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.”

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.