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Do your Japanese colleagues drive you nuts? Maybe it’s you, not them (or both)

by

Last month, my wife’s office — most days a haven of dreamless industry — was shaken by what came to be known as the Trail Mix Incident.

An American employee had brought the snack in as omiyage (a souvenir). Twenty packs in a box: a mean promiscuity of chocolate, raisins and nuts, menacing waistlines all over the section.

“Our DNA said no,” my wife explained coolly. “We just knew this wasn’t delicious.”

“But that is childish,” I tried to reason. I’ve met the American only once and remember him as a dolt. But there is something about the situation that now puts him viscerally on my team.

“It’s American taste,” my wife says, digging in her heels. “This omiyage was strange.”

Japanese people are funny. At times the sum of their earthly curiosity seems to center around sampling new foods, and, with a daringness unobserved in other contacts with the outside world, they will explore almost anything once. Conversely, if the Japanese snub a thing they could eat, you are looking at violent rejection.

And the trail mix, they wouldn’t eat. Politeness be damned, the box languished away, ignored as the Japanese will ignore an embarrassment. Before long, the omiyage in the room has become a situation.

“I am worried about this snack,” the section boss allowed at a meeting. “It seems as if, somehow, nobody is taking it.”

With a show of deliberation, he pried a crumpled pack from the box and placed it on his desk. “We must open our minds,” he said. “Surely, this snack is foreign. But it doesn’t mean that we cannot eat it.”

Two weeks later, when called into the boss’ office, my wife sees the trail mix in exactly the same place on the desk — untouched and awkward, radioactive.

In the office, meanwhile, the box has turned into a mark of shame — a communication breakdown simmering helplessly toward escalation, a betrayal of understanding between cultures. “Don’t mention the omiyage” is a whispered mantra around the department. The American, aggrieved, has been calling in sick.

At last, faces are saved by the cleaner. Her husband is foreign — a Canadian, the last hope for peace in a world full of silent hurt. He is interested in the trail mix and, anyway, his waistline is shot. Soon, pack after pack is siphoned off the offending box until, one day, mercifully, the whole thing disappears altogether. With a sigh of relief, the office returns to its dreamless normalcy.

No one quite understands what has happened. How can Japanese people, considerate to a fault in most social interactions, coldly spurn an extended gift? And can your DNA really reject foreign foods?

“Nature and nurture interact in complex ways,” says Joseph Shaules, director of the Japan Intercultural Institute and author of the new book “The Intercultural Mind: Connecting Culture, Cognition and Global Living.”

Shaules doesn’t blame our genetic coding, pointing out that it differs between individuals and not races. Instead, he cites research that shows how culture — along with heredity and social environment — shapes our neurobiological processes.

“Our brain is deeply influenced by our cultural background and has some built-in unconscious biases,” explains Shaules. “At some fundamental level of brain functioning, we may react like the family dog that is barking to keep strangers away from the yard. It’s an unconscious threat response. We are defending psychological territory.”

Thus, as we fancy ourselves to be rational, objective thinkers, we may in fact merely follow our cultural conditioning. The Trail Mix Incident — where such conditioning trumped Japanese social etiquette — seemed to me quite absurd, until a row in my own office showed the defense of territory is universal.

I work for a Japanese corporation that has native and foreign staff collaborating on English education, in a spirit of cross-cultural understanding based on personal and professional esteem. The rest of the time, we’re driving each other bananas.

Never mind the pet peeves such as orgies of inefficiency, and the fuss over details while the big picture is on fire. No, siree — after years of sighing compliance, what finally drove the foreign staff on the barricades was a timid request in a meeting.

“We understand Westerners don’t work on the weekend, like Japanese,” the manager says amid shuffling excuses. “But you know, there are many projects, and some of them …” he consults his dictionary, “uh, remain embryonic. So I’m wondering if you could somewhat adjust your work hours to a … more Japanese style?”

Red flags go up in unison. Adjust to a Japanese work style!? To the expatriate mind, ever vulnerable to paranoia, ever guarded against subtle conspiracy and the first sign of indoctrination, this is code for being sold into slavery. Call it crybaby Western entitlement, but we will stand in defense of white privilege.

