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秋春粉墨

若兰的上海生活

 
 
 

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Working in Japan....abroad  

2013-04-28 17:59:57|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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I've been reading a lot of Japanese blogs lately and it’s always interesting to hear everyone’s bizarre stories about Japan.  Since I worked at a school in Japan for two years and am currently working at a Japanese company in Shanghai, it’s always refreshing to know that I’m not alone when it comes to dealing with the outrageous requirements of Japanese companies.

Now, Japanese companies are special.  Communicating with co-workers or superiors is like walking on eggshells, and I think one website described the experience something like, “walking on a tightrope over a flaming pit while juggling chainsaws.”  I don’t deny this, not at all.  And with all the indirect communication going on and all of the useless work and tasks you have to do to prove that you’re serious about your job, I think a typical foreigner would quit in the span of a week. 

I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve bowed profusely and apologized for some minor error (using white out on a piece of paper, miscalculating something by one number, using the wrong font for a report, etc) and told the boss I was a complete and utter failure in life for failing to do so (yet I perfectly translated a legal report from Japanese to English), with his only reply being: “well, if you don’t things done the right way, nothing will get done, now will it?”

I won’t lay out the specifics of working in a Japanese company. You can find it here, and he probably does a better job of summing it up for me.  What I do want to talk about, however, is working in a Japanese company outside of Japan.

 

Japanese Companies Abroad

1. How do Japanese companies outside of Japan work?

Despite not even being in Japan and the staff being over 80% local, Japanese companies expect the staff to abide and live by the same rules as, well, Japan.  To work at a Japanese company in Shanghai, you not only have to speak, read and write near perfect Japanese, but they also expect you to work like a Japanese person.  They will expect you to read/write/speak near flawless Japanese and do double time work—in other words, if the work is in Chinese, then you have to do in Japanese again for the boss.  Management will also scowl at you if you ask for paid/sick leave, because you’re being a wimp ass loser if you can’t come to work with a near fatal fever or if you’re throwing up.  Sissy.  The more you overtime, the more they’ll love you. 

With all the craziness listed above, I’m sure you can imagine the turnover rate in our company—or really, any Japanese company abroad--which is, hardly anyone lasts 6 months.  Unless you hire a team of Japanese people, I mean, seriously… who’s going to put up with all that?

 

2.  If it’s a Japanese company abroad, then that must make the Japanese staff ‘gaijin,’ right?

This is the most interesting ‘study’ topic I’ve had since arriving in this company.  It’s amazing to work with Japanese people that know the pain of being a foreigner.  They finally fit into the same category as me.  They don’t leave me out and see me as a weird “outsider” that will never fit in—because they are a foreigner too.  In fact, I’m the lone westerner in this company, which means that we foreigners (Japanese people included) stick together.  Strangely enough, the Japanese people have become my pillar of support in this company to deal with the overwhelming majority—the Chinese.  We all group up and have our own lunch cliques, but believe it or not, I’m with the Japanese people. 

The other day, one of my Japanese co-workers even asked me out for a lunch outing on the weekend so we can all bond.  The weird “you will never be Japanese” barrier has just disappeared into thin air.  Poof.  Suddenly, I’m on the same side as them, and strangely enough we’re all in it together to make it in this strange place.  It’s almost glorifying to see these Japanese struggle with trying to fit into this new culture, and being forced to study a new language.  Now you feel my pain.

Some of the Chinese staff have worked here for 3-5 years and, despite speaking perfectly fluent Japanese, have never gone out with the Japanese staff.  I’ve only been here a month and they walk up to me and ask me out for lunch.  If I didn’t have some faint understanding of Japanese culture or life I don’t think this would happen, so I'm grateful for the two years I spent in Japan.  Since they see me as someone new, someone that’s probably alone and in need, I’m grateful for their help.

 

3. Japanese Staff Abroad

I’m basically the translator and interpreter for the top leaders of this company, with my main manager being Takada-san (for privacy’s sake, we’ll use a fake name).  Takada-san is the only woman to be sent over here from headquarters and people come to her for advice and counsel on how to run things.  Even the China CEO reveres her as someone high and mighty that really knows how this industry works.  For anyone that has ever worked in a Japanese company, you know not many women succeed in this effort and if they do—they go through a lot of sh*t to get there.  With Takada-san, it shows.  I remember from day one, I took one look at her and thought: “man, now that woman looks completely exhausted.”  Working in an advertising company is hard enough, but being a woman in male dominated, Japanese company must really suck. 

I sit right next to her, and she basically gives me orders for what to translate, what to interpret or what to work with.  I was afraid of her at first because, well, she’s a powerful Japanese lady in one of the top organizations in Japan.  She must be one of those crazy career women that completely shut down emotionally so they could succeed and be awesome. 

But no.  She’s even more awesome than that—she’s one of the kindest, most honest people I’ve ever met.

So we talk a lot.  I swivel my chair toward her and ask the question that’s been plaguing me for days:

“So Takada-san, how long have you worked in China?”

She pauses, hesitant to answer.  I almost feel bad asking.  Was it really that personal?  I clam up.

After a moment, she replies:

“18 years.”

EIGHTEEN YEARS!?!?!?!!

I won’t digress, but if anyone has been to China, you know living 18 years here is no small feat.  I’ve only been here 2 and I’m about ready to go postal. 

Takada-san talks to me about how annoying Japanese companies are, how western clients don’t like to work with us, and how Japanese people feel compelled to work overtime even though it’s useless.  This woman is  telling me everything every foreigner ever thought—and openly in the office.  So.  Unheard of.

After we have some small talk, she suddenly sighs and turns to me.

“It must be nice,” she smiles sadly.  “To have been born American.”

This is the second time a Japanese co-worker has said this to me, but, we’ll save that for another day.

So.  Japanese company abroad.  It still has all the nasty habits a company in Japan would have, but the atmosphere is much more relaxed and the staff are way more open minded.  I’ll take my desk job here to a desk job in Tokyo any day.

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