Clashes and Crashes of our Cultures

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.


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.

From the Outside Looking In: “Why Can’t We Beat Japan?”

-Kevin G. O’Leary

I have spent a great deal of time living and working in Japan since 1989. It certainly is a long time to be away from the United States. I never considered myself a Japanophile at all rather I am somewhat of an economic refugee. My earning power is more stable and higher here as long as maintain a balance between my own enterprise and selectively taking on work that is both profitable and meaningful. Truthfully, I desire to be back with my own people in my own country. I am often very critical of what my homeland has become and want America to become great once again. Americans who respond to my observations and opinions with, “Gee Kevin since you love it so much over there, why don’t you stay there until you die?” Or if I am living in the United States at the time, “Kevin, why don’t you just go back over there, then?” Stupidity like that just falls on deaf ears. I would be more likely to just respond by telling the person to go off and do an anatomically challenging sexual act on themselves. That means hey, go eff yourself, but Cheery OLeery’s aren’t raised to talk that way. It is time, we as Americans stop beating our chests and telling ourselves we are the greatest and humbly take a good self-inventory of ourselves and our nation.

Why is Japan beating us in almost every area? Do they work harder than Americans? Are they smarter than we are? Are Asians genetically superior?

Fortunately, the answer is no as far as I have seen by working in both cultures. Contrary to the stereotypes, there are plenty of lazy ass Japanese workers and a fair share of dimwits toiling away managing to hold onto jobs across the great Land of the Rising Sun. Some of the strangest birds are engaged in teaching.

In reality, the Japanese educational system is not much to write home about. Those fancy test scores we all read about come from students who spend 3 hours after school in cram schools. The level of school is determined more by external influences more than the brilliant educators and students within. It is mandatory for every student to finish junior high school. High school is not a requirement. High schools are seperated into institutions that are “academic” and “technical.” Academic basically means the students are likely to be college bound. Technical, agricultural or commercial high schools groom most of their young people for the service industry and various trades. Since high school is actually not a requirement in Japan, seats in academic public schools are highly competitive and most students do not pass the entrance examinations. As strange as it sounds to Americans, the Japanese government does not guarantee everyone a public high school education. To serve the students who fall short, a huge number of private high schools are available. These private high schools as a recruitment incentive offer several “academic” courses of study, so that some can advance on to higher education after graduation. Generally, I found most teachers to be mediocre at that subject matter and yet severely overworked. In Japan, teachers are responsible for the moral development of the students and are responsible for the students well being 24/7. Even if an ambitious teacher wanted to pursue an MA in Education or higher level training, it is extremely difficult to manage with their added responsibilities. Most of the English teachers I have worked with are often unaware of the latest advances in the language acquisition research. Besides, being far behind the times, teachers in Japan are quite territorial and often put other priorities above developing the academic abilities of students in their charge. The task of individual edcuational development of students falls on the private after school cram schools which have a huge presence in Japan. These cram schools are costly and a student’s options for supplemental tutoring depend on how deep their parent’s pockets are. I have observed that teachers are not under as much pressure to advance their skills as someone in private industry. The above observations are likely why I find so much weirdness and lackluster performance among Japan’s teachers. I find Japanese teachers to be highly individualistic just like good old Americans. Contrast that with their counterparts working in industry and production, there is clear difference.

Japanese in general are very community oriented. Individual virtues are not nearly important to most people as being part of a group. They are not nearly as focused on advancing themselves as they are advancing the success of their organization. This is a clear cultural difference and it is one that Americans really need to learn about to be globally competitive. In previous articles, I ranted about how much personal nonsense that is infested in American workplaces. This clearly has an impact on organizational productivity. Workers need to be focused on their job at hand and not be distracted by self-serving obnoxious workplace bullies. There is no place for cliques when the time clock is punched. If the company is profitable, it is reasonable that the financial benefits will trickle down to the workers. This is not always true in today’s American workplaces as upper management has grown apathetic to dealing with employee personal problems and under constant threat of labor actions and claims by unhappy employees.

