One Spring Day

– 11th March 2011, 14:45

If there was ever a god, treacle sponge puddings are surely proof that he in fact exists , and at the same time seems to have a penchant for home baking – for how else could such a delight to the tongue have made its way into the world? The treacle sponge pudding has no qualms about being a simple desert, essentially just a ball of sponge wallowing in syrup. Juxtaposed against the French dacquoise or the mille feuilles, art forms in themselves requiring patience and skill, the sponge pudding epitomizes that very British way of ‘lumping’ separate things together and hoping for the best. Which (as with battered deep-fried mars bars, One Direction and The UK Independence party) can sometimes can go horribly wrong, but at other times (as with Fish and Chips, The Beatles and Monty Python) hits the nail straight on the head.

Sponge Cake

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Training in a Japanese Company Part 1 – The Post Entry Training Period

Training

 

The Beginning of the End

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls. This is IT! This is the theme that got everything rolling. The big bang for Wijapan. It is the topic I always wanted to write about and the one I also wanted to avoid, due to it often bringing up un-pleasurable memories.

Now working in a Japanese company is one HELL of a big theme. We haven’t got that many articles here at Wijapan (YET!) but quite a few of them touch on working in a Japanese company. Jamie has introduced some of the annoyances to be found with everyday life here such as the good old hanko and your truly has talked about the diet surrounding working in a Japanese company and also a general outline of how to apply to one .

I would say though, more than anything that happens in the day to day life of working here, what has had the most lasting impression on me was the first two months, namely the kyouikukikan, the ‘training period’.

My first two months in a Japanese company were so mind boggling and shocking, that it made me realize that even though I had majored in Japanese language and culture for 4 years at university, spent one year living here as an exchange student and 6 months working for Mercedes Benz in Tokyo with many Japanese staff, I really knew nothing about what goes on in a traditional Japanese company or what it is like to work for one. I also think that unless you have experienced being here (or read this blog) you will never know.

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Tokyo Café Corner: #001 “Kayaba Coffee” – Yanaka/Tokyo

 Tokyo Café Corner

 

Welcome to our new corner, a place to wind down and forget all about trains, technology and the toils of a hectic week as I take you to a small corner of Japan, for some coffee, and maybe even a bite to eat.

To me the greatest Cafés can almost be living works of art. The smells, whether it be from the ageing pine of the floorboards, the unmistakable scent of well-aged tatami mats, the aromas of the food piling out of the kitchen and of course, freshly brewed coffee. These buildings, sometimes decrepit and sometimes as if almost frozen in time, spill with character, warmth and history. This is where I like to sit and watch the world go by, and these are the places around Japan that I want to introduce to you too.

So let us begin with the first, ‘Kayaba Coffee’ in Yanaka, Tokyo.

First things first, if you have never been to Yanaka just get off the train and go exploring. It is one of those rare gems in a city like Tokyo, an area steeped in history and endowed with countless historic temples; it never seems to garner the same kind of attention like the ‘old-Japan’ seeking tourist hot spot that is Asakusa. But this is what makes it great. Yanaka is Edo. You don’t even need a map, just take a walk down any side street and you are bound to come across a temple with some kind of historic importance. And one of the best things, there are no tourists in floppy hats and knee high sock/sandal combinations with camera lenses protruding from their chests like a scene from Alien. Well, maybe only the occasional few.

Basically, Yanaka is that wonderful of a topic that it deserves a post all of its own, for another time.

Within the midst of all that history stands the Café, “Kayaba Coffee”.

#0001 : Kayaba Coffee

 

Kayaba Coffee

Japan Rules

Japan Rules Image

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I can always recall one of my earliest childhood memories of my “awakening” to Japan as a “modern country”, and not just as a land of the rising sun full of ninjas and samurai (TV can be a convincing media).

I was born and raised in the small town of Wednesbury in the UK. A village for most of its existence, when the Industrial revolution picked nearby Birmingham up and propelled it to Industrial “workshop of the world” Wednesbury was swept along in the pandemonium. Soon the banks of canals filled with barges laden fresh with coal for Birmingham’s roaring industries; brimmed to the edge with factories, workshops and steel mills – the modern age had arrived for this small town.

