Month: January 2014

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.


Co-sleeping in Japan

I have always been surprised among international couples how often this cultural difference has brought them to the brink of divorce.  You might think it is just a mother kid bonding thing, but many foreign women with Japanese husbands complain about the same thing.  For most Americans, it would be unimaginable to in the heat of passion grab an and arm or leg and find out you have snagged your child instead of your lover.

I believe that this form of attachment parenting has many advantages, especially for parents of newborns who awaken on their own schedules.  However, much to the dismay of many foreigners who marry Japanese, the co-sleeping does not stop when the infants no longer are nursing.  It goes on for years and years and years.  5 year-olds, 12 year-olds and even 15 year-olds.

The family bed or the entire family sleeping in the same room is normal in many cultures of the world.  It is not as common in the United States where I am from though.  It is neither wrong or right.  It is just different.   As for me, my attitude toward co-sleeping is overall very negative.  As much as I hate it, I hate having conflicts with my family members even more.  So, there I am communally snoozing.

Personally, co-sleeping has always been difficult for me  because I  cannot get adequate sleep on my day off due to chronic sleep disorders.  I have a part-time night job from 11PM to 4:30AM.  I am off every week,  on Thursday and Friday nights.  It is ironic that my time off work is most disruptive to my sleep cycle than working around 3 jobs is.   I often wish I could enjoy the two evenings that I can sleep like normal folks do.  I cannot even manage that although I have already been awake for 24 hours.  I end up on the computer at night until my eyelids get heavy enough and usually cannot get to bed before 2AM.   I’m  out of it when I return to work on Saturday nights.  I just does not work well for me.

I usually wake up feeling angry at nothing in particular and say some outrageous things to my family members.  I note this because between my first cup of coffee and the time when I slip between the sheets for sleep, I am a very mild-mannered and calm person around my family.  Normally, I rarely ever raise my voice in my house.

Co-sleeping contributes to more potential problems than just sleep disruption. Communication suffers as well.  Being married means talking to your spouse even if is just lying in bed gossiping about the neighbors.  Since communication no longer becomes natural, I find myself forgetting to speak to my wife during the day also.   I have told my wife I do not mind doing the family bed thing sometimes but I do not want it to be the norm 365 days a year.  It falls on deaf ears.

My wife is concerned about my comfort and she suggested I could sleep in our master bedroom alone and away from distractions.  I have a very nice large bed with a high-grade Sealy mattress.  In the past 10 years, I think I have only slept in the bed 3 times. But even that doesn’t work for me.  It is too unnatural as a married man not to sleep beside my wife. 

Intimacy is not a pressing issue with us as we are in one of those May-December relationships.   I don’t identify with the term “married.”  We are in a co-parenting arrangement.   I am past my prime and I am 10 years older than my wife.  But I think if the clock was rolled back to when I was in my 30s, one of us would have suitcases by the door.  But now that the elephant has entered the room, let me address SEX.  I think anyone who has sex in the same bed or the same room as their kids is a freak. Also, I could never imagine intimacy in the same location that children may have slept the night before.  I am not so naive to think the bed is the only place but the marriage bed should be kept sacred in my opinion.  For this reason, I have always forbidden my children to ever sleep on that nice almost never used bed in our master bedroom.  That bed is only used to fold laundry on though.  Maybe someday, as senior citizens, if someone spikes my oatmeal with something, it might be used for something more traditional.  For now it is just a fancy bedroom decoration.

Surprisingly, I feel like my bonding with my younger children is harmed more by relinquishing my privacy and always having them just an arms length away.  By the time I wake up, I feel like I need a break again.  A rest from a rest.    It’s a very conflicting feeling because wanting to spend as much time with my children is important for me.  Spouses who are solely devoted to each other as husband and wife are better prepared to emotionally support each other and their children. 

Co-sleeping or attachment parenting will still be a work in progress.   Marriages are full of compromises.   I have often read that the family bed works well for many families, but the key point is that both have to be in agreement.  Otherwise, there will be serious problems that can lead to divorce.

My Bio and Thoughts on Social Networking

-By Caoimhín Ó Laoghaire

Social networking and having a blog can help me connect with an audience if a topic comes up.  It also help foster a better relationship with people I already know.   However, social networking can cause problems.  For instance, I have chosen to deactivate my Facebook account for an indefinite period of time.    Well, that did not work.  I have groups on there that I look after and many of my friends like to read the links I send.  It was because I spend far too much time on there and some of my own Facebook friends just do not behave quite the way I want them too.   So, now instead of deactivation, I will just post less and keep my chat function turned off.  I need some time to do some healthier things at the moment.

