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2.3 Initiation into a Company as Cultural Community: Sony

Those who enter a school or company in a same year are called “dōki (contemporaries).” The military song of “Dōki-no-Sakura” is a song about those who joined the former Army Aviation Corps at the same time. The initiation ceremonies for the “corporate warriors” are generally held on the first day of April in Japan. Lately, however, some companies hold their initiation ceremonies before graduation ceremonies in March for early training and education. Some leading companies perform no simultaneous initiation ceremonies. Usually, some addresses at welcome ceremonies for new employees by famous presidents reflecting social conditions are reported in newspapers on the second day of April.

These fellow workers who joined the company simultaneously participate in sweet and bitter aspects of company life with each other as both “dōki” and rivals. The ties of the age group in a company are based on joining a company simultaneously in April. From the anthropological viewpoint, such a “dōki” system overlaps with the age-set initiation into warrior groups in the Oceanic islands, the Amazonian rain forest, and Africa.

The age-grade system was developed in fishing villages in Japan. Wakamono (Wakashū)-yado for young men and musume-yado for young women are cases in point. Young men lived together in a house (called wakamono-yado) owned by a person who acted as de facto parent; they engaged in labor and guarding. Relations within the wakamono-yado developed into bonds of mutual aid regardless of territorial affiliation or blood ties. The young men enjoyed themselves there and visited women under cover of night. It was natural to form a love relationship between a young man and a young woman through the relationship between wakamono-yado and musume-yado. The wakamono-yado tradition has become obsolete. In modern times, however, a company hostel for bachelors assumes a role similar to that of the wakamono-yado.

The grade system of dōki and seniors/juniors in a school has been maintained to some extent in the company. Though the solidarity and the sense of rivalry of dōki and seniors/juniors are less strong than those of dōki and academic cliques in the bureaucratic system, the above imperfect grade system has functioned as a “seken.” This “seken” refers to the group to which one considers himself affiliated. In this sense, a new employee is placed into a unique seken consisting of seniors, dōki, and later juniors.

Entering a company simultaneously in April is a Japanese custom which is rare in the world. Although the age-grade system is the basis for entering a company simultaneously in April, the direct model is the school entrance ceremony. From the viewpoint of a salaried worker, the initiation ceremony is a dreamful and hopeful ceremony at the start of his career as a company employee. On the other hand, from the viewpoint of the employer, the initiation ceremony is held to start applying what is called a lifetime employment system.

The lifetime employment system combines entering a company with retiring from it. However, not every new employee continues to work for the same company until retirement age, nor does the company necessarily ensure continued employment of the new employee to retirement age. The lifetime employment system is limited to male regular employees in large enterprises. Some employees are sent on loan to subsidiary or affiliated companies along the way, and only a few employees remain at the same company to retirement age. By the same token, the company makes no agreement with new employees to ensure employment to retirement age. The company may invite voluntary retirement and may advise early retirement. Nevertheless, it is thought that the lifetime employment system took root in Japan during the period of rapid economic growth after World War II, and it is understood that the system faced a crisis of collapse in the 1990s when the restructuring storm raged.

This section focuses on the initiation ceremony of Sony and, along with introducing its actual conditions, identifies its distinctive features and discusses the character of Sony as a cultural community in relation to the lifetime employment system and initiation.

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