My first three months (back) in Japan

Hello friends in Canada,

It’s almost half a year since I made my last post here. A long story short, I now live in Tokyo. People often ask me if I had any culture shock coming back. I used to say moving here didn’t affect me much because after living in Victoria for 8 years, I knew it was not going to be easy for me to fit in anywhere else right away; it’s always hard to settle in a new place and I did’t want to blame cultural difference for my not knowing how to make new friends, find an apartment, do as the Romans do and find a kind of job I want.

But finding a job in Japan was a culture shock to me.

For one thing, I was overwhelmed with choices I had despite what people say about the Japanese economy. Having lived in Victoria, I was so used to not hearing back from companies that I couldn’t even imagine I would end up choosing which interviews are worth my time.

Another surprise were lengthy screening processes at the companies. In Japan, companies usually set up a few interviews for each candidates over a couple of weeks. You can imagine how hard it would be to have even two interviews for which you take your time to iron your shirts, brush your suits, and polish your shoes knowing you might not get the job.

After about 10 interviews, I was tired of job hunting and registered to an employment agency.

I was introduced to a couple of “Haken” jobs at the agency. Haken is a temp like employment only found through agencies. Signing up for an agency is free to candidates because they take commissions from the client companies. But as if to prove nothing is more expensive than free, the commissions come out of candidates’ paychecks and rather than the client companies.

In my case, interviewers accidentally disclosed my real wage at an American apparel company interview I was sent to.
When I got a good news from the agency, my contract showed exactly 40% less than the number I was told.

Using agencies and giving your job search into someone else’s hand, I went through a couple of strange interviews.

I think some companies are paranoid of industrial spies sneaking into their companies as a temp staff that those companies don’t allow agencies to fully disclose job description to candidates prior to the interviews.

My agency scheduled me to an interview telling me he couldn’t tell me much about the job. He said the job is related to computers and an ideal candidate was a Japanese English bilingual with technical support experience. I was given a location of the interview but was warned that it was not going to be exactly where the company was located.

So I went to the location and had my interview with two people who didn’t tell me their names. They went over my resume and asked standard interview questions about my strength and career goals. It took only about 15 minutes.

“Any questions?” they asked.

I had too many questions at hand that I didn’t know where to start.

I tried my luck and asked, “Um…what exactly is the job?”

But the answer was no better than the description the agency gave me and it was so vague that I had trouble coming up with my next question.

“Where is it located?”

“I can’t tell you.” Again I was stuck in a long silence of screaming questions.

“Okay…I don’t think I have any more questions that you can answer.”

Now the most confusing question was yet to come.

“Do you want to work for us?”

If I said yes to them, why should I have ever listened to my Mom saying “Don’t get in a stranger’s car.”

My answer was already clear.

With strange interviews with Japanese companies, I ended up working the job with a 40% wage cut from the start.

After all, except disclosure of my real wage, the interview was normal and the company was an US based apparel company at which wearing suits was not required. Also no obligation of going on company trips and company events sounded rather attractive. I had a couple of job offers and some had pay deduction for annual company events.

It didn’t take me long to find the job was not right for me. My boss was a typical nice Japanese man and I got along with the girls there, whom I had lunch with everyday. But I hardly found any girls who had worked for the company for more than a year and the way girls were treated didn’t seem right to me.

As I was hired as an engineer, I didn’t face same situations as other girls.
But after a few days into my job, the boss I thought was nice gave me the strangest task in my whole work life.
“We are having a few visitors at our department this afternoon. Can you make some tea?”

Now, I was more confused than upset. My title was an technical support staff. It was not the first time I witnessed a boss asks his surbordinant an out of routine task. I don’t want to sound elitist and call me up on over-reacting but I am university educated 26-year-old with previous working experience, was hired as an engineer and I graduated with my degree in WOMEN’S STUDIES!!!

Owe it to my Women’s Studies peers and feminist pioneers, I thought I should speak up for myself. I knew my boss was nice and understanding so I told him that I didn’t go to the university to serve people tea.

He looked rather hurt and surprised and said “Oh, don’t get me wrong there but I’m not asking you to do this because you are a woman. Trust me, I can just do this myself but for the guests, I think they would much appreciate if the tea comes from someone like you rather than a slimy, clumsy man like me.”

So I concluded that I was doing this because I was a woman.

I looked around the company and saw no woman in management even it was an American fashion company.
I realized I was too focused on avoiding cultural confrontation or culture shock in my own country that I didn’t even consider what I need to do to be treated as what I worth for. The price of not going through a lengthy interview process, working overtime without pay, and wearing suits was too high.

So I decided to quit the job after 3 months.

But this story has a happy ending.

One day after I told my boss that I would quit, a Japanese company reviewed my resume online and offered me an interview.

At the interview, I told the boss-to-be that I was not going to bring anyone tea because I’m a woman.

He said “I am not intend to ask you to do so but if I do, it’s not because you are a woman but because you are the youngest junior among our staff. And in the future if we hire a new junior staff, you can teach him or her how to use the coffee maker.”

There, I wanted to work for them already and amazingly I was offered the position as the first female engineer in the 17-year old company history. And I am counting my days to work for them every day.