12
May

Hunting in Vain, Pt. 1

-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.

At the end of the seminar, interested parties could meet and greet with the HR types. In this setting, it was counted as the "first step" in the process. Well, I passed this, as did anyone with a pulse it seemed. This stage, from what I've seen with other companies, or even other schools, has a lot to do with the school's reputation, to the point that I wondered if I wasn't passed simply because they had to, or at least that they wanted a white guy to make it to the second round.

Next came the group interviews. I'd done my homework as far as the company and the process; however, I wasn't about to go totally Japanese for this. I think being this far was enough. First off, apparently crossing your legs is completely unacceptable in an interview; and despite seminars and books on "shuu-katsu" (short form of "shuushoku katsudo" or “job-hunting”), but I never learned this. As I crossed my right leg over my left and leaned in to, as far as my studies on behavioral psychology would suggest, show interest, the other two applicants gasped that I'd clearly broken some rules. I could see the interviewers surprised by this too, even writing something down.

The first interviewer to ask me questions was a gentleman that I would later learn was head of HR; back at the first stage before we knew who each other were, we'd idly spoke over a coffee. He asked about my time coordinating events for the U.N.—completely unrelated to the company I was applying for, but I humored him with a few anecdotes and stories. The panel seemed amused.

Next was a Korean gentleman. The questions he got were varying from ignorant to downright offensive about his home country. He was composed and professional, and answered accordingly.
After him was a boy from a very rural part of Japan, far from my very rural university. I was rather shocked how condescendingly they spoke to him, which made their talk with the Korean fellow seem almost acceptable in comparison. "What did you do for fun in a place with nothing?" "Was life there cheaper?” “Could you handle a city?" "Do you wish us to open an office in your town? We won't." And so on. He answered in a "koshi hikui" manner, which could best be described as pathetic. "Koshi hikui" loosely translates to “groveling with one’s head low”, and is basically the stance assumed by someone on a lower social rung. I already knew I wouldn't see him again. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever even saw him at school, and I tried to know everyone on a personal level. The interview continued at much the same pace and in the same vein.

After a session in my university, then a trip to Osaka for round two, I'd been informed I made it to round three. What this meant was that I would be flown out to the corporation headquarters to meet the big guns. For the most part, making it to round three is a formality, in order to receive an offer, which is again, just another formality.

My favorite part about stage three, is the paid for trip to… Somewhere. I actually did "shuu-katsu" to many places, once I figured out the game. Why? –partly because I loved the idea of a "full time job in Japan's stable economy" (fast forward a decade, and that much is almost a myth), but also because I was flown to all corners of the country to sightsee… after interviews that is. I received a few naites doing this actually; however, my main motivation to make it this far was the comped flights. Companies would usually just give an envelope of about $600 at the final interview, the cost of a return ticket to most parts of the country. The thing is, as an avid traveler, I could usually find tickets for as little as $400. So, in the end, I netted something like $12-15 hundred. I liked the game, and I learned a lot.

The first company this article mentions was located in the middle of the country. It was in the realm of the automotive industry, and located where many of those jobs were. The interview went great, and was, as I mentioned, basically a formality. Topics covered were essentially limited to the inane time passing: drinking with coworkers, women they wanted me to date, and the deal breaker: living in the dorms.

In order to work at the company, I was required to (as is customary at most companies) live in the dorms for the first two to three years. I thanked them warmly, folded up my naite, and headed towards the door. On the way out, the HR manager asked me if I thought his secretary was cute. Since we'd come this far, I answered honestly, and then he pulled me close: "If you accept our offer, I'll make sure she accepts yours." I may not have known the formalities of the second interview; however, I was well aware that one way corporations guarantee life long employees is by marrying them to each other—not something high on my priority list.

Actually no, the deal breaker was when they brought in some 75 year old "madogiwa", which basically translates to a "person they don't have work for/can't rely on to work, and who cannot be fired," who came up to me and said "well hello, I graduated from your university 50 years ago, and I've been here ever since! At first, I thought I wanted to travel, work an exciting job, all that young people stuff, but I listened to my family and started working here. I learned that this town is the place for me, and that I didn't need to travel to find myself."

Yup, I had young people stuff to do. No thanks.

When I got home, I immediately packed up to go interview at some tech school in Gunma. Not my thing, but I needed the trip, and afore mentioned "benefits".
I sent in my refusal soon afterwards, to which I received what is apparently a rather uncommon letter of regret from the head of HR. Apparently, they'd really wanted me to join their company.

Do I regret refusing? Not as much as the next article's company that I refused; actually no where near it. ‘Small parts manufacturing national export manager’ has a nice ring to the title for my CV, but my soul wilts just thinking about it.

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