Good-bye 16, Hello 17

I was just commiserating about what a crappy year 2016 was and replaying everything that did not go quite my way.  But the more I look at it, it was not such a bad year.  2016 was filled its blessings.  I got to see my son and his wife here in the US.  Somebody decided to hire me.  I am blessed with good health.  Some of you might have known that my health condition at the end of 2014 when I left Japan was quite perilous.  I have good health insurance, actually two one through the VA and the other through my municipal employer.  Finally, I can address and manage my health.  It is important that I manage my environment well and I have succeeded in staying healthy and have not missed even a single day of work since I started working in early 2015.


My candidate did not win the US presidential election and neither did my runner-up.  Thank you very much, Donald, you damn dynasty destroyer!  You knocked two families down and simultaneously exploded both the Republican and Democratic parties like a jiffy pop popcorn.  But being a good American comes first and the Donald is my president.  Reality and acceptance.  The majority has spoken.  I hope he succeeds.  We have to come to together as one people until Kayne does his 2020 thing.


In April, I left my job a Lowe’s.  It was my second time to work for Lowe’s.  I worked for the distribution center in 2007 and 2008.  This last time, I worked for the store on State Street.  95% of the folks I worked with at Lowe’s were great people. The store manager was a bit of an asshole and told me I would be out of job if I leaked a puddle out of my zamboni machine once.   I knew then I was out of his league and didn’t see much future there. I was kind of custodian with a fancy facilities service title.  It is a good company but not really a good place for the over 40 worker.  I really liked my immediate supervisor, Emily.  She was sharp and treated the older workers with respect.  So, the 14 months with Lowe’s was overall a positive experience.

I went to work for the Freeport School district part-time. Part-time job, full-time benefits. I get insurance and can also pay into the state retirement system.  I really love my part-time job with the school district.  It may surprise people to know that I am not in the classroom.  I think that it would be too much stress at this point.  I hope to teach again in the future, though.   In fact, I am a school bus driver.  My bus is good old #41.   I think I will nickname my bus the big George after HW.

Real Estate is presumably my full-time job but the busy transitions have not allowed me much time to optimize my sales.  The transactions I was able to close allowed me to work with great homeowners and they kindly gave me good reviews.  My decision a year and a half ago to give up my own shop was a good one.  Working for Morgan Realty, Inc has been great.  It is great brokerage to work for and Don is very supportive.  I need to bring him some more successful closings.   I look forward to 2017 to really spill some ink get a lot more happy homeowners.

My father is still hanging on strong.  I moved from Rockford this summer to a nice home on Benson Blvd in Freeport that is wheelchair accessible.  We had been looking for a rental home with 2 baths but could not find one suitable. My own home is in Lake Summerset, far from shopping, medical facilities and work.  Additionally, it had too many stairs and is rented out to a great family going on 7 years.  My mother ended up purchasing the Freeport home that’s in a great neighborhood close to my work.  The home needed some attention right away and we put a new roof and siding on.  On June 23rd, my father’s condition deteriorated so badly that he was too weak to get up and got stuck in the narrow bathroom of his Rockford home.   I am only 170 pounds v. his 225 pounds and I could not lift him even an inch.  He was in such bad condition that I had to call the ambulance to take him to emergency room.  It took 2 emts, 3 firefighters and a sheriff’s deputy to take him out.  He spent a couple of weeks at Swedish American Hospital and then another month at Alden Debes rehabilitation center.  We made the decision not to allow him to return to the 20th Street farmette which was deemed unsafe.  When he was released from the rehab, we moved him home to Freeport.

My son, Kevin and his wife Manami came to the United States to visit over the summer and got to visit with my sisters Susan and Diane.  It had been many years.  I still need a lot of prayers for my family in Japan.  My wife is going through a frustrating time and I hope she finds her silver lining through the clouds.  I greatly miss my precious daughters who are 14 and 7.  Kristen Ai has special needs and struggles with adapting to school but has had marked improvement in her emotional stability.  Maria is very active and enjoying first grade very much.  It is my goal to have Kristen Ai here in Freeport during spring break to visit with us.  I miss my kids and wife a lot.