But history was not to be kind to Wednesbury. As fast as Industry had giveth life to the town it took it away. Post-war, as in other areas, British industrial output crumbled under the weight of cheaper foreign imports and factory closures, mass unemployment and mass unenjoyment soon followed. However as soon as the 90s began where once stood steel mills now stood shops, as the old abandoned land which once rang day and night to the sound hammers pounding steel now thronged with the crowds of Middle-England – row upon row of cars filled to impossibility with flat pack furniture and kitchen fittings crawling along the asphalt.

But that’s a story for another time, so let’s return to that 12 year old wide-eyed Wednesbury child – the most exotic thing in his life being an Indian curry. I clearly remember my father telling me about how his friend has been to Japan only to return flabbergasted, astounded by its neon metropolis and futurisms.

 “Everything they have is at least 10 years advanced of anything we have over here

That was it. That was all I needed. Japan from that point on cemented itself into my mind as certain kind of futuristic utopia. Everyday chores need not trouble, as your trusty robot would carry out those tasks. The flow of information is electronically controlled as everyday devices and appliances speak with each other to optimise your daily routines for maximised – Japanese style – efficiency. The age of men was over.

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Curry : The Unsung Hero of Japanese Cuisine

OK so the title has already given it away, this is an article about food. I am sure a lot of people are thinking isn’t this blog supposed to be about working in Japan?! Well yeah it is and we have articles on that stuff too, but let’s be honest, food is important. We can live without work but we sure as hell can’t live without food. So I think that as food is such a key part of our lives it makes sense to be passionate about it. My fellow writers feel the same way at WIJ too. When we meet up, we will often talk about food and especially about the differences in availability, variety, quality of food in Japan compared to what we have experienced elsewhere. Pretty wild night for three young 20 something guys to be doing ey!

A food that I love and briefly touched upon on one of my earlier articles in The Salaryman Diet is curry. Friggin love it. India curry, Japanese curry, Thai curry, it’s all great. I am not prejudice against my curry.

This article is actually going to be about just that, curry. I know what you’re thinking, this guy is friggin crazy, the hell do we care about curry and I am pretty sure you can’t write a full article about it. Well I won’t deny the first claim, but if there is something that I can do, it is write an article allllllllllllllll about curry. In fact during my year abroad in Sophia I did a full 30 minute presentation in Japanese about curry. I like to think the presentation changed lives in that classroom, it was groundbreaking, inspiring and as Steve Jobs would say “insanely great”.

That presentations is actually making the bases for this article (REALLY READ AS  I am just reverse translating my Japanese speech into English cause I am a genius…a lazy genius). The whole premises for the presentation is ‘If asked to name the top Japanese foods, how many people would say curry?` I honestly think that the answer would close to zero. I mean even if I was asked this question I would have generally answered sushi, tempura or ramen as they just ‘feel’ Japanese. However when you actually talk to families, watch food commercials and probably most importantly look at the data you find out that curry is one of THE most popular and loved food in Japan. Wow pretty big claims there eh! Well let’s begin with a little bit of background.

Work Curry

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Me and Japan

When I first met Japan, it was love at first sight. We would spend all day, every day, together. Each day spent with her produced a plethora of experiences – new, and exciting. I looked into Japan’s eyes and I saw the world in a new and exciting light, bursting with possibilities, and 24/7 convenience stores. Together we would try new foods, explore new places, concepts, ideas. Days turned into weeks turned into months, but for me and Japan time seemed to stand still, as gazing into each other’s eyes the hustle and bustle of life passed around us.

I loved Japan and Japan seemed to love me. I would leave my home to be with Japan, throwing everything away I knew to devote my life to her.

But oh how time can be a cruel mistress.

Me and Japan

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Job Hunting in Japan Part 2

OK so we are back to the long road of job hunting in Japan. Following on from the previous article we are have gone to the company presentation and hopefully our Entry Sheet has passed. The next step being the ultra-fun:

Written Exam

So you have made it through the first stage and it has only taken you around 4 months. The next step will often be a written exam or first interview, depending on the company the order is different and some companies leave out the written exam all together (my company and Tokyo Joe’s company both had a written exam but Joe’s didn’t).

