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Part-timers’ pranks shock Japanese chain stores, restaurants

Clockwise from top: An employee at a Lawson convenience store in Kochi lies in an ice cream freezer; an employee of a Burger King Japan restaurant in Hachioji, western Tokyo, lies on a pile of hamburger buns; an employee at a Bronco Billy steakhouse in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, poses inside a freezer. All photos were posted on Twitter.

Publication Date : 19-08-2013

 

TOKYO: The recent pranks of part-time staff at Japan's restaurant chains and convenience stores, such as a staged photo that was posted on the Internet of employees stuffing themselves into a freezer, have been creating problems for their employers, who are often forced to make a public apology.

 

The recent pranks of part-time staff at Japan's restaurant chains and convenience stores, such as a staged photo that was posted on the Internet of employees stuffing themselves into a freezer, have been creating problems for their employers, who are often forced to make a public apology.

At least seven such cases have been confirmed since mid-July. The price of unprofessional conduct by part-time employees can be high. In some cases, not only were the employees in question fired, but their employer terminated a franchise’s contract or closed a restaurant for its insufficient fulfillment of supervisory responsibilities.

Unknown consequences

On August 4, two female employees of Marugen Ramen Kadoma in Kadoma, Osaka, posted photos of themselves with the restaurant’s frozen ingredients in their mouths on Twitter.

The store manager, who learned of the incident from an outside source, closed the store for three days to dispose of the foodstuffs and sterilise the freezer.

Monogatari Corp., the ramen shop chain’s operator, said it had already fired the two employees, who were high school students. The employees said they just wanted to do something funny and did not think it would become a serious issue.

On August 5, two 18-year-old male part-timers at the Adachi Umejima branch of Bronco Billy in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, posted photos of themselves stuffed inside the restaurant’s freezer. The restaurant fired them. “We got carried away,” the two said, hanging their heads.

Making viral photos

Toru Takeda, a professor of media studies at Keisen University, said the reason for “the rampancy of such cases may stem from the likelihood that Internet users searched for and spread similar images in the past, attracting a great deal of attention”.

The first such incident occurred when a photo of an employee of Lawson lying inside a store freezer for ice cream was posted on the Internet. Apparently triggered by this case, a rash of similar postings have appeared.

Another factor is the widespread use of smartphones by young people. According to a survey of more than 3,000 people aged 13 to 19 conducted by Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry this year, the rate of smartphone-based Internet use soared to 52.9 per cent within a year from 18.2 per cent at the end of 2011. Smartphones were used in cases including the one at Marugen Ramen.

While conventional feature cell phones offer camera functions and Internet access, smartphones make it easier to post photos on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. According to Takeda, “Young people involved in such cases may mistake social media for something to exchange messages within their private circles and lack a sense of exposing themselves to the outside world.”

Job training needed

When a person’s face can be seen in the photo, it is much easier to identify the culprit.

Bento shop chain Hotto Motto discovered posted online a photo of an employee posing inside the shop’s refrigerator. It took the company a matter of about 150 minutes to track down and shut down the store out of about 2,700 locations nationwide.

For the companies involved, the damage inflicted by such incidents can be enormous, such as the flood of criticism, including online comments. Lawson Inc. of Tokyo terminated the franchise contract with the store in Kochi where the incident occurred. Nagoya-based Bronco Billy Co. also closed its branch in Adachi Umejima saying, “The incident has significantly damaged the store’s image and its resumption of operation is unacceptable for ethical reasons.” The restaurant operator is also considering seeking a claim for damages against the two former employees who posted the picture.

Toshihiko Fujie, a professor of Chiba University of Commerce, said “Today we live in a society where companies need to be aware of the possibility of their internal information being posted on the Internet by their own employees. Especially those businesses that need to rely on non-regular employees, who tend to be given little proper training within their short employment period, have to strengthen their employee training systems.”

 

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