The following Friday, the whole foreign staff makes a point of finishing on the dot, dropping reports mid-sentence and leaving the natives to their overtime. We don’t feel bad, as it rubs in our superior efficiency. Almost out the door, a British man quips: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” We think it’s terribly clever and snicker.

Enhancing hostilities, we next insist on using English exclusively in the office. If language is power, one might as well employ it as a weapon. With a cruel sense of glee, we watch the manager straining to communicate as he outlines a new high-school project, a grammar lesson themed “Monkeys in the News.”

“Excuse me, could you repeat that? The part where the monkeys escape and we explain the past tense progressive?”

The lines have been drawn. It is ethnocentric entrenchment, an assertion of self happening daily in cross-cultural encounters, at work and in private. So here we are, too — more dogs barking to defend their territory.

“In a way, bias and ethnocentrism are normal — we naturally see things as ‘us and them,’ ” explains Shaules, who researches cultural adaptation issues. “And when we have bad experiences, we get defensive. It is a raising of barriers, and some things may be non-negotiable.”

The key to cross-cultural harmony, Shaules says, lies in being empathetic, in humanizing the frustrating other. As we divest in our old identity and allow our self to expand, we actually have less to defend. It can be freeing.

“When you see relationships as a zero-sum game, it creates conflict,” says Shaules. “Likewise, when a Japanese person wishes a foreigner were ‘more Japanese,’ you need enough local knowledge to understand how reasonable that person is being. It is hard for a foreigner, because you’re constantly in a position of not having enough local knowledge. The burden falls heavily on foreigners who try to adapt. But then it typically falls on the outsider. It is naive to think otherwise.”

We are now considering this empathy thing in my office. But if they do touch the non-negotiable in the form of our cherished weekends, it’ll be back to open opposition. I just saw this sale for trail mix on the Internet …

Nicolas Gattig is a writer and intercultural communication coach. He can be reached at coachgattig@yahoo.com. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion about issues related to Japan. Your comments and ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • GBR48

    I’m a vegan with a fruit allergy, so food tends to be an issue wherever I go. The Japanese and Western default palates seem to be very different, so it’s a red flag area for international relations. Omnivores from both camps are fine. To accommodate everyone else, anything largely chocolate-based is usually good for omiyage.

    Weight is not an issue when it comes to the consumption of gifts. Nobody is going to get fat eating a couple of squares of fudge. That’s a diet industry lie. A few hundred calories here or there are nothing. Just eat a healthy diet and exercise-basic life skills. Calorie counting is just a way to retain commitment, and sell a form of branded diet.

    The trail mix incident required good cultural management – a manager who carefully disposed of it, secretly, at an appropriate rate. For an anglo-Japanese workplace, that is just a basic skill, so someone failed in their duty.

    Trail mix? I’d be willing to swallow a little for good relations and force a smile, but the term ‘rabbit food’ springs to mind. If you go hiking, take some Kendal mint cake.

    • Yosemite_Steve

      Clearly somebody in the Japanese management of this place was lacking in Wa leadership skills. It happens, even some Japanese just don’t have it.

  • 69station

    The trail mix ‘incident’ would never have happened had the American done what is very normal and sensible when bringing back omiage, and that is to go around to each person in the office and give them (holding it appropriately) one each. (That is the reason locals always buy individually wrapped things, which he did here.) When doing this, it is of course important to ensure that you have enough for every person (that is why shops offer boxed things in various amounts.) Doing this then allows everyone to accept the gift and then dispose of it as they wish, in private.

    • Yosemite_Steve

      It was standard practice where I worked for the omiyage bringer to leave the box on a table in the main room, with or without a sign saying ‘from xyz san please help yourself’ or maybe ‘xyz san brought these from abc location’, or sometimes no note at all. Somehow everybody just KNEW they were omiyage goodies. So I’d venture that the ‘Help yourself’ system is very common too. But of course it is important to observe the local protocols specific to your particular office and follow the same in precise detail.

  • 69station

    As a self-styled ‘intercultural expert,’ the might author want to start by first communicating with those who supposedly share his native language in a way they can actually understand.

    “The lines have been drawn. It is ethnocentric entrenchment, an assertion of self happening daily in cross-cultural encounters, at work and in private. So here we are, too — more dogs barking to defend their territory.”

