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. :)