生まれた町も通った道もまるで違う…

Well, it has been a while, but let’s wrap things up (better late than never). So, my last days at my old job did not really get any better. I did learn however that when my manager told me he monitored all his employees’ breaks, that was a lie – he was only monitoring mine. And it wasn’t on the orders of the CEO, who was upset when he found out (at my exit interview, which was held a few days before my last day), although he didn’t stay on my side for long. Anyway, long story short, I was very glad to finally finish working there.

I also had a lot of side freelance work going, but it’s all actually over now. Writing profiles for my old employer (the book publisher) turned out to be a big headache; I had to send them out for approval and then get annoying nitpicky comments back from the clients, and it was just a lot more work than I realized for what I was getting paid. Also, I was having flashbacks to all the frustrations I had when this was my full-time job. So, while I’m not proud of this, I quit in the middle. I still feel really bad about that and I should never have agreed to it, but I forgot how impossible dealing with those clients is…

The Viz thing is also over, and I’m fairly annoyed about it even though the decision to end things was mutual, so I’m going to rant about it a little. Basically, just about everyone who was an editor at TOKYOPOP when I was there as an intern does not take me seriously as a professional, and I’ve had it with trying to keep up with them. So, when I was doing the Japanese summer program, I took advantage of the location to go to the Viz offices and see two editors I know there who used to be TP editors. I was basically doing this to try and get freelance work of any kind (same reason I went to Comic-Con in 2011). One of them offered me a position as an intern to replace one who wasn’t working out. Okay, what? I had just quit my job as a senior editor at a book publisher. And you want me to be an intern? Pathetically though, I was so desperate to get my foot back in the door in that industry that I considered it briefly, but in the end it wouldn’t have worked with my class schedule. But yeah. And then that same editor assumed I was doing the Japanese program at a beginner level, and wouldn’t take seriously that I’d already had like 7 years of Japanese by that point. He also closely observed me speaking with some of the Japanese-speaking staff in the offices and decided my speaking/listening skills were subpar (because I had to ask them to repeat themselves a few times), which is annoying because those people weren’t speaking very clearly, the environment was loud, I wasn’t prepared, and I was nervous because he was watching me.

Sometime before or after that point, that editor sent me a translation trial to audition to fill in for someone. I didn’t participate in plans with my family in order to spend an evening working on the trial. I worked very hard, sent it back and – received lukewarm feedback. A line I had purposely rewritten to sound more natural instead of literally translating it was deemed a “mistranslation” – but I hadn’t misunderstood the line, I just thought that the literal translation didn’t sound natural. Anyway, no job resulted. Now, fast-forward to January of this year, when the other editor contacts me to say that one of their translators is going on maternity leave and she’d be interested in having me fill in during that time. I’m excited and agree, and the job begins in March. That agreement came to a close after only three weeks (3 chapters). Basically, the editor (who’s in charge of doing any localization/rewriting to the text after it’s translated) said I just wasn’t creating a translation she could work with, and she had to do a lot of editing to the text to get it to a good place.

Honestly, translating a shounen manga I wasn’t at all familiar with chapter by chapter in the middle of the storyline was a huge challenge. I feel like everything was stacked against me from the start, and I really did do my absolute best but it just didn’t work. First of all, I realized what a huge pain it is to create a translated script of a manga – you have to write out the panels, number them, and then number the bubbles/narration/sound effects inside each panel, and name each person speaking. To do all that from scratch, even for a 20-page chapter, is a HUGE pain and takes up a lot of time. I had a translation guideline spreadsheet to work with that named a lot of characters and also gave preexisting sound effect/etc translations, and I did refer to it a lot, but it didn’t cover everything. So there was that, and then there was the fact that I was coming into an incredibly complicated story with approximately a million side characters on chapter 54 or so, and I definitely didn’t have time to go read all the previous 53 chapters. I tried to catch up on what I could, but it wasn’t enough. I was totally lost on the story, which I also wasn’t interested in at all – the previous three manga titles I adapted were BL, shoujo, and… moe fanservice-y seinen, respectively, but I found them all basically interesting and easy to follow. This was my first time with straight-up shounen, alien monsters attacking in a dystopia world stuff. I found it so hard to follow and even harder to translate. There were several lines I just wasn’t sure about because I couldn’t grasp what was going on in the story at all that probably counted as mistranslations. Oh, and then the sound effects!! There are just so damn many of them!! And while a lot can be looked up online, every so often you find one that has no definition anywhere online and you just have to figure out 1) what it means; 2) how best to express the sound IN ENGLISH.

Then there was the schedule: the chapter would come in Saturday night Japan time and I would need to be done with it by Monday night. Usually, this meant me coming home Monday after a day of work and getting right to work and working for the next 5-6 hours to finish the chapter. It was so stressful and such a pain.

