Monday, December 30, 2013

Kairo (Keeping Warm in Japan)

If you don't know, kairo are hand warmers. They come in all different types. 

Of course before coming to Japan, I'd never seen, nor heard of hand warmers. Michigan is cold, but, well...we man up. When you get inside, it's generally warm. My Japan is not nearly as cold as Michigan. But it's colder than Michigan in the sense that you NEVER. ESCAPE. from the cold. Never. EVER.

If it's 40 degrees outside, it's 55 inside. And for that reason, kairo are a lifesaver. There are a number of types: disposable, reusable and electric. Within the reusable types are ones that can be recharged in a microwave or in boiling water. The electric ones charge for a few hours before you can use them.

Let's take a look at some of the disposable ones. 



They are cheap. They are everywhere. They come in two types: ones that you can stick on your clothing and ones that you don't. The stickable ones only need you to tear off the paper for them to start heating up. The non-stickable ones need to be shaken. You generally keep those in your pocket. 
They can come in packets of 5 - 10, or boxes of 30 or more (see above for the boxed version). The boxed kairo run about $6. There are now kairo to stick in your socks or at the bottom of your shoes, also pictured above. Those are about $2-$3. The disposable kairo last for about 6 hours and you can toss them when you're done.
I spent many nights with these stuck to my body while trying to fend off the cold long enough to get to sleep.

I'm going to skip the electric kairo and the kairo that can be recharged in the microwave or in boiling water. Those ones are nice because they are reusable, but the time spent recharging them is generally longer than the heat you get out of them. Some only last as little as 30 minutes!

Recently, I've discovered kairo that use benzine. That kairo is the Hakkin Kairo Peacock Pocket Warmer. You pour a bit of benzine into the container and put the small cap on, hold a lit match to it for a few seconds to start the chemical reaction and then put that top on. After that, the kairo heats up and stays warm for up to 24 hours!



I was initially afraid of carrying something with lighter fluid around in my pocket, but it is quite safe. It gets very warm and it is a big lifesaver! My boyfriend bought me the regular sized one on the right, but i also bought the mini...just because! The smell is a bit annoying. If you are walking around, you don't notice it. But, when you are standing or sitting in one place, it's pretty apparent. There's some cotton? inside of the tank so that fluid isn't just sloshing around.
If you are an ALT, I would definitely recommend this because it's warm, it stays warm and I know that Japanese classrooms are cold. You can find them on amazon or Tokyu Hands! Alternatively, Zippo sells a similar kairo, but the cost (in Japan) is more; 2,500 yen vs. 3,500 yen!

Now go get warmed the fuck up!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What is Wrong with my Life?

So, last Friday was payday. 
I love payday. I love money. Who doesn't?

Every payday, I make a beeline for the ATM as soon as my break comes up. I send a few man (hundred dollars) home each month to pay the minimum balance on my student loan (still over $5,000 left *sigh*) and to help out my mom. She doesn't make much and she lives alone.

This month's paycheck was 188,000 yen. My last few months on JET, I was getting 230,000 yen a month after taxes. Since my rent at that time was 13,000 yen, and my cell phone an other bills took about 30,000 yen a month, I was able to send about 100,000 yen home a month. 

Looking at my paycheck. Looking back over my life since JET, I wonder...what the hell am I doing? I didn't go back home because I thought that I could find a job faster in Japan. Plus, with no savings and no driver's license, where would I be able to move to?

In the envelope with my payslip was another paper that had my earnings for the year...the equivalent of $29,000. What. The. FUCK?
I can make $29,000 a year doing shit in the U.S.! Why am I in Japan?! I make 1,500 yen an hour. $15 an hour?? I can make that shit back home! No wonder I can't save any money! No wonder I can't make it home. I am making fucking minimum wage in a foreign country!

I look at my pay. I look at my life, and all I can think is, "Where did you fuck up?," "You are worthless.," and "Are you trying to fail at life??" On the other hand, I don't know if I am in fact a lot more skilled than I give myself credit for, but Japanese companies are just cheap fucks looking for any reason to cheat people out of a fair salary.

Articles like this one in the Japan Times that point to the fact that the visa "perks" for "highly skilled foreign workers" aren't working. Salary is a big one. Someone making $34,000 a year or more in the U.S. who is also under 30 years old isn't all that strange, but in Japan it's fucking like unicorn territory. My inkling to Japanese low pay was confirmed when a Japanese recruiter told me, "For Japanese people, people in their 20s, salaries are 200,000 yen ($2,000) a month, and go up in their 30s with age and then experience."

I guess since Japanese parents pay for their kid's schooling, apartment set up, furnishings and more, $2,000 a month is a lot. Fuck that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Help! It's my first bonenkai/shinnenkai!!

So, it's your first year in Japan, and you're going to the company (or school) bonenkai or shinnenkai (new year's party). But, you don't want to fuck things up.

Here's a quick rundown of how to get through the party intact: 

1. Wait for the kampai to drink.
You'll be asked what you want to drink. Don't spend time looking at the drink menu. Just say beer (nama). Everyone does the kampai with beer. Everyone starts off with beer. And yes, yes, yes, there will be a handful of people who order something else. If you don't like beer, but like alcohol, my advice is to take the beer, do the kampai, take a small sip and then order what you want off the menu. Leave the beer in the cup unless it's one of the places where you give your empty cup to the waiter before getting a new drink.
If you absolutely HATE the idea of having a drop of alcohol pass your lips, then order oolong tea or orange juice. 

***DO NOT DRINK UNTIL THEY SAY "KAMPAI!"***

Seriously. Hold the glass. You'll be holding it for a while. After everyone raises their glasses, take that as a cue to get ready to drink. Then drink.