Late last year, Sensata Corporation closed a manufacturing facility in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois. Freeport is one of the lowest cost areas in the country yet the products produced are highly accessible to outbound shipping to anywhere around the world. On the other side of the ocean, Sensata’s Japanese manufacturing facilities remained intact. It is certainly worth considering what kind of criteria was evaluated when deciding which facilities close and which remain in operation. Land costs in Japan are much higher than in Northwest Illinois. Transportation is without a doubt higher considering gasoline in Japan is six dollars a gallon. Employers are obligated to make mandatory social health insurance and pension matching contributions for their workers making labor overhead quite high. It would be reasonable to assume that the Freeport facility cost a fraction to operate compared to the Japanese plants. I would be curious to know if the justification for shipping jobs to China was based on apathy by the corporate head honchos. In America, how many times in Sensata’s history has a strike or organized labor action occured? How many workman’s compensation claims have been submitted? What is the punctionality and absenteeism record at Sensata? What are the units per month compared to other facilities around the world? Is Illinois a business friendly environment? Now, compare this with Japan or China’s Sensata plants or a similarly sized operation. Are American employees and regulatory government regulations more hostile to enterprises than in Asia? We need to ask these questions and do an extensive self-inventory of our work environments. What do we need to consider to jump back on the globe again?

Now, I have kind of peeled some skin back and gave some readers a rash with this. Up to this point, I was focusing on recent workers who may have lost their jobs or those who are currently working. But what about those who are not? I read the other day that a record 8.9 million people are on disability? Good grief, people! Yes, some need that kind of assistance, I understand. What I find strange is that in the 25 years, I have been in and out of Japan, I cannot even count on one hand people I know who are totally dependent on other taxpayers that are of working age. Once again, it is cultural divide we have between the two countries. I was particularly disturbed reading about Katherine Russell Tsanarev, the wife of the Boston bomber. She was on welfare up until the end of last year for a considerable amount of time. Yet, on television I see those pictures of that beautiful home of her parents in Rhode Island. Dad is medical doctor and mom is registered nurse. How disfunctional American families have become that people cannot take care of the own! It isn’t like she was disowned from her kin since she is living with them now. This type of situation is virtually non-existent in Japan. Japanese people are truely ashamed to take welfare themselves or have a family on assistance, yet those who have no other means do so. I thank God I was blessed to be born into a family that is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain self-sufficiency. My parents and my siblings are highly educated people who have had more than a few burps in their employment chronology. When my father, a public school teacher lost his tenure, the Dakota school district cut him away like a piece of fat on a porkchop, He didn’t whine and demand an job of equal stauts. He went looking for work willing to pump gas, by golly. My sister has an MA in Education, lives in high cost of living area and she always does what needs to be done. When the university cut back on her lecture hours, she learned how to say, “Do you want fries with that?” She worked the counters in fast food and clerked at a health food store. That is how she was made. When I left the military, I did not find much commensurate with my skills. I put on an apron, washed dishes and waited tables at the Hollywood Dining Center. Just a year and a half ago, I had to resign suddenly from a general manager job and return to my family. Although I am an experienced teacher, I came back in the middle of the school year and had to look for other work. I found a job processing vegetables in a factory. I was ridiculed on the internet by a 21 year old University of Wisconsin intern for it. Not one member of my family and not one Japanese person thought it was a silly thing to do. As a matter of fact, I like it so much I plan on keeping the midnight part time job for two more years. I know I sound like Forrest Gump when I say that. I am an executive by day and vegetable killer by night.

I write as I see things. Make no mistake, I very much love my country. I am a patriot. Nothing would please me more than to help America succeed. I don’t think I need to apologize because I have a lot invested in the United States of America. I wore the uniform defending my country for two enlistements. I own a home in the area of my upbringing where I will return to soon. I certainly hope people welcome me back home in spite of my overly direct opinions. Afterall, what good am I if I just say what you want to hear. I want to make a positive contribution. You folks just wait until I get going on my gun control article!