So, when it became clear that the issues the editor had with my translating just were not getting better even though I was making real efforts and putting in serious time to fixing them, I said “Are you sure you want to keep working with me?” and she took me up on it and let me go. At least I made $300…? Which I haven’t been paid yet, but…

It doesn’t really matter though, because I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE my new job, and it’s in the game industry, so I don’t really need manga translating as my foothold back into that industry anyway, because I’m firmly established in a sort of parallel/related one anyway. Ahhhh, I don’t think words can even express how much I love my job and how it’s such a perfect fit. Basically I’m translating the stories for one of our games, and I also do random translations and/or English checks for the other people in my department, and I help out with the proofreading of already translated scripts. There are about 10 people in my department, I’m currently the only non-Japanese (although two others are native English speakers and one is conversational in English and generally uses it with me – some others are probably conversational and can understand a lot but never speak it with me, and everyone else except for one person has fairly good English aptitude), and most of the time I use Japanese to communicate with everyone. I like all of my coworkers a lot and we laugh and have fun often, but we also still work hard together as a team. There have been a few rough patches (like when I wasn’t writing formally enough in my communication to other team members – using ritual workplace phrases and stuff – or when I was told I was defending my translations too stubbornly if the person who’d asked me to translate their Japanese didn’t think my English fit what they wanted to express well enough), but I think I’ve basically figured out what I need to do now. Aside from those bumps, it’s really been like I was a fish placed in a pond and started swimming right away, easily. The company is full of young people and we can wear casual clothes to work, so it all feels pretty relaxed (sharp contrast to the uptight dress code and atmosphere of the last place). Oh, and I also developed a terrible crush on someone at work right from the moment we met that I’m trying to get over, but I don’t really need to get into that…

What still amazes me is that I did it. I came to Japan to get my Japanese to translator level, thinking I’d have to go back to the US and go to translation grad school to be able to work in that field, but I was actually able to move to Tokyo and then get hired as a full-time in-house translator – and not only that, but at a company that makes smartphone games with romance themes, so I’m actually translating FUN stuff and not dry, boring scientific or technical or legal texts. I still want to pass JLPT N1, but otherwise, I’ve actually accomplished my original goal, and I didn’t have to do as much as I thought I would in order to do it. It’s just insane. (I’d still like to attend that grad school – I’d like to have a master’s degree – but it seems a little pointless now, plus grad school is expensive and I’d rather not rack up more loan debt, plus it would also require moving away from Tokyo, so I’m pretty sure I won’t ever go there, even though I had my heart set on it since 2007…)

Maybe getting that job used up all of my good luck for the year though (and if it did, I accept that because it’s worth it), because my love life currently SUCKS. Since breaking up with Mitsu in February, I’ve gone on a lot of dates with a lot of guys and had some new experiences, but still haven’t found anyone I want to date exclusively who also wants to date me exclusively. And I’m at the point where I’d like a boyfriend, not anything casual. It’s just really hard to find someone I like on every level and vice versa who wants the same things as me, and it’s back to the same conflict: fellow non-Japanese, or Japanese guy? Guy who’s probably here temporarily vs. someone from a different culture and different expectations? Physically I’m probably more attracted to Japanese guys at this point in time (and I also enjoy being able to LINE message them in Japanese which is somehow more fun), but I also want someone who can speak English somewhat well, and it seems so hard to find someone who’s not a slave to his job and who will understand where you’re coming from as a minority in their country but also treat you like a person, not a nationality/race. With another non-Japanese, things are superficially ‘easier’ in many ways but there are lots of other issues too. Sigh. I’ve gotten pretty discouraged and it’s tempting to get jaded but I’m trying to let this be an opportunity for me to practice feeling uncomfortable. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable and if I do I usually try to identify and execute a solution immediately so I can feel like I’m doing something about it, but this is the one arena of my life that can’t just be solved by my will alone. Meeting the right person is dependent on so many things, and you also have to accept that maybe you won’t ever find that right person. And even if you do, the connection may not be sustained longer than 5, 10, or 15 years. “The One” and “your soulmate” is probably just a myth, a fairy tale. It sucks because I’ve always believed in it and hoped I would find mine someday (and even thought I had for a while), and I really do want to be deeply loved by someone else (again) and of course love them deeply in return. And I don’t want to settle for anything less than… this sounds douchey, but… what I feel I deserve. So, the search continues, but I’m trying not to obsess about it, and just be open to opportunities and try a lot of stuff.

If I don’t stand out like a star among the moons,
if I am always late and he always backs away too soon
[…]
How will he find me
with no one’s arms to gather me together?
[…]
How will he ever find me?

–Deb Talan, “How Will He Find Me

It also makes the workplace crush all the more painful and annoying because it’s someone I share a lot of interests and tastes with, who is very very similar to me in certain regards, and sometimes it seems like we’d get along so well and have so much fun together, and I just wonder if he knows that… and he probably doesn’t, and he’s probably too focused on [x hobby] to be a good boyfriend to anyone anyway, and he might have some emotional baggage, and also a workplace romance is not a good idea anyway… but he’s very cute and easy to talk to so it’s hard to remember all that…

Then there’s my cat, who was successfully brought over to Japan in May. I had been so worried for so long about all the procedures and paperwork and the flight itself – what if they turned us away after we’d already landed in Japan? – but all the advance prep (the ISO microchip, the two rabies shots, the blood titer, the final vet check officially verified by the state vet, authorizing her for export) paid off and it went pretty smoothly from start to finish. My sister drove us to the airport and my cat was unusually quiet during the ride – usually she HATES car rides and cries nonstop, but maybe it was the TSA-friendly harness we’d put on her. Carrying her in my arms through security went fairly well, and then it was time for two flights (one only 45 minutes) to Tokyo. She was pretty stressed by the flying and moving around and I had to keep changing the pee pads in her carrier every few hours, but she was able to ride in the cabin with me both times and I was even able to put her carrier on my lap, unzip it a little and pet her through that for several hours. Then we landed in Tokyo and after I’d re-entered the country myself (man it feels so good every time to break away from the tourists and the Japanese people and go to the shortest line – visa re-entry!! Also, I think it’s funny that all this happened with a cat in a carrier next to me) and picked up my luggage, we headed for the animal processing counter next to baggage claim and got her checked in. They already had her paperwork and all they had to do was check her microchip to make sure it matched the info we’d already submitted. At this point, since she was out of her carrier but in an unfamiliar room, she did what she always does at the vet’s and tried to hide anywhere she could and attempted to go behind a storage cabinet… Poor baby, she was so scared, I think she liked it better in her carrier.

