A new sensation is taking over Japan. No, it’s not the herbivore man （草食男子）or another man marrying his digital girlfriend that lives in his Nintendo DS. No. It’s something much better.
Hanzawa Naoki is THE drama that is wrecking havoc all across that island we call Japan. Everyone and their Japanese dog is talking about this show. I’ve heard my Japanese friends rant and rave about it for the past few weeks, and last night the finale (10th episode) finally aired on TV.
My boss turned to me and said (rough translation into English),
“Did you know the final of Hanzawa Naoki aired last night on Japanese TV? Those ratings were outta whack.”
“Yeah, I heard that shiz. What were the final numbers?”
“50% yo! That’s half of the entire island of Japan watchin that crazy fool Hanzawa! Dat shit like the Olympics!”
It’s probably the highest rated thing to be on television in Japan in the past 50 years. It’s a sensation. It’s taking over the island. The caption in the photo above, “倍返しだ！” (and pay you back ten fold!) is on everyone’s lips. Hell, I even started to watch this show about 3 days ago and got extremely hooked. I watched 3 episodes in a day, and I only stopped because my Chinese internet crapped out.
Uhh… Who’s Hanzawa Naoki?
Hanzawa Naoki is a Japanese TV drama that follows the life of the protagonist, Hanzawa Naoki, and his foray into the world of banking and how he gets royally f’ed over.
So basically, Naoki’s bank only needs to complete one more 50 billion JPY in loan transactions to become the no.1 branch in Japan. To make a long story short, Naoki’s boss signs off a 50 billion JPY loan to a shady company so that they can attain this goal quickly. Although Naoki says that the boss shouldn’t be quick to act and an investigation of shady company should be conducted, the boss says:
“We need this transaction to go through. If there are any problems, I will take full responsibility.”
Shady company takes the loan, but a few weeks later we find out the company was in the red, had no money, and filed for bankruptcy. The yakuza-like-CEO of shady company is nowhere to be found, and that 50 billion is gone.
The HQ of Daiichi Bank is pissed as hell and asks Naoki’s boss: “how could you loan money to such a shady company without proper inspection!?”
Naoki’s boss replies: “It wasn’t my fault–it’s all Naoki’s fault.”
And, well, you get the picture. Naoki has to get 50 billion JPY back or lose his job, and he’s pissed as all hell because his boss is an a-hole that is using him as a scapegoat.
But Naoki is a badass mofo that says FU to all the bank authorities and beats people up with golf clubs in broad daylight. But hey, I’m giving away too much, go watch it for yourself.
Why is this show so popular? And what does it say about Japanese culture?
I recommend Hanzawa Naoki to all people studying Japanese, or who potentially want to work in Japan someday. Foreigners always hear the, “Japanese culture is different from the west” and “Japanese work society usually doesn’t go well with foreigners” and turn a deaf ear, thinking that they can handle culture shock no matter how great–but the reality is, the reason you don’t see westerners in Japanese companies isn’t because Japanese companies are racist: It’s because Japanese companies are nuts.
On top of crazy overtime and devoting your entire existence to the company, you have to put up with a-holes like Naoki’s boss–and trust me, they are in every Japanese company.
Japanese companies are very traditional and work on a hierarchy system. Even if you were the next Mark Zuckerburg and we’re about to invent a money-making, earth-changing idea like Facebook, the Japanese boss would shoot you down, take the idea for his own, and you still wouldn’t be promoted for another 10 years.
You move up in rank according to how many years you put into a company, and nothing is ever performance based. You could save the company from bankruptcy and still be a peon. That’s why Japanese people tend to work at one company their ENTIRE LIFE and most Japanese CEOs are over 60–you’re just not going to move up unless you stay there FOREVER.
On top of this, your superior is always right no matter what. If he says the Earth is flat, but you say it’s round, he’s going to scream at you and you’re going to have to bow and say ‘sumimasen’ for five minutes nonstop–even if you’re right.