God bless America.

A Glimpse into How America Wrecked Health Care

By Kevin G. O’Leary

Looking from the outside in can give one a unique perspective on many of the ailments the United States is experiencing.   Having worked in the United States for 12 years and worked in Japan for 20 years, I can see in many sectors how the American society has spun out of control like unmanageable fireball.

Let’s look at the health care debate raging in this election year.  I am no expert on public health care or insurance other than being a consumer, an avid  reader and a careful observer.  Japan has stark contrasts to the United States.

First let’s look at litigation and liability in comparison.  The Japanese do not traditionally sue their mentors, educators, community leaders and healers.   And no, they do not sue their EMT or the fire departments often either.   Yes, it does still happen in certain cases, but far from commonplace.  Nevertheless, court litigation rates are a fraction of what they are in the United States.  Some years ago, there was  a case of  blood tainted by HIV and the Japanese courts and government held some health care providers and suppliers culpable, and monetary compensation was awarded.

Since the early 1960s, the Japanese have had universal national and social health insurance coverage.  There are still some people, often foreigners working in Japan that are not enrolled in the national or social health insurance program and must pay for their care up front in cash.  However, even in such an instance, medical care is significantly more affordable even without insurance.  An MRI would cost 200 dollars in Japan. The same MRI would cost as much as 1800 dollars in the United States.  Japan is not a third world country and has an extremely advanced medical system.  Is there any justification for care to cost 9 or 10 times more in the United States?

Several months ago, while surfing the internet, I ran across an excerpt from a doctor’s memoir written by a long-lost cousin I don’t remember ever meeting in person.  It was for her father, my uncle with whom I also share a name.  I contacted the publisher who got me in contact with her and got my hands on my own copy of one of the most informative books in my library.  My uncle was a general practitioner in a small town in Warren County, Illinois.  In other words, a typical small town house-call making family doctor of yesteryear.

Below, taken directly from the Wild Rides and Shiny Dimes book  are some informative insights how regulations, out of control lawsuits and general micromanagement of our medical professionals has chased people like this doctor out of the practice.

It was not common for people to have medical insurance to pay for their medical care 50 years ago.

“Farmers, sometimes paid their bill with sweet corn, tomatoes and other produce.”

What a coincidence!  It was 1961 when half-way around the world the national social insurance was established in Japan.  We were basically on the same street at this point in history.  His daughter, who went on to become a psychiatrist at the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recalls instructions he gave her.  “A colored farmer would come to the back door of the clinic with produce.   Presumably, he was not literate and she was to write his name down on a piece of paper so her father could adjust his bill for his medical treatment.  As he was an older gentleman, it was assumed that was the way he was raised using the back doors although the front door was more accessible.”  Fortunately, there wasn’t any mention of livestock being brought to the back porch.

Uncle Glenn began his medical practice delivering babies, setting simple fractures, giving anesthesia,  performing minor surgery and assisting  in major surgery.   Some years later, he had to give up obstetrics when a specialist came to town.  The malpractice insurance rates made him drop fractures that had to be reduced.  If the fracture was on that a cast could be put on and did not need to be reduced, he could still do that.  He also decided to drop minor surgery for insurance reasons.  The final years he practiced, he did not even assist in surgery because of the insurance costs.

The final two years of practice they did so in arrangement with a hospital.  Up until that time, all the doctors were independent.

He did not really want to retire at age 65, but his malpractice insurance was due to run out. Things by that time had really begun to deteriorate with the new government regulations.  It became very frustrating to comply and to understand the regulations.  To ensure doctors complied, a very severe sounding penalty was attached.  So every time you do something wrong, it is $5000 and five years in prison.  Even if the nurse makes the error, it is hanging over their heads all the time.  There was always the fear of lawsuits.

After my uncle retired, his partner, another good doctor thought he would continue.  He only lasted six months.   The system had successfully removed two good doctors who just wanted to help people get well.

