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Shoshaman: A Tale of Corporate Japan

Translated by Chieko Mulhern
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Acknowledging no god but the corporate good, the shoshamen-high-powered professionals within Japan's integrated trading companies-serve as the unrelenting cogs of an economic machine. Or do they?Shoshamantakes us inside the world of Japan Inc. to explore the daily lives of the people who inhabit it. Written by a senior executive in a major sogo shosha, this absorbing novel reveals, as no textbook can, the strategies required to win the race to the top. It also makes painfully clear the ethical and psychological choices that such a race demands. The cast of characters is as varied as the corporate world itself, from the devoted Ojima, who has been passed over by the company, to the spirited Masako, who strikes out on her own. The hero, Nakasato Michio, finds that the road to success is long and perilous, as he tries to satisfy his ambitions while remaining faithful to his values. First published asKigyoka sararimanin 1986 and made into a prize-winning television miniseries in 1988, the book has been acclaimed in Japan for the verisimilitude of its characters and situations. It offers a clear understanding of what it is like-in human terms-to survive and perhaps succeed within the confines of the Japanese corporation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91051-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Japanese Business Novel
    (pp. vii-xxviii)
    Chieko Mulhern

    In Japan, the business novel constitutes a distinct literary genre that boasts an impressive history harking back to feudal times. From the beginning, such novels have not only been marked by critical acclaim but have proved tremendously popular.

    Japan’s first writer of best-sellers, Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), was born into an Osaka merchant family and became a superb chronicler of the business world, producing numerous fact-based stories as well as financial advice in fiction form. His 1688 work entitledThe Japanese Storehouse; or, the Millionaire’s Gospel Modernized,which was translated into English in 1959, offers thirty tales of business successes and...

  4. PROLOGUE The Intruder April
    (pp. 1-7)

    Suddenly a high-pitched voice cut across the calm of the promotion ceremony about to begin. Ebisawa Shiro, president of Nissei Corporation, was on his feet and the general manager of personnel was ready to make his opening announcement to the assembled employees.

    In the front row of the hundred men in dark suits stood Nakasato Michio, general manager of project development, who was to be appointed to Management Grade One today. He glanced toward the entrance and instantly recognized the intruder as Ojima. He and Ojima had entered the company the same year.

    Planting himself in the doorway, Ojima called...

  5. ONE New York March
    (pp. 8-59)

    One day in mid-March, a few weeks before the promotion ceremony, Nakasato Michio had returned from a staff meeting to his general manager’s desk in Project Development. The digital clock face set in his paperweight showed 3:30. One hour before his next meeting to negotiate on a project for tourism in Okinawa. As he was expected at an early dinner meeting hosted by a major construction firm, he could not idle away this precious hour. He set to work on a pile of papers awaiting his decision.

    Acknowledging a welcome cup of tea that a young woman clerk brought him,...

  6. TWO The Turning Point Fifteen Years Ago
    (pp. 60-99)

    Nissei Corporation went into the supermarket business in 1960. It founded Century Stores Inc. in equal partnership with Metropolitan Department Store, an affiliate that Nissei Bank financed. Initially Century’s sales personnel were on loan from Metropolitan, but Nissei Corporation controlled its management and administration.

    An alarmist prognosis of the day held that integrated trading companies were heading into the corporate sunset. Shosha groups stampeded into the supermarket business to gain an American-type chain store, the necessary first stage to leadership in the retail future. Some invested in existing supermarkets; others tied up with foreign companies. Each shosha tried its own...

  7. THREE Black Hair April
    (pp. 100-130)

    Nakasato took carefully calculated steps to squash the American Gourmet Company acquisition plan by slow and safe degrees. To create an impression that he was actively involved in the feasibility study, he must send to America for a sizable amount of data and hold staff meetings from time to time. He put the zealous Sumoto in charge of the project and scrupulously followed all the usual procedures.

    “I thought you were against this plan,” Sumoto blurted out, surprised, when Nakasato told him to ask Nissei America to make a particularly thorough study of the food-service industry in the United States....

  8. FOUR Lost Years April
    (pp. 131-167)

    The day after the dinner with Inuzuka, Nakasato received a telex from New York City. Kano reported that Nissei America had opened formal negotiations with Griffin Securities to purchase American Gourmet Company. Nissei Corporation in Tokyo had twelve weeks to make the final decision. The offer would expire with the deadline.

    “Griffin initially insisted on six weeks, but we won a major concession by explaining our need for intensive deliberations. Nissei America will submit a proposal within a week outlining our recommendation. Please expedite its processing at your end.” Kano closed his telexed message with a request.

    Drag it into...

  9. FIVE Between Entrepreneur and Salaryman May
    (pp. 168-189)

    Prior to his planned second trip to New York, Nakasato asked for an appointment with President Ebisawa and made a progress report on the American Gourmet acquisition project. The report amounted to the declaration of his intention: I shall expedite processing of this project. But some matters still need to be cleared up before we can take definite steps forward. I intend to go to New York once more.

    At this point Ebisawa gave him a quizzical look. In truth, weren’t you opposed to this project?—Ebisawa’s eyes asked. Now without doubt Nakasato knew that the president had seen right...

  10. SIX Our People Early June
    (pp. 190-213)

    By now Nakasato had lost count of the number of trips he had made between Japan and the United States. The exact figure would emerge from old notebooks and passports, but he did not feel like taking the trouble to count, any more than the average Japanese businessman would want to reconfirm the number of his trips between Tokyo and Osaka. For Nakasato, America was a familiar and routine workplace, no more distant than Osaka in his subjective perception. All the more familiar since the advent of jumbo jets.

    But there was one thing that no amount of progress in...

  11. EPILOGUE The Insubordinate Loyalist Late June
    (pp. 214-218)

    One evening in June when the trees surrounding the hotel across the street showed vivid green, Ebisawa’s secretary called Nakasato on the phone.

    “The president wishes to see you,” she said.

    Nakasato was poring over a thick report in English on the prospects for new investment in Hong Kong. He dropped everything and hastened to the president's office. But could the missile of a letter I launched from New York have reached him so soon? Nakasato deliberated on his way over.

    The door of the president’s office was always kept open to the corridor of the executive row, but just...

    (pp. 219-222)
    Arai Shinya

    The theme of this novel—the nurturing of the entrepreneur spirit—may be the most urgent problem that contemporary Japanese businesses need to tackle if they want to progress. In fact, I considered calling the novelThe Road to Entrepreneurship.Ultimately, I discarded the title as too straight-laced for fiction. But what I have tried to delineate is the difficult road that a middle-echelon salaryman must follow as he matures into an entrepreneur.

    I have been a “shoshaman” for thirty years. For the first ten years, I worked in the offices of Sumitomo Corporation, a sogo shosha (integrated trading company)....

    (pp. 223-224)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)