Do Japanese companies have banishment rooms?

by on June 1, 2013 at 7:58 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

This seems speculative, but of interest nonetheless:

Basically, banishment rooms are departments where companies transfer surplus employees and give them menial or useless tasks or even nothing to do until they become depressed or disheartened enough to quit on their own, thus not getting full benefits, unlike if they were actually let go. Imagine having to stare at a TV monitor for 10 hours at a time each day, in order to look for “program footage irregularities.” Of course companies would not admit to doing this, and instead will make up generic (or even creative) titles and department names like “Business & Human Resource Development Center” or “career development team”. And it’s not small companies that are doing this, but big ones like Hitachi Ltd., Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp., Seiko Instruments Inc., a NEC Corp. subsidiary, and two subsidiaries of Panasonic Corp.

A public relations from the main office of Panasonic said that the BHC section is “training employees to acquire new skills so they can work at different sections,”. 468 employees were added to this department in April, mostly coming from sections that were doing poorly. In short, 1 in 10 workers at the company are at the BHC. So far, only 35 employees have left the company while 29 got transferred to other departments.

Via Mark Thorson, the story is here.  Here is another article about banishment rooms, with more documentation and more legal detail about the difficulties of firing employees.

Elsewhere from Japan, a new and possibly very effective malaria vaccine has been invented.  Here is electronic Samurai sword quick draw and cut trainers.  Here is an argument that competitive vending machines make Japanese inflation more difficult to achieve.

1 Dirck June 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

Sounds like Jerry Della Femina’s “Floor of Forgotten Men “.

2 anon June 1, 2013 at 9:16 am

banishment rooms are departments where companies transfer surplus employees and give them menial or useless tasks

Sounds like the rubber rooms in NYC schools. Whoops, I mean “reassignment centers.”

And this practice was probably more common in the US pre-1970s when many people worked for a single company for most of their life. The Iron Rice Bowl was an international dish.

3 buddyglass June 1, 2013 at 9:30 am

When I read this I hear “privately funded unemployment benefits” and not “devious way to avoid paying severance”. Though, of course, it’s both. Think of it this way: the company is continuing to compensate you at your full salary while getting nothing in return. Meanwhile, you’re stuck doing something tedious, but at least you’re still getting paid. When a more exciting and lucrative job present itself (and it certainly behooves you to start looking) then you can go ahead and take it. Otherwise you can continue to draw a steady check, with the possibility of being transferred out of the “banishment room” and back into something more interesting.

From the employee’s perspective this is a “good deal” if his prospects of finding a new job (after being laid off) are sufficiently poor that the income loss from his expected period of unemployment (before finding a new position) outweighs the severance benefits he lost by use of the “banishment room”.

In a tight market where finding a new job is trivial the banishment room represents a poor value proposition. When the job market sucks, though, many people probably wish they were sent to a “banishment room” instead of being laid off.

4 Dan Weber June 1, 2013 at 10:32 am

The ideal way to dismiss an employee is to tell him “we want you to quit, so start looking for a new job now.” This doesn’t seem that far from it, if it works the way you describe.

These rubber-rooms seem to adversely select against conscientious workers. Some people are perfectly okay to sit and stare at a wall for hours, but the conscientious want to do something productive with their time.

5 Tom Hynes June 1, 2013 at 9:50 am

Somebody has to manage the banishment rooms. Make sure everybody shows up, give them meaningless tasks, etc. Do you assigned a banishee to this task? If you do, he is not really banished. Suppose you have a manager that everybody hates and all his employees quit. Transfer him to manage the banishment room, suddenly he is a top producer.

6 gwern June 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

> Do you assigned a banishee to this task? If you do, he is not really banished.

What makes you say that? Even in the Nazi death camps, the kapos eventually joined their fellows in the graves. There’s no reason to expect a bad manager to immediately become a good

7 AndrewL June 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

Vending machines holding back inflation? seriously?

Go to any amusement park in the US. the prices for drinks in those things are ridiculous! I wonder how the vending machine operators can possibly make any money?