Then we rode back to Tokyo in style on the Narita Express with my 1500 yen non-Japanese-passport-discount ticket, rode the Chuo rapid one stop from Shinjuku, then took a taxi to my apartment. We got in the door and she ran under the couch but within the hour she was out exploring and even purring (although I just learned that cats can stress-purr too and it doesn’t always indicate happiness. Who knew?!). Basically, she survived and now seems totally fine in her new home now than 3.5 months have passed. Sometimes I worry she was just as happy with my sister and there was no need to uproot her for basically selfish reasons (although I justified it by saying I could guarantee her a home with no other animals in it, the way she prefers it, which I’ve never been able to give her before), but she loves being with me and bugging me and sleeping right up next to me even in the summer, and seems really really happy even though she doesn’t have a bird/lizard-watching window here, so I think it’s okay. And needless to say, I love having her here, and coming home to someone (even if that someone proceeds to meow at me for food, and bugs me even after I’ve filled her bowl with dry food because what she really wants is wet food), and sleeping and napping with her, and feeling like part of my family and my life from the US (I’ve had her since 2007) is here with me in Japan. She’s almost 10 years old, so I’m worried about her aging even though she still seems plenty young, but… anyway, enough cat talk.

The last thing is my new apartment, which I moved into in mid-March. I’m pretty happy with it too. It’s definitely small, especially once I brought furniture in, and I can’t have any parties here or anything (basically 2-3 guests max), but there’s a retractable ladder up to a second-floor loft where I sleep, and it’s a corner apartment so I have two windows downstairs and one upstairs (which also opens onto a roof ledge so I can sit out there – with a guest if I have one – and chill/drink), and of course it’s pet-friendly which is not exactly easy to find here. Also, the neighborhood and the other people in my building are generally very quiet, which is wonderful. And after moving to this part of Tokyo I discovered I know two other people living in it, so that’s awesome. And after living in a sharehouse, it’s nice to have my own washing machine and my own fridge for my usage alone right in my place without having to go outside. I’m also pretty happy with the rent, especially considering there’s a pet fee built in. I think I’ve made this place very comfortable (I have a TV I can hook up to my laptop, I have a kotatsu that’s going to keep me so warm in the winter, I have a couch that folds back so people can sleep on it…) and it’s a good place for me and the cat. Yeah, I’d eventually like to live somewhere bigger, but it’s really hard to find a good, affordable place when it’s just you – it’s a lot easier if you have someone to share the rent. So, I might be here for a while, but that’s okay.

In my last post I wrote:

I just want to hurry up and move completely, start my new job, get my cat, and enjoy a fun yet relaxing life in Tokyo with my friends. I’m so impatient for that. I hope I can be happy with that. Please let me be happy with that.

Now, almost a full 6 months later, has that come true now that all of those things have happened? Well… I think so, largely. I like my apartment, I love my job, I’m so happy my cat is here, and in general I have fun with my friends here (there was a bit of drama with some people from one group that’s left kind of a bitter taste in my mouth, and sometimes it feels like outside of 1-2 people I don’t have anyone I feel a real connection to, but…). My money situation could be better, mostly because my loans have been draining a lot of money out of my US account so I keep having to send money home and the bulk of my income comes from bonuses twice a year, but with this December’s bonus and if I’m able to do some good saving this fall (I did get my monthly payment lowered so that will help) I should be able to pay off most, if not all, of my remaining student loans by early 2015. So that’s exciting, and that will help my peace of mind a lot too.

Oh, and anxiety. I’m currently coming off my meds after being on them the previous year (after my more or less meltdown last summer). As with before, they made it very easy for me to gain weight and so I’ve been trying to stick to a good, healthy diet and run at least once a week to lose at least half of the weight I gained (enough to fit into some of my lower-size clothes again) and it’s working, I think, but slowly. I should be okay without the meds because I feel a lot better now that my life has calmed down. Hopefully I don’t start wanting to “fix” this or that part of my life I’m uncomfortable or unhappy about with another drastic life change, which would undo all this nice calmness I’ve got going. (I did recently entertain the idea of getting a transfer to my company’s SF office, but in the end reconfirmed my desire to live here for the next several years.) We’ll see. I think I need some practice being comfortable right where I am without plans for drastic change on the horizon.

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これでやっと完全に幸せになりますように…

uuugghhhhh it is so hard waiting for my life to change! I need to vent and complain so it’s blog time, sorry that’s the only time I write in this thing. Funny how I always seem to be waiting for my life to change – it seems to happen once a year. A year ago I was waiting to move to Tokyo from Matsue, a year before that I was waiting to quit my job and do the Japanese program and then move to Japan, and it just seems like I make a major change in my life – job, living situation, whatever – every single year. I’m getting sooooo sick of not being able to stay happy and content with everything as it is. I hope I can do that this time, but I say that knowing that I already want to move to a bigger place once my new higher salary kicks in! And I haven’t even started living at my new place yet!

