TOPArt & CultureBon Voyage Tokyo: Episode 3 – Business Districts, Home of the Salarymen

Bon Voyage Tokyo: Episode 3 – Business Districts, Home of the Salarymen

Tall buildings, wide streets, taxis and the salesmen in suit and tie

By Jean Freund

TW is collaborating with Tokyo-based illustrator Jean Freund for a limited series, ‘Bon Voyage Tokyo’. Every Monday from April 5, Freund will write about his experience as he develops and draws for his new book Bon Voyage Tokyo, a sister publication to Bon Voyage Japan focusing on the uniqueness of the Japanese capital. Expect weekly giveaways, including chances to contribute to the book yourself. Readers can also back the project over on Kickstarter until May 16.

Past episodes:

I first visited the business districts of Tokyo several years ago. I had forgotten how vertical it was. I keep looking up to the sky trying to find the end of each building; the architecture is quite different from what I have seen so far. The shotengai and shitamachi almost seem like another country. I can’t wait to start drawing these tall buildings. They will provide something different from the everyday Tokyo that most people are familiar with. I notice that everywhere I look, I see the same person. An average man, black hair, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, blueish tie and a briefcase in hand. There are several groups of them now, flocking around here and there. Suddenly I get it: Salarymen. If there are so many, this must be their natural environment.

But my mission today is to meet Teppei Ikeda who works for this soy ink company. His mother gave me a tofu block that I am supposed to deliver. He might agree to be interviewed for my book. At least, that’s what she said.

With some kind of excitement, I enter the building and go straight to the front desk, where I am greeted by a young receptionist.

“Hello, I would like to meet with Teppei Ikeda. I am sorry, I did not make an appointment.”

“This might be quite difficult sir, Ikeda-san is very busy.”

“I understand but you see I have tofu from his mother.”

As I show the evidence, the receptionist immediately takes the phone and urges me to take the elevator to the 40th floor. It seems that bringing tofu to a soy ink company is the equivalent of “open sesame.”

The doors of the elevator finally open. A man in his 50s wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie welcomes me. He has on thick glasses with a vintage style and hair on the sides of his head. “My name is Tanaka,” he says. “I am the assistant of the assistant of the subordinate of Ikeda-san. I understand you have a tofu package for him. Please follow me.”

I am taken to a small room with no windows, grey carpet flooring, a small desk with a computer and paper scattered all over. As he sits down his face almost disappears behind the piles of documents and empty bento boxes. One of the many salarymen in this office, no doubt.

“I am very sorry but Ikeda-san will not be able to see you today. I will fax a notice to his assistant’s assistant who will follow the procedure for delivering the goods. I first need to get written approval. Once approved I will receive an email that I will print and stamp with my hanko before storing it in one of the files in this cabinet. Please sign this. It is standard procedure.“

What the hell is this Tanaka-san talking about? Can’t he just put the tofu in the fridge?

“What are all these piles of documents, anyway?” I ask

“Paperwork I have to sign, copy, fax. I have many requests like yours and they all need to be taken care of”. 

This little man is really fascinating, I’m actually happy I met him because he really is rather unexpected. When is the last time he saw the sun? This room has no windows and I am pretty sure he’s working overtime. I even see a blanket and a pillow pushed under the desk. Perfect for my book, I thought. I’d really want to know more. 

“I am a very busy man, every day I work long hours and I intend to do my job very seriously. I will ask you to leave now as I must finalize a very important presentation I have been working on for weeks. The package shall be delivered to Ikeda-san as soon as all the paperwork is taken care of.”

“I understand. I hope we can chat one day again? Maybe on one of your days off?”

“I do not take days off,” he answers.

“One last question, Tanaka-san. What is the topic of your presentation?”

Adjusting his tie, he looks at me straight in the eyes. “It is today that we have to decide the color of the new fax machine.”

Weekly Giveaway: A Set of Original Postcards

This week, TW and Freund are giving away a set of original postcards. To enter, send us your full name and postal address to [email protected]

Eligible for Japan residents only. Winners will be chosen at random and contacted by a member of TW staff. Giveaway ends on April 25, 2021.


Follow Jean Freund on Instagram for more updates about his new book. Support his new project on Kickstarter here