Train station, airports waiting rooms… prices for the same product can vary along, yet they all manage to make money somehow… Wonder how they do it…

8 dearieme June 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

Surely there are whole university departments devoted to menial or useless tasks?

9 Christopher Dillon June 1, 2013 at 10:48 am

This has been going on for years, in a slightly different form. Surplus or troublesome workers were moved to the periphery of the open plan office — typically near the windows and away from the center where the boss sat and where decisions were made — and given no work to do. They were known as madogiwa zoku (

10 Yancey Ward June 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

All companies in downsizing modes practice this in a variation. The employees they would like to get rid of are moved onto jobs/projects that are basically never going to go anywhere (already have a record of failure) so that a written record of failure can be produced on said employees, who can then be fired for cause.

11 Bill Harshaw June 1, 2013 at 11:38 am

Used to call them “turkey farms” when I worked for the government. Disaster/civil defense units were good.

12 Jim June 1, 2013 at 11:49 am

No need for a separate room, your cubicle will do just fine. I have seen this at major US firms: give the person nothing to do and wait for them to quit.

13 Mike H June 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm

This is by no mean a Japanese-only phenomenon. For example, pilots that are employed by airlines and charter operators would sometimes get “grounded” as punishment for bad performances or other safety violations. For many airlines and operators around the world this is a common way to get rid of an unwanted pilot. Since certain flying “recency” is needed to keep one’s licenses and ratings, the pilot will soon be forced to find another job even though he is still being paid during the grounded period.

14 Mike June 1, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Old news. The term is madogiwazoku ( which roughly translates to window watcher. They idle away watching the window. And perhaps greeting foreign execs. What’s changed is the degree of force nudging folks out.

15 asdf June 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Trying to make people quite by abusing them is an old employer trick.

16 Peter June 2, 2013 at 2:38 am

Ditto with the previous posters, this is by no means limited to Japan. I’ve seen it in US in both private and public entities once you hit a certain size where individual employees lack of productivity no longer has a real affect on the output. In my current organization all the subpar employee’s at the field site are sent to the regional headquarters and given staff / desk jockey jobs (but never key roles such as finance, supervisor, etc) and those that can’t even cut that often get sent to national headquarters where each major division has it’s own banishment office (in the CIO that’s “enterprise architecture”, in the CFO it’s “attached budget analyst to other non-CFO division”, etc etc); we will even promote you to get you there. Basically if you have fifteen or less years until retirement AND already been with the organization at least ten years, we park you there where you are harmless until you retire. For more difficult cases where folk can’t even manage to do that (your sole duty is to show up 9 to 5 and surf the internet, nothing else) we simply force them to telework five days a week with their only deliverable being “Submit your timecard bi-weekly”.

The problem with “stick them there until they get frustrated and quit” is that marginal folk like this don’t get frustrated and quit; it’s why they are being assigned these duties in the first place. They are unemployable elsewhere and know it; they also have zero professional pride or work ethic hence “Show up and surf youtube all day” is fine with them as that’s what they have been doing the past ten year anyways.

17 TR W June 2, 2013 at 2:45 am

Westerners in Japan are in metaphorical banishment rooms until they become disheartened and leave Japan. This thinking seems to pervade East Asia because Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam do the same things.. Non-East Asian immigrants find it difficult to find jobs let alone upward advancement so they end up leaving.

18 Mike H June 2, 2013 at 4:54 am

Is that so? Can we assume that Asian immigrants (or any other immigrant of non-Western origin for that matter) in America would find it easy to find jobs and seek upward advancement in our corporate/social hierarchy? Really?

I will tell you the truth, if a Westerner is willing to learn the local culture and can speak Japanese just as well as an average Asian immigrant in America speaks English, he will have no problem getting a decent job and live a good life there. The problem is a lot of Westerners in Japan do neither of that. Lesson for all Westerners in Japan: If you don’t want them to call you Gaijin, stop being one.

