In Japan, a country known for its corporate loyalty and lifetime employment, job hoppers are often seen as quitters. This is considered shameful.
Enter “taishoku daiko” or “departure agent”. Dozens of such services have popped up over the past few years to help those who just want to get out.
“Imagine a chaotic divorce,” said Yoshihito Hasekawa, head of Tokyo-based TRK. TRK’s Guardian service last year advised 13,000 people on how to quit their jobs with the least amount of trouble.
Even when they are unhappy, people often keep working, feeling like a “kamikaze”, sacrificing their lives for the greater good, he said. He likens his clients to pilots sent on suicide missions at the end of World War II.
“That’s the way things are done, like young people are taught to respect older people,” he said. “Giving up is tantamount to betrayal.”
Founded in 2020, Guardian is a food and labor services company that has helped all kinds of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, get out of the jobs and pain they wanted to quit. These include those who work at shrines, dentists’ offices and law firms, as well as convenience store and restaurant workers.
Nearly half of Guardian’s clients are women. Some people work for a day or two and then discover that the promise of wages or hours was false.
Guardian charges 29,800 yen ($208) for its services, which include three months of membership to a union that will represent an employee in Japan’s negotiating process, which can quickly become delicate and awkward.
In general, Guardian’s clients are small and medium-sized businesses that employ the most Japanese. Sometimes people who work in large companies ask for help. In many cases, bosses have a lot of say in how things work, sometimes simply refusing to agree to let workers go, especially given Japan’s chronic labor shortage, where many locations are already understaffed.
Japanese law basically guarantees people the right to resign, but some employers accustomed to the old-style hierarchical system cannot accept the people they train and want to leave. Those involved in the smoking cessation struggle interviewed for this story used terms such as “fanatic”, “bully” and “little Hitler” to describe such bosses.
The pressure of conformist “workaholics” in Japanese culture is very heavy. Workers don’t want to be seen as troublemakers, are unwilling to question authority, and may be afraid to speak up. They may worry about being harassed after resigning. Some people worry about the opinions of family or friends.
While most of The Guardian’s clients prefer to remain anonymous, a young man who goes by the online name Twichan sought help after being criticized for his sales performance and became so depressed he contemplated suicide. With Guardian’s help, he quit smoking in 45 minutes.
Taku Yamazaki, who went to another daiko, said his former employer was a subsidiary of a large IT provider and he knew his departure would be complicated and time-consuming because he had done a good job there.
“I have a certain appreciation for where I’m leaving, but I want to make a mental shift and move forward as quickly as possible,” he said.
When people fill out the taishoku daiko online form, the system automatically responds within minutes and promises a more personalized response within one business day.
Akiko Ozawa, a lawyer whose firm advises the unemployed and often represents companies, admits it’s hard to believe people can’t just walk away.
“But in Japan, changing jobs is a major challenge and requires a lot of courage,” said Ozawa, who has written a book about taiko drums. Given the shortage of workers in Japan, finding and training replacements has been difficult, and bosses sometimes fly into a rage when someone quits.
“As long as this Japanese mentality exists, the demand for my work will not go away,” said Ozawa, who charges 65,000 yen ($450) for her services. “If you’re so unhappy that you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, then you should make a choice to take control of your life.”
Another resignation service, Albatross, offers “MoMuri,” or “Can’t Take It Anymore,” for a fee of 22,000 yen ($150) for full-time employees and a cheap 12,000 yen ($80) for some employees – Time Worker .
Its founder, Shinji Tanimoto, said workplace issues have always existed, but people are now realizing they can get help online.
“They told us they couldn’t sleep at all before, but now they can finally sleep when they want,” he said of MoMuri’s customers. “Users have been thanking us. Some have shed tears of joy.”
A guy wants to quit his job at a pet salon where the staff secretly kick animals. Another wanted to quit his job at a dental office where the staff didn’t use new gloves for every patient.
Many were women working as nurses or caregivers who were asked to stay until a replacement was found, but ended up continuing to work a year later, he said.
Toshiyuki Niino founded Exit Inc., the frontrunner in daiku taiko, in 2018 after encountering a boss who constantly yelled at him. Another threatened to kill him.
He quit two jobs and saw an opportunity.
“I’m very proud that I started this type of work,” he said.
The exit fee is 20,000 JPY (140 USD). Employers now understand what a “big reward” is, and the resignation paperwork can be over within 15 minutes of being delivered.
Shinno said he never voiced his opinion at school, accusing Japan’s education system of producing obedient workers who cannot express themselves.
He is considering expanding his business, including mental health counseling, job referrals and perhaps overseas expansion.
Shinno laughs as he recounts how one of his own employees resigned through a rival agency and went on to start his own company, Dashi Dagong.
“It’s better if you can say for yourself that you want to quit,” he said.