    • Yosemite_Steve

      Would putting a comma after self, help you to understand more clearly? That part might be grammatically just a tad confusing, although ‘self happening’ is not a thing, so I don’t think the sentence is vague. You want vague, I can show you Japanese sentences that would make you tear your hair out. This is not vague. If your issue lies elsewhere, you’d have to explain yourself, as I don’t get your assertion.

      • 69station

        Verbosity for verbosity’s sake (him, not you.) A sure sign that writer is more interested in form than content, the reason being that he has very little to say. He needs to read and absorb Steven Pinker’s “Sense of Style.”

      • notironic

        I had to read Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” for my MA. Couldn’t finish it – it was unreadable.

      • 69station

        Says more about you than it does about the book…..

  • lordV

    sarcasm or whatever. there’re so many things wrong with this sentence:

    “Call it crybaby Western entitlement, but we will stand in defense of white privilege.” WHITE PRIVILEGE!?? omg and he is supposedly a cultural expert?

  • lordV

    sarcasm or whatever. there’re so many things wrong with this sentence:

    “Call it crybaby Western entitlement, but we will stand in defense of white privilege.” WHITE PRIVILEGE!?? omg and he is supposedly a cultural expert?

    • https://www.facebook.com/rhythaws rhytha

      “The happiest westerners I’ve seen in this country are those that don’t try to merge.”

      Amen to that, better be a “sato” guy and enjoy. There is no point in merging, luckily i meet older expats very soon i landed and when they shared their experience of long stay in japan, I thought its better to stay out and get marginal accepted than try to merge because there no point like that. I am not advocating to stick out like a sore thumb, but just that beyond a point its useless to merge assuming you will be accepted as one of them.

      • lordV

        Understanding that you can never become a Japanese nor try to be one of them is the key. Because the obvious truth is that you can not. I try not to care and not put to much thought on it. Focus on the important stuff in your life and you’ll be happy.

      • 69station

        This topic comes up again and again, and it needs some exemplification.

        First of all, you have the right attitude to ‘acceptance,’ i.e. don’t care too much, but that is the right attitude because it is the right attitude anywhere.You can acquire Japanese citizenship more easily that you can US or European. This is a fact. If you do so, most Japanese will consider you for what you are: someone who used to hold different citizenship, but now holds Japanese citizenship. However, this is no different from anywhere in the world except North America, which has an unusual history of very recent and constant immigration. You will warmly welcomed by 99.999% of those around you and will likely never encounter even a single member of the 0.0001%. If, for example, you acquire UK citizenship after having held, for example, French nationality, and being ‘typically French’ in your language and cultural upbringing, you will be no more or no less accepted in the UK. You will be considered someone who ‘used to be French’ and is now ‘British’ but, and here’s the key point and key parallel, the extent to which you ‘accepted’ into any particular group of ‘originally British’ people will very much depend on your ability to blend in. Physically this would not be too difficult, but linguistically you will likely always stick out. The only difference in Japan is that your physical appearance will mark you out as naturalized or children of at least one originally non-Japanese parent. This will not change for about 50-100 years, nothing to do with culture, everything to do with recent history and human tendencies (usually very effective) at ‘playing the odds.’

        Second, what do you mean by ‘accepted’? As noted above, if you expect people to mistake you for an ethnic Japanese (something that, despite many protests here and elsewhere to the contrary, does have meaning at this point in history) then you will be disappointed. As to whether any particular Japanese individuals or groups will ‘accept’ you, then this depends on what you do with them. As a parent of two kids born here of a Japanese mother, I an similarly involved in my community (nursery, local school, 町内会) as many other parents and people around me don’t even bat an eyelid. Why would they? Of course, they know where I’m from originally, but it’s irrelevant to our daily/weekly/yearly interactions. If they thought i was struggling linguistically or culturally, then they would adjust and ‘treat me different’ but they don’t need to so they don’t. Of course, they have learned this from experience of our interactions.
        I think a lot of NJ people in Japan who are yet to reach this stage (it’s not a badge of hono(u)r, it simply comes into being by having to live a regular life here – rather than that of a temporary visitor) are under the impression that they would get closer relationships with those around them if they were back in their home countries. Except for family, I believe they are misguided. You may think you have good friends back at home, but, after you have reached a certain age, you will realize that many of these ‘friendships’ disappear with time. It may be easier to make acquaintances because you are very familiar with how that is done in your home culture, but, in the event of really having to impinge on an acquaintance for help, I think many people would be disappointed with the results of those relationships they thought they had. the same goes everywhere, if you want truly lasting relationships that can be relied on in a pinch, then they require a lot of work and maintenance. It is exactly the same in Japan. Indeed, I believe you would stand as good a chance of benevolence from a stranger in Japan as you would anywhere in the world. It’s the same for your ‘friends’ here as it is anywhere.