19 TR W June 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Discrimination against non-East Asians is rampant in East Asia. That’s why you can fit all Westerners in Japan in one soccer stadium while there are 1.3 million Japanese in the United States. The same thing can be said with Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. People have voted with their feet and everyone can see it’s a one-way system.

20 Cory June 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Actually, Western expats in Japan and East Asia generally have it better than East Asian immigrants.The Southeast Asian immigrants have it the worst.

21 R Chmielowiec June 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Actually, Western expats in Japan and East Asia generally have it better than East Asian immigrants.The Southeast Asian immigrants have it the worst.


That was my experience as an expat in Japan and Taiwan.

I don’t think TR W knows what he’s talking about here. All of TR W’s comments at Marginal Revolution are about criticizing and insulting Asians, so I imagine that’s what his comment is about, rather than any knowledge of the place.

22 TR W June 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm

R Chmielowiec, half of the articles on Marginal Revolution are about East Asia. There are legions of posters on MR who are critical of the West. It’s not my fault they play soft with the rest of the world. BTW, I do comment on a variety of topics on MR.

23 R Chmielowiec June 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm

All your comments appear to be about criticizing and insulting Asians:…1234.7312.0.7507.…0.0…1c.1.15.psy-ab.-h-q3NI50hE&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.47244034,d.dmQ&fp=df2c1034d2b67a94&biw=1366&bih=638

24 TR W June 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm

That’s the standard BS that is given out. No Westerners do not have it better than East Asian immigrants as far as the job market, citizenship, right to vote, healthcare etc. The only jobs Westerners get are English teacher or translator. A few Westerners mainly from Australia are recruited to be cops or railroad conductors. All those jobs have short-terms contracts lasting no more than five years and usually the contracts are terminated before the expiration date. Westerners then face rampant job discrimination forget about visa issues, become disheartend and leave.

25 R Chmielowiec June 2, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Well, you’re just wrong. Japan and the East Asian countries in general have strict immigration policies that are strict towards all foreigners. Immigrants from other East Asian countries in Japan and other East Asian countries generally don’t have it better than Westerners. The immigrants from South Asia and South East Asia have it the worst and suffer the most discrimination. You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about and are just asserting falsehoods out of some axe to grind against Asians.

26 TR W June 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

No, East Asian immigrants in Japan are treated better than Westerners. That is born out in the fact that several of the richest people in Japan are Korean or Chinese. They have been able to move up in Japanese society in a way Westerners are not allowed to. East Asian immigrants have greater rights that are closer to Japanese than non-East Asian immigrants.

27 R Chmielowiec June 4, 2013 at 3:17 am

No, you’re wrong. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Koreans in Japan have traditionally been the only significant East Asian immigrant community, and they have been discriminated against for generations and have disproportionately comprised the underclass. Contemporary Chinese immigrants to Japan are largely relegated to menial jobs and are discriminated against. Westerners are generally treated the best among all the “gaijin” in Japan. South East Asians and South Asians are the most discriminated against.

28 Mike H June 3, 2013 at 4:33 am

“The only jobs Westerners get are English teacher or translator.”

….because most of those Western expats have little qualifications, speak only English and can’t even pronounce a word in Japanese/Chinese/Korean? What do you expect? Why should companies like Mitsubishi or Asus hire some foreigners that can’t even speak their language in the workplace?

29 TR W June 3, 2013 at 8:20 pm

American companies hire people who can’t speak English all the time. Immigrants in Japan do have qualifications. Japanese just make excuses not to hire Westerners which are deeply rooted in prejudice.

30 Mike H June 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

“American companies hire people who can’t speak English all the time.” [citation needed]

31 TR W June 3, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Mike H, where’s the cititation for Westerners in Japan not having skills? Can you show us a study on that?

“Spanish-speaking or Hispanic workforce increased 36 percent times faster than other ethnic groups between 1996 and 2006 and will make up more than 15 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2050”

32 Mike H June 4, 2013 at 12:56 am

Are you serious? Those non-English speaking “jobs” are about picking strawberries or building prefabricated homes, not exactly the kind of high paying, career advancing, office jobs we are talking about here. The equivalent of those jobs in Japan I can think of are washing dishes in a sushi restaurant or making burgers in one of the McDonalds. Western expats will have no problem getting those jobs in Japan even if they don’t speak Japanese, the question is whether they would do it at all.