Today, the two countries could not be farther apart in serving their patients.  Although advances in medical technology have moved forward at rapid pace, making care accessible to all has not.  In the United States, the working poor are particularly excluded from affordable care.  The truly destitute can get free medical care through programs and charities.   Believe me, if you have ever visited Rockford, Illinois there are more than a few destitute people.   The rich can pay for the large insurance premiums.  The middle class and those who are working two jobs are increasingly left without affordable health care options.  Japan, on the other hand has maintained its system for universal coverage for all.  Even as a traditional fiscal conservative, I am thoroughly enjoying my “socialized” medical care in Japan.   I had mini-stroke in 2009.  Lucky for me I was in Japan and six months of blood-thinning medications and monitoring did not destroy my livelihood.  I paid less out-of-pocket for a damn stroke than I did in 2008  for a dental abscess with Aetna Insurance from my employer.  I had to pay my co-pay out-of-pocket insurance back to the hospital in installments.  Let’s face it.  We wrecked our system in the United States.  I have no choice but to support Obamacare after experiencing what I did.  They do have to remove stupid stuff from the Affordable Care Act, however.  I vehemently oppose provisions for birth control and abortions that may be funded with tax payer dollars.  As a practicing Catholic and an American, I expect my religious freedoms not to be trampled on.  After all even in Japan these provisions are not covered.   I hope both the conservatives and the liberals learn not to put polarizing items in something so important as basic health care.

A final point worth mention.  Today, America’s hospitals are increasingly being operated by health care corporations with obvious financial incentives to overcharge and over prescribe pharmaceuticals.  Across the ocean in Japan, hospitals remain firmly in control of doctors and only doctors.  I ask you which system is working better?

I will return to the United States, and assuming this debate won’t be settled, I have a plan.  Should I be catastrophically ill, I will pump myself up with whatever drugs I can get over the counter at the local Walgreens or CVS pharmacy.  Then, I will board a plane in a semiconscious state bound for Japan.

A Japanese Cremation

I meant to write this a few months ago.  The experiences below do not relate to any particular family member.  We did, however lose my wife’s mother 5 weeks ago.  The following is a combination of my experience with the bone-picking ceremonies over the past 20 years.   I would not want to violate the privacy of anyone living or dead.

First, the burnable casket placed on a gurney once it arrives at the crematorium. Family members gather in front of the doors of the incinerator.  There is often a Buddhist priest or other spiritual advisor present to lead final prayers.   After the body is slid through the doors of cremation machine, the relatives retire to a waiting area.    There are sofas, chairs and small rooms if people want more privacy.   The remains of an adult take 1 1/2 to 2 hours, a child less than an hour and an infant as little as 20 or 5 minutes to finish the cremation process.  This allows some time for a light lunch catered in lunch  boxes, a beer and some time to sit and chat. 

Not all cremation halls are equal.  I was shocked at what hell holes some were.  It seemed they obviously weren’t taking care of remains to afford a coat of paint, decent furniture a few shrubs and a flower bed.  The crematory is selected by its conveniece of location rather than the financial resources of the family.  I have been to some beautiful ones serving poorer families and and real dumps for families with considerable wealth.  One of the nicest ones I visited was in Yokohama a year and half ago.  Shiny granite type floors, walls  cushy leather furniture and plushly carpeted rooms. 

After relaxing in the lounge and having a light meal, we hear over a load speaker that they crematory staff is ready for us to return.  For lack of better explantion, they are saying the body is done.

Here is a big difference between western cremations and Japanese cremations.  We in America receive ashes and the remaining bones are crushed and pulverized.  Conversely, in Japan, the bones are collected and the ashes of the deceased are not kept.  I have never been involved in any way with a cremation in the United States.  As far as I know, all my kin were embalmed and put six feet under in a cemetary. 

