Why does Gyoza no Ohsho need to brainwash its employees?

Earlier this month, Nippon TV aired this segment about Kyoto-based ramen/Chinese food chain Gyoza no Ohsho’s somewhat, um, intense training program for new recruits. Take a look:

This is part 1. Watch parts 2 and 3 on Youtube.

As you can see in the video, the trainers act like drill sergeants, berating the new employees as they memorize and recite company rules, receive intensive training in Japanese-style customer service basics (scream a lot, always smile), and make sure their uniforms are on right. They even have a specially designed calisthenics routine, to “check whether they can do even simple work with their full effort.” At the end, each trainee must step forward to announce their “ambitions” i.e. what they hope to accomplish as Ohsho employees. If they pass, they all seem to break down crying, at which point the trainer comes up and embrace them.

The scene recalls either a Christian revival meeting, a self-help seminar, or perhaps a Marxist self-criticism session.

It’s kind of shocking to watch, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen this style of training on a Japanese documentary. About a year ago, NHK did a feature on the Tokyo University cheer squad where the senior members broke down the new recruits psychologically just like this.

Going viral

Since then, the segment has gone viral on the Japanese web, with the majority recoiling in horror. A minority (my estimate) took the stance that this sort of thing is normal in grown-up society, while others thought this might be the secret to the company’s recent success. (notably, one of the faces in the studio watching the segment was Miki Watanabe, CEO of Watami, an izakaya chain that’s been a similar success story to Ohsho. He said his company does not do that kind of training because that’s not Watami’s “corporate culture”)

One reason the video caught on may be because this is the time when many university students receive job offers after their year-long search for work post-graduation. Most big Japanese companies and many small ones hire groups of new college graduates all at once, with the intention of treating them as lifetime employees. Though Ohsho seems to hire many from the pool of non-college grads, the theme is no doubt resonant at this time.

It’s an enormously important time in a college student’s life, especially in the current bad job environment, because failure to land a decent job can doom one to a lifetime of “non-regular” employment with fewer pay/benefits and less security, or a full-time job at a “black” company with terrible labor practices.

The job market for students who did not finish a four-year university is even worse, but while beggars can’t be choosers, I am sure many would think twice about signing up with Ohsho after seeing this segment.

Ohsho’s response

Perhaps sensing some potential reputation damage, Ohsho has posted a response on its website. But instead of the usual corporate gobbledygook, someone put the time and thought behind an impassioned defense that starts with a challenging question – a career running a restaurant is not a popular choice among today’s youth, so why on earth would a restaurant chain choose to use such a strict training regime?

First and foremost, they explain, Ohsho’s mission is to open Chinese restaurants nationwide that can become deeply entrenched in the culture of each local area. To that end, they do things a little differently from most chains. As any regular Ohsho customer will know (Roy and I are fans), each store has a slightly different menu, and until a few years ago they even allowed some franchise owners to decorate the stores how they wanted.

So to fulfill that mission, they need employees and potential franchise owners that will hone their cooking skills, use their creativity, host events, and otherwise proactively promote their stores as local destinations. None of this is possible unless the employees “find satisfaction and their own reason for existence” in the job.

The thing is, today’s young people have grown up in an era of personal freedom, the letter says. They’ve never been scolded at school or at home. So the first thing Ohsho needs to teach new recruits is that to succeed at Ohsho, acting self-centered in the name of personal freedom just won’t be tolerated. In order to truly shine as an individual, first one must master the basic rules. The point of memorizing the company rules, they say, is to teach what it means to work as a member of society and the importance of rules, consideration, proper etiquette, and teamwork.

Essentially, they argue, Japanese young people today are missing three things: they don’t sweat, they don’t cry, and they don’t understand gratitude. The Ohsho training is intended to fix that, especially the last one. That’s why they do the boot camp.

Are you convinced?

(Hat-tip – J-Cast News)

43 thoughts on “Why does Gyoza no Ohsho need to brainwash its employees?”

  1. “As any regular Ohsho customer will know (Roy and I are fans)”

    Ewwwww. For the umpteenth time, your taste in cuisine is. utterly. revolting.

