Why Is Workplace Romance So Taboo in Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jennifer asks:

relationship between coworkers is unacceptable even if they are in different departments. In Fune no Amu, we see Nishioka-san and Miyoshi-san in a relationship but they can't be seen together out in public. Why is that? Is it a distraction? I don't see it as a problem here in the U.S. since my coworkers have partners in other department and it doesn't affect their work ethics. Is this a way to show professionalism?

Workplace romances are generally frowned upon in many companies around the world. "Don't sh** where you eat," as the saying goes. Romantic affairs at the office can lead to all sorts of ridiculous complications, from accusations of favoritism to inappropriate things happening in the conference room. Break-ups make working together distracting and emotional. Which isn't to say that every time people hook up at work, it ends up like some R-rated romantic comedy. But that said, people in love lose control of themselves sometimes, and it does affect the company.

While many companies go to varying degrees to prohibit or discourage office place romance (and, as you mention, some willfully make exceptions for inter-departmental romance), some Japanese companies are indeed very strict, and make fraternization a fireable offense. From what I can tell, however, most don't really go that far. I think the stories you've been reading might have leaned on this taboo a little harder than is realistic to give their story an element of forbidden love.

Office romances are somewhat rare, however, with only about 33% of Japanese workers reporting it as something that happens in their offices. Some companies in Japan are still stuck in Mad Men-era segregation by gender, with most of the women being treated as glorified secretaries ("OL" or "office ladies"), dead-end low level jobs that are expected to end once a woman gets married and has children. OL often have uniforms (while the men wear suits), and are basically not treated like part of the company: they're left to fraternize with themselves. OL's were a big thing for decades, but recent years have seen a boom in women at the workplace in Japan. But still, many women work in fields where there simply aren't many men around: social work, nursing, teaching, retail and cooking.

Japan is so work obsessed that most people don't even have the opportunity to meet someone from outside their work. Single people don't have time or many options to find love outside of their workplace. This is one of many reasons people give when citing Japan's incredibly low birth rate.

But when office romances do happen, the couples tend to be extremely discreet about it. Some of them keep it SO secret that their coworkers don't even know that they got married. Some of them fear that one of them would get transferred to another department (out of fairness to coworkers), or some close boss or co-worker feeling betrayed or uncomfortable. Or maybe they just like to keep their private life private.

Regardless, office romances don't really happen in Japan very often, and when they do, they're kept on the DL for the most part.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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