2. Pace yourself!
The food will be sparse, the drinks will come relatively quickly. If you are a guy, your male co-workers will probably want to see how much you can hold. Don't enter this challenge unless you can keep your head on straight. If you're female, no one gives a fuck what you drink. Either way, there is a LOT of alcohol available, don't lose your head.

3. Talk to your coworkers!
Yes, even chit-chat. If you can't speak Japanese, heaven help us all. Try the best you can with what you have. Smile, don't dominate the conversation. 

4. Don't complain.
Even if you want to, hold your tongue. You're a foreigner and unless you have a group of co-workers that you can trust, just keep your ideas of reform and such to yourself for the time being.

5. EAT
There's a lot of alcohol. Don't drink on an empty stomach.

6. Do NOT get boisterous 
This is not the U.S. or Canada or where ever. No matter how much you drink, you have to remember that you are a representative of your country. Any foreigner that works there after you; any foreigner from your country or your state will be judged based on how YOU are. 

7. Pour some beer for your co-workers.
Japanese people don't pour beer for themselves, they pour it for the people around them and one of the group reciprocates. If you see that your co-worker's beer is low (usually half of a cup) offer some to them. That co-worker will chug down the remainder of the beer and hold out their glass to you (let them hold the glass, do not take it). You pour beer to fill up the glass. The co-worker will do the same for you or offer to order another of the drink you had been drinking. Then you do a small "kampai." 
Brownie points for pouring the beer with the brand label facing up AND by pouring with both hands!!

8. Don't be afraid to be the butt of a joke.
If a game involves wearing a silly costume or singing, go for it. No one is judging you. 

That's about all I can think of...any questions??

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Working in Japan: Bonenkai

It's December. It's the end of the year. And in Japan, that means it's bonenkai season.
Bonenkai are gatherings/parties held at the end of the year. Most companies hold them and friends, people in the same hobby group, etc have them, too. Basically, they are a way to have fun and drink before taking off for the long New Year's holiday.

All bonenkai are held after work. Apparently, back in the U.S., holiday parties are often held *gasp* during work hours! I'd love to have a bonenkai during work hours.
I have also heard that for the holiday parties that are held after work in the U.S., that workers can invite partners, spouses, kids...dogs? That ain't happening here in Japan. Bonenkai are strictly for the members of that group; the people in the office, the members of the tennis club, or whatever. No family. None!

They typically start with assigned seating. (Yes, you heard me.) After being seated, you order your drink and listen to a speech. The speech can be anything from two people giving a brief "nice job, guys," to a parade of boring ass old men (always old men) talking shit about helping the company or how they are retiring and hurry the fuck up and kampai mutherfucker!

let's party.


Unless the kanji (person in charge of organizing the venue, etc) has freedom, good tastes and knows what people like, most likely you'll be in some place that serves small bits of fucking shit. "Oh, foie gras? Uni (sea urchin)? Raw horse? Yes, I totally skipped lunch to eat this cold stuff and have my coworkers stare at me in wonder whilst I choke it down...gimme a beer."

At some point during the dinner (always dinner), there will be some game. Again, the fun factor of the game depends on the kanji and the people you work with. If everyone's cool, then even a lame game can be pretty fun. Funner if you win a prize!

By this time, you're about an hour and a half in, and everyone's pretty sloshed. Some staff grab large, glass bottles of beer and walk around giving aisatsu (greetings) to their coworkers and managers. Other people can FINALLY run away from their shit seating assignment and talk to their real friends. Voices rise. Someone spills wine. All is good.

Another speech. Another kampai, and two hours have passed and the bonenkai is over.

Now, this is where the fun starts. There's always an after party. Always. Some places have enough staff for several groups to form. Within these groups will be the people that always go with the CEO/Lead manager/whatever person holds power. These people are, almost always, men. Their ni-ji-kai (after parties) are held in snack bars or strip clubs, where the oldest man pays. This is also where strong bonds are formed, and you get someone who's gonna watch your back if you watch theirs.

Women'll go to karaoke or some cafe for coffee. 
So, that's about it. I will have my bonenkai on the 30th. I don't expect much.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Countdown to Xmas

Well, there are about 14 days until Christmas.
The weird thing is that while I know Christmas is around the corner, I don't feel like I can judge how close or far away it is. There is no pressure to buy presents here. Parents buy one present for their child and put it next to their pillow. The kid wakes up to their one, lonely present from Santa.
In a strange twist, Santa visits the homes of some kids on the 23rd so that they can open their presents on the 24th. For the "older" crowd, Christmas is couples time. Couples will make reservations for hotel rooms and fancy dinners for Christmas Eve.

Seeing a trend?



Yes. Everything Christmasy is happening on the 24th. Well, it's not a Japanese holiday, so I can't feign surprise. But, the lack of Christmas shopping, gift exchanges, the "holiday spirit," etc. make me feel like I'm in some strange dream. Now that I think about it, that feeling persists throughout the year. 

There's no real big buildup to anything in Japan. As far as I can tell. When I was in the U.S., as soon as August rolled around, you knew that people were getting ready for something: the start of school; Halloween; Thanksgiving; Christmas; New Year's. It's like everything just gets better with each passing month. Here in Japan, this month isn't all that different from the previous one.

I guess that's another reason why I feel so down at this time of year. There is nothing to look forward to. What do Japanese people look forward to at this time of year? Spending time with family during the long New Year's holiday (my company is off from Dec. 31 with work starting back on Jan. 6). And if you work for a company: your winter bonus (which, I've never received in all of the time I've worked in Japan).