Okay, let’s back up. So, things at work haven’t really gotten any better. The issues with repeated scrutiny and criticism over non-job-performance-related (what I perceive to be minor) things continue, and I just can’t take it anymore. I don’t feel trusted and it saps my motivation. The last time (fifth so far), last week, my boss sent me an email saying that I’d gotten up from my desk too often that morning and my latest break had been 7 minutes. 7 minutes!!! Who cares!? Why are you timing my breaks anyway?? When I asked, he said he does that to everyone. Wow. How the hell do you get any work done when you’re so busy micromanaging everyone in the department? I’m not mad at him, though, I know the orders come from our CEO, who I seriously think is losing his mind. He’s the one who has me on his shit list because of this break issue and he probably told my boss to watch me extra closely. Sorry, but my only reaction to that kind of behavior is to ESCAPE. FAST. Micromanaging does no one any favors and I do NOT respond well to it. It’s what made me leave my job at the wire company in 2011. And seriously, I can’t make them happy. I’m not taking any more breaks than necessary for my regular human bodily functions, and I’m not longer taking overly long breaks either (I don’t think 7 minutes is excessive). But they disagree, so that makes us incompatible.
(Also, and while I am HOPING it is not exactly like this or this bad at every Japanese/Tokyo workplace, I am a pretty sensitive person – no, really? you are shocked I know – and so many things at this place grate on my nerves and wear them down to the quick every single day. The high-pitched customer service phone calls in Japanese, which constantly distract me from my work, the way my scheduler ALWAYS slaps his hands on his thighs after he drops off work at my desk, the bad Japanese I hear from the foreign men in the office, the fake-ass hos who act nice to your face but I can tell are ready to gossip about you the second you turn your back [and complain about you to HR if you start preemptively kind of ignoring them], the frustratingly passive girls who are constantly “Oh I’m so sorry! Oh please forgive me!” anytime you cross paths and you just want to shake them and tell them to grow a backbone, how you always nearly smack into people in the tiny hallways, how 30 women have to share 2 stalls and 1 sink, the weird coolness I get from people lately [who won’t return my greetings or even offer one to me], all of it, I’m just sooooo sick of it and I can’t tune it out and I hope hope hope it’s different somewhere else, if the industry is different and the office is bigger. I am so tired of feeling like a terrible employee because I just can’t get along with this place even though I made it almost a year of trying!)

So in January I set about updating my resume and my profile on various job-seeking websites, all of which I’d used in my search just last year. Very quickly, I got a message from a recruiter saying I might be a good fit for a job. I’ve gotten these messages before, and usually the job is something I’m not interested in – executive assistant or whatever. But this time, while it was not the entire job, translation would be involved. Interest piqued, I agreed to meet the recruiter to discuss the job. The meeting went really well, and the more I learned about this company the more I wanted to work there. It’s a “mobile content” company that mostly makes dating simulation games for women for smartphone platforms. And they release English translations in the US so they wanted an American to help with the translating, localizing, and overseas release work. And the salary range was insane (for me). My recruiter, who quickly became my ally and supporter, sent my resume and information to them, and they wanted to interview me.

Preparing for the interview was nervewracking. I wanted this really bad, but it was going to be my first time interviewing all in Japanese, and in a change of plans the CEO of the company decided he wanted to be at the first interview. I met with my recruiter the week before for what was supposed to be a mock interview, but it ended up me asking him a bunch of questions about how I should answer, messing up my answer to the one actual practice question in Japanese he asked me, and just sort of spazzing out. But I also spent a lot of time on my own going over the example questions I’d been given and running through answers in my head (and out loud in my room). By the time the interview happened, I didn’t feel fully ready, and I was so nervous, but I gave it my best shot. The offices definitely reminded me SO much of TOKYOPOP with the posters of releases on the walls and everything. I had an interview with the CEO and the head of the department I’d be working in, a math test (?? standard for interviews here), and a translation test. The interview part really threw me off because they didn’t ask me the hard-hitting, tough questions I’d been expecting and preparing for (like, explaining and defending with logic and reasons exactly why I wanted to work there and what I wanted to achieve there), and it seemed like it was over really fast. The math test I absolutely failed, it was ridiculously hard, and the translation test was no problem (I thought). I left feeling like I had absolutely no idea how I’d done, but like I had a feeling it wasn’t good because of how short the interview had been and how they hadn’t asked those questions – like, what if they had already decided partway through they didn’t want to pursue me, so they didn’t bother with the real questions?

The next day I talked with my recruiter about my impression of how it went, and he reassured me that not asking the questions probably didn’t mean as much as I thought. He thought it sounded like it had gone well. Over the next few days, he gathered their impressions and relayed them to me. And – good news!! They wanted to make me an offer!!! Yay! I still can’t believe it, it’s like a dream come true – finally working in translation, at a game/content company, in the creative/media industry again. It’s the ‘cool job’ I’ve been trying to reach for so long. Also, I’m filling in for a Viz manga translator who will go on maternity leave soon too! And I’m translating (for free) for a very very small BL manga publisher here, and I’m writing a few profiles a month for my old company the coffee table book publisher… So much is happening all at once…

