Monday, December 6, 2010

Supermarket: A glimpse into 1970s Japanese business

Supermarket: A Novel3 out of 5 stars
Japanese literature in English is not easy to find. This novel is described as a Japanese modern classic (published in Japan in the 1980s), but it was only recently translated into English.

In 1970s Japan, bright, young salaryman Kojima leaves a secure banking job to help his cousin run a growing supermarket chain. Supermarkets were just beginning to become popular. He soon begins uncovering embezzlement, dishonesty, and shoddy business practices. Kojima must navigate the sensitive political landscape of owners and directors who do not want to hear bad news with the need to save the business and win over his naysayers.

It brought to mind memories of hearing about my husband's recount of office politics at Kinki University in Osaka (yes, you read that right...Kinki University). In Japanese business, when factions are formed, it's essential to declare where you stand and who you support.

Career stands above all else. When Kojima's son was born in another city, he didn't make any attempt to visit his wife or son (because he was dealing with a business crisis). He didn't even call his wife to congratulate her or see how she was doing.

I enjoyed this book in spite of its weaknesses, such as including so many characters that it's impossible to thoroughly depict them or show their many dimensions. Kojima's wife makes just a few appearances, and his children are practically non-existent.

It's all about the business and striving for success. Supermarket is a rare glimpse into that era in Japan, when the tides were turning and "Made in Japan" no longer meant shoddy quality.

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