Since Christmas is not a holiday here, I'll be at work. And for New Year's my boyfriend is going to be spending time with mommy; so, I'm thinking about what I should do. Last year I slept and walked around the city. Maybe I will try and get some New Year's sales...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Working in Japan: Differences

I enjoy reading Ask a Manager while at work. It helps keep me sane and it helps me to see what's going on in the U.S. But, every once and a while, I'll come across a post with a question that seems crazy to the poster, but totally normal to me.

The other day I read a post where someone questioned about having to give six weeks notice before taking time off. 



If you are working in Japan, this is not all that unusual. I don't think it's all that unusual for vacations in the U.S. either. Things that might be unique to Japan, when it comes to vacations and such include:

- Filling out a form for time off. The time off has to be approved by your supervisor, their supervisor, and a few other people up to the boss. Or, in my company's case, the CEO.

- In my company, if you are a few minutes late for work, you have to fill out the above paper for time off. Yes. Two minutes won't slide.

- If you are sick, you take paid or unpaid time off.

- If you are dying, you can take sick leave...maybe...
No one takes sick leave.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Misc. Post of the Day 12062013

Just a few thoughts before heading into the weekend...

1. You will never have enough experience...

Earlier this week, I applied to a few jobs online. The recruiters for the company I applied through for the job, called me for a phone interview on Thursday. I spoke with a woman in English, and then her Japanese co-worker. They both asked for my desired salary. Now, I know I'm being underpaid in my current job. Making the equivalent of $15 an hour might be great if I was fresh out of university with no skills, but that's not the case.

So, I told them I wanted the equivalent of about $40,000 a year. The job salary range was $35 - 55,000 a year. Safe, right?

But, after telling me that I was smart and talented, the lady then said, "JET pays well. But, in Japan, new grads make about $2000 a month and salary increases with age and experience. You don't have much experience, so I wouldn't count on such a high salary."

I was annoyed to again hear that I lacked experience. So, that night, as I talked with my friend N in Fukuoka, I asked for her opinion. "Am I really lacking in experience? Am I that shit?" Her response was as follows:

"You have enough experience. But, they are going to say you don't for this job. In my case, I worked as an instructor and when I was looking for jobs they told me that I didn't have sales experience or that I didn't have office experience. There will always be something that they can find so they can say that you don't have enough experience."

Her answer really helped me to realize that Japanese companies are cheap and full of shit and shit. 


2. Why I would never have a kid in Japan...

I was searching through images on Google images (as you do), and came across this:



This picture just sums up everything that's wrong with multiracial people and children in Japan. Mixed kids (only white and Japanese) have their faces plastered on a tsunami of ads, fashion mags, etc. They are told that they should model from the time they are young. 
Now for the clothes. I'm going to just say it: Japanese people dress their school-age daughters up like prostitutes. This is NOT cute!! 

Heavily made-up face? Check.
Come hither pose? Check.
Hooker socks? Double-check, muthafucker!
And, oh, lord, do those shorts have ruffles? RUFFLES??? What the hell is going on here?! And this ad is tame in comparison to what I typically see when I'm out. I see girls with shorts shorter than these, wearing fishnet stockings or thigh-high socks, heels (!!!) and shirts that look like rainbows and the English-language threw up on them.

*sigh*

Monday, December 2, 2013

End of the Year Blues

The last four months of the year (September - December), are my favorite months of the year. They are also the months that cause me the most anxiety. When I was back home, school would start in September. I also have a September birthday. Then we've got the best holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. As much as I love those holidays, I always felt that I never got to fully enjoy them. Money was the big item that stood in my way.

If I had money, I'd have a nice Halloween costume; a nice Thanksgiving dinner; I could buy cool presents for my family and friends and I could go somewhere fun for New Year's Eve. Before my first xmas/New Year's in Japan, my friend told me in October that she had already made her end of the year plans. "Japan sucks on Xmas/New Year's. I was all alone when I did study abroad, so I made plans early this year."

I thought that she was weak. Who needs people? We're in muthafuckin' Japan!!11
I was certain there'd be parties and festivities and even if there was nothing, at least I was in JAPAN!!11 A foreign country, and I'd never spent Xmas/New Year's in a foreign country. So, I spent my first Xmas in Japan at work and my first New Year's alone. (Well, a friend did come for NYE and left the next day, if that counts)

In 2008, I went home for my first Xmas/New Year's since coming to Japan in 2006. I haven't spent Xmas/New Year's in the US since then.

Christmas at Tokyu Hands


Japan, on Xmas, fucking SUCKS. First, as you can guess, Xmas is not as big a holiday as it is in the US. In fact, it's marketed as a "couple's day." And it's not even Christmas, but Christmas EVE that's the big day. Couples reserve hotel rooms, eat Christmas cake (strawberry shortcake), fried chicken (KFC, anyone?) and exchange presents. Is certainly isn't a day off. 

New Year's is worse. New Year's is when families gather together to ring in the new year. Think of it as Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. Aside from large chain stores, most places are on vacation from December 31 - January 3 or 4. A large majority of people return to their hometowns to spend time with their families. It's not the time of partying with friends and lovers that we have back in the U.S.

What this means is, not only are you alone on Xmas (because you are single or your partner is working), but you're also alone on New Year's (because you are single or your partner is not having you over to spend time with the family). Most shops are closed. There are no New Year's parties. Going to the temple/shrine at midnight is something, but unless you have a local there to explain what to do and how to do it, it's a bit of a let down. 

