English translation - 06.6.28
The song of his life
Why a Japanese man sings since 1981 in front of the
NOBODY IS PAYING attention to Tetsuro Tanaka. The
guards of the technology company Oki are barely
looking up, when he parks his grey motor scooter in
front of the gate. The school children running past
are ignoring him, when he puts his cowboy hat on his
shoulder length hair, installs a microphone stand and
hangs his guitar around his neck. The workers surging
through the gate are looking embarrassedly to the
side, when he starts to sing. It is shortly before 8am
in Hachioji, a university town in the Tokyo
metropolitan area. Tetsuro Tanaka, 58, has been
standing here at the same time for half an hour every
day. Since he got laid off 25 years ago.
Tetsuro Tanaka sings with a high voice, passionately,
like an Asian Bob Dylan. They are peace songs, written
by himself, in English, so the world can understand
him. "Isn't it bad to discriminate", Tanaka sings,
"isn't it bad to exclude?'
Tanaka feels he has been discriminated against and
excluded by Oki, one of Japan's biggest technology
corporations, which produces printer and
telecommunication devices. Tanaka's fight against Oki
started in 1978, when the company laid off 1300
At that time Tanaka worked as an engineer at Oki. He
assembled integrated semiconductor circuits, for 9
years, since completion of college. Tanaka wasn't one
of the laid off workers, and he actually was not a
fighter, he was interested in arts and led the
company's mandoline club.
But he couldn't understand that the union didn't
protest against the layoffs, after all, the fired
workers were young fathers, like himself. When the
company demanded shortly after, that the employees
prove their loyalty with group morning exercises,
Tanaka refused and stayed at his desk. He was the only
He who doesn't exercise with us, is against us, the
company management said. And he who meets with
traitors is one himself.
Tanaka got less and less work, he only was allowed to
assist, and his salary was reduced. One after another
the mandoline players left Tanaka's club, and nobody
answered when he wished them a good morning. " I would
like to invite you to my wedding", a coworker friend
said, "but you know". When Tanaka ran as a candidate
for the company union, he knew he had no chance. Of
course the favorites of the management won.
Tetsuro Tanaka received his pink slip on June 29th,
1981. The company just turned 100 years old and Tanaka
33. He refused to go when he was transferred to
another company branch - in his view a punishment for
his rebelliousness. The next morning he stood in front
of the gate and sang for the first time.
Tanaka already reckoned that Oki would fire him and he
had prepared and saved money. His sons were just two
and four years old, and his wife didn't earn enough
money as a preschool teacher to feed the family all
alone. In case of necessity he would have had to sell
his condominium. In the afternoon Tanaka gave guitar
lessons to finance his singing in the morning. After a
while so many students came to his classes, that he
didn't really need the job at Oki any more. And he
actually didn't want it any longer.
Tanaka planned to keep singing for about three years
nevertheless, as a protest. Maybe some day Oki would
apologize to him and admit that they intimidated and
harassed the employees.
The apology didn't come after three years, not after
20 years either. It didn't come at all, and Tetsuro
Tanaka kept singing. At the same time he filed
lawsuits, as far up as the supreme court, but he lost
all of them. His candidacy for the Japanese upper
house was unsuccessful, too.
But after all, Tanaka's songs outlasted 12 Japanese
prime ministers, 4 Oki CEO's and one Japanese emperor.
Once a year he gives a flaming speech against
discrimination at Oki's shareholder's general meeting.
They are required to let him in, since he bought a few
shares of the company.
Every third Friday he sings in front of the Oki
headquarters in Tokyo.
And every 29th of the month he celebrates his "Firing
Day". Then he is not alone in front of the factory,
but with his supporters. They are retired Oki
employees, who don't need to worry about their job any
more. On Firing Day they put up colorful umbrellas and
camping chairs and sing for five hours, "don't turn
your head away from what you see".
Meanwhile Tetsuro Tanaka has spent almost 9000 hours
in front of the company gate. His victory is that
after him no Oki employee ever was transferred as
punishment again. They don't want to risk acquiring a
second Tanaka, he thinks.
The guards in their blue uniforms have never tried to
send him away. They wouldn't dare. They are much
younger than him. Tanaka was there before them.
By Kristina Allgoewer