Chapter 4: A Taste of Japanese Work-Life

At the same time each morning, the town PA will sound off and with it my new reality. It is by no means a somber realization but rather one that just acknowledges the unknown. The public announcements are an adjustment but oddly reminiscent of the military college protocols or even morning prayers in Egypt, and, from what I’ve been told, serve two functions: The first, to warn residents of natural disasters(of which there are many in Japan), the second, to caution drivers of traffic. As practical as they sound, it is unfortunately just noise until I learn the language. So, for the time being, earthquakes and typhoons will be dealt with spontaneously and, with my luck, probably while showering or cutting onions. As for the traffic announcements, the `town` is closer to a farming village with no more than two cars on the street at a time, making any collision more than unlikely and no doubt a signal to the end of days or some cataclysmic event. Still, I find it hard to gripe about isolation when others have been stationed on literal mountains. Pieter, the South African bodyguard(from chapter 2), was such a soul and, from last I heard, was locked in mortal combat with boars while commuting to work.

A brief note: for those of you expecting to read about cherry blossoms and “finding yourself,” I will fail you, the world has enough Instagram influencers that do that already. The purpose of these entries is to provide an unfiltered and, at times, ugly account of migrating with no friends, no family, no language, and on a salary that will pay you enough to starve but not die. Not balancing romanticism with reality is reckless as it paints a fragmented picture that enables others to forgo caution. Adventurers soo starstruck upon arriving, they sign whatever document is pushed to them, a price inevitably paid for later. Don’t get me wrong, Japan is a fantastically moral society, but like any country, has companies that will prey on one’s bewilderment for profit. Which is why during resettlement, I advise you to attempt as much as possible on your own and sign for amenities such as apartment leases and phone contracts independently from the company that hired you. If the agreement is in Japanese, request it be translated to English; if that’s not possible, download a translator application, do your due diligence. This way, if you are mistreated, you can’t be bullied into accepting it because they leased your apartment. Exploitation is not ubiquitous, but I would be remiss not to make a point of it.

A Day In The Life
The first thing to do before entering school grounds is the switch from outdoor shoes to indoor shoes. If you are unprepared, fear not; slippers will be provided. Next, get ready to hit the red carpet, as “Ohayou-gozaimasu!” (good morning) is yelled from all corners of the Teachers’ Room, shooting you to superstardom, however dishearteningly brief. After greeting the fans, hot tea will be at my desk every morning, without fail. Who it’s from and why is a riddle I have yet to solve. The `case of the hot tea` is made all the more compelling when learning that the other foreign teacher at the school is deprived of the same service. Depending on the day and usually around the time I finish my mystery tea, the vice principal will make an announcement, during which I do my best to smile and bow on cue. Class start time is hard to mistake as violin music is played to ensure everyone is ON TIME. At the start of class, a calming chime is followed by a student who yells “Mokusou” (be silent, think). Students will then momentarily close their eyes to meditate while seated and then stand to greet the teacher formally. Both during and outside class, the students are polite, courteous, and well mannered. Many days I can’t help but feel having cheated karma in retrospect to the little heathen I was. The lack of aggression amongst teenage boys is particularly peculiar but not negatively so, just a phenomenon. Something partially explained through such instructional clues as selecting students with an open palm in place of a finger or meditating; still, only tiny puzzle pieces in the grand design.

Class ends the way it started but with piano music this time and students standing to greet the teacher. For lunch, staff are served at their desks in the Teachers` Room with upbeat, dare I say `encouraging` eating music? If you love the sound of slurping, then you can indulge in the cacophony that will vibrate the room until every strand of noodle is gone. The louder, the better, as it is cultural evidence you are enjoying the flavors. Lunch servers throughout the school are a combination of food service workers, teachers, and students. After eating, many, but not all, will brush their teeth. To end the school day, both teachers and students sweep, scrub and clean different building sections. During this time, I do my best to contribute but more often than not meander aimlessly with a broom. The moment I receive a Hanko stamp from the vice principal on my timesheet the workday is concluded. That timesheet will then be faxed to the dispatch company on the last banking day of the month to confirm salary payment.

Sins Of The Workplace
The cardinal rule is don’t be late. If there was any message I took away from the orientations, teacher meetings and staff, it’s don’t be late for work. If fate would have it that you are late, be prepared to apologize and do so sincerely while also not making excuses. My dispatch company makes it adamant about contacting them in the event of a delay so they can begin atonement with the school ahead of time. It is so much so a cultural taboo that railway operators will hand out certificates for late trains to show employers. I’m afraid that’s all for this week Gaijin Readers. I hope you found this taste of Japanese work life insightful; please be sure to tune in next week as I travel to TOKYO!

If you like what you see and want more, be sure to hit the ‘subscribe now’ button on this page and follow us at @the.wanderinggaijin on Instagram.