  2. Military ethics as management strategy. This may “work” for a restaurant chain but is terrible for any and all 21st century industry.

  3. Oh, I don’t know. Most large organisations everywhere indulge in silly team building strategies to indoctrinate you into the group. We have Friday drinks which is much more pleasurable, but my wife has done those “close your eyes, fall over and the group will catch you” sessions in spades.

    I don’t really know what this has to do with business ethics. It does have a lot to do with customer service. Yelling at people and generally being both speedy and genki is all part of the job description for restaurant slaves in Japan, so I suppose its appropriate. Aside from the yelling, I think American waiters could learn a little from these guys.

  4. As someone who has gone through all this nonsense training at a “real” Japanese company…this is nothing. On the second day of this training crap at my job, we had a dozen people HOSPITALIZED from extreme overwork, and dehydration.

  5. Who trains the trainers?

    I prefer actual military boot camp to this kind of thing for one simple reason. The military will be tough, but they also (in theory) want to make sure you do not suffer serious injury or death (during training, anyway), especially due to something easily avoided such as dehydration or heat stroke.

    If these Japanese boot camps have medical staff on site, and train their quasi-drill sergeants in recognizing heat exhaustion and such, then go ahead. Plenty of soft kids from rich societies with no boundaries can use a bit of toughening up.

    But people being sent to the hospital is a sign that the trainers are not proprely trained, and the whole company thinks screaming “ganbatte” can substitute for needed water. And collapse is the trainees’ fault, not the trainers’. Stupid.

  6. Who’s calling Ohsho cuisine? It’s super greasy slightly gross fast food that’s good for when you’re drunk and nothing else is open.

  7. I pray pray pray pray that these video go viral in a big way, and more and more people become of aware of this “training.” Going through three weeks of that was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. Recruiters who I liked and admired during the interview process suddenly, before my own eyes, turned into monsters who were literally reveling in our physical pain.

    On the SECOND DAY, we were forced to stand in a circle consisting of about 30 people. And then for six straight hours, we were forced to scream, at the ABSOLUTE top of our lungs, “ganbarimasu” blah blah blah. People who dropped from over work/dehydration/exhaustion were given absolutely no attention, and laid there like war dead til the time was up…whereupon ambulances were called. The “fallen” employees who had to be hospitalized for their “weakness” were subsequently berated in front of everyone else as being “a bunch of pussies who couldn’t take the heat.” And some were hospitalized for days, and when they came back to the “training” they had to give another screaming apology about how weak they were.

    But for us who were lucky (unlucky?) enough to continue on, after the six hour scream-a-thon, we IMMEDIATELY went into telephone practice…and were thus berated for having hoarse voices that were difficult to understand.

    Its a really scary place, where any kind of dissent is not tolerated, even from co-workers who you would consider “friends.” I remember at around the five hour mark of screaming, I made a pained face for a couple seconds. Whereupon I was slapped on the back of the head, and shoved from behind, not from one of the instructors, but from someone I thought was a buddy of mine. He was disgusted that I would show disrespect to the honorable instructors who were gracious enough to take the time to watch us lowly scum bags scream, and he instantly resorted to physical violence.

    I don’t know, when I look at this video, I am reliving those old nightmares, and think to myself how broken this system is. But maybe that is just my western way of thinking? There may be some Japanese people who think that this kind of training is the hallmark of a “rippa na kaisha.”

  8. I guess I can see where this is pretty extreme, but I don’t think it’s that different from the training you see at a lot of companies, even in the US. I work for a catering service here in the US, and our training is pretty similar. There’s lots of yelling, degrading, exercising for the servers and similar jobs, etc. But on the other hand, we start out at over minimum wage even for menial tasks (janitorial and all). Anyone who makes it through training is probably going to be a dedicated worker, and that’s important no matter what your actual position is.

  9. Who’s calling Ohsho cuisine? It’s super greasy slightly gross fast food that’s good for when you’re drunk and nothing else is open.

    I’m with Curzon. There are enough non-franchised places to get gyoza in this country. One shouldn’t have to stoop, drunk or not, to eating Ohsho. Narsty…

  10. To go through this sort of hardcore training and come out the other side as restaurant employee is sort of pathetic, no? I mean, if you’re gonna have your ego put through the wringer, you should at least end up a marathon runner, or a talented programmer or something. Here (Osho and the Japanese companies referenced above) you get your ego crushed only to work in a soul-crushing job.