Naoki’s Bad Situation–Only in Japan?
Naoki’s boss basically puts all the blame on Naoki to save his own neck, and he can do it because he’s senior and in Japan seniority is the ultimate authority.
But then, I thought about it: Does this happen in other countries too? While watching Hanzawa Naoki, I thought that such unbelievable office politics could happen only in Japan–but what if it was a Chinese, European, or even American bank? Could the senior get away with putting all the blame on the subordinate, and how would the subordinate handle it?
Since I’m American, all I can think of is the subordinate instantly blowing up, or even threatening to take him to court for fraud. In China, Chinese people are nuts so they would probably even start throwing punches as soon as the lie left the boss’ lips.
I wonder… do you think that most people would grin and bear it to avoid problems similar to the Japanese? Or would all hell break loose?
I always imagine Japanese and Western companies to operate on completely different planes, but I think in this situation, maybe it might be more similar than I think.
Why The Japanese Love Naoki
In Hanzawa Naoki, in front of the entire banking staff, the boss tells Naoki that everything is his fault and he has to secure 50 billion JPY. Naoki refuses to apologize or bow, and one of the vice-managers actually pushes Naoki to the ground and orders him to apologize.
In Japan, I’m sure this situation has occurred hundreds of times and everyone gets on their knees and says “I humbly apologize for my stupid actions.”
…But Naoki refuses.
When the banking authority tells Naoki that he’s scum, garbage, the worst banking manager to ever grace Daiichi Bank, bad in bed, a failure as a husband, an idiot, a mistake–he holds his temper in, and the viewer is on the edge of their seat waiting for his response.
When my boss yells at me at work (I got yelled at for writing my kanji ‘too ugly’), I have to bow and apologize even though I’m not even remotely sorry in the slightest. “I humbly apologize for my mistake, I was a fool and I did not realize that my kanji were so ugly. Please allow me to re-write my form and I will do a better job. Again, I humbly apologize.”
Does Naoki cave in?
Aw, hell no.
Naoki always says the wittiest, most emotionally-bitch-slapping reply you can think of. And you want to stand up and cheer for Naoki, cause hell, you tell that authoritarian who the f is in charge, man. You go dude.
There’s even a scene where he doesn’t use polite Japanese to talk to his superiors. This part even had me gasp, because usually when he disses the banking authority he at least adds an 頂けないでしょうか (couldn’t you please?) at the end. But oh no, when Naoki pissed, that ‘masu’ and ‘desu’ goes out the door. Even then, he gets pissed with such class and style you can’t help but think: Goddamn, you’re not a crazy mad man who has lost his temper–you’re just hella cool.
“In reality, you can’t really talk to your superior like that, right?” I asked my boss.
“Probably not. But that’s probably why the show is so popular in Japan, don’t you think? Everyone in Japan wants to do what Naoki is doing–chew out their boss.”
And that’s why Hanzawa Naoki is such a hit in Japan.
Salaryman all across Japan are living vicariously through him.
And maybe someday, perhaps, they might stand up to their boss one day, too.
Why should you watch Hanzawa Naoki?
1. If you’re an advanced learner of Japanese, it’s GREAT PRACTICE!
This drama is not a walk in the park. It happens in the banking world, so you’re going to learn words you never knew like tax evasion, embellishment, and IRS. You may have to whip out your dictionary every now and then, but this will definitely up your business Japanese (and not many dramas do that)
2. Learn about the Japanese corporate world
It’s a drama so, of course, it’s exaggerated to the max–but still, the spirit of corporate Japan is embodied very clearly in this drama. If you are thinking about working in a Japanese company, watch this show and then ask yourself: Can I put up with that?
3. Just watch a damn good show
It’s the best J-drama I’ve seen since Kaseifu no Mita (my maid mita), and it’s 100x better than that show. Just go google it now, do yourself a favor, and watch it.
Here’s the trailer for Hanzawa Naoki
(sorry, it’s in Japanese without English subtitles).