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Ordinary ‘salarymen’ reach TikTok stardom

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / AUG. 22
                                A Daikyo TikTok post featuring Sakurai, left, and Kojima.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / AUG. 22

    A Daikyo TikTok post featuring Sakurai, left, and Kojima.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / AUG. 22
                                Daikyo Security Co. General Manager Tomohiko Kojima tapes a TikTok video with CEO and president Daisuke Sakurai, as seen in the screen of the cell phone, at the Tokyo headquarters office of Daikyo.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / AUG. 22

    Daikyo Security Co. General Manager Tomohiko Kojima tapes a TikTok video with CEO and president Daisuke Sakurai, as seen in the screen of the cell phone, at the Tokyo headquarters office of Daikyo.

TOKYO >> 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 trendsetters on the video-sharing app.

Daikyo Security Co.’s account, dkykeibi_tokyo, which posts goofy dances, silly skits and other typical TikTok fare, is the brainchild of the company president and CEO.

Despite his unpretentious demeanor, Daisuke Sakurai is dead serious about not only enhancing brand power but 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 unassuming 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 specialized skills, but few want to work standing around outdoors for hours. As many as 99 security companies are fighting over every recruit, Sakurai said, while in contrast, there are just two potential employers for every office clerk applicant.

In rapidly aging Japan, every business sector is suffering a labor shortage.

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

In a hit segment, with a flip of his hand, General Manager Tomohiko Kojima slaps gel sheets, each decorated with the eyes of a manga character, over his boss’ eyes.

“What is this character?” the subtitles ask.

No cuts are used to produce the videos, the men say proudly. They go through take after take until Kojima lands the gel strips just right.

“I don’t practice during my work hours,” he said with a laugh.

The clips send a clear, defiant message: The stereotype of the rigidly hierarchical, perhaps even oppressive, Japanese company is shattered. At Daikyo, a worker gets to slap gel sheets on the CEO.

Before TikTok, the number of applicants at Daikyo was zero. Now, the company receives dozens of applications, including those from people who want to work on the videos.

Some of the videos, such as one that shows a worker cooking up a scrumptious omelet, unfold to snappy songs such as “World’s Smallest Violin” by AJR.

They all depict the happy yet humble life of uniformed workers 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. filled with older men who are fixed in their ways and unable to embrace new technology.

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

Sakurai now has his eyes on global influence and hopes to draw workers from Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries. With that in mind, videos last winter featured gel sheets depicting international flags, and the clips that have drawn thousands of comments and millions of views. When Sakurai was slapped with a flag from Mongolia, viewers from Mongolia commented in gratitude. Others requested 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.

“What makes my job worthwhile is that it’s about people,” Kojima said. “What draws me are people, not things.”

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