    Agree very much with Marxy, that this stuff is totally counter-productive for developing individual talent or specialized skills. Inasmuch as it weeds out the weak ones, it also weeds out the ones with the confidence/options to say “F this”. But I suppose dedicated mediocrity is just right for a discount chinese place that takes way too long to prepare gyoza (seriously though).

  11. “I’m with Curzon. There are enough non-franchised places to get gyoza in this country. One shouldn’t have to stoop, drunk or not, to eating Ohsho. Narsty…”

    Sure, but most of them aren’t 24 hours. Like McDonalds, that’s the main thing Ohsho has going for it.

  12. “this stuff is totally counter-productive for developing individual talent or specialized skills.”

    Yeah,McDonalds shouldn’t implement Ohsho’s training methods.
    It could take away the zen and art of chicken McNuggets frying from the employees.
    Small step for the company,big loss to the mankind.

  13. Leah – can you show me an American company that trains its new employees in a way that’s at all like Ohsho’s method?

    Farmboy – that sounds like a very, very bad scene. What kind of company was that?

    When I first wrote this post, the training program seemed completely unnecessary. I didn’t and still don’t buy the explanation that young people are all too wimpy to make gyoza. However, after some though I can now see how it might have some utility.

    Weirdly enough, Ohsho’s business has little to do with excellent service, and that’s never what you remember about your experience. They do two things right – cheap prices and consistently good gyoza. The service is passable. And if I remember correctly they don’t scream nearly as loud as some places. They must train people to make gyoza somewhere, but it apparently wasn’t at that facility.

    The training seems aimed at breaking people down psychologically and making them afraid of and dependent on the leader. As the video shows, by the end those people have internalized the message that they were nothing before joining Ohsho and now Ohsho is their reason for being.

    But like I alluded to in the post, there are tons of successful companies that don’t need a boot camp to get employees to perform. Unlike the real military where strict discipline is a must, at a job people tend to pick things up after some basic training, and those who don’t just won’t work out.

    So why bother with the boot camp? One issue that might bear mentioning is that Ohsho is a franchise business, and many of the trainees are being groomed to become owner-operators someday. Turning the pool of franchisees into a bunch of cult-worshiping automatons might make it easier to make sure the Ohsho head office can keep a larger share of the profits down the line.

    Another benefit of building an Ohsho Cult could be to make the people believe there is something more to what they’re doing than simply punching a clock and getting paid. As nate said, the end result of the training isn’t all that appealing, as even Ohsho kind of admits in the letter. Even though Ohsho is a profitable company, even the busiest stores probably won’t make the owner-operator spectacularly wealthy. But if you’re sure you’d have become a total loser if you had never turned in the application, you’d probably be pretty content making a decent living selling gyoza.

  14. Actually,I’m convinced.Lots of Japanese has been through with these 体育会系methods,at least once in your life.It’s way to make man(or woman)out of you in limited time.Nothing new nor special.I’ve seen many documentaries on French restaurant that gets starts from Michelin guide book.They did pretty much the same only in smaller scale.

    Like Marxy says,this may not work for 21st century industry,but then,Chinese restaurant isn’t the product of 21st century and you either adopt to the work environment or your position could be replaced by ambitious Chinese youth who works for half of your wages.Besides if you don’t like the Ousho’s way,you can always find your own way somewhere else.

  15. Re: Leah’s pont – I talked to people I know with culinary school training or who work in restaurants or catering in North America and they say that this is normal. These sorts of jobs are so stressful (heat, very little space, crowded, major time pressure) that it helps them weed out the weak. One guy who was in the army, worked for a catering company, and now owns his own said that army boot camp was less stressful. Most of the hazing was done on site and not in an organized cult fashion, however.

  16. “They did pretty much the same only in smaller scale.”

    Yeah, a guy who went to culinary school in France that I sent the clip to told me that this is the “French way”.

