(Watashi Teiji de Kaerimasu)
by 朱野 帰子 (Kaeruko Akeno)
Author: 朱野 帰子 (Kaeruko Akeno)
Genre: slice of life, office life, Japanese society, female protagonist
Great for: Intermediate (JLPT N2~JLPT N1)
Length: 360 pages
Japanese Summary (Bookwalker)
English Summary (Translation by Japanese Talk Online)
Yui Higashiyama is a salary woman who’s decided that she will leave on time no matter what. She might criticized for it but she has reasons for not wanting to work overtime. Her workaholic ex-fiancé, her colleague who won’t take a day off even when she has a cold, a newbie who always says he’s about to quit… She’s always butting heads with her coworkers as she tries to stick to her principals, but then a terrible manager who’s infamous for reckless work and putting his underlings through the ringer turns up!? A must-read unique novel for all office workers who are worried about their jobs!
Why You Should Read わたし、定時で帰ります (Watashi Teiji de Kaerimasu)
The work ethic in Japan is so infamous that pretty much most people outside of Japan has heard of the term karoushi, “death from overwork.” Almost 2000 people in Japan die every year from overwork! To combat this the government put in policies such as making companies force their employees to take five days off a year and only work 100 hours overtime a month… Only 100 hours overtime… It’s barely even a drop in the ocean! But I digress…
This book does a great job of portraying the complex reality of overwork in Japan. Such as, a sense of superiority over others, the pressure for women to act ‘like a man’, an inferiority complex leading to needing to work more… But most of all, bad managers and poor scheduling and the feeling of it can’t be helped.
The culture of overwork is so engrained in the majority of Japanese people because it stems from a multitude of complex systems. In other words, there are many, many reasons why overworking is the norm in Japanese companies. Which means it’s not that easy to combat. But that doesn’t stop the main character Yui Higashiyama!
Her drive and reasoning behind wanting a healthy work-life balance is clearly defined in the first chapter (in a hilarious way.) But she also grows as a character as she learns more about why people overwork themselves. She doesn’t agree with it, but she learns to understand it so she can combat it better, and I love her all the more for it.
So this novel doesn’t just talk about why people overwork…
It also discusses the impact it has on individuals’ relationships, health, and lives. It argues that although this culture is engrained, there are reasons for trying to improve it, and ways to do it.
The general office culture and attitudes towards certain work practices is so realistically portrayed in this novel that it had me rage reading for most of it. If you have ever worked for a Japanese company you may find this a very, very frustrating story to read because you’ve probably seen a lot of what happens and felt the frustration of feeling powerless to do anything about it.
But Yui is a smart cookie. Although there are times where I wish she had stood up for herself more, she finds a way (most of the time) to manipulate the system and the people around her to try and make things better. She’s not exactly a good person all of the time, but it’s satisfying to see her play the game and turn things around on other people.
Why Japanese Learners Should Read わたし、定時で帰ります (Watashi Teiji de Kaerimasu)
This book is perfect for people studying for the JLPT N2 and N1 exams. The exam has a mixture of casual Japanese as well as business Japanese, which this book has an abundance of.
There is a little keigo, however, most of the interactions are between colleagues. This means the Japanese is polite but not overly. You also get a great look at how different relationships impact conversation.
Yui is a manager (a “Chief” technically), but although she’s higher ranking she speaks mostly in です・ます form to her senpai who’s three years her senior.
There is also a lot of very common office-related vocabulary that you’ll learn at N2/N1 level. And even some war-related vocabulary! There are a couple of conversations about strategies during World War II which are important to the plot but a little hard to keep track of if you’re not used to this vocabulary.
I would also suggest writing down a list of character names and the readings for their kanji when they first appear. I really struggled with unfamiliar names and a name cheat sheet was a life saver!
(It’s super messy but this was my name cheat-sheet.)
This was a fantastic novel. I loved and hated it. I laughed, I cried, I got angry, and even shouted out loud a few times in both frustration and joy. It’s not often I feel such an emotional roller coaster while reading a Japanese novel and at the end I was very glad I read it.
I think I need to give myself a break before I read the next one though…
There’s also a J-drama based on the novel! I don’t know how it compares to the novel but if you can find a legal way to watch it, it might be good additional listening practice.
You can, of course, try a sample of the novel on Bookwalker.
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