I have participated in about a dozen of bone picking ceremonies over the past 20 years.  Although a skeleton is a pretty generic looking thing, I have never seen any two sets remains look the same.  I have seen pearly white bones, brown bones and gray bones.  I was once told that cancer sometimes ravages the body so badly that the process pretty much disinigrates everything.  On the other hand, a strong 20 year old who died unexpectedly was amazingly intact.  A large portion of the skull remains intact and when you enter the room the top of the skull is usually facing you as the remains enter head first.   Assuming the bones are in relatively good condition, you will see the a complete skeleton except from the neck down the bone structure is completely collapsed and flattened with the skull retaining its shape.  One of the strangest bone picking ceremonies was for a delayed discovery unattended death.   Instead the crematory staff walked across the large lobby carrying two silver trays of bones right through other parties waiting for their cremations to be finished.  Prior to that we were ushered into a large room in front of an empty marble table.  I thought, this is peculiar.  There is no door for the cremains on a gurney to come out.  Then I heard the rattling of bones behind me and two men carrying the trays into the room.

 When the bone-picking ceremony begins, the bones of the feet are picked up first, and the bones of the head are picked up last.   There is a reason for this.  They want the deceased to enter eternity head first up in the urn.   Everyone picks up the small bones using long chopsticks and transers them to the urn.  There are about 8 pounds of bones or less.  The chopsticks are longer than the type people eat with.  After many years in Japan, I have enough skill to handle chopsticks as well as I can a knife and fork.   The Adams Apple bone or the hyoid bone are picked up last by the closest relative.   The final part some may find disturbing.  The skull being relatively intact is very brittle.  The crematory representative will the break into it with the large chopsticks.  He will break it down into 4 or 5 plate like sections.  This will line the the urn just below lip.  The remains are now appropriately right side up with the skull bones and the hyoid bone at the top. 

Finally, the urn is closed and placed in white silky box or cover.  The representative will also hand the next of kin a certificate of cremation.  From there the box will return to home and sit on the family altar or Butsudon(an expensive cabinet in many Japanese homes).  The time in the home depends on the situation.  It could be just a few days or about 40 days before it is finally taken to the family plot and interred inside until the end of time.


How I Feel About Non-Japanese Name Usage in Japan

-By Caoimhín Ó Laoghaire

Most Japanese adults do not know how to address others or introduce themselves properly in English. They introduce themselves by last name only, for example, ” Hello, I am Bush” or “Nice to meet you, my name is Johnson.”   This does not seem to be a big issue on its face, but we have to keep in mind that a non-Japanese that has not lived here might not recognize they have been presented with only a last name.  Mistakenly believing the friendly Japanese person introduced himself American style by first name, the non-Japanese may commit a big faux paux the next time they meet addressing an important contact by last name only minus any honorific title.  This would be exceedingly rude in most countries of the world.   I have made it my personal mission to painstakingly retrain the Japanese population.

An overwhelming majority of AETs, ALTs and foreign teachers in schools have adopted the practice of using their first names only with elementary and secondary school students.   Or I should say, others have adopted this practice for them.   I believe there are several reasons for this being the standard practice.   Some Japanese believe western culture is much less rigid and formal and all foreigners prefer to be called by first name.   More than two decades ago when the JET programme began to provide foreign ALTs to the school, the idea was to foster friendship between the young people of each other’s countries.  Thus, the upper age limit for employment for JET ALT positions was only 27  years old.  Finally, the least pleasant theory is it is a subtile means by the host schools to separate and keep the foreign teachers in guest/visitor station throughout their assignment.   This is a form of microagression or microinvalidation that is either unintentional or intentional.  It depends on the perpetrator, I guess.

In recent years, the JET programme participants have been cut back and it is not uncommon to have a foreign teacher as old as 50 or 55 teaching in the school.  Nowadays, many school districts with budget constraints are relying on staffing and dispatch companies to supply their foreign teachers.  I worked at a junior high school with 5 other English teachers.  At age 45, I was the oldest English teacher in the school.  In a school environment, I do not feel comfortable reinforcing to children younger than my own to address me by first name and address the other teachers in the room with me by their family name and title.  Although by definition, Assistant Language Teacher is in an inferior role in the classroom, it is best in my opinion that youngsters learn to address all adults using the proper respect.  In this role, my preference is Mr. O’Leary or オレーリー先生.

