There is little room for pleasure in the life of a salaryman, a term coined by the Japanese for overworked and duty-burdened office workers. Their daily routine is governed by company rules, dictating how much they work and what’s left for everyday life. This lack of control over one’s activities and desire for freedom explains the popularity of three Japanese TV shows, where a breadwinner savouring his meal during office hours is not a contradiction.
Afforded too little time of their own, salarymen/women may forgo breakfast or eat on the go. The length of their lunch break determines where they eat, what they eat and with whom. If working hours exceed dinner time, the boundaries within which they exercise individual preferences further constricts. These conditions affect salaried workers everywhere, all but one character in “Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman”.
Amentani Kantaro, a sales representative of a publishing house, rushes his sales trips to pay visits to nearby dessert gems, which he writes about in his blog. He tells no one about his sweet escapades, and pulls it off because he is efficient at his job. But the constraints on a salaryman remains, so he skips places with long lines and limits his orders to what he can eat within the short time he stole from work. Confined to corporate conditions, Kantaro violates a few rules to make room for a personal interest, but is largely obedient so that he keeps his job.
There will be no need to rush if one has controls over one’s own time like businessman Goro Inogashira in “The Solitary Gourmet”. Inogashira’s business brings him to clients all over Japan and he always finds good (and real) places to take lunch. Without strict office hours to follow, he reads the menu back and forth, orders to feed more than a normal appetite, and admires the food’s glow and shine before dissecting tastes and textures. If you watch him over lunch, you’ll be done before he is. Inogashira is never short for time to savour, although the clients’ locations predetermine his food options somewhat.
When none of these work arrangements are available, a salaryman may only countdown patiently to retirement. Takeshi Kasumi in “Samurai Gourmet” is a recent retiree who has a lot of time on his hands and spends it on food adventures. While he sometimes walks into new places, he often revisits nostalgic eateries and memories that he, as well as many others, put aside for a hectic corporate life. Kasumi has an alter ego, a boorish samurai who teaches him to break the shackles of conformity for spontaneity, such as skipping the last train home for a late night snack outside the city. As Kasumi only needs to pace his life against his homemaker wife’s, he goes wherever he wants for food and takes his time to do just that.
Now, if only all bosses are like these men, appreciative of food and the joy they bring, then we can perhaps be afforded to eat proper meals of delicious foods, appropriate to our body and mood, even on days when we are supposedly subject to corporate needs and profits .
“Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman” and “Samurai Gourmet” are available on Netflix. “The Solitary Gourmet” can be watched on popular streaming sites.