In the arena of the worldwide web, there is no shortage of sites to add your two cents, put your thoughts, musings and your opinions into writing.  We can all be thankful for this technology, but technology can be misused as we all well know.  Corresponding publicly online is not really for the thin-skinned and if your feelings are hurt easily you might not want to spend too much time in the internet jungle out there.  I do not mind someone pointing out a perceived inconsistency, irony or presenting a dissenting opinion of what I write.  What I do find intolerable is disparaging individual people and looking down on others.  A person who waits tables in a local cafe is performing an honorable occupation and doing what they need to do in our society.  The man who cleans gum off floors after rude people is no less a man than the astrophysicist who really figures out how things work.  My entire family is well-educated and each and every one of us has taken jobs in the entry-level sector as the need arose.  We are a proud people.   For this reason, you will likely not find me jumping on the band wagon to bash Walmart, GNC Health Food Stores, Hooters and library ladies which are areas members of my family can be found serving others.   I was surprised at how much arrogance is shown for people who work in the food industry as line workers.  Last time I checked, 100 percent of the population eats food.  Attempts to disrespect an individual in fact disrespect millions of others and their efforts.

It is intolerable for people to attempt to “out” others regarding deeply personal and private information they are not prepared to share.  If someone has a sensitive topic about themselves they wish to write about, they should have the privilege of the proper timing and the medium to do it.  I am completely comfortable throwing a Bio out there on myself and my immediate family members as I do below.  So people really want to know who I am and where I am coming from, here it is.

My name is Kevin Glenn O’Leary. I am named after my maternal grandfather.  I was born in Freeport, Illinois in 1963.    I joined the United States Navy after high school and served for eight years.  Now I reside in Japan.  I taught English for many years in Japan.  I still teach today, but I have other work also.  I even work in food production facility part-time from 11PM to 4:30AM. I made a successful language school in Japan when I was in my late twenties.  In 2007, my son took over as president of O’Leary Language Systems.

I have two older sisters. Diane was born in 1959 and Susan  was born in 1961. My father was a teacher.  He is from the Savanna area along the Mississippi River.  My father taught school for many years.  Although originally a music major, he chose early in his career to teach science and changed his area of interest to geology.   After leaving teaching mid-career he was engaged in sales and worked at Menards Home Center in Cherry Valley for many years. My mother is from a long line of early settlers to Oregon, Illinois.  Her kin still connected to both sides of Atlantic and are  is descended from Richard Chamberlin of Braintree, Massachusetts and her genealogy is traced back precisely prior to the Norman invasion of the British Isles in the 11th century.  Jon de Tancerville was a chamberlain and the family took the name.

We were raised in a very rural area of just south of the Wisconsin-Illinois border.  Our town only had 450 people, although the school system had an enrollment of nearly 1000 people.  This is because none of the surrounding villages had schools and our school served about 5 towns in the region.  Most of our neighbors were either dairy or grain farmers or somehow engaged in the agriculture business.  My father taught in the same school system and taught all of his own children.  My mother helped with church administration and worked for an insurance company in the nearby city.

I have three fabulous children which impress me every day.  This is what I live for.  I am in no way married to any specific vocation or corporation.  The eldest is my son, Kevin (born 1983) who is married to a beautiful Japanese lady named Manami who really looks after him well.  Next, is my daughter, Kristen Ai (born 2002).  She has just turned 11 years old and is as tall as I am.  Finally, Maria (born 2009) is a bright active child enjoying lots of friends in pre-school.  My wife, Yuko is a nurse-midwife at a local hospital.  Although the family homestead is Fukuoka, she was raised in Nagasaki.


The above, biography is a formative part of what makes me who I am today, for better or worse.  My core values were instilled in me at a very early age and I have those excellent role-models to thank for that.  Over the years, I have learned what truly is of value and what is just a materialistic consumable commodity. I made an insane amount of money in my 30s but where is it now?  I still feel parts of my life represent wealth that is meaningful.  My family, my true friends, my spiritual journey and a rich heritage I can be proud of.

