The last article was an overview of "shuukatsu" and the story of a job that wasn't right for me offering me a gravy train ticket to lifetime employment… as well as boredom and my humble refusal. Next, let's take a look at an experience much more within my skill-set and realm of believability.
Prior to university, like most artists, I waited tables, tended bars, and worked with people. This eventually led me into the hospitality industry—hotels, airlines, and tourism.
Over the years, both in North America and in Japan, I continued to work in this industry throughout school as well as after graduation. Somewhere in the middle, however, I almost signed on forever.
While attending my company interviews described in Part 1, I had been worried about the prospect of being stuck in the countryside for three years. Not only from an artist's standpoint, but also considering that fate allowed me to have grown up in the big cities of the world, I knew I needed to be where the action was: Tokyo (no disrespect to Osaka, it's an amazing city, and I'd love to spend more time there, but: Tokyo). Since the age of 16, I'd spent so much of my life in Asia's New York, during and between schooling, for work and for play, or simply just because, it just made sense that's where I end up.
There are specific industries built around "shuukatsu" in Japan, just like job hunting in any other country. Since I was in my strange "I want to work full time for pennies, and zero recognition, in a xenophobic society to prove that all humans are equal" phase, I was naturally signed up for newsletters, seminars, and all sorts of update apps on my phone.
Somewhere along the way, I saw an add for front desk manager in training at one of Japan's premier international hotels. Everything about it was perfect: the prestige I sought, money (assuming on that one), and most importantly: TOKYO!
The pattern was much the same: some mildly important questions to suss out my sanity in the beginning, followed by a round of small group interviews that basically served to write off some corporate lunches, as very little about the job was discussed past "do you feel like you can do this?"; however, the third interview, which occurred about a week after I turned down the last naite, was the nail in the coffin for me.
I was fully prepared to sign the contract of employment, until I found out there was no provided accommodation! I know, I know: "didn't you refuse the last company because of the dormitory commitment?" Yes, I did. However that was in the middle of the sticks, and this was in the heart of Tokyo.
Sure, if they didn't require me to be within 10 minutes walking distance (in case of emergency shift requirements), I could have found a cheap apartment a little ways away; however, that wasn't the case. The cost of a cheap "1 K" apartment (basically a bachelor, as is known in the West, however, with 6-8tatami mats in size with a tiny Kitchen, a toilet, and a shower if lucky) in the neighborhood would cost between 円90,000-円130,000 ($900-$1300 roughly). Entry level for most Japanese companies is usually under 円200,000,–less if the company provides more. Well, being one of the larger hotel chains in the world, benefits included: full medical/dental, a cheap cafeteria, a gym (with showers), and a lot of other services to please life-long employees. The salary, however, was slightly under 円170,000. Factoring in rent, and then a cellphone and internet (say, 円10,000 if I watched my usage), this left me with literally pennies to survive on.
"How could a major company pay so little?" You might ask? The salaryman companies I described earlier didn't pay that much more, mind you (円208,000 if I recall correctly). Well, in Japan, despite full time employment, it's customary (either out of love or obligation) for young adults to receive allowance assistance, until they get a raise to an acceptable salary (which is usually three years later, after one's "loyalty has been tested"); or more often than not, for the rest of their lives. That said, I've always been one to earn my way. I have paid for pretty much everything since I "left the nest," and I didn't expect to stop, nor could I expect my family to give me $500 a month.
Much like the previous companies, I was also asked: "would you be prepared to stay in Japan, even if there was a family emergency or tragedy abroad" (Japanese workers are often unable to attend funerals or similar occasions)? While I questioned myself again and said yes, pledging my loyalty, I knew that for so little I would be refusing before I left the door. I of course thanked them formally, bowed accordingly, and was ready to party on the town. My ticket to Tokyo this time cost 円75,000, and they handed me an envelope with 円600,000.
I still have the email from HR somewhere: "It gives me great sadness in my heart to learn that you will not be joining us, we wish you good luck in your endeavors."
Stay tuned for the next article, where my pride gets me in trouble.
-by Avery Fane
The most important part of the Japanese school process is finishing. This isn't, however, as simple a thing as graduating. That much is easy, if not guaranteed by virtue of paying admission. The most important part of Japanese schooling is getting a job.
It just so happens that, for some reason, I was dedicated to being a 'salary man', or business man, if you will; which for the most part has been an employment category closed to foreigners. There's never been a shortage of educational or political positions for foreigners, but after growing up on Japanese media programming myself, I found myself idolizing and striving to be a 'salary man' myself.
