Friday, February 12, 2010

Take this job and shove it

Friday evening in September of 2009. Some folks returning home from work, others exercising, walking the dog, just doing what people in any modern country do.

This shouldn't shock anyone, but I recall back in the late 80s and early 90s when Japan was much more of an economic superpower---and the source of worry and illogical fear in the US---that many had an image of folks here as near robotic soldiers in Japan Inc who cared about nothing except their job.

I suppose in some ways there is (was) more of a tendency to devote oneself to his/her company than in the US---though this is not always a personal choice---it does not mean that Japanese have no life or interests outside the job.

I recall my first job in Japan at a small company in Toyama just after I graduated college. While in retrospect, it was a very enlightening and forever valuable educational experience, at the time I found it very difficult because of the cultural differences. After 4-years of studying East Asia (and Japan in particular) as well as having had spent 2-years in Korea in the USAF, reality turned out to be much different than theory. As it almost always is. What made it especially tough was the fact that much of what was then the stereotype of Japan (this was during some of the worst of the trade problems) and even some of the things I learned in university turned out to be wrong. Period.

Had I really kept in mind that folks here were humans---not some unique special breed like many inside and outside of Japan still believe---I think things would have been less difficult. It seems absurd now, but I remember being somewhat chagrined to hear some of my coworkers complaining about working overtime and the fact that our Golden Week of that year was so short. But the real complaints and worries of the guys on the factory floor was the risk of losing their jobs---it seems that they had to go look for new work about every two years because those small companies did not offer the so-called lifetime employment that the 30-odd percent of Japanese companies did.

I will steal an idea from Donald Richie when I say that I often see much bigger differences between me and some American from Ohio than I do between me and some Japanese from Chiba.