I am doing fine overall.  I am living the American dream.  I am driving my 15-year-old Chevy pick up, have guns in my gunsafe, tools on my workbench that I don’t know how to use and reconnecting with my hillbilly roots.  Wishing all a prosperous and happy 2017.





The Evolution of a Reagan Conservative to an Evolving Voter.

In 1980, I was 8 months too young to cast my vote for Ronald Reagan although, getting out of high school a year early gave me the opportunity to join the Navy.  While stationed at Naval Air Facility, Washington DC, I had the rare opportunity to participate in President Reagan’s inaugural parade.  In November 1984, I had yet another chance for a repeat inaugural. but an intensely bitter blizzard canceled the parade and curtailed outdoor participation and service members were left out in the warm that year.

In 1988, Pat Robertson ran for president and competed against Vice President George Bush for the nomination.  It was an exciting time for a young solid red conservative like myself.  Four years later, At 25 years old, I volunteered for Pat Robertson’s campaign.  I had signs, buttons, trinkets even glassware.  One of strategies to educate prospective voters was to take a VHS tape and host a party, play the tape, discuss Pat and attempt to persuade others to support him for the nomination and in turn host their own parties.    It should be noted however, that although very conservative in the 1980s, Pat was a very compassionate and relatively stable candidate.  It wasn’t until the mid 1990s the he really started going bat shit crazy and making men go bald from scratching their heads every time he spoke.

More than 25 years and subsequent experiences have altered my view of politics up to the present day.   I was afforded the opportunity to be on the outside of the United States looking in.  In 1989, I left the United States and went to work in Japan.  I experienced living in Japan for a number of years as a super micro minority.  Although, the Japanese are very warm, generous people, they also are a very closed group of people wary of outsiders.  In spite of this, they rely on foreign members to supplement their workforce.   They  are decades behind the United States in assimilation and equality and still have trouble seeing their foreign residents as complete people.  Thus, discrimination by our standards is extremely common.   This is not out of hatred or racism,  but out of a rigid culture and a fair amount of ignorance.   Living as less than a complete individual has given me a different perspective on equality and fairness.  Like those that still continue to struggle with complete acceptance in the United States in 2016, I too was often dependent on the open-mindedness of members of a dominant group to help me navigate my way through life.

When I returned to United States in 2014, I reflected a lot on my experiences abroad and also all the way back to when I was in the military. The idea of one citizen having less rights than another grated my basic beliefs which were refined after serving in the military for 8 years.   I reflected a lot on my more recent experience living abroad and feeling the sting of prejudice.  Living and trying to succeed in securing steady employment and basic housing in the face of systemic racial discrimination have taught me to more empathetic.   Before the age of 18, I never saw the glaring disparities among citizens of the United States that we see today.  For example,   I really do not understand gay people, Muslim people or any other person not just like me.   However, I feel it is not my place to analyze, criticize and cast judgement .  It is our place to make sure every citizen is treated equally and fairly under the law.  Whether they are black, white, gay, straight, Christian or non-Christian, folks are folks.

This self-reflection made me discover I was really no longer a Republican at heart.   The Republican party had shifted and zipped shut parts of their open tent.  While, I still clung to fiscal conservatism, I became more socially liberal.  This made me self-identify as a Libertarian or Independent finding no real sweet spot in either the Democratic or Republican parties.  The Libertarians really offered the flexibility to mature politically.  I admire their message on fiscal responsibility to stop blowing our hard-earned income.  I admire the Libertarian social issues platform of just STFU and let people live their lives in liberty.

I will give two topics that divide us as a nation and that in my opinion we have spent way too much unproductive time on.  Gay rights and abortion.  How long have we been beating the abortion thing now?  Why  are we as a nation still collectively having a perverse relationship with other folks relationships?