“where’s the cititation for Westerners in Japan not having skills?”

Doesn’t matter if you have a Master’s or a PhD. As long as you can’t speak their language your choices of job will be severely limited and that’s the same for everywhere else.

33 TR W June 4, 2013 at 2:48 am

Mike H, where’s your citation that Westerners in Japan have no skills? Where’s the citation that Westerners don’t learn Japanese?

I produced two links of studies just of Spanish speaking immigrants in the United States. Yes, those jobs tend to be lower paying jobs. However, with time in the US many of them learn English and move up the ladder. There are many immigrants who spoke non-English languages when they came to the United States and went up the ladder and along the way learned English like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Japanese actively and doggedly make sure Westerners do not move up the ladder in Japan. They make sure Westerners stay at the bottom of the rung, job-wise. And Japanese will throw every excuse out of why that is except for their own prejudice.

34 R Chmielowiec June 4, 2013 at 3:06 am

Mike H,

TR W doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That’s why he’s bringing up Hispanics in the US. He’s never worked in Japan or Asia. I’ve worked for years in Japan and Taiwan.

He seems to have an axe to grind against Asians. So he’s not concerned with the truth here. He’s just interested in this as an opportunity to criticize Japan and East Asia. All of his comments at Marginal Revolution are about criticizing and insulting Asians:…1234.7312.0.7507.…0.0…1c.1.15.psy-ab.-h-q3NI50hE&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.47244034,d.dmQ&fp=df2c1034d2b67a94&biw=1366&bih=638

35 R Chmielowiec June 4, 2013 at 4:35 am

Carlos Ghosn is currently the Chairman and CEO of Nissan. Howard Stringer, a Brit, was recently Chairman and CEO of Sony. Another Brit was recently CEO of Olympus. These are major flagship Japanese conglomerates. Chinese and other East Asians in Japan face greater discrimination in attaining these positions. South East Asians and South Asians face the greatest discrimination in attaining these positions and only have access to the most menial labor for employment.

36 TR W June 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Apparently, R Chmielowiec is a minder. Probably using a Polish name as cover too.

Michael Woodford, the CEO of Olympus, was CEO for two weeks. Howard Stringer and Carlos Ghosn are aberrations. They don’t even have Japanese citizenship. They like all Westerners are seen as temporary residents. Masayoshi Son and Han Chang-Woo have Japanese cititzenship and are two of the richest people in Japan. They started businesses in Japan which became very successful. You can’t name a single Westerner who has been allowed that kind of success in Japan.

I chose Spanish speakers because they are the most numerous and most studied in the United States. There are many non-English speakers in the US that have jobs and have moved up in society. You and Mike H make the claim that Westerners don’t speak Japanese or they can’t learn Japanese therefore they shouldn’t have jobs. I gave an example, Spanish speakers, who don’t speak English in the US that still have jobs.

Neither R Chmielowiec nor Mike H have disproven my initial observation that Westerners in Japan are given dead-end jobs and become discouraged by the bleak outlook that they leave. All you have done is name-called, stated false claims about the inadequacy of Westerners and given bogus excuses why Westerners are not allowed to move up Japanese society.

37 R Chmielowiec June 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm

The only minder here appears to be you. All of your comments on multiple posts at Marginal Revolution are about Asians:…1234.7312.0.7507.…0.0…1c.1.15.psy-ab.-h-q3NI50hE&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.47244034,d.dmQ&fp=df2c1034d2b67a94&biw=1366&bih=638

You have no idea what you’re talking about, which is why your examples Masayoshi Son and Han Chang-woo support my point. Masayoshi Son and Han Chang-woo are from the Korean-Japanese community, the largest non-Japanese population in Japan, one that has been in Japan for generations and is among the most discriminated groups in Japan. Korean-Japanese are disproportionately represented in the underclass and criminal class in Japan, such as in the Yakuza. Son and Han aren’t CEOs at traditional flagship Japanese conglomerates in a society where being part of a large corporation is more prestigious and confers more social status than being an entrepreneur. Son started a software company in a country where hardware companies are dominant and the most prestigious. Han started pachinko parlors, which are low-rent gambling devices, like slot machines.

