Hunting in Vain, Pt. 2

     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.

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