Let’s start with those pesky gay people.  It is not fundamentally in conflict with Libertarian as well as Conservative philosophy to be in support of gay rights, especially ensuring that same-sex couples enjoy the rights of others.   I have no problem whatsoever supporting the right of any LGBT member of our society.  To not do so seems to be in conflict with the spirit of our constitution and values and thus seems unpatriotic to me.   Now I can flip-flop on this and change my mind.  The day that a same-sex couple living nearby affects my ability to earn a living, protect my family, violate national security or just set the country on fire, I can change and be a rabid anti-gay activist.  But that ain’t going to happen, so people and their candidates need to just STFU about other folks.  Folks is folks.   It is also is keeping with the principles of keeping government out of our business and protecting individual rights. I can remember hearing Libertarians  remind us that the smallest minority in the United States is the individual.  So let’s protect all of them.

I think Bill Clinton was the first politician I heard say abortion should be safe, legal and extremely rare.   That is a position I can support.   Keeping abortion safe, legal and extremely rare does not force a woman to have an abortion against her will.  As a believer in Christianity, I do believe that life begins in the womb and there is certainly references in the Bible that support this.  I am pro-life.  I believe that from what I understand about abortion that it is wrong in most cases.  But this a belief based on my own personal faith.   I also recognize I am not a woman and do not feel qualified to argue my position adequately.   What I do recognize is that while God asks us to not be part of the world, he does require us to live in a troubled world.  Also, there are tragic circumstances that may justify abortion and in those cases and having a legal option under proper medical care is essential.  I personally am by no means pro-abortion.  I just think the government needs to get take a step back and stop spending time dividing the nation on this.  Face it, since 1973, you have had Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush and still haven’t settled it.  Might be the time to focus on other issues.  I know of very few people who are pro-abortion. Even the most liberal of denominations in mainstream Christianity do not affirm abortion to be acceptable as casual birth control, gender selection and partial birth abortion except for the life of the mother.   To tell my secular government to make laws and force my doctrines down the throats of people who take  and they say that laws against abortion amount to forcing a religious doctrine onto people of other faiths.  It is not a matter to me whether it is right or wrong, but that those concerned need to make thoughtful consideration with their doctors, spiritual advisers, family and other appropriate counselors.

Those were just two issues.  Now, on to my choices.  Trump, Clinton, Johnson or Stein.  Two of them are just crazy in their own right.  One can’t hold his own and then there is Clinton.  She has her problems.  Which one can work with the legislative branches and try to get the nation’s business done?  Which one of these has the experience to be president?  Which one can advocate on the world stage for the interests of United States without pissing people off every time the open their mouths?  As senator, 68% of Hillary Clinton’s bills had Republican sponsors.  This has earned her a place for me to consider her as my president.

There is about 17 days for me to decide where to cast my vote.  I am registered and I have not missed an election since 1984.  This will probably be the first time ever I will likely choose more democratic candidates than republicans.


Life in America-The Kevmobile




2002 Chevrolet Silverado, Cost $3064.  215,000 miles (346,000km). I’m good with it.

I didn’t have the luxury of current transportation to drive all over and in toward Chicago and Wisconsin to shop all the deals.  I needed something right away.  I ended up with this truck.

Shopping for a vehicle takes some homework and good internet connection.  In my opinion, the 40 dollars fee to pay for a month membership in Carfax or is well worth it when you are talking about spending thousands of dollars on something.  I researched this car and found that I am the 3rd owner-NOT BAD.  The mileage is correct at 215,000-YIKES.  The car has spent its entire nearly 13 year life in snowy Wisconsin-SCARY.  Has never been in an accident, flood etc-EXCELLENT.  It fit my budget because without a full time job, I had to pay cash and have no car payments.  As added discovery, I found out who the Chevy dealer in Wisconsin that had been servicing the truck for years and he stated its oil had been changed every 4000 miles.  It was well taken care of.