So that’s the career news. At the same time all this was happening, I was also planning to move. Before this all started, I told myself “Apartment and job hunting at the same time is going to be too crazy, so I’m going to move first, THEN look for a job.” Why did I want to move first, especially since my contract at the sharehouse wasn’t up until mid-March? Two reasons: NOISE and THEFT. The British guys and their noise was just driving me up the wall, and THEN I discovered that someone in the house had been stealing money out of my wallet!! By entering my room, which I left unlocked when I went to the bathroom or the kitchen or to take a shower, while I was out. I first noticed a 5000 yen note missing, then a 10,000 yen note, then another 5,000. The 1000s would always be left untouched. The last incident was the most suspicious because there was only a 5-minute span of time when it could have happened, when I went downstairs to refill my water bottle and go to the bathroom. At that time, one of the British guys and his girlfriend were in his room with the door shut, talking. My Japanese female roommate was in her room next to me with her door open a crack. It had to have been one of them – the money was there when I went downstairs but gone when I came back up, and no one else was home or could have gone upstairs in that span of time. Because I was already mad at them about the noise issue, I dismissed the possibility that it could be my sweet Japanese roommate and focused my rage on the British guy and his girlfriend. I mentioned what had happened to my other Japanese roommates, only to have one come forward and say “Actually, I’ve had money stolen too.” The four of us went to the sharehouse office the next day. Our goal was to get the British guys kicked out for this and other issues. My roommate who’d also been a victim and I also went to the police station the following week to file a theft report. In both cases, since we had no proof, there wasn’t much that could be done.

A few weeks later, I finally talked to the British guys – my enemies until that point. I happened to mention the money theft offhand to them – both immediately burst out that they had had money stolen too, and got very riled up about it. I was so confused. Then I thought more about it. If my Japanese roommate was in her room with the door open a crack, wouldn’t she have seen anyone go past to get to my room, and noticed they weren’t me? Wouldn’t her presence have deterred anyone who would have thought about trying to get into my room, and wouldn’t she have heard the British guy’s door open if it were him? Couldn’t she, very easily, slip from her room to mine, grab a bill, and run back before I returned? Hadn’t she just gotten hair extensions and new furniture even though she’s a student with a part-time job? ……..!!!!!! I realized it had to be her. Even though I also had no proof like with before, it just all made sense. Still, I couldn’t do anything with this knowledge. I still can’t. She took 20,000 yen (at least – possibly more) from me and I have no way of getting it back, it’s gone. She took about 30,000 yen combined from three other people in the house. Just ridiculous. She’s since moved out (very quickly – 2 weeks after she told us she had decided to), supposedly scared by all the thefts – I kinda suspect it’s more like she knows that we have to be zeroing in on her and she doesn’t want to be around if any proof is uncovered. I still can’t believe it’s her, she was always so sweet and I liked talking with her. Oh well…

Anyway, so I found a new (pet-friendly, as my cat arrives in May! Two months!) apartment in a new neighborhood (it’s nice living in Shibuya and close to Omotesando and Harajuku, but the grocery store options here suck and I buy too much convenience store food – plus it’s way too expensive to get an apartment in) and have signed the contract. I was nervous about getting my first apartment all on my own, and as a foreigner without a guarantor who needed a pet-friendly place, but it ended up not being too bad. My new place is definitely pretty small, but it has two floors (one is an attic bedroom with its own A/C+heater unit!) so I’m hoping it won’t feel too cramped. My new salary is pretty sweet (although my monthly income, because it’s 1/16 and not 1/12 of my annual salary, is actually going down about $160 compared to what I make now, which was a bit of a shock, but the twice-yearly crazy bonuses should make up for it) so it seems silly to be living in a tiny place that’s soon to be quite below my means, but I can save up for a nicer place with an elevator and more space over the next year or so! And with the help of some amazing friends (one with a big car), I moved most of my stuff over the other night. I’m still living in this room for the next week and a half, until I’m done working at my current job, because I want to keep using this commuter pass and not have to get a new one for my new route, but I can pack all the remaining stuff into a suitcase and a backpack and ride the train over. (I’ll also have to ride my bike over too.) I have to admit, it’s already pretty lonely in my room with only the furniture that came with it in it (bed, small desk, chair), and I am hating my job so much every day, I want to be done with this place and out of here SO bad, but I have to hold out for another week and a half… again, it’s just like I’m doing nothing but waiting for things to change. It’s maddening. At the same time though, when is that NOT my life? I need to cut it out with this act, it’s getting old.

ALSO at the same time as all this, my relationship with Mitsu was going downhill fast. Around my birthday (mid-January), at about two months together, things had been great and I had really thought we were in love. But then work got crazy for him and he put me right on the back burner, more or less without a word. Messages I sent to him during the workday on breaks would go unread and unreplied for hours, and maybe even not acknowledged at all that day. I didn’t even find out why things were so hectic at work for him (two people had left) until I started making a fuss about his unresponsiveness. This was the second time this issue with irregular communication had come up, and the first time he had been very apologetic. This time? I was basically told “This is how it is. You have to wait for my timing to be right for me to contact you.” I’m sorry, YOUR timing? What about my timing?? I am being stolen from at home, my job sucks, I’m trying to find a new place to live and a new job all at the same time and I can’t rely on you to be there for me when I need you to, only if it aligns with YOUR schedule! Once that happened, my feelings cooled FAST. Unbelievably fast. I considered holding onto him for the companionship and physical affection, even if the emotional component was long gone, but I couldn’t do it – I felt nothing for him anymore, and it meant I had zero patience for his crap (like asking me to help him hang up his laundry, or telling me what to do, or not being my ally when I encountered subtle racism in his presence [like being brought a spoon in a rice bowl restaurant when I was already using chopsticks, or being addressed in English], his reluctance to come over to my place instead of me coming to his), all of which I had forgiven at first. After a couple weeks of feeling like this, I was finally able to meet up with him in person and break up. It was really hard because he thought it was a normal date while I was searching for the right place to start the conversation. He took it well and it was over from there. So, that was my first relationship with a Japanese guy, lasted three months. I’m a little jaded now on whether they’re all going to be like this (shunt me aside as soon as work gets crazy, no matter what’s going on in my life), especially because I really thought Mitsu was a sweet guy, but now I see he was actually pretty selfish and inconsiderate. Right now I don’t want to date or do anything with anyone, so we’ll see what happens. I am going to try just being happy being single. I don’t even know what I want or what I should do or what kind of person I should look for or where I should be to find them or anything… it’s just too much.