With the medium of social networking, I can found often commenting on issues of the day like politics as I see them.   I had been a conservative GOP supporter for most of my life.   Now my politics are undecided or Independent blurring the lines of the Democratic and Libertarian parties in many areas.  Who can argue with an Independent for just being and Independent, right?

In addition to politics, I write a great deal on life in Japan as I see it.  I came to Japan in 1989 and have been here since minus a one and half year hiatus to the United States.  A reader can certainly disagree with my approach to something, but cannot deny that I really observed something.  As a teacher, I have come up with a lot of ideas over the years and found it was important to archive the most useful information in the best way possible.  Many of these were done on You Tube.  That wasn’t any easy thing to do because I have always been very shy and somewhat sensitive about my appearance.  But, when I heard from other English teachers that it was very helpful to them, I was pleased and motivated to continue.  If it is useful, great.  If not, thanks for checking anyway.

These are things I am comfortable about writing about and will continue to do so.  Dissenting opinions are welcome on my blog even questioning the wisdom of judgement of the author.  I have a very liberal policy.  I do not accept overly vulgar language and will certainly not tolerate anyone disrespecting a member of my family or another person who posts a comment.  I am on a quest to become wiser myself and want to hear from you all.  If you agree with my basic idea, great.  Please visit my blog site often.  If not, there are plenty of other sites on the internet that are dedicated to hate, every sexual perversion you can think of and just downright weird stuff.   Here it is just my ramblings whenever a light bulb appears above my head and I feel compelled to share.

Whether you believe in Christianity  or not, please heed Luke 6:31
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Memories of 20+ years in Japan

Thought I would reblog this. NATSUKASHII. Remember the good old days when offered 5,000 yen an hour for a class and you said, “Well let me think about it.”

The Great Global Divide

classroomtowaThe past couple weeks have been spent moving all my language school material from my home to an office in the center of the city. At one point in time, O’Leary Language Systems had 150 individual students, a dozen client on-site programs and a total gross income of over 13,000 $USD per month. That was is in the crazy rip-roaring 90s.

Looking back and assessing everything, I could without hesitation classify myself as truly poor in the years 2008 though 2011. I simply could not possibly earn enough in the economic climate to pay my most basic obligations. Downsizing and decline is never a painless process. I can remember back in the day, my computer would go a fritz, and I would say, “Oh dammit, now I have blow my whole afternoon at the computer shop buying a new machine.” Imagine the luxury of only worrying about how much free time…

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Working for a Japanese Food Facility: Seen Through Round Eyes

cartoon veggie

I think this piece could be of use for a potential worker in a Japanese organization to get a glimpse into situations they might encounter.  I have been employed part-time at a well-known Japanese company in their Fukuoka Food Processing Facility for more than two years now.  I work from 11PM to 4:30AM.  Firstly, I applaud my employer for being one a few companies who has opened positions for foreigners.  In addition to myself, there are workers from the Philippines and Nepal also there.  I do not work with any of them.  I am the only foreign member of my section known as the Cut department.  I am often asked if I am subjected to racial discrimination and prejudice on the job.  Am I treated differently than other workers in training?  My answer is resounding, YES.  It is an ingrained part of my everyday working experience.  Does this make the company a racist organization?  Certainly not.  This place as a company and employer is excellent.  I am proud to be a very tiny part of this well-known organization.  I plan to continue working hard for them well into the future.

It is important to avoid approaching discrimination in the same way we see it North America.  Racism in our own terms is not so easily defined in Japan.  Japan is for Japanese.  Japanese believe strongly in their exclusivity.    I am not a member of their group and I likely never will be. This is not hate.  This is not blatant racism or even bigotry.  Japan does not fully recognize the norms that my people were raised and indoctrinated with.  As a collectivist society, the ownership of values belong to the group not the individual.   Ayn Rand once described collectivism and racism.

“Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.   It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or  political significance to a man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s  intellectual and character traits are produced and transmitted by his  internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged,  not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a  collective of ancestors.”

This is true as I see it in the Japanese workplace today.  Thus, without ever being brought completely into the group, I will always be treated differently than others.  I will be treated as I have a much shallower grasp of understanding the goals and tasks of the group.

