Fault Lines – Personal Experience of March 11th 2011

Fault Llines

I have many faults. One of them is that I am extremely ignorant towards certain things if I feel that they won’t affect me directly. I know it is not the best quality to have.

As an example in the summer of 2013 I had no idea that Princess Kate was even pregnant let alone that the baby was rumored to be a girl (she was about 6 months pregnant at the time). I generally didn’t keep up with the news between Kate and William because in all honesty I didn’t see how it would affect me at all. In fact I strongly believe that 99% of the stuff the royal family (and most celebrity) will do won’t affect my day to day life at all. It is this kind of attitude that results in me being ignorant towards a LOT of things.

*Funnily enough at the time of writing this article it seems that she is rumored to be pregnant with twins

Just before I came to Japan on my year abroad there were a lot of people who would talk about how Japan was due for a big earthquake at any time and that it would hit Tokyo pretty bad. I generally ignored these people because I thought that they were probably over exaggerating and that it wouldn’t happen when I am over there. I thought it wouldn’t affect me.

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Battle to Stay in Japan

March 11th was a day that affected a lot of people I cared about, but it took me a while for everything to sink in and realize that it was part of my life too. On March 11th 2011, I was taking a shower in my dormitory in Warabi-shi of Saitama. I can’t quite remember if I had classes that day or I simply chose to skip them because I was exhausted from work. It was the middle of the day and I was going about my business when I suddenly found that I couldn’t stand up properly. My thought process was something to the effect of: “Wow, am I hungover?? I knew all this drinking was going to catch up with my health at some point, but this is… oh… this is an Earthquake.” So I rinsed off the shampoo off my head, wrapped a towel around my waist and ran up to my room. I put on some shorts and then my next priority was to secure my things and make sure nothing would  be broken. It took me a second to realize that I’d be a bit broke if I didn’t get downstairs. I ran outside, putting on a shirt as I greeted everyone standing outside.

Our area wasn’t affected all that badly, so it wasn’t until later that I heard about people dodging falling debris and having to walk 8 hours back home due to traffic jams and stopped trains. It was much much worse than I had realized at first. I still remember me joking with my friend Vincent when hearing that the Fukushima plant had been damaged, saying that “Oh looks like we’re gonna have a new Marvel hero on our hands.” Our friend Aki quickly cut in to let us know that it was a much more serious situation and not something to be joking about. He was right, it is still something that we can’t say is completely safe, even 3 years later.

Earthquake Study

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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

Working in Japan without Experience

Two years ago, right after I re-enrolled at UT Austin after my leave of absence to extend my study abroad program in Japan, one of Japanese language professors sent me an email asking me to talk to her class about opportunities in Japan.

I remembered the feeling of not really being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as getting myself rooted in Japan after my study abroad at Sophia University.  I had never had a job even in the United States aside from helping with my father’s business.

Luckily for me, I had burned through all savings, scholarships and grants on partying with my new friends and anything that seemed slightly exotic. I started browsing around online for financial opportunities while living off of approximately 10 dollars a day for a couple weeks.  That soon turned to 5 dollars a day, and after a week of 3 dollars yen a day I really got moving. I was getting a little tired of Rice, Kimchi and Nattou for breakfast and dinner every day.

I lined up an interview  with one of the leading English Conversation Companies: GABA. I did my research, tried to think of anything that I have done in college that would count as “teaching experience” and pulled out my most formal clothes from the bottom of my suitcase.

Everything was going great until I was asked at the end of the interview to wear a suit to the second interview. I was more terrified at the thought of spending 300 dollars that I don’t have than I was excited at the fact that I passed the first interview. Thanks to UNIQLO, I was able to throw together what looked like a suit for about 100 dollars. I didn’t even have dress shoes so I had to throw down at 60 dollars at ABC mart for a decent pair. (I wish I knew then that you could get a seemingly decent pair in Shibuya for 20 bucks).

I made it to the second interview looking pretty sharp and it went pretty well. They asked me to wait two weeks while they considered my application.

Then, while taking a shower in my dorm on March 11th 2011, I started to feel really strange and found that I couldn’t stand up properly. After my shampoo bottle and everything else fell on my toes, I realized that an earthquake had struck. I ran out of the shower room in a towel to get to my room on the third floor. Once I made it to the staircase, I realized this was a big earthquake and just ran outside in the towel to meet all my dorm-mates and some of the Warabi-shi neighbors.

About a week later,  completely forgotten about my interviews at GABA, I got a phone call that went a little bit like this:

“Hello, is this Joseph?” , “This is he” , “So you’re still in Japan?” , “Yes…” “You’re still in Tokyo?” “Yes…” “Oh wow! Okay, well if you’re still interested in the position at GABA…”

And that’s one of the methods for getting a non-specialized job in Japan.

 Setsumeikai

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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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