Then, when work starts back and your Japanese colleagues come in refreshed, you are there...just as stressed as ever. The part that hurts is that, in my case at least, my pay is just at survival rate. And my coworkers have never been abroad, so they ask dumb fucking questions. Around Golden Week, one guy asked, "So, are you going to go back to your home country?" This past month, again, he asked, "Are you going back to America?" It might be an innocent question on his part, but it just makes me feel even shittier. This dude just doesn't understand.

He can go back home for the 3-day weekend and come back to work refreshed. I have to travel close to 24 hours to get home. (This includes all of the layovers and stuff) There's no way for me to go home and come back in 3 days. Even 5 days is pointless. The round-trip fare is close to $1,800. Who spends that much for 5 days?! Two of which are spent on the plane! Then my co-workers wonder why I'm in a bad mood.

I'm trying to find something to look forward to, but I'm not succeeding. I guess I can't expect my coworkers to understand. I don't understand how big Chinese New Year is or how big Diwali is.  But, is it too much to expect my office to give me enough money to cover my loans AND have enough to get home for a major holiday? Seriously. Japanese offices in America that employ Japanese workers understand this and pay accordingly. Gar!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Will You Be My Friend?

I'm gonna start with this sunset picture, because sunsets rock!

Now, when I came to Japan, way back in the day, I hoped to quickly start meeting people and make friends. By my second year, I had given up on that. And in my third year, I was actively trying to avoid certain types of people. Fast forward to this past Sunday. I was at the Costco food court with my friend, having some pizza and chatting.

Suddenly, a wild kid appears. Like he materialized out of thin air, standing between myself and my friend and blurts out, "Excuse me? My name is Taro, nice to meet you." OK. He has been pushed by his mom to come talk to us in English. My friend and I humor the boy, we humor his mom and grandma? aunt? mom's friend??? with small talk.

The mom and us exchange information to tutor her son(s) in English. The mom says to me, "I want to be your friend." Cool. (not) My friend and I head home.

After emailing her to let her know that I'm too busy to tutor her son, she says that she still wants to meet me and again, "Can we be friends?"
This is one thing I can never wrap my head around. Japanese people love asking people to be friends. They ask strangers. They ask random foreigners. They have their kindergarten-age kids ask each other. 

I've never thought of friendship as something that needs verbal confirmation. Well, maybe if you're a 12 year old girl in seventh grade, I guess I can understand. But a grown-ass women?? Now, I've been roped into meeting this women at a cafe tomorrow. Saying, "no," should be simple enough, but as a representative of America, I feel a great deal of pressure to be friendly. This pressure's put me in situations that wear me out. 

Casually transitioning into a friendship is not something that a large number of people here seem particularly adept at. The types of "friends" you want to avoid in Japan:
- Anyone who brags about their large number of foreign friends
- Anyone who is too happy to meet you (because you are from a western country)
- Anyone who aggressively sends you emails
- Anyone who is "really interested in learning English!!11"

These people will wear you down. They are not interested in helping you when you are down. And in the event that they do try to help you, they want your life and your first born child in return.

Just like back home, look to make friends with people with shared interests. It might take longer, and if you don't speak Japanese, it'll be a lot harder. But, you'll make some good friends that way!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Misc. Post of the Day

I am too drained to brain.

1. On Wednesday, I donated blood! Whee! I've never donated blood before. And I got to take a break from sitting on my ass and go out to the donation truck and lay on my ass! I also found out my blood type. And, omg, the Japan Red Cross gives you a blood donation point card! A fucking point card for blood donations! And what do you get? Some package of ramen. God, I don't even.
The nice thing about the card, however, is that the next time I'm eligible to donate is printed on the card. Sweet!

2. My friend posted this tumblr link to Facebook. I got some lols, and if you've lived in Japan for long-term, I'm sure you will, too!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Using Facebook in Japan is Damn Annoying

I'm on Facebook all the time. It wasn't always like this. In university, I dragged my feet on signing up. My friend would send me messages inviting me to join, I'd ignore them. Then in my final year, a month or so before graduating, I bit the bullet and signed up...under a fake name.

After some issues with the Facebook people, I now use my real name and last initial. (They said that nicknames were OK. And how do they know that Winder Girl isn't my real name? Maybe it's written that way, but read "Nora Jones." Facebook, you don't know me! ...But, I digress...)

Here in Japan, Facebook is like the devil in blue and white form. Media reports that you HAVE to use your real name. That you HAVE to use a REAL photograph...of YOURSELF!!!111 
Japanese people on mixi, don't have to register with their real names and they certainly don't have to post pictures of themselves....let's for a minute put aside the fact that Facebook doesn't know who you are, and they certainly can't confirm your name, but...again...whatevs.

What this means is that Japanese people are afraid of Facebook. I would put Japanese Facebook users in three groups: Japanese people who have spent time abroad and want to keep in touch with friends/Japanese people who lurve foreign things; Japanese people who made a Facebook page for work; and Japanese people who heard about Facebook on TV and decided to try it.

Let me focus on the second group; Japanese people who made a Facebook page for work. This describes 95% of the people in my office. On my first day of work, I was asked if I had a Facebook page, and then I was forced to become "friends" with all of my coworkers who also had a Facebook page. The majority of the people at work post nothing.

Every week or so, the office gets an email telling us to "like" someone's post or to "like" some page. And so, some random post gets 50 some likes. Complete and utter garbage. What's worse is that because these people see Facebook as another work tool, they have no boundaries. One foreign co-worker saw that people at our company took a screenshot of a Facebook dialogue with a friend, photoshopped another foreign co-worker over the original friend, and used it in promotional materials...all withOUT asking him first!

