Tucked away in an unassuming corner of Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s bar district is a shop called Ichiban Confectionery. Its frazzled heir Eri Kamataki practically begged me to take over as the company president. Who am I to refuse a damsel in distress? It was a chance to make her late father’s dreams come true, and turn this struggling company around. We weren’t going to be evil like the rival corporation that was trying to drive our family business into the ground. Ichiban Confectionery would be a local shop of gentle capitalists that made the most out of the shitty economic system that we had.
So began a business simulation game where I managed employees, store locations, and shareholder meetings. I began by hiring the employees with the skill to run an understaffed store location. Their unique contribution to product development, service, and notability would all determine every quarter’s sales.
Look at these nerds:
I love them so much.
Some were working to turn their lives around, and others were working to support their family. I wanted to do right by these people as I expanded my empire. I paid no mind to the stat differences between the bronze and silver characters. Since employees’ mood improved when they got promotions, I gave a raise and a new title to my favorites when they seemed a little down. Was it good business practice? No, but I didn’t care.
But I quickly learned that my shareholders did. Every four quarters, I had to face the consequences of my business actions in front of a panel of stiff-faced suits who didn’t understand the cuteness of selling rice crackers at an old movie theatre. As one might expect, I had my ass completely handed to me during my first meeting. I didn’t know the rules of appeasing angry shareholders, and I had to learn quickly.
Strong sales did help my stock price every other quarter, but what significantly bumped up my stock market rank was the outcome of those meetings. Our company would likely shutter if our rank tumbled, and the pressure got worse when a rival company was infiltrating the annual meetings. They were determined to drive us out of business, and the only way to defeat them was to ensure that Ichiban Confectionery was a model of the perfect company. If we were not above critique, then we would be nothing.
I paid for employee training, and made improvements to my properties. To raise morale, I took care of my employees by providing massages, company parties, and hot spring packages. I paid close attention to which employees were the most successful negotiators in shareholder meetings. I learned not to invest a ton of money during the last business quarter. Our stock prices rose, and so did our ability to purchase new properties. Ichiban Confectionery became Ichiban Holdings, and our family business moved downtown into a high rise. It was good to be the president of Ichiban.
But higher stock prices meant more demanding shareholders and investors. They forgave fewer mistakes. They yelled that I wasn’t managing my people correctly, or that our profits weren’t good enough. Whatever my employees suffered felt abstract, but the baseless accusations that my shareholders were screaming at me felt realistic. Employees come and go, but shareholders are forever.
Hiring slowed down as I filled stores with employees. My business partner Eri told me that I couldn’t just hire anyone I wanted, because then the company would be paying extra employees to “do nothing.” But one day, I found a candidate who perfectly fit my customer service needs. No matter what, I had to have him in my newest store. Eri had demonstrated how to fire employees in the mandatory tutorial, and I didn’t revel in it. But faced with an extra expense of 90k yen per quarter, I bit my lip and fired the socially awkward Furuya.
That was the final death knell of the friendly-family business in the bar district. Once I fired a loyal employee of my own free will, there was no going back.
Then, all of my reckless promotions came back to bite me. Once managers tasted the six figure salary, they would no longer accept becoming part-timers. So when promising gold candidates showed up on the job board, I fired the overpaid silver directors who had been with the company for multiple cycles. Why should I keep the managers with tenure when gold recruits would do a better job for less?
For the newly promoted managers, it wasn’t just about the salary. It was also more expensive to refresh their mood. While part-timers were satisfied with a massage and a hot springs trip, I had to constantly provide directors with personal concierges and getaways to Okinawa. I also stopped promoting promising new talent, only to replace them outright when better recruits came along. What’s more, I could never fire the underperforming grandmother or the company mascot, since they were Eri’s family members. Nepotism? At my Ichiban Holdings? It’s more likely than you think.
I felt invincible as my quarterly sales broke nine figures. I apologized in shareholder meetings to improve my detractors’ mood, but I would no longer be at their mercy. I steered the success of the company. In the process, I became everything that I hated about corporations in the real world.
At the end of the main plot, Eri talked about how her dad’s vision for Ichiban Confectionery was an ethical company that brought people smiles. As the scene closed out of the shareholder meeting, I started to wonder: whose smiles? Certainly not those of our former employees. Every bit of effort that I exert throughout the year was for the sake of extracting one approving nod from the demanding Madame Monobe or the cynical Taro Yase.
To stay in the rice cracker business, a company president must understand who their true masters are. Ichiban Confectionery is a tragic cautionary tale, but it is also a Faustian horror story about what one man is willing to do for his company to be number one. The gameplay showed me that the president did not dictate the soul of Ichiban Confectionery. It was the system that produced the company.