Let’s look at some examples in the life of Kevin on the job.  I am subjected to a variety of less than ideal situations on a daily basis.  On my first evening on the job, an older man in a soft voice kept beckoning me, addressing me as  Gaijin-san, Gaijin-san the word for foreigner or literally in written character form “outside person.”  I thought it was kind of strange and made me think, “What the hell did I sign myself up for?”  I was not angry about it at all then.  To one lady’s credit, she tapped him on the arm and gave him a light scolding for using that form of address.  He readily apologized.  Later, I was surprised to find him in the parking lot waiting for me.  He kept bowing and apologizing over and over.  I really felt bad for him, because I did not feel hurt at all by it.  He was very anxious to teach me a lot tricks of the trade with sincerity and just did not have global social skills to know any better.   Afterall, because it was my first couple of nights, I was too busy being overwhelmed by learning all my new tasks than to worry about improper forms of address or even bigotry.

As the months went on, it seemed that several of the other men would call me Ore-ri-, which is my last name as pronounced in Japan.  Like North America, it is exceedingly rude in Japan to ever call someone by their last name only.  Americans customarily use first names and Japanese customarily use last names when addressing others.  But neither culture’s etiquette rules condone last name without a suffix (san) in Japanese or prefix (Mr) in English.  In Japanese, this is known as yobitsute 呼び捨て or literally throwing away one’s name.  I would not mind if they called me my first name even if I was the only one addressed that way, but I do not like my last name used like that.  I do not feel it is hatred for foreigners, but merely ignorance.  I feel a small sense of victory every time I move closer to some sort of successful assimilation or acceptance.

Another small stumbling block with me is their approach to training.  Here the appropriate term is prejudice, as it is to pre-judge.  I have a very difficult time getting the proper instruction and practice to perform the tasks in the workplace with proficiency.  Although I can communicate at an adequate conversational level, the workplace specific vocabulary and names of machines are new terminology for me.  Instead of answering my direct question regarding my job, I am often given very vague unrelated feedback.  For example, I need to ask one time and one time only, “What is the name of this machine?”   This new vocabulary will become part of my daily speech from that day forward.  I need it and I need a direct answer.  Unfortunately, my co-workers being unfamiliar to working with non-Japanese cannot seem to grasp this.  Instead, they pre-judge or make assumptions on what I am able to understand and what I am not able to when they communicate with me.  I receive “advice” that about 75 percent of the time is totally unnecessary, yet receive far too little information to complete a very simple task.  I have had to do my best to self-train myself.  Non-native speakers in workplaces all over the world employ multiple strategies to learn their jobs when spoken or written language fails to convey the information needed.  I am not different.  I listen much harder.   I frequently look at my co-workers as they complete slightly different tasks.  I constantly look at the work environment and the production control boards.  I ask questions even though I know there is only a 50 percent chance I will get the simple answer I want.  Most of all, I am in deeper concentration than my co-workers.  If there was a written training manual in Japanese, I would request or download one from the net and painstakingly study it with my electronic dictionary on my day off.  There is none, so I do my best to survive with what information I can get daily.

What kind of advice do I hear that is a total waste of time 75 percent of the time?  On a daily basis I am being constantly subjected to advice that is more appropriate for a small child than a person in the workforce for more than 30 years.  I have to stop and ensure I am understanding instructions correctly.  Besides not being as good at Japanese, I am also slightly hearing impaired in my right ear.  I frequently stop the machine to listen to something that turns out to be stupid stuff.  Very exasperating.  One lady who I think looks like the most intelligent in the workplace does give me excellent advice and guidance.  I like to listen intently to what she says.  But she often suffixes her great advice with a comment like, “I doubt he understood what I said or I wonder if he got it.”  This is certainly condescending for a North American because we respect people who ask when they don’t understand and the burden is on the trainee to tell the person they got it or did not.