There are various kinds of written exams, personality tests, general knowledge test and specialist knowledge tests. The most famous of all of these is the SPI which stands for ‘Synthetic Personality Inventory’ which is a general knowledge test and the standard used by 1000s of companies. The SPI test generally has a math, language (Japanese and English) as well as personality section, but there are variations depending on who is taking the test (university grad, college grad etc.) and company that is using it. In essence it used to test not just a candidate’s academic level but also their general knowledge and character too.  The most current version of the test is SPI3 which was introduced in 2012. The test can be done in both a test centers or on-line.

These tests can actually be pretty demanding and there are a LOAD of books, websites and mobile applications devoted to just getting prepared for them. Often at Universities you will see hordes of students combining forces to tackle the tests. One person who is good at maths will do that section for everyone in the group, then another person will do the language section etc. Maybe not the most ethical way to do it, but definitely easier than trying to do it solo.

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Job Hunting in Japan

You might think that finding a new job is pretty much the same in any country. You generally find an advertisement for a job you want to do with a specific job description, listing the skills required for that position etc. You then send in a CV and Cover Letter highlighting your key skills and how they are applicable to what is required from the role. You will have an interview, usually one, maybe two at the most and if it is a specific skilled based job such as translation, some sort of work related ‘trail’. This is what I perceived ‘job hunting’ as and how most of my friends in the UK, America and other parts of Europe went about applying and getting their job.

Also here in Japan, when you apply to most (not all) gaishikei (foreign company in Japan) it essentially follows the same pattern as above. My own internship application to Mercedes Benz R&D Japan followed the above process to the Tee.

However if you are applying to a Japanese company, especially if you are going to be/are a new graduate, then the process is completely different and actually EXTREMELY confusing and long. Perhaps the biggest difference with ‘job hunting’ in Japan (called shuushoku katsudou or shuukatsu for short, cause shuushoku katsudou is a ridiculously long word!) is the fact that you are essentially not actually hunting for a ‘job’ but a ‘company’. The reason being that when you apply and are hired, you will often have no idea what job you will be doing in the company! Which makes it damn hard to sell yourself! Also most of the time when you are applying to a Japanese company it is under the assumption that you will work their for life, though more recently there is an increase in people changing jobs in Japan.

So the average Japanese University student will start job hunting….wait for it…..at least a full 14 months before they are scheduled to graduate. Yep, talk about forward planning. The reason being that you have to jump through certain unavoidable ‘hoops’. Even if you are the most skilled, highly desirable candidate generally there is no way of avoiding this.

So what does the average job hunting route entail?

Supporting Job Hunting

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Wi-Fi in Japan – Everywhere and Nowhere

Japan is often thought of being some super high tech, city of the future. This is how I envisioned Japan when I was younger and is the image we are often exposed to on TV. There are many areas where Japan, especially Tokyo, is way ahead in incorporating new technology (touch-screen vending machines or menus anyone?) and there are places where it is still very much behind.

Jamie has written a very interesting article on this topic! The article touches on whether Japan is really an image of the future and paving the way for the perfect 21st century metropolis, something that it is often idolized as being, or not.

I know I though Japan and specifically Tokyo was the image of the future, and it is with that feeling which I decided to write this article. My biggest personal qualm with Japan is its almost total lack of public wi-fi. This shortcoming also very inconvenient for tourist in Japan and is something that they must improve for the Tokyo Olympics.In a recent survey they actually found that the No.1 thing people who visited Japan struggled with was the lack of internet at 23.9%, this being ABOVE communications problems or language barriers at 17.5%.

In fact, Japan’s entire concept and experience towards the ‘internet’ seems to be very different to what we have experienced in the west. Much of the reason why there isn’t free public internet I believe is due to how mobile phones were introduced and used. Bear with me!

Mobile phones with internet capabilities were widely available in Japan from 1999 with those who used mobile phone internet reaching around 51,930,000 people in March 2002! That was around 75.1% of all mobile phone users and just 3 years after the feature had started to be introduced. Impressive stuff ey. However this ‘internet’ is much different to the internet we are used to today. The mobile phones at the time having limited functionality – a simple web browser and ability to use e-mail. Perhaps the most famous was something called i-mode, which was introduced by the mobile phone company NTT Docomo. The other phones companies also offering their own version Au had EzWeb and Softbank had Yahookeitai, but i-mode paved the way and offered it for only about 300yen a month! You’d be crazy not to have it.