I just want to hurry up and move completely, start my new job, get my cat, and enjoy a fun yet relaxing life in Tokyo with my friends. I’m so impatient for that. I hope I can be happy with that. Please let me be happy with that.

Work bullshit

Okay, so things at work have gone from annoying but tolerable to GET ME OUT OF HERE.

Basically. This place is stricter than even a Japanese company would be (according to my Japanese coworkers). There are so many rules and little things we have to do, that I feel do not relate to the quality of our work. And I just want more freedom, less scrutiny. Constant scrutiny. Twice now (by separate people) I’ve been called aside to discuss inappropriate break length and frequency. Okay, I get it. But I’m not taking admittedly overly long breaks just to fuck off. I’m doing it to refresh myself and, in some cases, wake myself up. I think it helps my work performance if I’m able to get away from my computer for a bit when I finish a task. Also, I’m not very used to having to be ‘on’ at my desk all the time. For three years at my book publisher job, I could alternately fuck around and relax or work, all from my desk, because no one was watching over my shoulder. Same for during break times at the middle school in Matsue. But this place is starting to remind me uncomfortably of the wire service where I worked for three months and quickly grew to hate it and my boss.

The other thing is that we have time sheets and clock in and out, and you must clock in before 9:00, ideally at least 5 minutes before that if not earlier, or you are officially late and must give a reason (such as a train delay). If you are late too often, you get a warning. This is also my second time receiving a warning about that. I unfortunately just don’t do very well at jobs where I must be strictly on time, because I am not good at being strictly on time. It’s hard for me to wake up in the morning and get out the door on time, always. I do my best but it doesn’t come naturally and I fail a lot. Lately I’m really into trying to work with and not against my natural tendencies.

Oh, and this super strictness isn’t a Japan thing. I did think it was at first, but I know people who work at Japanese companies or at least at workplaces in Tokyo and roll in whenever they want, sometimes into the late morning or afternoon, and make up for it by working late. And no one is policing how often those people are away from their desks or if they have Gmail pulled up on their computer (I don’t, but if I did I wouldn’t have to go away to check my phone).

Anyway. This second time was just so humiliating. It was even implied that if I have a medical problem necessitating such frequent breaks, I should provide a doctor’s note. It was noted that I had taken two breaks already that morning and the second one had been almost 10 minutes. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run away and cry. Instead I went to lunch with two Japanese coworkers (who have done their share of discussing the company’s faults honestly) and sighed and complained. I don’t know why it’s so strict here. Our CEO is annoying me, as CEOs always do. Why are they so capricious? One day something is fine, the next day “This must change NOW!” One day it’s business as usual, the next “Hey, I had a great idea! Let’s overhaul our entire business and get into this new industry now!”

By the way, a Japanese girl in another department just suddenly stopped coming into work. For three weeks she called in every day with a stomachache. She was the only employee who didn’t show up to the office end-of-year party. Finally she eventually quit. I’m still not sure exactly what happened but it almost certainly had to do with her sales performance not being good enough and her training supervisor getting switched to a very demanding, draconian woman who kept her at the office much later than she’d been used to. Shortly after that is when she stopped coming to work.

So… it’s not just me. I think this place is kinda crazy and if you can’t handle it you escape. I might have to be one of those people.

I’ll also say that I’ve noticed several Japanese staff members taking leisurely breaks brushing their teeth or re-applying makeup in the bathroom. I’ve also gotten called out in the past for not giving proper greetings to other staff members, but there are plenty other non-Japanese staff who don’t say those greetings. I just don’t think it’s fair and I hate that I’ve made myself the object of scrutiny. Unless I’m perfect, it’s not going to go away. And I can’t be perfect. So I feel like this is just going to continue.

The thing is! It’s not affecting my work at all! I can still finish all my work and do a great job, because I’m a damn good editor and writer. I’m a great worker and member of the team. They should be doing their best to keep me because I know they have a hard time finding writers/editors who meet their standards. But it’s like none of that matters if I can’t be consistently early and keep my butt in my desk for 55 minutes out of every hour. If I can’t smile and duck my head and murmur a ritual greeting phrase to Japanese staff when I pass them in the halls during the day.

I also can’t listen to music on headphones at my desk. Ugh. I’m so sick of listening to the Japanese staff’s obsequious phone calls and habitual phrases (ugh, this one translator who says a nasal “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah” in reply to anything someone is saying to her. So annoying).

I really want a new job now. I’m chafing. Not sure if I can do it, especially since I probably failed N1, but let’s try!

