker does it for the money and may hate their job. The salaryman, on the other hand, may also do it for their sense of ethics. For the loyalty to the company they serve. Ever felt loyal to your company? Maybe it's likelier when you own the company, but still... Most of us have the mercenary's mindset.

In addition, he or she is expected not to talk back to the boss, and to respect his or her every word and command. If you happen to live outside of Japan, life might be easier for you than for the average Japanese, white-collar worker. Even asking for a vacation is considered disrespectful. I will add a video in the end as a presentation to what I described.

Despite the stress and strictness that involve the average salaryman, I actually find it inspiring because, when you're a salaryman, you're more than just a person who does something you don't want, just to survive. You work hard and with much dedication for something greater than yourself. And as a website owner whose website I hope will last long after my death, I find the Salaryman philosophy very inspiring.

The life philosophy of a salaryman is this: If you want to be someone who is successful, respected, valued, and contributing, you must work not just for the money. You must work for the very company you represent by being a part of it. All in the name of the cause you lend your services to. And less for your monetary gain.

The salaryman realizes that he doesn't work only for himself or for his family. He lives to serve a purpose. A meaning.

And when I say "Hail Philosocom" or "Glory to Philosocom", I say it because I truly believe in the potential my article empire can bring to this world. I'm not doing it for myself exclusively. I don't need to work in order to survive. I do it because I want and feel compelled to. To contribute to humanity by using this site as proof that philosophy can and deserves being relevant.

And you, you aren't necessarily nothing as an individual, but even if you're small compared to your corporation, your position is still important. Otherwise you wouldn't have it. Even if you will have that job for a large portion of your lifespan, you still need to prove, on a daily basis, that you are a worthy salaryman. Should your productivity indicate that you are replaceable, you might lose said job, and thus be deemed too expendable to be kept any longer. Thus, you must serve your boss and your company as loyally and competently as you can.

While I'm my own boss and I can't fire myself, I do feel that this position is greater than me, and not just a representation of myself.

The Soldier-Philosopher: Building an Empire

In order to preserve my and this site's value in your eyes, I must work hard as much as my health allows. I'll do so in order to create something that shall outlast me. I do pretty much feel not as a "Lord" of this site, but more as a "soldier". A soldier to my readership.

Thank you for reading. And now, a video about the life of the average Salaryman.

By the way, feel free to disagree with some of my insights, or all of them. As long as it's done respectfully, I don't really mind. Perhaps your disagreement, with an explanation, can contribute.

126 views0 comments


Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

bottom of page