        There remains only one thing for me to say, and that is a piece of advice: whatever your opinion or situation, as soon as anyone in discussion of these matters utters the phrase ‘trying to become Japanese’ in an accusative manner (the classic ‘retort’ is, “No matter how hard you try, you’ll never become Japanese”) the person on the receiving end is clearly dealing with an NJ who is just a prejudiced, just as inexperienced, just as closed-minded, and just as unintelligent, as the worst Japanese uyoku. It is an ironic but very true fact that the utterers of such phrases are 99% non-Japanese. You will never hear from the mouth of a Japanese, nor will he think it, except for a tiny tiny minority who have the support of no-one except themselves.

      • notironic

        So, um…were you the dude railing against verbosity?

      • 69station

        I was the dude talking about the issue at hand. If you can’t handle more than a couple of sentences in a row, my sympathies. And for the record, verbosity is not about volume, it’s about deliberate obscurity in an attempt to look ‘smart.’

      • notironic

        verbose

        adjective

        1.

        characterized by the use of many or too many words; wordy:
        a verbose report.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

      • KenjiAd

        I went to America when I was 26. At one point, I felt just like you, “us” and “them.” But gradually, I ended up merging into the American culture (not completely of course but still).

        This happened, without me even trying to merge. I guess it happened because, gradually but steadily, you would start losing the interaction with your original culture.

      • lordV

        I agree. balance is the key. Why torture yourself trying to do the impossible when you can be yourself and live your life to the fullest?.
        Actually is a very hard thing to do specially when is human nature to be social and be accepted from your peers. If you spend 10h of every day surrounded by people who barely talks and who is hard to talk to. Then you got a big psychological burnt to carry. The only way to deal with it is to surround yourself of family or good foreign friends.
        In my experience you cannot be friends of Japanese. Only lovers btw

      • YoDude12

        Wholeheartedly agree. I have tried to be friends with Japanese males – the few of them who were my age and not obese drunkards who smoke two packs a day. While I have “befriended” a few, most of these “friends” do not actually seek out my involvement in what they do. We run into each other sometimes. On the female side, I have found that Japanese women have a very difficult time, generally, with the idea that a man, let alone a foreign man, could actually be just a friend. While I have many female friend from “back home,” that I have had for decades, and not romantic relationships in any form, in Japan this has been very difficult. When I have had the experience to start a friendship with a J-female, it usually fizzles out in no time. Without some kind of deeper (dare I say sexual) component to it, a gaijin-J female friendship loses a connection. It seems they get bored and are always looking for something better. This holds true for the romantic relationships as well, unless you jump in head-over-heals from date #2. Just my experience.

      • 69station

        “Just my experience.”

        Indeed.

      • mikesensei

        Yeah, I’ve found that in whatever culture or environment you happen to be in at the moment it’s best to just be yourself, enjoy life, and not worry about if you’re “being accepted” or not. If a door slams in your face, find another door…

      • notironic

        Word!

      • 69station

        What you need is a Masters in TESOL. It will cost you about 2 million yen and take you 2-5 years. With that you will be able to earn 6-8 million and work 30 weeks a year. I know hundreds of people doing this. Age 29 is a very good age to start.

      • Charles

        Yeah, I’ve thought about getting an MA TESOL, MA in Applied Linguistics, or something in that spectrum. I had no idea salaries were that high. I was under the mistaken impression they typically paid 4 million yen per year or so for uni work, but did some research on Google just now and I see I was wrong. Wow, those guys get REAL salaries! Like, with salaries like that, they can afford to support a wife, two kids, and retire on time!