Another time, we foreign staff were asked if we could provide Facebook and Twitter accounts to the company to be used for promotional materials. Uh, no? Just because you were forced to get Facebook for work doesn't mean that I want a bunch of random Japanese people trying to find me, friend me and read through my posts.

On my first day, after friending everyone in the company with a Facebook page, I went and made a "group," put them all in that group and blocked it from the majority of my posts and photos. I get friend requests from the new people that join the company, and one chick, who is new, had the audacity to send me an email on Monday (I was sick on Friday), asking me if I got her friend request. Bitch, I don't know you! Who cares if I'm your "friend" on Facebook or not? Seriously, GTFO.

Knowing that I am "friends" with everyone at my company, from the CEO down, means that I'm obsessively checking to make sure that they can't see anymore than I want them to see. SO, if you are in Japan, or working here, don't just let people become friends with you on Facebook. I swear, people are cray cray here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Female and Working in Japan

I remember when I was in high school and working at the public library. I came across a wealth of books, and most days I would pause (look nervously over my shoulder) and flip through interesting looking books. That's where I found my first set of "Doing Business in Japan" type books. Some were about taboos, some were biographies, and two were specifically about women and for women. One was The Accidental Office Lady, and I can't remember the other. 

What I do remember about these books was that women were expected to serve tea, wore uniforms and were below men in every way in Japanese offices. I tried to take these books with a grain of salt; most were published in the early and mid-90s by people who were writing about time spent in Japan in the '80s. So, before taking off for JET, I spent time on internet forums reading through everything I could get my eyes on about life in Japan.

A lot of it was useless to me in the end. Here are some of the things that I was expecting, but never panned out:

"You will be forced to drink tons by your coworkers!"
If you are a guy, perhaps. But, I've never been asked to chug down another beer. I've never been in any drinking contests with Japanese coworkers. Why? Because number one, it's just not something that any man would ask a woman to do. Men don't get into drinking contests with women. The ramifications of a man forcing his female coworker to drink would be incredibly bad.
But, the lack of drinking presents another problem... The way men get in good with the boss (who is almost always a man) is to go drinking with him. They drink until late, and probably go to a snack bar or other girlie bar afterwards. Men would never invite a woman because it's a form of male bonding, but male bonding can lead to someone getting a promotion faster. Which, in my opinion, is one way that women get left behind. They can't join in on the afterhours boys' fun.

"You will have to serve tea to the men!"
Nope. When I worked for City Hall, yes, the person that typically served tea to guests or the bucho was a female secretary. However, when/if she was away, a male coworker would serve the tea. Unlike the "old days," men aren't getting tea and coffee every hour. And the only person getting served was the bucho...after lunch. On the other hand, the lower ranking female staff did wash the cups and coffee pot.
This is the tricky area. In City Hall, the women who were considered civil servants did not wash and dishes. The women who were considered contract workers, did. I would offer to wash dishes as a way of getting along with my female coworkers. BUT, no one expected me to. Foreign...or at least Western, women will not be expected to wash dishes or serve tea. And the reason is because you are a foreigner. (This may not apply to Asian women from other Asian countries. Asian American women would NOT be expected to partake.)

Some things that I wasn't expecting that are giving me trouble:

No Sempai! (...no douki, either!)
Your sempai helps you learn the ropes of your place of work. They tell you who to suck up to and how to suck up to them. Who seems like they have power and who actually has power. It's a relationship that you maintain throughout your time at the company and even after, depending on the circumstances. Douki, who are roughly the same age as you and join the company at the same time, serve as people to lean on in hard times. You are at the same level and can help each other out. You form bonds that will last through your time at the company.
...Unless you are a foreigner, that is! It's hard enough for a foreign man to get a Japanese coworker to take him under his wing, but as a female?? Maybe I just have bad luck, but the number of females in higher ranking positions is low, and at my office, I have no other female to show me the ropes. Personally, I don't care if it's a man or woman, but Japanese society and offices often divide along these lines.
Without someone to show me the ropes and pull for me, I'm just there...existing. 

Women be quitting work when they get married!
WTF Japanese women?! Why you be quitting work as soon as your man pops the question? That's why there ain't any women in managerial positions! And that's why, the older you get, the LESS LIKELY you are to get any responses to job apps. Maybe this has nothing to do with foreign women...I'm just pissed that Japanese women are so stupid as to go the homemaker route.

People don't know what to do with me!
I'm not a giraffe. I can lift heavy things. I can speak in Japanese. Again, this might just be me, but I feel like a foreign (white) man at a Japanese company is something that Japanese people can accept more than a female. Guys are afraid of asking me to do something that I might find offensive. The girls are kind but at the same time, there's no sense that we're in this together. 

I'll wrap it up here, for now.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

When I Think of Working Back Home...

Before moving to Japan, I'd held two part-time jobs. The first was delivering newspapers. I started this job when I was in third grade and continued through 9th grade. Then, when I was in 10th grade, I began working at my City's public library. In total, I worked there for 8 years; quitting something like 2 or 3 days before getting on the plane to come to Japan.

My entire Real(ish) Job in the Real World experience has been in Japan. It can be interesting at times. For the most part as long as I don't fuck up and kill someone I've got a job. But the worst part is that my work is contract work and I get no pay raise. I also get no responsibilities. If the Japanese staff has an issue, and I could easily solve that issue...and they KNOW that I could, they still won't ask for my help because I'm a contract worker (keiyaku-shaiin). 

I've been wondering what working full-time in the U.S. will be like. I imagine that would make at least $60,000 a year. That I'd be working somewhere where my coworkers respect my ability and where people share ideas and look to improve themselves. That I'd be getting a raise and a bonus because I'm that awesome. 

