Some questions (long!)
December 4 2000 at 4:02 AM

Response to Any thoughts....?

Well, Peter, good luck! I may be in the same boat as you, so here are some important things to think about before you come over. (And I apologize in advance for the negativity in this post -- this is more of a 'let me warn you, so you won't turn into an axe murderer when you get here' thing than anything else.)

0. What kind of company is it?

Or, more importantly, are you joining this company with the intent of making it a career? If you are, things will be harder than if you're in a temporary frame of mind. Why? Because a lot of your Japanese colleagues will see you as temporary regardless of what your aims are.

1. How many foreigners will you be working with?

If there are a lot, you may find that the working environment has split into the "Japanese side" and the "foreign side". This can be tension-filled, but if you don't mind having mostly fellow gaijin as buddies, it can be OK. On the other hand, a situation where you're the only foreigner, AND you're committed to fitting in and being a "team player", can also be extraordinarily stressful, since you'll be expected to conform to the Japanese way of doing things all the time -- this means ludicrously long working days, and maybe some anti-gaijin hazing from the (usually male) insecure arrogant types.

Having one or two other foreign people around, whom you can make friends with and escape the sabisu zangyo rat race a few times a week, can really improve things.

2. Where will you be located?

I know you're with a big company, but hopefully not in Tokyo! Tokyo is a great place to visit, but a terrible place to live if you're in the salaryman world. Riding the trains at 7:30 AM on a weekday, and being crushed to death by other passengers (ever hear about those white-gloved employees who literally stuff the passengers into the train? They really exist!) is NO FUN AT ALL. (You might not have to iron your shirts, though, since the weight of the people leaning into you just might do the trick.)

While the real Edokko (native Tokyoites) are cool, Tokyo is also flooded with people who've come there from afar and a lot of these people have an arrogant aloofness about them. Their way of speaking can grate on the ears too. If you're going to another medium-sized city, you'll have a lot of fun. I love Osaka because of how easy it is to meet people and not have them look at you like you're some kind of monster, but it is a major metropolis after all. Kyoto and Nara are great as well, especially if you're into culture and history. (Haven't lived anywhere but Kanto and Kansai, so I can't really comment about the rest of the nation.) The other end of the spectrum would be the doinaka, the boondocks, sticksville. A lot of JETs get sent out there, and find themselves gradually losing their minds. If this is where you'Re going, then it basically depends on the natives. I was lucky enough to live in a university town in Shiga, so the residents were used to dealing with gaijin, and all the exchange students there were highly motivated people who usually knew enough Japanese, and so communication was pretty smooth. In other towns, suspicion and hostility might crop up.

3. Money

Y300,000 is plenty of money to live on, even if you're in Tokyo. I make less than that, and don't get any real benefits, but that's due more to being 24 years old than anything else. (Age determines your compensation more than anything else.) Companies seem to think that the opportunity to buy into the health care and pension rackets is something to be thankful for, rather than being a method of tossing your money away. If it's possible not to join these schemes, don't.

And if they're covering your other costs, then go for it! Moving can be expensive if you're doing it yourself. And keep in mind that if you fly home to visit family, or to do business overseas, it's tax-deductible! (I didn't know this last year; could've saved a bundle.)

4. The length of the working day

Now I don't know your exact situation, but given that you don't speak Japanese fluently yet, they probably won't expect you to fit in 100%. If this is the case, establish as a precedent FROM DAY ONE that you'll be heading home at 5:30 or 6:00 every day. Someone once posted here that the Japanese operate on precedent and not logic; that's an overstatement, but precedent IS important. If you start staying at the office until 10 or 11 PM all the time, and donating your own time, money, and energy to the company all the time, your health will collapse and the stress will drive you nuts -- PLUS they'll start expecting it of you. (And your wages will effectively drop to under Y1000 per hour.)

I'm one of those people who needs to sleep 8 or 9 hours a day, and at a Japanese company, this isn't feasible even if I spend all of my personal time at the office. This is why being temporary is a good thing Eyou can meet your obligations without going crazy, and if you don't like the situation, you can always count the days until it's over.

I highly recommend that you get out ant meet people. If you meet a great girl and fall in love, almost anything can be bearable! But hopefully you'll be in a good situation to begin with. There are a lot of multinational firms that are well-run and don't push people around. Get in touch with some other foreigners in your company and see what they think.

If you want war stories from my dealings with racist bosses, I'd be happy to oblige. ^_^; Odds are you'll have a lot of fun in Japan. Just try to set things up so that you're in a good situation, and don't let things get to you. You're in for a life-changing experience, for better or worse. Probably better. ^_^;


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