There’s a large table in the middle of the room. It’s rectangular, and very long. Lengthwise we find several men on both sides. These men all have notebooks, in which they are copying various bits of data with their pencil and ink. It’s very cleanly done. There are tables, and there’s no sign of any writing errors. This is most impressive. The middle of the table is covered with more papers and books. There is one man at the head of the table. He is sitting a bit higher than the rest. He looks important. He too is writing in a notebook. It all seems very civilized. The men bid each other goodbye, and leave the room. The one at the head, the important one, leaves last. Another workday has ended at the offices of the sakan. Not much has changed in over 900 years of history. I wonder what traffic was like in those days…

Shitōkan is a collective term for the four highest ranks of the bureaucrats in the Ritsuryō system of government. This system was in place in Japan during the Nara (710-794) and the Heian period (794-1185). The four ranks were kami (bureau chief), suke (assistant bureau chief), (supervisors), and sakan (clerks). Kami and suke were responsible for administration. was responsible for clerical work. Sakan compiled records and drafted documents. The hierarchy was taken from the Chinese dynasties Sui (589-618) and Tang (618-907). The ranks are also called shibukan.

Further reading:

“shitōkan” In: Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kodansha.