        For now, I’m working on a degree in Computer & Information Science (just two more courses to go). Combined with two certs I have in Business IT and Application Programming, and considering that I have N2, I’m betting I can land some kind of IT gig this summer or fall. My English teaching job ends in August and I don’t have any definite plans to teach full-time again.

        However, I’ll keep the MA TESOL in mind as a backup in case IT work doesn’t go well, because wow, I seriously had no idea that uni salaries were DOUBLE eikaiwa salaries. I always figured they were only incrementally higher. Wow.

      • 69station

        In Tokyo/Kanto and Kansai you can get 2-4 gigs of various sizes to make a full week’s schedule, say 15 – 18 koma a week. A decent uni will pay 380,000-400,000 yen a year per koma, so you can do the math. plus you get Feb, March, August off completely, plus other times.

        You do need a Masters to get these gigs, though. And you need to know people. Join JALT and meet some people whilst getting your Masters.

        Additionally, with degrees in other areas (like you IT) you might even be able to get classes related to that, rather than straight English classes. things like this are definitely increasing.

        Also, contact a headhunter and pursue openings in the IT aspect of financial institutions, the money there is even better. I know a guy who got into that 10-15 years ago and makes 15 mill plus.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

    • Charles

      I agree with your post.

      I don’t see how working at an English teaching job for 3/4 of the money that an average Japanese person makes, then refusing to work weekends, is “white privilege.” It’s a fair exchange. You pay me 24% less than my Japanese colleagues, you can expect 24% less work. Simple.

      The average English teacher makes 3 million yen per year. The average Japanese person makes 3.99 million yen per year. The Japanese person also has many other financial advantages such as not having to pay visa renewal fees, being able to avoid paying rent by living at home with Mom & Dad, and not having to move to a different part of Japan every year or two in search of a new job because the old one started sucking. The end result? While I struggle to save even 1 million yen per year, the average Japanese person can save 2 million yen per year–twice as much as I can. Is it any wonder that I’m demotivated and want to clock out exactly on the dot?

      By the way, I have 6 1/2 years’ teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree, two teaching certificates (one of which is CELTA), and JLPT N2 (and also Korean Language Proficiency Test Level 5–enough to enter a Korean university). So I don’t want to hear anyone suggesting that I’m under-earning because I’m under-qualified. I have plenty of Japanese co-workers who are teaching with just a two-year degree.

      You’re right that it’s “always us and them.” I’ve noticed this is especially true with jealous young Japanese co-workers in their 20s and 30s who haven’t started out-earning us (yet) and are pissed off and constantly being passive-aggressive or complaining to the boss behind our backs. Older Japanese aren’t so bad–they make much bigger salaries than us and don’t feel like they’re competing with us, so they’re much nicer and more cooperative. My happiest time in Japan was when I worked at a tiny eikaiwa school with only one Japanese person–a very friendly Japanese women in her 50s.

      As for (not) trying to merge, I think the key is a balance between idealism and realism. If we don’t try to merge, then never, not even in 1,000 years, will our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s (etc.) be treated as equals. On the other hand, if we try with 100% of our effort to merge, then we will be sorely disappointed in our lives here when, after learning Japanese to fluency and observing almost all Japanese norms, Japanese do not end up treating us like one of them.

  • Firas Kraïem

    I don’t buy the trail mix story.

    • JB

      Thank you for saying it! I smelled BS as well.

      ‘m at my local Costco most weeks (live just down the road from it) and I see Japanese people are loading trail mix and other assorted nuts into their carts like they’re stocking up for the apocalypse. There is literally a whole aisle devoted to nuts, trail mix, dried fruits, and granola, so clearly Japanese people are buying and eating this stuff.

      My guess is that this is one of those “honne” and “tatemae” situations where people said they didn’t want to eat it to avoid getting fat when in fact no one touched it because the boss didn’t touch it and no one here would ever think of openly contradicting the boss (i.e. by suggesting that a food the boss didn’t like might actually be delicious by eating it in front of him).

  • Kessek

    Japan Times has a Shouts and Murmurs column now?

  • Kessek

    Japan Times has a Shouts and Murmurs column now?

  • Tim Johnston

    Everyday!