Trucks need a lot of maintenance and they aren’t cheap.  The tires all were replaced and they cost 125 a piece at a discount.  It does have hidden rust and rust repair.  I am very particular about not driving something I am embarrassed to be seen in.  But the rust that was once there and covered by paint was not bad.  When you buy an older car, you should always take a couple of refrigerator magnets with you and apply it to the rocker panels, door bottoms, fenders etc.  It is also helpful if 2 or three family members can do the walk around with you to spot everything you might miss.

It’s not perfect.  Gas mileage is good for a truck but still costly.  I get just under 20.  I never thought I would ever own a car with manual windows but that is what I got here.  I don’t have a back seat, but the double cabs are more prone to rust anyway.  Overall, I bought it for the body.  You really never know when the engine or the transmission will go out, but at least you have something left to put a new one into instead of throwing the whole car away.  I will probably be rebuilding this truck for years.  Now I have a really nice gull wing diamond plate tool box which retails for 269 dollars, I picked up for 97 dollars at Farm and Fleet at a clearance sale.

When my family comes, I will probably have to rent a car or trade it for a week with my parents who have a 6 passenger car.  My dog likes the truck a lot and it get’s plenty of use.


First Update from America

I left Japan on December 18th.  There was a little misunderstanding in the immigration office about the need for a re-entry permit.  I went to get my multiple re-entry permit and the man said the new law states you no longer need one as long as you have you have your updated alien registration card.  Like a fool, I took his word for it and did not get one.  As soon as I got into the departure area, I learned that he was totally wrong.  If I don’t get my butt back to Japan before December 18, 2015, I lose my permanent residency.  Live and learn.

I decided to take the route through Los Angeles and spent a day with my sister who lives in Beverly Hills.  I stomped on a lot of those stars on the street.  If you are into seeing interesting automobiles cruising around, this is the place.  It seems like a safe area to live and people enjoy the warm weather even in December.

From LA, I headed to Las Vegas.  This is one of the few airports that flies direct to Chicago Rockford International Airport by Allegient Air.  I really like Virgin America, but Allegient with their stupid pay as you go for everything will nickle and dime you to death.  You even have to pay 20 dollars for putting an overhead carry-on bag.  I didnt buy any peanuts either.  They took enough of my money.

I arrived in Rockford.  The airport is less than 2 miles from O’Leary Acres where my parent’s live.  I could almost walk home.  I arrived safely and began the task of getting a job and getting a reliable car.  I am happy to be back and to reconnect with my roots.  I am a homebody.  No one would doubt I have seen enough of the world.  I am not fond of Rockford at all.  Freeport or Lake Summerset are where I feel I want to settle down.

Black Holes or a Black Company

Reality is reality.  I have bills to pay.  Due to my family situation, I cannot work a 9 to 5 job full-time.  Working 11PM to 5AM part-time works for me.  I am now approaching 3 years working in the food processing division of a company voted 2 years in a row as ブッラク企業 Black Company of the Year.

It is not easy by any means.  For an entry-level job I feel the stress and weight of working nightly in an unhealthy, unsafe and hostile environment.  I never dreamed that after passing age 50, someone would have to work in such a difficult workplace.

In the nearly three years I have worked for their facility in Asakura, I have witnessed extremely cruel bullying and verbal abuse in the facility to people in the 60s for Gawd sakes.  But, fortunately the shouting and verbal abuse was not in my usual section.  My section is pretty civil.  Well, on the surface anyway.    I observed it in another section while the new facility was being rebuilt and we were helping by packing Styrofoam boxes with the next day’s menu.  So, I should count myself lucky that it does not happen in the cut section where I work.   I was shouted at once and it was pretty funny.   I had a co-worker get angry with me and start shouting but instead of shouting AT me, he shouted ABOUT me at the wall.  My crime was that my handwriting on the form was too sloppy.  When he turned back toward me, he was mortified that there I was smiling kindly at him and totally unfazed.  I did say something like, “Are you OK, there buddy?”  He was so shocked and disturbed by my lack of emotional reaction, he went home sick immediately after that.  In my section, the bullying and abuse I see and endure almost nightly takes a more passive form, but it is equally unhealthy.