My co-workers and supervisors are very grateful to me that I remove 200 kilograms of vegetable peelings to the outside refuse cage area almost every night.  It’s nice they often thank me and they think I am just a super nice fellow for it.  Truth be known, initially as I was not getting much information to transition from task to task, I would find myself not knowing what to do next.  I noticed my co-workers really hated to do the garbage task, so I thought well at least I know what to do with this.  I have been the garbage man ever since.  I like it.  It is an essential part of keeping a work space organized and sanitary.   I do not have people commenting on it and telling me how to toss garbage.  I can lift 50 kg from a squat position and those clippings can be heavy, so I am happy to do it.  I can now have a smoother transition from task to task now.  I was trained pretty decently the first couple of months to do a variety of tasks and worked on getting better every day.  However, one year ago our  plant had many changes.  A new building, new cutting blades and a lot of new management.  When the procedures changed, all of a sudden there was a clear effort not to train me on anything new.  I was oblivious to it at first.  I had sometimes cut, sometimes operated the slicers, sometimes weighed and dried the vegetables.  With the new changes, I only cut.  There were 16 people in our Cut department.  The manager came down with 15 disposable ball pens attached to a nice neck string.  The even had a label on them with the name of the worker.  I did not get my little pen.  It was only then that I learned I no longer do any weighing or paperwork.  Assuming I had nothing to write, I needed no pen.  Well, Whoop Tee Doo!  Guess they never thought that I use a ballpoint when I sign out my knives or mark the excess vegetables I return to the cooler room.  A big duh, there.  I am pleased that I was part of saving them  some money there.  38 yen for the pen, and about 12 yen for the string holder.     It was after that I opened my eyes and saw that actual efforts were  made to keep me in a remedial station for my entire term with the company.  This is where I remain after 2 years.  I do not blame the management.  I am sure my peers have expressed the idea that most of the tasks would be too difficult.

So, after writing this, many would wonder why I speak so highly of this company.  The truth is, because I have chosen not to complain and go with the flow.  You have to pick when it most beneficial to raise issues and when it is better to wait.   Even if I brought up instances of being marginalized because of my perceived limitations of my race, they would not understand it the way most Westerners do.  I am not being hurt badly by this.  I have a lot of mettle.  I have been through many stormy working environments.  My mind is more in line with a Japanese than an American.  Afterall, I have earned more yen than dollars in my years in the work force.  I am more concerned that this behavior toward foreign people can hurt production potential.  Isn’t it strange that after more than two years, I probably have to ask someone who has only been there two months where something is or how to do something?  Why do my peers view me as being mentally retarded and someone who needs constant looking after?  Why would any production facility want a worker who really is only about 55 percent trained to come to work?   I do not think I am the one who is suffering the disadvantage.  It is this company.  In the future, this company and other companies will need to use foreign-born workers.  Young Japanese people do not want to work nights there.  The older people are too physically small to lift as much.  The people I work with sometimes need to think just for a few seconds why I got the job in the first place.  It was because I had relevant experience.  Experience that my peers are totally unaware of.  For example, I have a Japanese Food Hygiene Certificate 食品衛生 some experience in the USA as an assistant manager of a family restaurant.  Japanese food service as well.    I worked in a Japanese bakery.  Here is a link to some of the fun I had there.   I also could probably grasp a few new tasks because I was smart enough to further my education a bit.   All these do not say I am smart, but it should indicate that if left alone for 5 minutes, I won’t piss on myself.  I’ll be Okay.  I can do it.     They need to get over my foreign birth, and just let me do a better job for them.

As I work part-time with those vegetables at night, what I learn about communication there is relevant to my daytime job.  After a few hours of sleep, I get up and I teach at Japanese companies specifically how to interact in international environments.  Heck, I did not even discover really how to communicate until I got out of my teaching cocoon.  My experience with  gives me a of ideas on how communication fails when people pre-judge the capabilities of their foreign co-workers.  What really happens is my co-workers response is formed often before I utter a word.  All that vocabulary and listening work is not enough.  Global divides in everyday communication still exist even with my Japanese ability.  I am not a speaker on their level, which is clear but I will attempt to get my JPLT First Grade when I muster up a bit more confidence.  Learning other languages is useful, but we cannot forget to make our first language more understandable for practical communication.   Japan needs to recognize and work to change the nation’s image as an exclusive society.  It is my hope that this way of thinking  will someday be passed down to their finest corporations, especially the one I work for.

Why Japan Continues to Survive

-By Caoimhín Ó Laoghaire

This actually ties into what I have been writing about the past few years.  My home country, the United States is so disconnected from anything resembling a comprehensive solution to their ills.  Crime is out of control, skilled workers idled, 70 percent without basic healthcare coverage, working age people lined up for disability payment and a general lack of cohesion among our people.  It will likely take generations for America to recover our place on the world stage again.  It is absolutely terrifying to see my country from abroad.  However, when you are living in the middle of it, you can easily become blind.