On a different note, I've been talking with a Japanese friend and she has agreed to answer some questions about Japan for me :)
There aren't that many people that actively read this blog, but if you did have a question you wanted to ask, feel free! I only ask that the questions aren't too specialized (ie- Why did Tokugawa decide to ride naked on a horse before doing some other obscure thing that no one has ever heard about?). And please refrain from offensive questions. :)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fukuoka

Just a few pics from my weekend in Fukuoka. :D I'd been meaning to post these earlier, but no time. Really, just a few of the mountain of pics I took!



Hakata Station was given a makeover a few years ago. I don't think I ever saw it before the make over, but this new station looks great! It's brightly lit at night and I feel pretty safe walking around. A big plus is that there are a lot of people hanging around.




My friend took me to the beach. The weather was warm, but the wind was strong. There were a good number of couples, youth and families playing in the water and enjoying the clear skies and good weather. 




The water was cool and clear. As time passed, the wind became stronger and the waves bigger. I almost lost a sandal to the sea! hehe




Looking out onto Fukuoka City.




Writing the name of your partner on a lock and locking it to something is supposed to represent your unbreakable love...or something like that.




Beautiful sunset. I am so happy I was able to capture it!




Looking down at the city at night. Love it!




The Monday I was in Fukuoka was a national holiday, Sports Day. Throughout Japan, there were a number events related to exercise, fitness and sports. In Fukuoka, they held an event to allow people "climb" Fukuoka Tower. By "climb," they mean, "Walk up the narrow stairs to the observation deck." Before heading up, the staff had all of the participants warm up with "radio exercises." It was surreal to do stretches with a character. But, it's Japan!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tiny Pizza

I've been getting my pizza fix from Costco, but since I finish Zumba after Costco is closed, and there's a typhoon barreling down on Japan, I decided to order Japanese pizza. Pizza in Japan is crazy expensive. Like "WTH are you smoking?!!11" expensive.

But, I decided to treat myself and order a pizza "set" from Chicago Pizza. A small jabanero pizza (the Habanero Punch, to be exact...topped with bacon, sausages, onions and fresh tomatoes. The habanero was in a packet to be sprinkled over the pizza), and a "healthy set."
The healthy set was my choice of salad (caesar) and what appeared to be tater tots.

Ok, so. Yeah. The delivery person comes, hands me the salad. Cool. Hands me the box with the tater tots. Cool. And hands me some other small box. WTF? I've paid 2,300 yen (close to $23) for this small, slightly larger than a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza, thing???

No, it's not the angle...The pizza really is that small!

I had to laugh. "Small" was correct. My hand is not very big. And I just checked my spice packet, and there's not even any habanero in it! Ingredients: Crushed red pepper. Come ON! Well, I got food delivered to my house in the pouring rain, plus enough pizza left for tomorrow's dinner. Can't complain much!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Stationary!

Can I just say that Japan (and Korea) have some of the. best. stationary goods evar? Today I went down to LOFT to get some white-out. I stayed there for close to an hour looking through the various monthly planners for the 2013-2014 year. There are just rows upon rows of planners. Some are covered with characters, from Sailor Moon to Eric Carle's Hungry Caterpillar. Others are meant to mimic the look of an 18th century European book. Of course there are the plain ones that proliferate the shelves of bookstores in the U.S., too.

erhmegerd! i'm in planner heaven!!11


It might seem strange to use a monthly planner when cell phones have been used in Japan for decades and smartphones have also become quite popular. Perhaps Japanese people are analog like I can be. Or, as I guess, having a planner is a way to display your personality. Girls with cutesy planners and guys with businessy looking ones. You don't just write in your planner. If you're a girl, you pimp that planner out. And there are lots of stickers, tags, highlighters, etc. to help your planner become the cutest of them all...

ma1 p1anner lulZ


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Random Tip of the Day 10152013

I'm going to make this short.
If you're in Tokyo, and want a great shot of the city from high up, but don't want to pay to go up Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree, I suggest the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku.

Walk up in there like a boss and take the elevator to the 42nd floor of the main building. It's unlikely (?) that anyone will stop you because the Keio Plaza is crawling with foreigners and Japanese tourists. Just walk up like you are supposed to be there.
Once you get up to the 42nd floor, you can walk over to one of the large windows and get some great shots of the city.
Pro-tip: The windows in the women's bathroom have a great view.
Pro-tip: The men's bathroom may also have a nice view?

Wheee!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Chanel Bag

This might sound strange, but Japan and Korea (and I'm sure China, too) have the cutest bags! And when I say "bags," I don't mean purses; I am talking about the shopping bags. I remember when I spent a summer semester abroad in Korea, I'd save all of the cute bags because we had nothing like that in the U.S., or at least not in Michigan. I thought I was strange.

Then I came to Japan.

One of the first things about Japan that stood out to me were the sheer number of women with brand name purses. Wherever I looked I saw Prada. Chanel. Louis Vuitton. Coach. Hermes. It was like nothing to people here. 

"Oh! You have a Prada bag?!"
"Duh. Of course I have a Prada bag. Who doesn't have one??? Are you fucking stupid?"

Something like that.

Another thing that stood out were the women who always had the bag their bag came in. The Prada Bag bag. The Coach Bag bag. etc. It was as if every other woman had just stepped out of Hudson's and wanted the world to know that she just bought something at Hermes.

At least, that's what I thought...until I looked in the bag.

They were putting their bento in the Chanel or Coach shopping bag and carrying it around. This might be more of a West Japan thing than an East Japan thing. On Himitsu no Kenmin Show (a show that looks at the unique cultures of the various prefectures of Japan), Osaka gals who did this were made fun of.