At a time when personal computers were pretty damn expensive everywhere anywhere in the world, a phone that could handle internet and e-mail was a god send, especially for teenagers and people that didn’t want to splash out for a high cost computer. Mobile phones were becoming so popular that they made a new buzz word to describe the young people that used them ‘Oyayubizoku’ big thumb family (doesn’t sound AS stupid in Japanese, I promise). The reasoning for the word being that when people used the internet and mail on their phone, their big thumb would predominantly be used and be flying all over the play. TBH not much has changed, apart from the fact everything is more of a slide motion. Long live touch screens!

Ok, so what has this got to do with public wi-fi? Well the point I wanted to make was that Japan has had a MUCH longer history of people using their mobile phones for the internet and e-mail. This means that even when wi-fi was being introduced many didn’t (and many still don’t) feel the need to introduce it into their homes due to the fact that they could use their mobile phones for any kind of internet on the go, so a wired connection at home isn’t a big deal as it could never be truly ‘mobile’ anyway. Especially considering that the time everyone is spending at home has been decreasing since the 70s with time at school, jyuku (after school study) and work has been increasing(Japanese source: Here is a report by NHK that shows data on this,  page 32 is specifically about the time spent at home decreasing).

In fact this concept of being ‘wired’ at home is only increasing with the introduction of fibre optic internet. In most of the major electronic stores you will see MASSIVE  campaigns for fibre optic internet. In Tokyo at least there is a big push for a take up of  this ultra high speed internet. Compared to other countries such as the UK and America it is a lot cheaper to set up and use here too. The government offering tax incentives to companies to help increase increase installation and adoption of fiber optic internet. Sony owned provider actually supplying the world’s fastest internet here in Tokyo apparently.

Outside of the house , now that many mobile phones with built-in wi-fi and full internet browsers (hello iphone!) were being introduced wi-fi made a lot of sense to phone companies, as wi-fi could help increase the access speed of the internet for the mobile phones and ease the load on the network. After all they required much more data than the simple days of i-mode with it’s ‘simple’ internet. The first company to introduce the iphone into Japan was softbank (the guys with  Yahookeitai) and they had a monopoly on it for around 3 years, it also during this time that they started spreading their softbank wi-fi spot. See the mark below? If a building has that on it then it has softbank wi-fi baby. Softbank claiming to have the highest number of wi-fi hotspots, more than 300,000 apparently. The only catch? If you mobile phone isn’t from softbank then there ain’t no way in hell you are accessing that wi-fi.

That sounds like a fair claim. However once you realize that the main companies that are spreading these wi-fi hotspots are phone companies that want you to be on their network you realize that it is extremely restrictive if you aren’t a customer of either of the mobile phone companies. While in the UK you could get around this problem by just getting a pre-paid mobile phone and sim card, in Japan pre-paid essentially doesn’t exist, it all contract here guys. Softbank are actually the only main phone companies that offer pre-paid mobile phones but as they can only be used for sms, mail, calling or simple internet (no wi-fi or full browsers in these 90s throw backs) also you are not able to connect to the 1,000s of softbank hot spots either. As 99% of Japanese users of mobile phones in Japan are on contract anyway, this concept of ‘members only’ wi-fi probably doesn’t seem that restrictive to them. The remaining non-mobile phone company hotspots are almost exclusively paid, not even offering a 20 min free hook up either.

It’s not totally doom and gloom though, Starbucks are paving the way for free internet (though you still have to register) and some convenience stores also offer free registered-wi-fi but it definitely can’t be referred to as wide spread. Also in the case of the convenience stores, often the explanations will be in Japanese which won’t really help any tourist that are there to visit and can’t read Japanese.

What has been growing in popularity these last few years at a phenomenal rate is ‘pocket wi-fi’ sounds awesome right? That’s because it is. Now technically pocket wi-fi is nothing new or exclusive to Japan, even in the UK the mobile company three had this little dongle that used 3g for portable internet (except it was pretty crap in every way) and now with tethering on mobile phones, the idea of just beaming out wi-fi from a device that receive cellular signal isn’t groundbreaking.