Conversely, Japan weathers their storms and seems to hold it together a whole lot better than the United States.  Why is that?  Based on my simple observations, I notice one factor is dependent on the other in Japan.  For example, if a company desires worker loyaty to the company, it is necessary to offer a high likelyhod of secure longtime employment to the worker.  There are many other differences between America and Japan.  Some of these would seem like a horribly cruel disparaging of American society, but they need to be considered if we want to recover again.  Make no mistake about it.  I am an American patriot.  I want the United States of America to succeed again.  Certainly  Japan, by no means is a perfect society.  Being a foreigner in Japan who has earned more yen than dollars has taught me Japan is for the Japanese and only the Japanese.  I am not nor will I ever be looked at as an equal member of their economy and society.  I am not in the Japanese circle and my participation is pretty much at their pleasure.  Discrimination affects me, but I do my best to navigate the system and provide support for my family.

Some areas that Japan approaches differently include:

1.  Employment Security of their Citizens

2.  Worker Loyalty and Productivity

3.  Healthcare for their Citizens

4.  Maintenance of their Infastructure

5.  Crime

6.  Connection to their Community

7.  Seeking Assistance from Family v. Assistance from the Public

Employment Security

Recently, Sensata, an electronic component plant in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois closed dispacing a number of workers.  It is an all too common occurance in Freeport and Rockford.  Workers are told their last day and basically left to fend for themselves.  It really got me thinking about a time when I heard of time a plant in Japanese closed up and the workers made redundant.  I could not.  The next week, I polled some of my business students at Sony, Bridgestone and Daihatsu if this has occurred.  They told me it certainly does happen as technology advances and ecomomical necessity required closure.  However, although the plant changes it is extremely rare that workers are not provided transfers, early retirement packages, retraining or guidance into another job.  Incidentally,   Sensata did not close their operations in Japan although they are tech centers and marketing.  Layoffs are clearly a very last resort in Japan.  It is almost treated as a criminal offense to abandon workers so casually as it is done in the United States.

I have found Japanese workers to be far more loyal to their company than American workers.  That is very clear to me and common sense as the company provides security and the likelyhood of a mutually profitable relationship long term.  Contrary to popular belief, I have not seen Japanese workers any more productive than American workers.  We Americans like to work hard, but we need some assurances in return.

Here are some interesting articles on the Japanese approach to large scale layoffs.

Worker Loyalty and Productivity

It is my pleasure to smash the myth that Japanese simply work harder than Americans.  It is just plain not true.  So, I would not suggest occupying your mind with little Japanese men running around like worker bees on steriods.  I work with some really lazy bastards.  Shout out to  that guy who barks orders to me using just my last name.   I frequently advise him to work the muscles in his legs and arms more than his mouth.  I am senior to him by 2 days at work.   Most of the slackers are in the education business, but some are in production positions as well like one of my collegues .  I do not mind giving him a little grief.  He is the only openly racist person who practices his ignorance on a daily basis.  He once told me it is peculiar and a bad idea that Watami hires foreign people.    Sometimes, I gently push back with a sense of humor.  However, despite this example, workers will not willfully do anything that would affects the productivity and profits of the company.  My co-worker does jobs he likes to do and I do jobs he doesn’t like to do.  I have no doubt he would step in for the company if I was not there.  Overall I word with pretty good quality folks.

Universal Healthcare

Even though most conservative Americans oppose it, I think we need it in America.  It is a mess.  I had what was considered to be a good plan with Aetna from my employer I had in America except the co-pays.  Very expensive.   Even if you did not have insurance in Japan, the cost of treatment is considerably less than in the United States.  A small ticket item, the MRI.  $1600 dollars in the United States, $160 in Japan.  Let’s ramp up the crisis to an emergency appendectomy.  $20,000 in the United States.  $3,600 in Japan.  I could be way off on the US figures now.  Last week, a guy posted his appendectomy bill online from Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, California.  His came up to 55,000 dollars.   It’s beyond ridiculous.  Sharks have taken medical care out of reach of almost everyone.  I wrote a few thought in a previous blog I did during the American election season.