Which bag should I take...to carry my bento in?
So, yeah. I felt vindicated in my bag love. And I of course hold on to any bag that I can get so that I, too, can look like I'm rich. It doesn't help that the bags are in fact quite sturdy. And I guess it does look cute to walk around with a Chanel shopping bag filled with your wallet and stuff.

As a related story, a year or so ago I was browsing through a store that sold used and discounted designer bags. Two Chinese guys came in and bought some LV bags. But, when the staff put the bags in an nondescript shopping bag, the men asked her if she had a LV bag to put them in. 
The bag that the bag comes in carries as much status as the bag itself. 

Just remember that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Drinking

"Japan will turn you into an alcoholic."

I can't remember where on the interwebs I read this, but I certainly remember reading it as I did my pre-Japan preparation research. But...then again, it might have been "Korea" and not Japan. Maybe I read the same thing, but for each country...

Whatever country it was, I brushed it off. I mean, I never drank much in the US. I was never old enough to drink much before coming to Japan and I couldn't really picture myself sitting alone in my apartment drinking. But, here I am, seven? eight? years later, sitting in my apartment at 12:30 am debating on whether or not to open a can of this 7-11 chu-hi and down it before crawling into bed and dragging myself out in a few hours.

Decided to save the 7-11 for another day. 


Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Comedian Sakurazuka Yakkun Killed in Car Crash

Japanese media is reporting that comedian Sakurazuka Yakkun, 37, was killed in a traffic accident on Saturday, October 5. According to reports, Yakkun and a friend were driving through Yamaguchi Prefecture when their car stalled. When they got out, they were struck and killed by another car.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

I Will Try This Makeup

Make-up is such a large part of daily life for Japanese women. Wearing make-up to work is considered an obvious professionalism. Even if someone doesn't go full out, they will wear either eyeliner, foundation or something that shows that they have makeup on. I'm from Michigan, but I hear that the South is similar to Japan in that women in the South feel that makeup is what you wear when you go out.

My mom doesn't wear makeup and I've never been all that interested in it. But, as it does, I've been feeling the pressure to conform in some way. I've spent the past 3 years or so looking through various makeup types, from powder foundation to BB cream. Having brown skin also hasn't helped my search. In a country that values light colored skin, the standard foundation/BB cream colors are usually too light, and the darker colors are often times too dark.



While, I would have no problem letting this issue go if I was back home, I decided to try and see if I could come up with something here. I can't stress how important makeup is here. As a foreigner, it's possible that no one cares what's on my face. But, I would be naive to assume that people don't judge. So, what I've stumbled upon is something a bit simpler that makes me look "nice" while not taking a lot of time.

And, that is blush! My T-zone gets very oily, and when I have used foundation, I look a fright after a few hours. With blush and some lip gloss, I think that I've found something that makes me look made up without looking overdone. So, if you're like me and you're in Japan and don't or can't do the whole Japanese makeup thing, try some blush. That might just be the small thing that helps you pull off a look!

I used Chanel #65 blush with Gelato Pique (a gift from a coworker) lip gloss and on occasion Chanel #54 lip gloss.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Deep Breath

After getting fired and then rehired in July, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about where I went wrong or what I should have done differently. I have been quite depressed here in Japan for the past few years, and this was just another reason for me to fucking hate this country. Despite my best efforts to try and think of the positive, the negative thoughts really come back quickly and last longer than any positive ones.

I thought that I had a grasp on Japanese culture, Japanese office culture, but my confidence has been shaken. So, I've been searching and reading through blogs, newspaper articles, forums and book excerpts online during work to find what I've been missing. I think that I've gotten so focused on just trying to get through the days that I've lost track of how well I used to be at reading people, at evaluating situations and at just thinking in general.

It's so easy to say, but your experience in Japan...at a Japanese company is totally dependent on the people around you. Especially the person who is your manager. When I was a CIR, I worked with a handful of Japanese coworkers who had extensive overseas experience. They knew what it was like to be a foreigner. They trusted me to work with them to create translated documents. And even if I disagreed with some of their methods, at least they had that overseas experience.

In my current position, aside from one new coworker, no other Japanese coworkers have extensive overseas experience. Aside from some light travel, they've never left Japan. They have no idea what it feels like to be a foreign resident of a country. Their views of me and my other non-Japanese coworkers are shaped by the fact that they see us as tourists. No matter how long we are here, that's all they see us as.

What's more is that their ideas about how to work with us are based on their experiences working with the handful of other foreigners who worked there. And since they don't understand and don't want to understand, there is no support. They just don't care that we non-Japanese don't get to go back home on 3-day weekends or the end-of-the-year break. They think that excluding us from decision-making, from becoming seishain or more is the right thing to do because we'll eventually leave or...something.

So. Again. Your experience is very, very, VERY much dependent on the people in your office. If your manager/coworker/boss wants to work with you and respect you, you'll be in a position better than most. *Deep sigh*

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sailor Moon Necklace :D

Please allow me to fangirl for a moment. 
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon. Can you believe it? WTH?? I can't believe it! To mark the anniversary, Bandai has come out with a number of Sailor Moon items, many of which are aimed at (Japanese) girls who grew up watching the show. So...I guess people between the ages of 20 and 39ish?

Back in June, my boyfriend sent me the link to this limited edition Sailor Moon powder. Despite my best efforts, I wasn't able to nab one. At the end of August...or was it the beginning of September?, he sent me another Sailor Moon Bandai link. This time for T-shirts and a necklace. Being the slightly impulsive person that I am, I placed an order for one of the necklaces. It was delivered at the end of September...