What is groundbreaking though is the fact that the pocket wi-fi in Japan is generally very fast, reliable and cheap. My own device offers unlimited data transfer (upload/download), 10 hours of continuous battery life,  10 devices to be connected at once and an average speeds of around 3mb/s. All for 3880yen a month which is cheaper than any mobile phone company can offer. Also there is no stress of line fees, installation or maintenance. DAMN I think I’m selling this thing better than the companies own sales people. I should work for commission. For those interested this the homepage of the guys I use.

I love it and so do many people in Japan. If you just try to search for a wi-fi connection on say a train (where the only wi-fi is going to be the portal pocket wi-fi) you will find  dozens of networks. All of cause personal and password protected.

Pocket wi-fi

Wi-fi is literally everywhere you go in Japan. It is beaming out of shops and people’s bags at every hour of every day. No doubt if data was actually visible it would be almost impossible to see 1 meter in front of you. Despite all this though, the wi-fi which is actually accessible with no strings attached (free of charge or non-afflicted with a phone company) is almost impossible to find. It is almost ironic that due to the initial mass popularization of mobile internet via mobile phones, the entire need for free public wi-fi has been compromised. While for the average person that lives in Japan this short coming doesn’t even register as a problem, for people that are visiting from abroad or don’t have the means to buy a mobile phone or pocket wi-fi (you need a ‘residence card’ in most cases) this is a massive problem. Especially consider that via using the internet may of the communications problems that were the No.2 biggest difficulties for tourists could be avoided as well. Online dictionaries and maps being especially useful. Hello two birds once stone.

With around 7 years until the Tokyo Olympics it is realistic that some kind of solution will be introduced. That is still no excuse though. The fact that coming into 2014 there is essentially no public wi-fi in Tokyo, which is often idolized for being the symbol of ‘the modern city’, is just crazy. It just doesn’t end at wi-fi either check back next week where Salaryman X will dive a heck of a lot deeper into this high-tech\ non-hi-tech Japan paradox.

Anyone had experience with wi-fi in Japan? Actually found it to be no problem or was it a nightmare for you too? Let me know!

The Salaryman Diet

When I first came to Japan I was shocked by all the delicious food. I knew people who had been to Japan raved about how amazing everything was, but being in the UK with very limited knowledge of Japanese food, when someone said ‘Japan’ and ‘food’ in the same sentence all I could think of was sushi and noodles.  Yeah I know, me and 99% of the the non Japanese population. Furthermore despite the fact that I had been studying Japanese at university and held an interest in Japan since 15 I was actually very ignorant towards Japanese foods.

I didn’t know what takoyaki, okonomiyaki or oden was. Now for the average Joe not knowing these foods isn’t anything special, but for  a self confessed Japan-aholic  this is kinda embarrassing. The flip side was when I came in September 2010 for the first time I was blown away by pretty much everything. Biggest surprise being that Japanese curry doesn’t taste a thing like the Indian curry I had been pretty much brought up on (my family LOVES CURRY!).

My class and I were always told before going to Japan that we would lose weight. That every year people go and come back lighter than when they went. After our year abroad and everyone was back in the UK, the majority of people had indeed lost a fair few pounds. Most people looked pretty damn slim and healthy. I say most people because I actually put weight on in Japan. Nothing big, nothing even that noticeable to other people, but the scales don’t lie, I was heavier than before I went. Did I care at the time? Nope. The food in Japan is amazing, and not just the Japanese food. You have high quality and delicious Korean, Chinese and Italian food here too just to name a few. 10 months of gorging on ramen, pasta, curry and sushi (often tabehoudai (all you can eat) together with nomihoudai (all you can drink best/worst invention in the world!) had resulted in the gain in weight. Many of the main social activities in Japan centering around food and drinking in some way.

Upon returning to the UK and not having the same temptation/opportunity to just go to the city at any time meet some friends and have a food/alcohol orgy like I did before, I had a much healthier eating lifestyle. Me and my roommate would often try food related challenges such as ‘Vegetarian Month’ (Fegebruary anyone? Best name ever!). I had also started running, actually to the point where my big toenail fell off, fun times. Going back to Japan in September 2012 at age 22, I was a lot fitter than the time I left and was looking forward to sampling all the cuisine that Japan had to offer again. However I vowed that this time I would make an effort to cook more and have a ‘healthier’ diet. Boy, did I fail!

Tsukemen

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