    “Like Marxy says,this may not work for 21st century industry”

    Is this really true? This kind of thing seems to be typical in well-performing Korean companies as well. China is performing fabulously with a non-performative version of this – get in line or Tang and Crusher will take you out back and work you over with a crowbar.

  17. If someone’s ambition in life is to be a low ranking staff member at a chain gyoza shop, they probably don’t need a lot of brainwashing.

    And that is the secret — only the most dismal humans would fit into such a system, so the majority of employees, having been forced into the job by economic necessity, need extensive “re-education” to fit into the company.

    Nonetheless I expect most of them preserve independent thinking behind the facade of company loyalty, and will sabotage their employers in some way as soon as they can jump ship.

  18. This reminds me of the high school I was an ALT at. The main thing I remember was the 運動会, but the same approach was taken at 寒稽古 (running for an hour at 5:00 am in short sleeves and shorts in the coldest part of winter), by every athletic team, by the 書道 team, etc. Passing out was de rigeur, not only at these types of “yelling and Stockholm syndrome” events, but even at school assemblies, where it came from just standing for an hour in full uniform in a hot gym.

    I suppose it had *some* sort of use. I hated hated hated it, and thought “man, if I joined this school, either they would have kicked me out or I would have quit within a month”, but it has to be said that the school was renowned for taking average students (not brilliant, but not idiots) and shaping them up into rather good students. And there was no other factor, that I could see, that set it apart from other schools which took in average students and sent them out as average graduates.

    Level3 is on the money, though. The military uses a similar approach, to good effect, but they are aware of risks, have medical training, etc. If you’re going to take this kind of training approach (which I find reprehensible, but apparently effective), you need to have the ability to do it well. Yelling at your recruits to “buck it up” and that all they need to do is “ganbare” is all fine and well, but if the trainers honestly believe that they don’t need to know what they’re doing, and that they, too, can get by by just ganbaru-ing, then there’s a significant problem.

  19. “If someone’s ambition in life is to be a low ranking staff member at a chain gyoza shop, they probably don’t need a lot of brainwashing.”

    You have that exactly backwards. If your ambition in life is to do something awesome, and you actually join a company that does those awesome things, you’re going to have tremendous drive and enthusiasm, and will stick at the job. If you’re joining a shitty company (with greasy, fast food which, sorry, I think tastes great), you’re going to want to sabotage things and jump ship ASAP. This kind of training is good at eliminating the hard-core saboteurs, and taking the people in the middle and inculcating a Stockholm-syndrome loyalty to the company.

  20. In relation to the idea of “personal failure” for those who could not put up with the rigors of Ohsho’s boot camp – this reminds me of similar things that were done by the Japanese Red Army (日本赤軍) and the Aum Shinrikyo. I don’t have direct information immediately on-hand, so this is based off of my memory. If anyone can correct me, please do so.

    In the first case members were put through “boot camp” scenarios in order to make them more devout to the cause of spreading Communism throughout the world. Before the group imploded, members were being hounded by the Japanese government and they hid out in the mountains. While they were hiding, certain members were singled out for not being loyal enough to the cause. They were then led outside in the the middle of winter, tied to poles, and left over night. When they were later found dead, the excuse made by the group leaders was something along the lines of “they had admitted to themselves their failure to live up to the ethos of the group, and chose death or living with failure… for the good of the cause.”

    In the second case, members at the main cult centers were often put into stress positions for long periods in order to bring selves to the next level of enlightenment. If anyone died during “meditation”, some leaders explained that they had admitted failure for being unable to reach enlightenment. Or, they used other excuses to hide the fact that someone died. For the most part other members thought it was odd, but didn’t think too much about it. There were also cases of people who wanted to leave the cult being abducted and placed to under go “meditation” in order to bring them back to the group.

    Anyways, Japanese culture has a history of instances of people being put through hell in order to toughen them up and conform to the group. It has to do with traditional ideals on the how the mind a body operate – failure of the body is linked directly to failure of the mind. I wouldn’t call it a defining characteristic of the Japanese, but it is a thread that emerges from time to time.

  21. “If someone’s ambition in life is to be a low ranking staff member at a chain gyoza shop, they probably don’t need a lot of brainwashing.”