Wrapped in plastic.

20th Anniversary. omg,  I can't believe it...

Description on the bottom of the box.

Dat plastic...

The necklace! Whee! I've been wearing it everyday and loving it!
Thank you for allowing my fangirl moment. You may continue with your activities. For those that are interested, the other necklaces can be found here. I bought the above one partly because most of the others were sold out when I checked the page. But, I still love it! The Bandai page of Sailor Moon goods can be found here

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Checking Out Tokyo

Monday, September 23 was a holiday, and that means 3-day weekend!
My boyfriend accepted a job in Tokyo, and moved in with his mom and step-dad last month. Even when he was living in my area we rarely met up on the weekends, and only sometimes on 3-day weekends. But, I took a chance that he'd be free and even if he wasn't I planned on meeting my high school friend first. 

He did end up being free and I spent the long weekend with him in Tokyo. Tokyo's an interesting place. Like most big cities, people usually fall into two groups; "Love it!," or "Hate it." Being the capital city, and the largest in Japan means that there is always things to do, but travel is a bitch. I arrived at Tokyo Station and immediately remembered why I hated Tokyo Station; it's a clusterfuck of bodies. 

Have you ever seen those videos of ants just crawling all over each other not giving a shit? Tokyo Station is like that. But the ants have luggage and huge backpacks. Everyone is focused on their own path. Tokyo Station peeps don't give a fuck. Tokyo Station peeps gonna do Tokyo Station peeps. This long weekend brought out all of the people. A bunch of them headed to Makuhari for the Tokyo Games Show.

There's one train that goes to Makuhari, which is actually in Chiba, not Tokyo. To get to that train from the Shinkansen area of the station takes about 15 minutes if you're walking briskly. Your brisk walk is slowed to a crawl because a few stops before Makuhari is Tokyo Disneyland. So now you're trying to catch the express train on time while dodging slow families and their slow kids. The non-express train takes about an hour? hour and a half vs. 45 min for the express train.

I only went to the Game Show for about 30minutes. The plan was to go there and walk around for an hour then go back to Tokyo in time to catch a movie with my friend. What happened was that everyone and their mom was there and the lines were crazy. The tickets were 1,200 yen and after lining up to get tickets, we were put into sections outside. Each section was then let into the venue one at a time. One section was also something like 1,000? 2,000? people. It took about 45 minutes to get inside. 

I'm wondering HOW Tokyo is going to deal with the Olympics. The city is huge and overcrowded right now, but with a few extra million people for the Olympics, it's going to be crazy. The subways are not the easiest to navigate, and on the maps the transfers look easier than they are. Case in point, Tokyo station. I can transfer to a shitload of lines, but nothing NOTHING warns you that it'll take 15 minutes of running through an un-air conditioned station filled with sweaty people to make your transfer. I fear for 2020...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Watch your BACK, son!

First, w00t! I've finished the user manual translation I've been working on!! All I can do is hope that it reads smoothly and that I get paid. I spent the past month going home, firing up the computer, and slowly translating an almost 30 page manual. That time also includes making the file "pretty."

However, I want to talk a bit about WHY working in a Japanese office can be so frustrating. 

Let's say that you start working at a Japanese office for the first time ever. There's no cubicles. The office seems relaxed, and no one seems to be interested in what you do. When you look around, you see people who seem to be goofing off, texting on their cell phones, looking at whatever on their computers and you think, "Well, it must be OK." 



Yeah, everyone at work knows what you eat, who you eat with, how many times you pee/day, when you're on your period and the color of your mom's underwear by the end of the week. They know all of this without seeming like they know it. That example, not exactly an example...that's my newest coworker from America. She doesn't speak Japanese well. And she apparently seems to find the job boring as fuck (which may be true).

Another coworker apparently gave her a heads up soon after she got there. I say "apparently" because it's not like I was there when they talked. But, nah, she's gonna do her, and haters are gonna hate. Then it got to the point where a bucho, who doesn't even sit anywhere near us, emails the CEO and a bunch of other people about her. 
"What's she doing in the bathroom for so long?"
"Why is she taking her phone with her to the bathroom?"
"Why is she eating ice cream at her desk??"

All truths. 

Just because it seems like Japanese people are ignoring you, rest assured that they aren't. In the U.S., as long as you are somewhat friendly, do your work and don't go batshit crazy, people generally will leave you be (at least that's my impression). I highly doubt that the average American office worker knows, let alone cares whether or not the person sitting across from them drinks Starbucks coffee or not. 

If you know that people are going to talk, then you can use that to your advantage. Any crumb of information that you drop will spread like wildfire. That's also why Japanese people are sooo secretive about their private lives at work. That hot guy who's easy to talk with and seems interested in you? He's married, and has a kid(s). (True story) He just doesn't talk about it at work, because that aspect of his life has nothing to do with work. 

What else can you do? The big thing is to be friendly, smile, offer to help, and even if you find the first week that you hate your new job, at least keeping the appearance of working diligently for the first month or two goes a long way. Who you talk with can be political, too. More so for your Japanese colleagues than you, foreigner. 
Other things that would help:
Not taking your cell phone with you into the bathroom.
Not taking your notebook, coffee and cell phone into the bathroom.
Not taking the above with you to the bathroom for 20 minutes.
Not taking the above with you to what everyone thinks is the bathroom, but is actually the stairwell.
Not opening a bottle of pop at your desk immediately after lunch.
Not eating onigiri at your desk after lunch.

Hope that helps. It doesn't matter how nice you are...