Cubicle Culture Doesn’t Exist in Japan

When Americans think of the typical workplace I think we envision something out of Office Space; cubicles stretching away, each one dominated by the distinctive personality of the person inhabiting it. Though there is not much privacy, there is a little, and for most people it is enough.

But in Japan, there is no cubicle. No short walls separating your desks, nor long ones either. You and your co-workers sit next to each other, able to glance over at the computer screen or what is open on the desk. Your boss’s too, don’t have their own office, unless they are Really Important. The department heads do, however, get a desk of their own off to the side, or at the front, often facing toward the workers, so that that those who work for them cannot see what is on their computer screen.

This modicum of privacy is highly coveted, at least by me, whose work schedule is erratic at best. Not erratic in the sense that I don’t come in at regular times, but erratic in the sense that some days I am buried under a pile of work, but others I have nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs and read the news, study Japanese, or shuffle papers in an attempt to look as busy as those around me.

When I first came to Japan I remember being surprised at the teacher’s room at the school. I wasn’t expecting so little privacy. Now, I’ve gotten used to it. From that teacher’s room, to my office at the Prefectural Board of Education, the layout is usually the same. I’ve gotten used to the way there is no wall separating me from the bank teller or postal worker; how the important people at the bank sit at the back of the room, while the female tellers in cute bank girl uniforms smile and help you at the front. I’ve even gotten used to the hospital waiting room, which has nurses coming out with thermometers or blood pressure monitors to take your vitals while there is a guy with the flu on one side of you, and a woman with a bunion on the other.

One Response to “Cubicle Culture Doesn’t Exist in Japan”
  1. Odelia says:

    Ah, just like a newsroom at home. Home sweet home.

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