I make an extra effort to illustrate examples of name etiquette as it used in western countries.  In my home country, the United States, first names are very common and perfectly acceptable in many organizations.   For example, in the USA,  I worked for Lowe’s Corporation which is a large company that operates home improvement centers nationwide.  At Lowe’s, first names are used by the newest employee all the way up to the CEO.  This is not unusual at all as it emphasizes the importance, value and equality of each team member.  Everyone uses first names.  However, it would be very awkward if some were referred to as Mr, Ms and others were referred to only by first name.  The key point is to use forms of address in kind and never be unequal to anyone when addressing them.  Like, Japan, last names only would also be extremely abrasive and rude.

Last year, I began to work for two different companies in Japan.  I work for Watami, a food processing center and also at an upscale bakery.  At Watami, at age 48 I am one one of the youngest on my team.  Workers there have their last names stenciled on our uniforms and are referred to as Tateyama-san, Mori-san etc.  In kind they address me as Ore-ri-san.  This is standard practice.  There are two old farts though aged 59 and 60 respectively who refer to me as just Ore-ri.   I find this increasingly annoying.  However, these are very kind, helpful decent men who would never intentionally disrespect anyone.  I sometimes tell them, “Oh, by the way, Ore-ri is my family name.”  It doesn’t sink in to their wrinkled brains.  Last names should never be used in Japan without the honorific suffix san.  It is crude and rude.    I have invited them to call me Kevin or as they would say Kebun.  For some reason, although only I would be referred to by first name, I do not feel slighted.  It does not grate on my ears to be called in a friendly way by my first name without the honorific suffix san.

In contrast, when I go to work at the bakery, I am one of the oldest workers.  The young ladies 20, 22 and some in the 30s refer to me as just Kevin.  I like this.  It is friendly and similar to how they would address their English conversation teacher if they were studying at a school.  Surprisingly, I found that last names are used exclusively even among the youngest workers.  Even though I am the odd man out in address, it is fine because I feel their warmth and sincerity.

In the case of both the schools and the companies where last names are commonplance, there is good reason I become oversensitive.  If someone does what they call 呼び捨て which means to drop the honorific to my last name, I feel the disrespect is being extended to my family.  I consider myself to be a humble person, but I am fiercely protective of my family and would never tolerate anyone disrespecting them.  When I was working with the schools in the same community my children attended school, I found it awkward confusing to try to justify to my daughter why only her parent was referred to by first name.  A well raised child is taught to refer to adults by last name and title.  The disparity can have a subtile effect on the child and they may find that having a non-Japanese parent is an embarrassment and nusiance.  This was occasionally the case with my son during his school days.  What do non-Japanese residents like myself really want?  The answer is when on the job, when doing our part living responsible lives in the community, we do not want to be treated differently.  We want to blend in.  We do not want our spouses and our children to be treated with less dignity because they have a non-Japanese spouse or parent.

My typical training pattern for self-introductions I instruct my student is this, “Hello, My name is Hiroyuki Tanaka.”  The well raised individual would likely respond with, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Tanaka.”   At this point, Mr. Tanaka might say, “Please call me Hiro.”  This is gives Tanaka-san the opportunity to offer the gift of friendship and informality by inviting another to refer to him by first name.   The rule of thumb is not to be presumptuous and wait until invited before using someone’s first name.

To live in a global environment takes a certain degree of patience and temperment.  Etiquette  slips are often forgiven across cultures.  When unfamiliar with which is correct, refer back to your own culture and Amy Vanderbuilt’s Book of Etiquette.  You would be surprised to find our cultures are very similar.  If you are on your best manners expected in your home country, you will be pretty close when traveling abroad.   Like the name of this blog, remember, It is not about our differences….It is about our similarities.