The procedure is very interesting, in all its quaint iterations; I'll walk you through the steps I took.
Against my better judgment, the first thing I did to receive the golden 'naite', (unofficial, whilst official, promise of employment upon graduation) through the school's recruitment process. As much as I grumbled for years that the program didn't work for me, looking back, it makes sense—considering that I was at a primarily business school, and that many of the corporations I yearned to work for weren't available through the school's network. First there was a seminar. Students crowded into a hall in their 'hiring suits' (carbon copy cheap suits that everyone buys to, as is Japanese custom, not stand out), while hung-over representatives from the company gave a lazy presentation. I attended a number of these, same deal across the board.
-by Seth Howard
Pink petals softly fall
Heart-stricken, beneath the trees
We sit in company of ourselves
We yearn for the now to stay
But the moment lasts in memory
Falling petals pink
Nightfall falls, then light
Shining, in your eyes a bright
The river reflects the colors
Of our minds
Our hearts filled up with song
Within, the image trails
As in the sky
The stars—were bright tonight
And the moon
-by Seth Howard
On the train to Hokkaido I was trying to read, but one of those old Japanese women with too much energy for her age was blabbering on about something in a loud obnoxious voice. I looked up at her a few times annoyed, wondering when she would stop. She didn’t seem to care, or even realize her effect on those around her. She simply continued on as if in her own bubble. She was obviously taking advantage of the fact that she was an old woman in a country that respected the elderly.
It was morning, and having only slept three hours the night before I felt like dying, but I figured I would wait it out, having seen no other option. So I continued to read my book. The old woman went on and on, getting louder with each sentence. I couldn’t imagine what she could be talking about for so long. Each sentence stretched on as if she were bragging to those around her saying “Hey everyone! You have to listen to me because I am old, and there is nothing you can do about it, so just sit back relax and enjoy the show!" I had no idea what she was talking about. I probably could have caught her line of thought if I had any interest to, but I didn’t. I continued to try reading a Hemmingway short story, but it proved to be a greater feat of concentration than I was capable of at that hour in the morning. At the end of each of her sentences she said in that loud penetrating voice “Right!? Right!?" Her old husband nodded in agreement. His eyes looked tired as though he had given up long ago. I wondered how much of the old lady’s ranting reached his ears.
Just then, at the height of her petulance, a younger Japanese man sitting nearby yelled over at her.
Story by Tyler McPeek
Artwork by Dean Christ
Kumiko and Fumie always worked as a team, just like they always entered the teachers’ room at the vocational high school they attended hand-in-hand between bell periods, and just like they dated two boys who both belonged to the same local gang. They were both seventeen, both died their hair a dull orange and both wore loose white socks to the top of their milk tea calves and rolled the skirts of their school uniforms to tortuously short levels. Today, before school, in uniform, they were working N― Station.
The idea had been thought up by Kumiko’s boyfriend, a tall 22-year-old named Yuuske. Yusuke, leaning against the railing of a river bridge in the shopping district, in his baggy, purple construction worker outfit, white towel around his head, holding his long golden hair out of his face, had explained that there was really no risk for the girls, as they could simply walk away if the scheme fell through. “Pick a shy, lonely looking loser,” he had explained, “but make sure he looks like he’s got money. Better to do it when he’s tired and on his way home from work, or else early in the morning when he’s thinking about the day ahead and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. Pick a slob who’s standing, a real ugly, loser type. Somebody nobody would believe, probably never been laid by anybody but his ugly wife in his whole life. You know the type.” Yusuke pulled at his crotch, then lit a cigarette. “One of you girls sit down nearby, and one of you move in. Get close to the guy. If you can, try to get him to make a grab for real. Let your skirt brush against the back of his hand. If you think he’s a good fish, confront him even if he doesn’t make a grab. Wait till he makes a move to get off the train, then follow him. As soon as the doors to the train close behind all three of you, grab onto his arm. Then, lay it out for him—either he pays, or you take the matter to the police. Make sure you grab on tight, and don’t let him pull away. If he refuses, then the other one of you should say that she saw him do it. Call him a pervert, a groper; use the word chi痴漢kan.” If he coughs up the money, get out of there quick. If you know he’s not going to give it up, get of there. I’d say you’ve got an 80% percent chance of hitting pay dirt, if you pick the right guy. You know… not too old, not too young—glasses, suit, the kind of guy you’d make fun of at school…”
“How much should we ask for?” inquired Kumiko. The new Louis Vuitton purse she wanted was 50,000 yen.