  • JB

    My Japanese colleagues drive me insane because they are utterly incompetent at their jobs. Period. They consistently manage to bungle even the most basic of tasks and find ways to waste both time and resources that would make me think they were intentionally sabotaging projects if I didn’t interact with them every day and know for a fact they didn’t have the intelligence to be clever enough to pull something so diabolical off.

    If it didn’t affect my own work I’d find it hilarious, like watching an episode of “The Three Stooges” or something. But seeing as I’m either going to have to clean up the mess or deal with it in addition to doing my own job, I’m more often than not swearing about it rather than laughing. And from expat colleagues at other workplaces I hear similar stories to the ones I see playing out every day here. Given the level of inefficiency and stupidity that can be found at any given Japanese workplace I find it utterly amazing Japan has the 3rd largest economy in the world (though not for much longer).

    Honestly, though I have to give major props to those Japanese “salarymen” who manage to wade into this morass, grab the bull by the horns, and successfully wrangle the cats in a direction of positive change. I honestly don’t know how they keep their sanity. Well, I partly know–the profusive alcohol consumption probably helps, but still.

  • JB

    My Japanese colleagues drive me insane because they are utterly incompetent at their jobs. Period. They consistently manage to bungle even the most basic of tasks and find ways to waste both time and resources that would make me think they were intentionally sabotaging projects if I didn’t interact with them every day and know for a fact they didn’t have the intelligence to be clever enough to pull something so diabolical off.

    If it didn’t affect my own work I’d find it hilarious, like watching an episode of “The Three Stooges” or something. But seeing as I’m either going to have to clean up the mess or deal with it in addition to doing my own job, I’m more often than not swearing about it rather than laughing. And from expat colleagues at other workplaces I hear similar stories to the ones I see playing out every day here. Given the level of inefficiency and stupidity that can be found at any given Japanese workplace I find it utterly amazing Japan has the 3rd largest economy in the world (though not for much longer).

    Honestly, though I have to give major props to those Japanese “salarymen” who manage to wade into this morass, grab the bull by the horns, and successfully wrangle the cats in a direction of positive change. I honestly don’t know how they keep their sanity. Well, I partly know–the profusive alcohol consumption probably helps, but still.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Both of these places mentioned seem like terrible places to work. One has an uneaten box of snacks as the center of its angst ridden universe, and the other has a group of foreigners proud that they are annoying their employer.

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • Sam Gilman

    Hmmm. Journalist has article to write on new book about intercultural communication. As luck would have it, two very striking yet usefully different cases of intercultural miscommunication occur to him right on cue.

    What are the chances, eh? It’s a funny old world…

  • KenjiAd

    The American dude probably forget to perform one very important social ritual in Japan.

    If you are giving a gift, you have to apologize, remember? Say this is such and such terrible gift and please, please forgive me.

    Then they would have said, no you don’t need to apologize, this trail mix thingy was the most gorgeous snack they’ve ever seen in their life, and would have finished it right in front of him to prove the point.

    I’m just guessing, but this American dude made a fatal mistake of “boasting” that this snack actually tastes good.

    • harryspaz

      As if.

  • Al_Martinez

    I bring back omiyage all the time from different countries and it’s always interesting to see what disappears quickly and which sticks around longer (over two years, now, for one). It’s funny how none of my J-colleagues would touch some expensive tea I brought back once, but gobbled up some cheap, crappy chocolate in under an hour (ah, the refined J-palate). Like with the tea, the stuff that gets rejected, I consume secretly–a win/win for me.

  • KenjiAd

    Actually, I don’t think what described above as differences between the two countries was the reason why I ended up “merging” into the American culture.

    I think the main reason was because my English ability improved, to the point where I was able to think in English. I think it all boils down to the language.

    Remember that there is zero chance for a Japanese expat in America to keep talking in Japanese and expect to survive. Chinese, maybe, if you live in Chinatown, but Japanese expats in the US have to speak English everyday.

    If you change your job from English teacher to, say, fisherman in a coastal town in Tohoku where no one speaks English, I bet you will end up merging into the local culture eventually.

    You may still not like some aspects of the Japanese culture, of course, and I’m sure you will forever stand out because of your appearance. Still, if you stay long enough (I stayed in American 26 yrs) and kept talking to local Japanese people in Japanese, I don’t see how you could retain “purity” of your original culture. :-)