Last week, the company distributed questionnaires on the work environment to be filled out by all workers.  For the most part, people just took a minute to circle the high scores and drop them in the box.  Not me.  I am so sick of this crap.  I am tired of constantly trying to convince people that I do not work for aブッラク企業 Black Company.  While I find the benefits offered by the company to be fair and the pay is exactly paid for exactly what I hours I work, I still feel this is a company that has serious issues that are harmful to their workers.  I wrote my answers very carefully and politely in Japanese, but by God, I told them the truth.  I may have even been a little too generous with my scoring.   I expect to be called in for a one on one soon, so I can be subjected to patronizing explanations on how it is my approach to the workplace that is defective.  I assure you, my workplace is abnormal and I’m sticking with that story unless I am proved otherwise.

Am I the only one in my workplace that is being mistreated, yet cleverly mistreated in a way that appears to be within social norms and policies?  I might not be.  I wrote on my questionnaire that the workplace environment has turned worse during the past year.  Hard to believe as a first year beginner messing up everything I touched would have been easier, but its true.  People have reversed course on me.  As I result, I am probably less prepared to perform my tasks now than when I was on the job my first two months.  The first year I worked, ZERO workers resigned.  ZERO.  Then after one year, a woman who came in a few days before me quit right at her one year mark.  She had hinted to me how she preferred to stay on the other side of room cleaning by herself than work with the other people.  I never really made a connection at the time.  After her resignation and at the same time the management who works in the office changed hands.  Right after that, I watched new people hired on and gone in months.  Most recently after just a week or two.  The difference in turnover has been very significant.  Pay did not keep people in the job.  After one year, every one of us got another 100 yen per hour raise.   Some did complain about others being part of cliques and downright lazy.  One man was with us for about 8 months told me every morning before the shift ended, his co-workers would not lift a hand to help him as he took out load after load of garbage.  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  We used to have three large carts capable of holding up to 200kg of clipping that I often took out.  I used to ask for help and my coworkers refused and smiled and just waved at me.  Pretty funny, huh?  Well, one night on the last cart of three, I got a little complacent and ran the cart over my foot outside.  I suffered an avulsion fracture to my left foot.  A twisting injury to the ankle and foot may cause an avulsion (pulling off) fracture of the base of the 5th metatarsal -the bone that the little toe attaches to. A small fragment of bone at the base of the 5th metatarsal is pulled off by a strong ligament that is attached to this part of the bone.  Hurts like hell but with a wrap for 6 weeks under your boots, you can still walk.  But cycling and going up stairs is really hard.

The company I work for has been in the news in recent years due to the tragic suicide of a young 26 year worker in Tokyo.  I really do not think it is fair to place the blame for her death on the CEO at the time.  People in that situation often feel alone and are without colleagues, friends and family nearby to use a sounding board.  What was made clear consistently in the news articles was that she found herself in a position of desperation.  Overwork or Karoshi was cited.   Was that out of convenience?  Certainly, one can prove on paper or by concrete observation how many hours one was on the job, and that is just what they did.  Workplace harassment, mobbing and bullying is not so easy to document, however.  The human resources, quality assurance or production departments clearly keep a log of manpower accounting.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they kept a log of how many times or how much time a worker was subjected to intimidation, alienation or any other hostile workplace behavior?

There are 14 people including myself in my section on my shift.  There is a young man who looks just like Jimmy Fallon who is basically over my supervisor and works in the office and is in and out of the cut section .  I wish I could say all my senior coworkers, or sempai as they are called in Japan have earned my respect.  But some below them have pretty much lost all credibility for a variety of reasons.  Of the 14, I would be ranked number 10.  Four people who survived the fiery entry into the workplace came in after me.   What is interesting to me is those I respect the most are exactly at very top of seniority list.  They do not engage in petty bullshit.  They tell me firmly when something is not done satisfactorily and explain when I ask for an explanation.  It goes perfectly right down the line.  The top five senior people in the section are the most sensible and professional.  When it goes from number 6 down, those people are the ones who waste so much of production time and have the most inane complaints about my work.  They just cannot keep their pie-holes shut.  One lady, I make an exception for.  She cannot keep her mouth shut about my work, but is in fact very kind and protective and sincerely believes I have no idea what to do.  I can never be angry at her.  Sometimes, when I don’t know how to explain why I am doing what I am doing, the way I am doing and why in Japanese, I just smile and say RYU GA ARU.  This just means I have a reason.  She just laughs and says OK.  So she is the closest thing to a Vegetable Mother I have there.