Little things

I wish I had more time to write long blog entries for this thing, even if only a handful of people read them. I don’t know why but it feels like I do way too many things all the time, basically since I moved to Tokyo. I don’t know how to stop – start turning down invitations, I guess, but I always want to do everything and I have a lot of friends I want to see regularly. I also over-commit myself, especially when I’m drunk. Like, I’m participating in a fashion show this weekend mostly for the experience but it’s a big time commitment and I could have been relaxing at home after a week where I had something to do every single night…

Getting a boyfriend hasn’t helped either – not that I’m not enjoying myself or that I don’t like him, of course! Quite the opposite, I’m having fun with a new experience and just sort of seeing how things go. He’s Japanese and we’ll call him Mitsu. But I think I realized right after I planned first dates with him and another (British) guy that “Wait, I don’t have the time to be dating, what am I doing focusing energy on this?” But in the end I liked talking to him and we clicked in person (as for British guy, we had a good date and had a lot in common but I didn’t feel a spark), and when he asked me to be his girlfriend a month ago I said yes. I don’t regret the decision but it’s just another thing to fit into my schedule…

I still like my job but parts of it are starting to bug me. I guess mostly it’s just certain other people – some of them really rub me the wrong way. The annoying “sou sou sou” IT guy still bugs me (although it turns out “sou sou sou” is actually office-appropriate, but it’s still irritating when he does it), so do a few Japanese women who seem really fake, and one scheduler in my department is super irritating. I also really hate the way the office is laid out. There’s only one entry/exit door everyone uses and there are a million bottlenecks, narrow hallways, and corners and you nearly run into people like at least 10 times a day, leading to tons of awkward “Sorry, sumimasen” moments where everyone ducks their head and looks humble (a Japanese behavior mannerism that really bothers me coming from some of the more passive women in the office, I just want to shake them). The desks in my department are closely bunched together and if you roll your chair back you’ll hit the chair of the person behind you. One guy always, ALWAYS manages to smack his protruding gut on the back of my chair whenever he goes past it. The women’s restroom is the worst though – two stalls and ONE sink for 35 women, most of whom want to brush their teeth after lunch. I wish we’d move to a bigger office, I’m seriously so sick of this. Overall it’s a good job and a good place to work, but little things here and there bug me.

My house is also becoming an issue. Over the summer a British girl moved in. Her room was across from mine and didn’t share a wall so she didn’t bother me too much, except when she’d take her laptop to the kitchen downstairs and leave the door open while talking loudly on Skype to friends back in the UK at 11 p.m. our time – when I was trying to sleep. Then I moved to a room that DID share a wall with hers and she began to annoy me more – her alarm in the morning would go off about five times, all before I needed to get up, and her boyfriend was over a lot staying over and making dinner with her in the kitchen (he was always really nice though). So I wasn’t sad when she said she was going to move out and into an apartment with the boyfriend, but a few weeks before she moved out her friend, another British citizen, moved in. And he also wasn’t the most considerate – for one, he ate all my eggs. I bought a pack of 10, and I hadn’t touched it before all the eggs but one had magically disappeared. My name was written on the container, which had been enough in the past with my other three (Japanese) roommates. After I noticed a couple eggs missing, I put a rubber band around the container to further deter theft. IT DIDN’T WORK. HE KEPT EATING THEM. I don’t know for sure it was him but if my other roommates never did this and it happens right after he moves in, I think the evidence is clear. Anyway, I wasn’t thrilled with him, but then it got worse. A couple weeks ago, HIS friend (also British) moved in. I guess this guy came from his own apartment because he brought a bunch of kitchen stuff. The problem is that he hasn’t made ANY effort to adjust his behavior from living on his own to living in a shared house. He plays TV episodes and sports commentary loudly in his room on the weekends, he plays techno music late at night, he and the other guy chat to each other across the hall from their room starting at 11 p.m. on weeknights, and these walls are THIN so you really can’t do this sort of thing without quickly annoying everyone around you, only they never thought to consider that. There’s also issues with unwashed dishes and not locking the front door after coming home. Anyway, I’m so fucking sick of these British assholes. I’ve complained to our share company twice and so have some of my other roommates, and actually this week on weeknights they were pretty subdued, but I also found out one guy went home to the UK so it could just be that the other guy doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I really hope though that these bad habits have been nipped in the bud. I also made a fake quiet hours sign ‘from’ my sharehouse company and hung it upstairs and downstairs so I hope that helps too. I’m moving out in April but I wish it was sooner if this sort of shit is going to keep up…

Some rants

Once again, I should be going to bed, but I’m going to write a little bit first. First of all, I am mad because I bought a Pocari Sweat Sunday evening (a brand of sports drink and my favorite because it’s the only one that isn’t grapefruit flavored – it’s meant to help you rehydrate after exercising and/or sweating a lot, and because it’s so hot, I buy one anytime I’ve been out and sweating all day), opened it, had a few sips, open the fridge Monday morning, pull it out, AND SOMEHOW IT’S ALMOST GONE. ???????????? This is Japan, you don’t just DRINK other people’s stuff! It was the only one in the fridge, how could you have mistaken it for your own!? And even if you were secretly sneaking a swig, wouldn’t you know better than to drink almost the entire bottle so obviously?! There are only 6 of us in this house, 3 people denied doing it, 2 at large… I’m really annoyed still. Grrrr.

Also, this morning on the train (Marunouchi Line, one stop for me but always jam-packed during rush hour) we were all packed into the car and this old lady decided that wouldn’t stop her from opening and reading her book, which meant her elbows were akimbo and one was digging into my stomach. What if I was pregnant??? I ask you. Rude!