Story by Tyler McPeek
Artwork by Dean Christ
“Excuse me for being rude Oda-san, may I give you the report you wanted now?” The lips of the young worker were pressed tightly together, and his eyes were fixed as he waited for Mr. Oda to respond. Standing before Oda-sempai, a man some 25 years his senior, the young man’s frame was stiff, portraying a protocol and formality that made him appear tight and rigid beyond his years.
“What? Excuse me, what?” Blurted Junichiro Oda. Then, without pause, “Oh, that. Right. I’ll take that now. Thanks.” Oda wore a discerning face, but his mind was elsewhere as he feigned interest in the recently acquired finance report. The report contained pages and pages of rhetoric and fluff, which accounted for vast stretches of logged hours by a group of younger associates in the company, sadly padding three pages of essential, yet depressing debt figures accrued by the agency during the last quarter. Still, to present these figures in any other fashion would have been inappropriate, considering Oda’s superior position in the company’s corporate structure.
It was nearing 7:30pm, and Oda desperately wanted to leave the office. He knew of at least 3 of his underlings who would stay all night if necessary, but would never leave before him. Still, certain procedures had to be observed, appearances had to be maintained, so Oda-san gazed at the report, slowly flipping through the first few pages.
Through the glass partition that surrounded his cubicle-office-hybrid, he could see the majime associates busying themselves with the task of looking busy, but as soon as he looked away, he could feel their anxious eyes focusing on the curves of his meaty face, the sag in his tired composure, the blue reflection of the computer screen in the thick lenses of his bifocals.
Story by Tyler McPeek
Artwork by Dean Christ
“Hello, everyone. My name is John Kilks. I am from Toronto, Canada. Please look at this map. Does anyone know where Toronto is?”
The students in the front row looked hard into his face, then slowly toward the map. An older man of 60 or so spoke out without raising his hand. “Pahhapsu, I sink zhato Toronto izu in Ontario Probinsu.” He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.
“That’s right Mr.… What is your name?”
“My name is Takahiro Yamagishi. I habu been to Canada.”
“Oh, really.. where have—“
“Aah you Johnny on zha spot?”
John scanned the faces of the other 7 students in the room. Four of their faces looked blank and worried. One girl in her twenties and another middle-aged man seemed to be following most of it. “Johnny on the Spot…well, I don’t know what—“
-by Seth Howard
The heart lingers in longing
As the sun goes down
Over Osaka, footsteps felt
In subway stations, Salary-men
Of some renown
Opening up their One Cups
Glasses pushed up to the crown
With fingers fumbling
Finding what we thought was lost
Hands holding onto rails
People tossed, against doors
-by Seth Howard
My first day in China was spent with Leif searching for a bank with a good exchange rate. He had met me at the Beijing Airport. I flew over from Japan, where I had been staying for 2 years. I was happy to see Leif again. We were in the same Japanese class at Sophia University and became friends that way. We went to a few different banks before Leif found one that he liked. I withdrew some money from the ATM. I was concerned that it wasn’t going to accept my card, but it did. My parents had given me some 1000 dollars for the trip. It felt good to have some cash in my hand. After that, we looked for a hotel and Leif reserved us the night. He could speak Chinese fairly fluently by then. Of course, he had already been in China for over a year by the time we met up again. It was a pretty nice room, but we didn’t hang around for long, as we wanted to see more of the city.
There was some kind of fair going on nearby the hotel where they were selling various things. I was hoping that I would be able to buy a pad of paper there but they had no such thing. We walked around the city for a while before ducking into a restaurant for lunch. We figured we would try out their Peking duck, because it was said to be their (meibutsu) specialty in Beijing. We ate it with some salty brown sauce they gave us. It was a little on the expensive side for Chinese food Leif said, but I didn’t have a good idea of how much money was worth there yet. My understanding is that people who stayed in China for any length of time ended up becoming really stingy. Even if you could get something for cheap by American standards, they were always looking for something cheaper.
-by Seth Howard
I withdrew from the world for a while
All my things were gathered here
Before my feet
Scattered as my many strange belongings
I knew no rest from my own clutter
Perhaps no one had noticed my withdrawal
From society, only quick trips to the
Convenience store was all they saw of me
Before I was back to that shrouded
World of shadow, my room
With the blinds closed during the day
And at night, the lights off
Perhaps only the dim glow of a laptop screen
Nengajyo lay pell-mell across my floor
Blank, unstamped, but all the same
It could be that I would never send them out
Or that New Year’s had already past
And that my loves were too far away