Before I started J-List in 1996, I had a brief career as a public employee, working in the local City Office as a “Coordinator of Internationalization” providing various services to foreigners in our city, translating documents for them if they couldn’t read Japanese, and so on. On my first day of work I was surprised to see that the department I’d been assigned to included about 25 people, all working in a giant open space with desks in rows, and being in a room where so many people had a direct line of sight to me at any moment was an unnerving experience. This kind of office layout is common in Japan — at one of our book distributors (Tohan), the entire company works in one cavernous space, with hundreds of employees occupying rows of desks, buzzing around the room or talking to clients quietly on the phone, without so much as a cubicle wall to hang a Dilbert strip on. While this is taking the open office concept a bit too far, running my own company in Japan has given me an appreciation for Japanese style workplaces. At J-List the employees work at an “island” of six desks pushed together, with each having a place to store the projects they’re working on, photograph products for posting on the site and so on. I honestly believe the lack of walls improves our communication since you can turn to anyone and ask when such-and-such product will be back in stock, and having everyone working alongside each other helps us all stay focused.
Japanese offices are open, without cubicles or walls.