Although, I was initially trained prior to the line and layout being totally redone,  I was exempted from being trained and not being brought up to speed on the new procedures one year later.  They did not actually choose NOT to train me, they made significant efforts to UNTRAIN me.  The need for them to keep me in a perpetual beginner status is very real.  The typical term for this in a workplace is perpetual trainee.  But of course here, I do not fit the category of trainee because they make great efforts to ensure I am not universally trained at all.  When I am fortunate enough to receive a quality explanation to a procedure I ask for, my co-worker almost always suffixes it with a comment to others around, “Oh, I’m sure he did not understand any of that at all.”    I try my best to be pretty specific about what I understand and what I do not understand.    Especially, in this case I am subjected to daily condescending remarks.  My coping strategy has been to self-train when I can.  Some procedures, I had to learn on my own and in some cases it surprised my co-workers.  My coworkers are sometimes more than a little concerned when they catch me looking at a form or set of instructions myself.  If I know it already, it doesn’t give them a power rush by needing to tell me only what they want me to know.  I really refuse to believe that they are all ignorant enough to believe I cannot read katakana.God forbid, if I understand something and can perform it on my own, their plans will be foiled, HA HA!

Some of the above training procedures are based on ignorance, some on racial prejudice, some really  believe I could not possibly understand even the most basic fundamentals.  As far as I know, only one member has self-professed his racism, once inadvertently in front of Filipino worker from another line.  It is prudent to be careful as there are also likely some Chinese or Koreans working  behind Japanese name badges there.   This individual is clearly the worst.  Its funny when someone quietly pulls me away from my work table to lift something and takes my place next to him and he is oblivious still running his mouth.   What an ass he is.  He entered the company after me!  So much for seniority courtesy.    I am seriously criticized on everything from how I hold a bag or how good my aim is dropping my table clippings into a wastebasket.  If an onion rolls off the table, I am told, “Don’t throw!” Believe me, if I intentionally lob an onion, you would know it!

Communication or non-communication is big issue with me there.  I thought after several weeks, since I know basic Japanese grammar I would be able plug-in any new specialized production vocabulary I knew and I would slicing and dicing smoothly my Japanese speech.  Not true at all after almost 3 years on the job.  If they do not rotate me anymore into other tasks, I forget pretty easily.  It has been over a year after all since I have run a slicing machine. I have a pretty solid grasp of the Japanese language, but as it is not my native language, I have to think a bit more before I speak.  I have to read a set of instructions on the wall slower and ask questions.  But what do my co-workers do to accommodate for this weakness?  Not a hell of a lot.   My co-workers do gesture.  Yea for them!   Well…   No they stand in front of me and gesture and do not speak a word.  Cannot really understand that.  I ask a direct simple work related question from my co-workers and I am ignored as if I did not speak.  I ask again.  I am ignored intentionally. I cannot find anything more arrogant and rude than this behavior.

By preventing me from assimilating naturally, I in a perpetual puppet status with co-workers believing they have to direct me on even the most basic moves.  For my part, I could be better in Japanese.  In my birth country, we have a good phrase, “I got this over here, thanks.”  But because I don’t want to get in an argument, I say OK.  Thank you.  I see.

