Japan has been beset by a new wave of terrorism.
No, it's not Muslim radicals fighting for a Caliphate in Tokyo, or right-wing extremists bombing their way back to the "better days" of Great Japan. It's something far worse and nefarious that strikes at the beating heart of Japanese culture: part-time workers at convenience stores and restaurants doing the most disgusting things you can imagine with food.
The drama started earlier this month when a video was posted to Instagram of a part-time worker at Kura Sushi, a popular conveyor belt sushi chain, who appeared to shove a bunch of food into a trash can, then pick it up, put it back on his cutting board, and prepare it for customers.
While the workers filmed themselves snickering as they snagged footage of the conveyor, it's unclear whether the offending foodstuff ever made it to a customer's unsuspecting maw. But the perception was enough to give the Kura Corporation a huge black eye and to damage the value of their stock.
It would have been one thing if this incident had stopped with Kura Corporation. Alas, it was only the tip of the iceberg. A short time later, a similar video from karaoke chain Big Echo showed an employee rubbing a piece of fried chicken on the floor before plating it.
This was followed from a video showing a 7-11 employee eating shirataki noodles directly from the store's oden (boiled foods) basket, and then doing what I guess he considers his "shirataki dance":
Other incidents have since surfaced at additional businesses, including convenience store Family Mart and Chinese restaurant chain Bamiyan.
This wave of hygiene violations has become a hot topic on the Japanese talk show circuit, and has earned its own hypocorism: baito-tero (バイトテロ), or "part-time terror". It's not hard to understand why. Such incidents take multiple principles at the heart of Japanese culture - respect for food, cleanliness of food, respect for one's work, and customer obsession - and heartily flush them down the crapper.
What's Behind the Outbreak of Disgusting?
No doubt such things have been happening behind the scenes at restaurants and convenience stores for some time. But what explains the sudden viral explosion?
Writing on Blogos, writer Ikeda Hayato notes that, while videos of these incidents have been cross-posted to Twitter, most of them originated on Instagram, and were posted by workers or their friends on their Stories threads. Such technology likely paved the way by emboldening workers: the culprits appeared to feel that, because Stories disappear from Instagram within 24 hours, it would be a good way for them to blow off some steam without getting caught.
As the ensuing media storm shows, they were sadly mistaken.
For his part, Ikeda argues, "This happened in our generation, too - we just didn't have SNS technology." Ikeda questions whether we should be "destroying the lives of young teenage idiots," who have and always will exist. Rather, he suggests what he calls "part-time terrorism insurance" - a form of insurance that would allow companies to file for documentable losses incurred by misbehaving employees.
(JP) Link: Kura Sushi, Big Echo, 7-11...A Word About "Part-Time Terror". Is It Fine to Say, "Let Young Idiots Throw Their Lives Away"?
Another factor in this eruption of Part-Time Terror could be that peoples' confidence in Japanese companies has been shaken in the past decade. Japanese news over the past several years has been dominated by stories of "black part-time" (ブラックバイト; burakku baito) - part-time jobs where employees are overworked and subject to harassment. Perhaps workers are deciding that if companies don't care, then neither should they.
Japan's economic situation may also play a role. Asahi Shinbun notes that "Part-Time Terror" has been an ongoing issue for at least the last five years. Lawyer Kobayashi Yasuhiko ties the cause to a combination of Japan's labor shortage, and the low ages that are dole out to part-time workers:
It's hard to get good help when you're paying low wages for a job where employees are beset by customer claims and long hours, but expecting top performance even for a part-time job....I don't think low wages is directly connected to posting of videos online...[but] a suitable wage is necessary for people to demonstrate leadership and take responsibility. If you want good talent you can't avoid raising wages, and I can see that cost being made a part of the product. The question is whether society will accept that.
(JP) Link: "Part-Time Terror" Continues; Enterprises Take Legal Measures; Necessary to Raise Wages?
Wage hikes for workers in the convenience and service industries have been proposed in the past, but the idea always dies in the face of the Japanese public's unwillingness to pay more for the convenience of eating on the go, which is essential to sustaining work days that can run 12-plus hours. I don't think you'll see much progress on that front until more workers in corporate offices are working fewer hours, or working in alternative arrangements, such as periodically working from home.
In the meantime, you can expect this won't be the last we hear of this phenomenon. If you work in Japan, you might want to consider packing your own bento until this reign of terror subsides.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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