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Ordinary Japanese 'salarymen' reach TikTok stardom

Daikyo Security Chief Executive Daisuke Sakurai, right, and General Manager Tomohiko Kojima hold awards they won recently for their Tik Tok videos in a hallway of Daikyo Security Co.'s Tokyo headquarters, on Aug. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

TOKYO (AP) -- They're your run-of-the-mill "salarymen," as company workers in Japan are called -- hard-working, friendly and, well, rather regular.

    But the chief executive and general manager at a tiny Japanese security company are among the nation's biggest TikTok stars, drawing 2.7 million followers and 54 million likes, and honored with awards as a trend-setter on the video-sharing app.

    Daikyo Security Co.'s account, which gathers goofy dances, gobbled instant noodles and other everyday fare, is the brainchild of the company president.

    Despite his unpretentious demeanor, Daisuke Sakurai is dead serious about not only enhancing brand power but also recruiting young people to his company, a challenge he sees as a matter of survival.

    Founded in 1967, Daikyo has 85 employees, 10 of them working at the headquarters office, tucked away on the second floor of an obscure building in a downtown Tokyo alley.

    "Our job is among those labeled 'Three-K' in Japan," Sakurai said, referring to "kitsui, kitanai, kiken," meaning, "hard, dirty and dangerous."

    A common job for Daikyo guards is to work at construction sites, directing traffic with a flashing stick, making sure the trucks come and go safely without running over pedestrians.

    It's not a job that requires overly special skills, but no one wants to stand around outdoors for hours. As many as 99 security companies are fighting over every recruit, in contrast to two potential employers for office clerks, Sakurai said.

    And this is in rapidly aging Japan, where every sector is suffering a labor shortage.

    So why not turn to social media, the place where youngsters supposedly flock? Sakurai started posting on Twitter and Instagram. But it was when he went on TikTok that things went viral.

    In a hit segment, General Manager Tomohiko Kojima slaps, with a flip of his hand, gel sheets, each decorated with the eyes of various comic-book characters, on his boss's face, right over his eyes.

    "What is this character?" the subtitles ask in English.

    No cuts are used, they say proudly. Kojima had to keep trying until the strip landed just right.

    "I don't practice during my work hours," he said with a laugh.

    The clips have a clear message: They defy the stereotype of rigidly hierarchical, perhaps even oppressive, Japanese companies. At Daikyo, a worker gets to slap gel sheets on the CEO.

    Before TikTok, the number of people applying for jobs at Daikyo was zero. After TikTok, the company is getting dozens of applicants, including those of people who want to work on the videos.

    Some of the videos, such as one in which the workers cook up a scrumptious omelet, unfold to the sounds of snappy songs, like "World's Smallest Violin" by American pop trio AJR.

    They all depict the happy yet humble life of uniformed men and women at work who don't take themselves too seriously.

    They are Japan's good guys. And it's clear they like each other very much.

    Their success contrasts with the image of Japan Inc. as falling behind in digital technology, especially of older men who are fixed in their ways and unable to embrace new technology.

    These days, TikTok is flooded with businesses seeking attention, from "izakaya" pubs and hair salons to taxi companies.

    Sakurai has his eyes on global influence now, hoping to draw workers from places like Vietnam and Indonesia, and allowing them to work in English.

    And so a recent video features gel sheets with various nations' flags on them, a clip that has drawn thousands of comments and millions of views.

    Slap a flag from Mongolia, and viewers from Mongolia comment in gratitude. Others request their favorite flags, be it Lithuania or Lebanon.

    It's a sign TikTok has helped Daikyo overcome language and cultural barriers by simply hamming it up and getting a laugh.

    "What makes my job worthwhile is that it's about people," Kojima said.

    "What draws me are people, not things."

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