Supply Chain Council of European Union | Scceu.org
Operations

The Factory Is a Chilling Account of the Contemporary Workplace

There are three narrators: Yoshiko, Furufue, and a man never named. All three work at the titular factory. Yoshiko studied linguistics and has bounced between jobs since university; her job at the factory is to shred papers. Furufue is a bryologist—a botanist who studies mosses—hired by the factory to oversee a green roof initiative. The unnamed third narrator is a systems engineer who, dismissed from his previous job, secures a temp assignment at the factory proofreading documents.

Each is tasked with labor that is fundamentally meaningless. “I’m not even operating the shredder,” Yoshiko comes to realize. “I’m only assisting it.” Before Furufue can begin work on installing green roofs on the factory buildings, he is asked to undertake a census of the mosses growing on the extensive grounds of the factory complex; this takes him 15 years. The proofreader marks up documents that make little sense, a matter so mind-numbing that he falls asleep at his desk. Still, as the proofreader points out, “I was just happy to have a place to work, a place to go every day.”

The factory is a world of its own, as an HR functionary explains:

Apartment complexes, supermarkets, a bowling alley, karaoke. All kinds of entertainment, even a fishing center. We have a hotel and more restaurants than you can count. I’m not talking about employee cafeterias, either. You can have soba, steak, ramen, fried chicken, fast food. In the hotel, we’ve got French, Italian, sushi, teppan-yaki. We have a post office and a bank, a travel agency, a couple of bookstores, an optometrist, a barber, an electronics store, a gas station…

This both feels impossible and like it could be describing a real corporate compound in Mountain View. That tension between fantasy and reality is present throughout the book. For example, we have no idea what it is the factory makes, but it’s so hard to answer what’s being done at most office parks that the question seems beside the point. Perhaps the book isn’t satire, really; even in its most over-the-top moments it is telling it straight.

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