I have had a long time to think about my position in the work place.  I would like to think that I myself am capable of being self-critical and taking a good solid self-inventory.  In any endeavor, I want to be better tomorrow than I was today.  But do I blame the bullies of my workplace?  Should I blame the ignorant people?  Truthfully, I do not.  I look squarely at the man who wears the blue cap who is supposed to be responsible.  I look at those top 5 most senior workers, I rely on for sound advice.  I do not blame my immediate supervisor, because workers are extremely careful not to misbehave in front of her.  When she is cutting next to me at the table, people do not bully others.  Just last week she stepped away three meters and the biggest trouble maker in the place tried to start some shit with me.  Then when she came back, he and another guy tried to tell her I was cursing them out in Japanese.  She just shook her head.  I think she knows how shy I am and how much I hate to speak unless necessary.   I am confident that if she saw someone being abused, she would put a stop to it.

I have to take a very critical view of her immediate boss who although speaks very kindly to me seems to have created a fertile ground for a hostile workplace.  More people have left since he arrived than ever before.  I know when he speaks to me and older people, he speaks to them as if they were children.  Some of the older workers privately grumble about this and that but due to their culture do not challenge him.  So, I feel they take out some of their frustrations out on me.  Now back to the number 2,3,4 and 5th most senior workers.  I am bullied, disparaged and unfairly criticized often in front of them by others.  They say nothing.  They also are sowing the seeds for hostility to grow.   By condoning this behavior and standing silently by, they are saying it is OK.  that is depending on how expendable a member of their society may be.  My company needs to do a much better job of training their management and supervising their management.  I may be strong, but I know others are not and yet another tragedy could occur because serious problems just like this are ignored.

I have bills to pay.  Due to my family situation, I cannot work a 9 to 5 job full-time.  Working 11PM to 5AM part-time works for me.  I have grown-up responsibilities.  I am not going to let bullies, intimidation and those who refuse to let me become a full participant of the team call the shots.  Reality is reality.  As of this date, I am still here.   Get over it.  I work for ブッラク企業 a Black Company.



Exploring Work Outside English Education for Expats

Tired of the chalkface?  Need some extra income?  Is your pigeon-hole getting too crowded?  There are a number of reasons long-term residents pursue other types of work instead of or in addition to the traditional English teaching racket in Japan.  I am one of these.  I have been working in other fields in addition to teaching since 2010.   It can be refreshing and often exposes one to previous unknown knowledge of how Japan really communicates and runs their ship.

Hello Work ハローワーク  is the name of the Japanese employment security office. There are Hello Work offices nationwide including even smaller cities  If you become unemployed and meet the eligibility requirements, these offices also take care of unemployment insurance benefits for Japanese as well as foreigners.  Job skills and openings can be viewed by computer after you sign up and get a password number and card.  

I never thought of visiting an office for myself until several years ago.  I decided to return to Fukuoka after a year away working on a temporary project in Nagasaki.  The timing and the needs of my family made it impractical if not nearly impossible to immediately resume a full load of teaching as I done for most of my years in Japan.  I was seeking a position away from teaching in a production, warehousing or livestock farming environment that I could do between the hours of 10 PM to 7 AM.  However, as English education provides more generous wages it will likely always remain a significant source of income while I am in Japan.   Working at night and carefully managing my sleep schedule would permit me to be available or accessible during every possible time a language school client might need to contact me.

I had to do some thinking how to navigate and coordinate my time before I set out to find an extra job.  There were many specific requirements I needed to satisfy in my search.  They included:

1) Working in close proximity to my home because we were caring for a very ill family member.

2) Being able to pick up my youngest daughter at her preschool in the late afternoons.

3)Being available to handle any customer inquiries or step in as a teacher in my family’s language school, O’Leary Gaigo Systems.  Using call forwarding to my cell phone, I can take calls from 9 AM to 9 PM 7 days a week unless I am actually teaching.

4)Not work at a time when I could be earning more as a teacher or other professional.  That means not working the supplemental job between the hours of 9 AM to 9 PM.

5)Be accepted for work almost immediately in October which pretty much eliminates most of the teaching jobs that start in April in Japan.