Connection to the Community

I have often said, Americans move in and out of communities.  Japanese become one with their communities.  Instead of moving to a “better” community, Japanese thrive to “better” their community.    We as Americans are very vocally harsh on our elected and appointed officials.  It’s “Obama this and Obama that.”  “The Mayor is incompetent.”  “Morons at the public works department are dragging their asses getting the snowplows and salt trucks out again.”  Geez,  America!  We need grow the Eff up, already!   If I remember correctly, we sent Mayor Morrisey and President Obama back for another term.  Why can’t we learn to take more responsiblity.  For example, last year it took me 2 hours to drive 6 miles to work because the river breached the levees and I was constantly turning back another way.  At each intersection, I would meet a farmer or an 80 year old woman telling people dont go there, try that way.  When disasters hit, big or small, Japanese grab their shovels first and go outside.  Probably, when the tsunami hit in 2011, the locals knew where to look for victims pretty quickly.  That is because they would be showing their faces outside.  Looting?  What is that?  Japanese don’t even comprehend how someone could do that.  Twice a year, I direct school kids on the street with my little PTA flag.   Japan doesn’t waste money on crossing guards.  The parents rotate the responsiblity as well as senior citizens do.  Every couple months, I do neighborhood cleanup and weed the grass around the community center and remove buildup of mud from the street drainage with my neighbors.  For Japanese, its common sense.  In America, I heard public housing was going to ask residents who get FREE housing to contribute a couple hours a month as condition for their residency.  Some actually complained how it was too harsh for disabled people and single moms.

Taking care of Infastructre

In Rockford, I have never made it down 20th Street from O’Leary Acres to Harrison Avenue without either hitting or swerving around a pothole.  Strangley enough, I cannot remember the last time I saw a gaping pothole in Japan.  Nuff said.

Public Safety

Fancy word for crime management here.  Japan is not crime free.  My apartment was burglarized more than 10 years ago.  When I called the police in my poor Japanese speech, 8 of them arrived.  I was kind of embarrassed because although I had a broken window, I scared the burglar away by coming back suddenly and nothing was taken.  In contrast, in Rockford, Illinois my mother had her purse snatched while sitting down eating breakfast at McDonalds.  The police there are too busy to come out for calls like that and she was told to come downtown to public safety building and file a report.  Luckily, the perp was filmed by the McDonalds security camera which my mother informed the police of.  Her card was used to fill two tanks.  Once again security cameras.  Later, she asked the manager of McDonalds if the police followed up to review the tape and he said no.  If that is not incompetence, I do not know what is.  A purse is taken from someone nearly 80.  It has identification with the address of a property and sets of keys inside to everything.  Yet, Rockford Police do not consider that a concern or a big enough priority to look at a tape.  WTF, Rockford.

Another point I observed in Japan is a powerful weapon used by police.  Shame and shame.  A local teen either stole a bicycle at the store or vandalized something.  So, I look outside and there are 3 cop cars in front of my neighbors house.  The teenager is standing in bright light in front of the cruisers headlights talking with his parents and the police.  Its was something minor I picked up on, but the conversation went on for over an hour and the mom was crying.  So the police won’t take your troublemaking kid to the station and call you.  They take him home and have the conference in front of your house for all your nosey neighbors to hear.   The kid will probably not go to court but his parents will immediately pay for the damage and do a lot of bowing to the crime victim.

Turning to Family as Opposed to Public Assistance

Shame works for crime but it also works for keeping many Japanese away from public assistance.  It is considered a great family shame to have someone on public assistance unless they are severely disabled or elderly.   Actually, I read some time ago, that the local government does home visits to ensure people do not have luxuries and are truly needy.  Many Japanese do shun working productive jobs.  The hikkomori for example.  There is an English acronym for it.  Its N.E.E.T  which means not engaged in employment, education or training.  They might be single men in the 30s still living with their Mommies playing video games all day.  That is also a shame but not as much as applying for assistance.  Japanese are expected to rely on assistance within and not task the working taxpayers.  The numbers of people on public assistance in America is staggering.  The number of people on permenant disability grows every year.  I cannot wrap my head around it.  If one can walk erect, drive a vehicle, have reasonable sight and hearing why America cannot place more of these people in productive jobs is beyond me.  Why does the American government find it a better investment to provide cash benefits than to get some retraining programs going?  Truthfully, there are people in our clan who haven’t joined the work force recently.  However, to their credit they are relying on helo within the family and not tasking strangers with the financial burden of supporting them?  Maybe our welfare system is too private and with all stigmas removed, it is easier for people to pursue.  What if we listed applicants in the local paper and then the neighbors said, Aha.. He drives an Escalade and sends his daughter to expensive ballet lessons.  Sounds draconian, but the numbers of people receiving assistance and the abuses are too great.

Pray for our country.  We have a long way to to go.