    Yeah,they should have gone to the other side of the world and work for the language school by day and preach the importance of freewheeling over the discussion board by night.

    Anyone remembers the “Pepper Lunch” steakhouse? 
    In 2007,the owner of the franchise shop in Osaka and the two emplowees had imprisoned and raped one of the female customer.The next year there was food poisoning in their establishementdue to the 0-157 viruses.Both incidents were unpreventable by the chain owners,yet the damages effected the entire network.
    I believe the Ohsho’s quality management is a lot more difficult compared to Yoshinoya,Macdonalds and Pepperlunch because they are serving more dishes that require certain cooking techniques.

    BTW,I’ve also found a bit ironical description on the origin of the word “franchise”


    “Level3 is on the money, though. The military uses a similar approach, to good effect, but they are aware of risks, have medical training, etc.”


  22. I think it might not be fair to compare Ohsho to Pepper Lunch bc Pepper Lunch based their whole business on undercooking their food. By grilling the steak on the same plate used to eat it, it can be served before the whole dish is cooked, thus saving a lot of preparation time. When a shipment of Australian steak was shipped despite potentially being infected with O-157, the people who got sick apparently ate their steaks too soon. So since Ohsho doesn’t serve their food on sizzling griddles, I think their safety risks are about the same as any other restaurant.

    (Here’s the health ministry press release telling restaurants to cook their food properly and if they can’t do that at least tell their customers to wait a while before digging in

    As far as I can tell this isn’t much like the Red Army. There’s no singling out of potential reactionaries or violence (except that one dude who kept hitting himself). It’s more on the extreme end of motivational seminars.

  23. Dear Japan,

    Well done on being such a wonderful country.

    Please would you now consider joining the 21st Century ?

    Yours in doubt,


  24. ”I think it might not be fair to compare Ohsho to Pepper Lunch bc Pepper Lunch based their whole business on undercooking their food.”

    My mind exactly.Meaning Ohsho requires more disciplined labor than Pepper Lunch does.Hence the Full Metal Jacketesque drills.I also have a feeling many franchise members are prefering this over more liberal method.This is more of a trival initiation than the business seminar.I also think some may have more confidence over the quality control over Ohsho’s gyozas at least compared to those made out from Chinese factory.

    “Japanese culture has a history of instances of people being put through hell in order to toughen them up and conform to the group. It has to do with traditional ideals on the how the mind a body operate – failure of the body is linked directly to failure of the mind. I wouldn’t call it a defining characteristic of the Japanese, but it is a thread that emerges from time to time.”

    Ofcourse it does.And where else it doesn’t?

    Japanese culture also has a history of people being put through good times in order to soften them up and conform to the group.Like,say having a beer under the blooming cherry blossoms.It has to do with traditional ideals on the how the body a mind operate – failure of the mind is linked directly to failure of the body, I wouldn’t call it a defining characteristic of the Japanese, but it is a thread that emerges from time to time.

  25. Who thinks that the majority of participants are enjoying it ?
    I think they might like the feeling of being controlled and toughened up.

    Mind you it’s absolutely nothing compared to the training we did for
    sports teams at schools in the UK which involved running in the snow
    in shorts and doing press ups on your knuckles aged 12.

  26. Ofcourse they like the feeling of being controlled and toughened up.No one pushed them to be in there.They chose to do so with their free will.
    The drill give them the sense of accomplishment and belonging,something that has been lacking in their lives.

    Only mistake Ohsho had made was they allowed camera to film all that.21st century companies shouldn’t do such thing.Ohsho should have outsourced all this to the third world labor and donate some of their profit to Sea Shephard or something instead.

  27. Come to think of it, I remember my rather hardcore Japanese university circle initiation / training quite fondly, but I grimace when I think about the insultingly banal “team building” workshop stuff at the beginning of my current job. (Still treat my own employees / students the opposite of the Osho way, however).

  28. This is the sickest part of japanese culture. And the fact that this is shown on TV and people just comment neutrally about it.
    Even in China managers they don´t treat their employees like that. Please. Japanese needs a labor court who puts geezers like that on prison.