I first visited Hello work in Kurume, a fairly large city in my area.   It was a disappointment as I was not really finding anything or somehow not communicating my needs well to the counselor.  Fortunately, I did not give up.  I had responsibilities and had to “git er done”  one way or another.  

One of problems we face coming from English-speaking countries and with our past experience only as teachers is that Japanese people seem to look at us as only teachers of English.  Consequently, out of hundreds or thousands of positions posted, a typical job counselor will hand us some obscure posting related to teaching English for 1000 yen per hour or maybe even an otherwise excellent posting for an associate professor at a university.  That is all fine and well, but we already have those networks in place outside of Hello Work to find a teaching position.  It is necessary to state once again, you are not looking for teaching positions necessarily.  Certainly, I would jump on an opportunity to teach if someone wanted to wake up at 2 AM in the morning to be graced by my motivating English instruction.  But, the fact is, those are not education hours.

Later,  I visited Hello Work in Asakura (formerly known as Amagi), a smaller city just to the north of me with pretty low expectations.  I did the same routine, signed up again, got a password card and waited to speak with a counselor.  When my name was called, I sat down with Mr. Kitajima. He was excellent and very keen to find a match for me.  I had about five possible night-time jobs to choose from after my first sit-down meeting with a job counselor.   I may have visited Hello Work at an advantageous time in August without thinking about it.  It is likely there were more opportunities opening as many university students were returning to their 2nd semester classes in September.  

The advice I would give to job-seekers looking for work outside of the classroom is make sure you can speak the language.  I would say at least at the Japanese business level.  Granted, you are going into entry-level jobs but you have to clearly state to your counselor what skills you can contribute effectively.  If your Japanese skills are not up to speed, it is not going to be easy to look for much less be taken seriously as an applicant and land a job.  I have spent a long time in Japan, so enough of the language has stuck to me that I can get around pretty smoothly with my level.  Reading and writing will always be difficult for me, but I have to do it regardless.  The matched job openings will be printed out in Japanese so you have to know what you are looking at.

The representatives at Hello Work have some influence with the employers so maintaining good rapport with your Hello Work rep is a good idea.  When you find a job you would like to pursue, it is a good idea for you to ask the rep to check with the company to make sure foreigners are okay with them.  Reality here is although you may have permanent residency or legitimate legal permission to work, some places just do not want to deal with non-Japanese applicants.  Sure, it does not match our cultural norms, but you ain’t in Kansas anymore, either.  If they are not comfortable with non-Japanese, fine.  Just leave it.  There is another posting matching your skills coming off the printer.  I got picked up right away working in a food processing plant for a large internationally known brand.  Only a few of us out of about dozen who showed up with our introduction letters from Hello Work got in.   My job counselor told me to make sure I showed the interviewer at the company that I had a food hygiene certification from a Japanese government agency.  It is kind of a thrill knowing my gaijin ass actually beat some of the natives out.  Part of it was that some of the younger women had restrictions on when they could work because they probably had small kids and the guy was not in the mood for that.  He has a production schedule to fill.

One month later since it was still a few months until April when teaching was opening up, I went back for a 2nd supplemental job to do from  6 AM until noon or so.   I was full of confidence since I already cracked the bamboo ceiling with my first job landed.  I was introduced to a bakery and ended up working there for just over a year.  The store hours changed and I had no interest in coming in a 9 AM and messing up my sleep cycle, so I had to give it up.  But after almost two and a half years, I am still going strong at the food processing plant.

My decisions were the right ones.  I matched my family needs, my income needs and have a sense of satisfaction.  In a production environment, I see concrete results of my efforts.  This is much different from teaching, where our success is in such abstract form we do not know in a timely fashion whether we are making progress.  I have job satisfaction and with that I feel like a lucky man.

Today, in early 2014, I divide my time between working the graveyard shift at the food processing plant, sleeping in two sets of 3 or 4 hours each and taking care of my responsibilities as EVP at the O’Leary Gaigo Systems language school.  I am good with it all.