38 TR W June 5, 2013 at 1:01 am

R Chmielowiec, you’re the minder. You post a link to my posts thinking that will intimidate me.

Your claims make no sense. Masayoshi Son and Han Chang-Woo are at the top of the economic food chain. They got to that position by Japanese supporting them. CEOS of conglomarate Japanese companies are more of a figure head, executives beneath them have greater power. Those rare examples of Westerner CEOs are to give an international face to the company. Your the one that has never given any examples to disprove my point. You have given examples of Westerners who are not citizens of Japan. Westerners are discriminated at the most basic level and that is citizenship. There are non-Japanese East Asians who have gained citizenship and are allowed to move up Japanese society.

39 R Chmielowiec June 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm

No, you’re the “minder”, as evidenced by the fact that all of your comments on multiple posts at Marginal Revolution are about Asians:…1234.7312.0.7507.…0.0…1c.1.15.psy-ab.-h-q3NI50hE&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.47244034,d.dmQ&fp=df2c1034d2b67a94&biw=1366&bih=638

I post the link as evidence, not to intimidate. Why should your own posts intimidate you?

Again, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Son and Han do not have the same prestige and social status as heads of traditional flagship Japanese conglomerates.

The fact is that all non-Japanese are discriminated against in Japan and discriminated “at the most basic level” and subject to strict, restrictive immigration and citizenship laws, including ethnically Japanese people from other countries, such as the Japanese-Brazilians who were paid to leave Japan en masse recently (essentially forcibly deported). Westerners are not the most discriminated against. That distinction goes to Southeast and South Asians. Non-Japanese East Asians are generally more discriminated against than Westerners.

You have no idea what you’re talking about, so stop lying. Why do you keep lying? You don’t need to lie to criticize and insult the Japanese or Asians. If you don’t know the facts of the matter, as you clearly don’t in this instance, you can just call them names or something. You don’t need to make stuff up.

40 TR W June 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Yes, you do post the link to intimidate. I don’t care though. Everything I wrote is true.

I never wrote Westerners are the most discriminated in Japan. I wrote that Westerners are more discriminated against than East Asian immigrants.

41 TallDave June 2, 2013 at 3:20 am

Imagine having to stare at a TV monitor for 10 hours at a time each day, in order to look for “program footage irregularities.”

“If you live in India, you can now get a job staring at a monitor that displays images of American doctors entering hospital rooms thousands of miles away. Your task is to sound an alarm if the doctor fails to wash his hands.”

There’s a moral to this story somewhere, but it’s late and I promised to help Kratos with something.

42 Steve June 2, 2013 at 6:11 am

I’d guess the yakuza has more impact on Japan vending machine prices than anything else.

43 nrohr June 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

In the food service industry, the practice is to give those employees 0 hours per week but keep them as “employees” until they decided to quit on their own.

44 Tangurena June 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm

For a cringeworthy movie that shows something real close to this sort of thing, I recommend “Fear and Trembling”.

“Bonus points” if you can watch it to the end.

45 Steve June 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

The free market will fix it

46 David Bley June 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm

This happens with individual jobs in the US.

47 DCBILLS June 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I experienced banishment first hand and won. I had a long struggle against an absurd management decision, won, and was banished. No one was assigned to monitor me (why waste another body) so I did as I pleased. Long walks, 3 hour lunches, arrive late, leave early, etc. Sweet. When all this became boring, I ran for union office, won, and began helping other banishees among others. Most could not follow my path and many did quit. Score one for the empire. Others made the transition. A couple started internet businesses on company time and were making double pay. Life is what you make of it. (Sorry, I don’t have the equation for that.)

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