  29. “Even in China managers they don´t treat their employees like that”

    Yeah,we’ve noticed.The disgruntled Chinese employees can always put methamidophos in gyoza to get even with the bullying management,right?
    I’d rather eat gyoza made by Japanese masochists instead,but each has own taste…

  30. “Even in China managers they don´t treat their employees like that.”

    Slavery –


    Child workers raped and beaten to death –


    Beatings at one of the “better” factories associated with Walmart –


    Walmart shopper beaten to death by employees (!?) –


    Lost fingers and low pay –


    Routine beatings and murders of employees –


    Japan has an unpaid overtime problem, etc. and there have been serious incidents of mistreatment of workers, but I don’t think that it is at all appropriate to compare Osho’s hamming it up for the TV cameras with the types of routine labor abuses that we see in China.

  31. do those things happen in the open? As company policy? On TV!! for god´s sake.
    China may be a lawless hellhole. But Japanese corporate culture is sick.

  32. Well, there have also been a few journalists assaulted for working with Western TV networks to get cameras into Chinese factories. As for company policy, I think that a “do what you will” to control labor mandate to floor management isn’t much different than telling people “if someone says ‘union’, hire thugs to cut their throat”.

    As for Japanese corporate culture, something tells me that they don’t do that at Nintendo….

    “On TV!! for god´s sake.”

    Gordon Ramsey apparently does this with new employees. The result – he’s now starting his 12th television series. In one that I saw he brutally berated an obese trainee until he collapsed from chest pains and was taken out in an ambulance (eliminated from the reality show) all for our entertainment. In another episode, a chef who was told that he was worthless and slated to be canned threatened to cut himself with a kitchen knife before breaking down – that one was a big ratings winner, I hear. As bad as that Osho thing is, I don’t see it being turned into a weekly reality show.

    Seriously, before we turn this into a Japanese culture thing, it is probably best to think about restaurant culture and whether it is better to have this kind of thing out in the open –


    and this one is just nuts (20 simulated rapes to break in a new cook, an expert’s reference to actual sodomy being done in some hazings) –


    We’ve mentioned already how the military does this “better” by making sure that people are trained – maybe Osho is smart in getting this kind of thing over with in a controlled environment before it turns into the kind of insane stuff referenced in those links.

  33. I don’t doubt many Chinese are willing to accept such business culture in a near future.Seeing so many pictures of Mao,the uber-trainer that broke down the individual dignity of millions are still hanged elsewhere and even becoming kind of an icon in the rural area.Compare to Mao,Ohsho trainers are nothing.

  34. Spandrell, Ohsho didn’t actually give PERMISSION for this to be shown on TV.

  35. I can’t speak to the Ohsho example directly on the strength of those videos alone but I’m concerned that terms like “brainwashing” and “Stockholm syndrome” are so freely bandied about because they could so easily apply to any attempt to impose a hierarchy and a sense of discipline and loyalty.

  36. “研修を終えた後、心配して配属先の店舗を訪ねてこられた清水君のお母様が、そこで元気に働く清水君の姿と、「父親代わりになって清水君を一人前に育て上げます」という店長の言葉に、涙を流して喜んでおられたということです”
    give me a fucking break.

    M-bone, that sodomy link was the sickest thing i’ve read in my fucking life. eew.

  37. “But Japanese corporate culture is sick.”

    Isn’t this simply another case of the Japanese version being more formal – ie there’s an established, approved procedure for it vs the western approach: the exact same things happen (bullying etc.) but it’s all an informal behind-closed-doors deal?

    In that kind of business (restaurants, fast-food etc.), there’s no doubt in my mind that systematic employee abuse is the norm in many western companies. Unwritten, unspoken of, but still the norm.

  38. This training underscores the core element of Japanese society, that the group (in this case the company) is everything, and the individual is nothing. Also, in a country whose people do not really have a concept of religion, and only go to temples, shrines and churches because it is traditional or trendy on certain occasions, the company has emerged to fill this role, exacting a fanatical devotion from its employees. Instead of priests, bishops and archbishops you have trainers, managers, executives, and the rule book is the Bible. Question that, and you invoke the wrath of God. It’s like a military Catholic boarding school, and the fact that people go along with it shows what humans will stoop to when they’re had their self-worth stripped from them.

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