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Japan's Cherry Blossom Tradition Tests Rookie Employees

Among the thousands of people that fill Japan's parks every spring to picnic under the delicate pink cherry blossoms, known as sakura, are young professionals. They are new recruits sent by their bosses to reserve a spot for the company's outdoor feast, and are sometimes made to sit for hours well into the night guarding the location.

The blooming of the cherry blossom trees in Japan in early spring coincides with the beginning of the Japanese business year, and it is tradition to test new employees with this task.

Hanami at Yoyogi Park Photo by  Dick Thomas Johnson

Hanami at Yoyogi Park. Photo by Dick Thomas Johnson (CC BY 2.0)

Twitter user Mame (‏@MameBroth) wrote about the thankless job on his account on March 20, 2013:

@MameBroth: 新人が花見の場所取りをします。ですが仕事には納期があります。なのでノートパソコンを持たされます。場所取りしながらコーディングします。夜になります。誰も来ません。会社に連絡すると「クソ忙しいのにいけるわけねえだろ!」と怒られます。まだ冷える寒い夜に一人ぼっち。なんと悲しいことか。

@MameBroth: I am taking place for hanami spot as a new employee. But I have to meet a product deadline so they told me to bring a laptop computer. I do coding while reserving the spot. Night comes on. Nobody has come yet. I call the office. I get yelled at over the phone, “What make you think we can come? We are busy as hell!”. All alone on a chilling night. How sad is this.

The tradition of new hires reserving a picnic spot for their companies is part of the larger annual tradition of hanami where friends and families hold feasts under the flowering trees and enjoy sake and beer. Companies also organize hanami, and often cases, the new employees are being evaluated based on how good they conduct the hanami party.

Why is this a new employee’s job? In online resource site All About, writer Kagezo stated [ja] that the task is a way for new recruits to prove their workplace skills:

もしあなたが幹事なら、場所を確保し、お酒の調達をするだけではあまりにも無難すぎます。なぜなら花見の準備は、仕事の手際や仕切りに通じます。酒宴の準備とは、すなわちあなたの手腕が、こっそりと上司や先輩に試されているということでもあるのです。

If you are responsible for your company's hanami party, simply reserving a spot and procuring liquors are not good enough.The skill of preparing hanami is associated with management skill and neat work. Your bosses and seniors are surreptitiously evaluating your capability through your skill of preparing the feast.

This year, the Japan Meteorological Agency announced cherry blossoms reached full bloom on March 22 in Tokyo, the second earliest since the weather agency began taking statistics in 1953.

With the early arrival of the full bloom of cherry blossoms this year, Twitter users wondered if the new employees’ first task would be affected. The blooming period is very short, and company hanami parties are supposed to be held in April.

Twitter user Wappa (@tokyoallnight) wrote on April 1, the start of the Japanese business year:

@tokyoallnight: 今日は入社式の日か・・・新人の新人だけの初めての仕事と言えば昔は花見の場所取りだったけど今は違うのかな(笑)。あれで、だれがリーダーシップあるかとかわかるとかよく言っていたけど・・・(笑)すでに散ってる・・・都内

@tokyoallnight: Oh today is the day of initiation ceremonies at companies… Speaking of the very first task for rookie, the task used to be hanami spot keeping. Is it still rookies’ job? We used to say that we could tell who would have leadership among those new ones by watching their hanami preparation. Well, but here in Tokyo, cherry flowers have already fallen off.

Twitter user Yas (@yas_ukey) advised new hires to seize on alternative opportunities to prove themselves:

@yas_ukey: 今年は桜咲くのが早く新入社員の大事な仕事、花見の場所取りはなくなったので、別の部分で同期と差をつけるんだ

@yas_ukey: New worker’s mission, reserving a hanami spot become impossible this year. Find some other ways to have a leg up on your fellow colleagues.

Company's hanami party at Ueno Park, Tokyo Photo by Benson (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A Japanese company holds hanami party at Ueno Park,
Tokyo. Photo by Benson (CC BY-ND 2.0)

On the other hand, others were puzzled by the tradition. Masumiyutaka (‏@masumiyutaka) tweeted:

‏@masumiyutaka: 昔は4月の入学式くらいに桜のイメージだったけれど、もう3月後半のイメージ。段々早まっているから、4月に新入社員が花見の場所取りするという良くわからない伝統がなくなるかしら。

@masumiyutaka: I have an image of cherry trees beginning to bloom in April around the time of school entrance ceremony in the old days. But nowadays, the image of blooming cherry blossom is the latter half of March. Blooming is getting earlier and earlier. So the weird tradition of new employees taking place for hanami spot in April would possibly disappear?

Not everyone supports the tradition of rookie employees serving as party location placeholders. An online article by business newspaper NIKKEI.com reported [ja] that telling junior employees to reserve hanami spots could fall under the two of six categories of power harassment specified by the Ministry of Health and Welfare – excessive demands, such as assigning work that is impossible to perform or obviously unnecessary; and intrusion upon the individual, such as intrusion into an employee's personal life.

In free posting site Hatelabo, an anonymous user was strongly opposed [ja] to the custom:

新人に花見の場所取りをさせる会社ってまだあるのか? 外国育ちの俺には心底意味がわからん。 勤務時間外に付き合わせるだけに飽きたらず場所取りって! 人を何だと思ってるんだ。 俺なら絶対にやらないね。絶対にだ。

Are there still companies that force new employees to take place for company’s hanami spot? As someone who grew up in a foreign country, I really don’t get it. On top of the heavy social obligation after working hours, to use them for reserving a spot? Who the hell do they think they are? I will never ever accept it. No way.

Another anonymous user responded to the comment:

外国育ちでも新入社員でもないし若者でもないんだけど、同意。 好きな人がやるのはいいんだけど、集団が個人に強制するのはよくないよねー。なにごとも。

I didn't grow up in a foreign country, I'm not a new employee and I'm not young. But I agree with you. It's OK if you are willing to do it but it's not OK that society forces the individual to do it. Or of anything.

Japanese businessmen working in the park Photo by GaijinSeb (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Japanese businessmen working in the park.
Photo by GaijinSeb (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On Twitter, user xxxxxlg (@xxxxxlg) wrote about his personal experience with the spring tradition:

@xxxxxlg: 1,2年目の新人による上野公園でのお花見会のミーティングが行われた。事業本部100人が参加する大花見会なため予算やスケジュールなどかなり細かく考えなければならないらしい。ちなみに当日の花見の場所取りは徹夜。

@xxxxxlg: First and second year workers had a meeting for a hanami party in Ueno Park. Apparently, we have to plan the detail of budget and schedule for the big hanami party that 100 people participated from operational headquarters. By the way, taking spot for the hanami party kicks off the night before the day.

 

The thumbnail image used in this post is taken by lestaylorphoto on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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