Mostly, I just want to rant a little about annoying coworker habits. On the whole, my coworkers are great. The Japanese staff are now familiar with my Japanese ability and almost always speak it with me (or a mishmash, which I also enjoy), I have made some good friends among the other foreigners, and generally I really enjoy it there. But. There are some people, who are also American, who have a habit of inserting random Japanese words into their conversations, even with the other foreign staff. Okay, it’s just this one guy. Unfortunately his voice is kind of loud so I can hear him even if he is across the office. When he’s talking to a Japanese person, his 口癖 (word habit) is “Sou, sou, sou” [Yes, yes, yes/Yeah, yeah, yeah]. So he says that. Every. Minute. Or “Daijoubu” [大丈夫, okay]. First of all, he doesn’t need to say those things in Japanese. It’s the only Japanese he says the whole conversation practically, and I’m pretty sure the other person could understand the English. So I can only guess that the reason he says it is to sort of prove “Hey, I know some Japanese.” I think this guy’s lived here a while, probably has a Japanese wife/girlfriend, but he still hasn’t shaken that “I must prove myself and my Japanese knowledge!!!” attitude soooo many foreigners here (largely male) have. Which always bothers me no matter where it’s coming from. That alone would be bad enough, but he’s not really using the words correctly. This is Japan and this is a workplace – we use polite speech. “Sou, sou, sou” and “Daijoubu” are stripped of all polite nuance, they are highly casual. “Sou, sou, sou” especially is more for casual conversation. “Daijoubu” should be followed by something when using to mean “I’m fine” or “This is fine”, which is what he’s trying to say – it should be “Daijoubu desu” (polite) or “Daijoubu da (yo)” (casual). Usually the only time you hear just “Daijoubu” is when it’s a (casual) question – “Daijoubu?” [Are you okay?]. So yeah. Not only is the random insertion of Japanese words into his otherwise English speech just clearly a pathetic self-esteem boost, he’s not even doing it correctly or speaking politely enough for the workplace setting. So why even bother.

And not only that, but he does this with the native English speakers too. No. Just no. We all speak English. Use English. Don’t give me this bullshit about how “Oh, I’ve lived in Japan so long, I only hear Japanese at home, I forgot all my English!” No you didn’t. You are humble-bragging. It takes a lot of courage to get by here without shoving your Japanese “ability” (because his accent is horrible anyway) in people’s faces every 5 seconds to make sure we all know, but just try to live in a world where every other person you meet doesn’t have to know that you know a few words of Japanese but can’t even use them appropriately depending on the situation. Seriously, just try.

Tokyo life continued

Ahhhhhhhhh I don’t even know where to start. First, my room is no longer a mess. It now looks like this:

which is so much better! The room came with the bed frame and a small mattress as well as the desk and chair. I brought my bedding and then bought another futon set (for guests), a small bookcase, a plastic chest of drawers, and a hanger rack (AKA the closet).

Work is going really well. I am very much enjoying my job and, I believe, doing well at it. I had my one-month performance review and it seemed to go wonderfully. I have stopped worrying about getting let go because I can’t handle the science stuff after all (as the company head warned me was a possibility when I was hired) and now I’m just looking forward to making it to three months, which is the official probationary period. I have also learned more about the hierarchy of the office and my department DOES have to vacuum too. I am really glad though that there isn’t cleaning every day like there was at the school. I have also been assigned a mentor (which is supposed to be a super secret thing), a Japanese woman from another department, and we are required to have lunch regularly. We had our first one and it was great; I don’t think they paired us by personality but they might as well have because her hobby is reading, she owns two cats, and her phone case is purple. Done, I’m in love.

I have even gotten used to the bathroom etiquette and I use the stupid Sound Princess if someone else is in the bathroom with me, I try to remember to knock on the door before I go in, etc. And more and more staff have discovered I speak Japanese (my lunch with my mentor was all Japanese) but it still really bothers me if I see one in the hallway and she switches to English and says “Sorry!” or something. Just. Don’t. I am discovering that what I hate most of all is special treatment and special treatment that calls attention to me. “We got a foreigner over here, gotta speak English so she understands! Listen up everyone, we’re speaking English to the foreigner here!” No, I don’t need that, leave me alone and just treat me like anyone else.

I did have a realization that helped me be okay with that extra attention. Basically, the notion that everyone is curious about me and everyone wants to talk to me and find out things about me, and everyone wants the boost in social status/perception by those around them if seen talking to me and hanging out with me. The idea that I am a social bonus to a Japanese person. Sometimes, yes, it’s an annoying concept (I don’t want to be like a zoo animal, an object of curiosity) but it does help me feel better sometimes knowing that it’s not negative attention – quite the opposite. That allows me to bask in it a little, and feel more confident, and thus more able to easily brush it off. Also, getting spoken to in English by service people has become a rare occurrence (probably because I am not going to tourist places – of course it happened at Tsukiji, in Kyoto, etc) and it always helps if I greet people in Japanese first to establish that.

Ironically, the one place NO ONE tried to speak ANY English to me was at… Tokyo Disney!!! Ry and I went to DisneySea, had an amazing day start to finish, and were thrilled that no one tried to speak English to us. His Japanese is better than mine (N1… so jealous) and he gets just as annoyed as I do about the speaking English thing (Ty on the other hand doesn’t mind at all – if only I could be that carefree too). So funny that you have to go to Tokyo Disney to find the one place where service people are not going to immediately speak English. That was also just such a great day; we explored the park thoroughly, bitched about the popularity and ubiquity of Duffy, rode all the major rides twice, ate too much bad food, didn’t annoy each other, took lots of great photos, and just generally had a magical day.

The transition has been rough, as it was when I first moved to Matsue/Japan, and my anxiety/OCD is flaring up bad again, and again it’s unexpectedly rough – this was the best decision for me personally and professionally, so why should I have to suffer? No, I hate this! Same as before and it’s really sucking. I want to think I’m moving past it by this point but I probably have another month at least to go experiencing it at this level. But this time I have access to English-language therapy and I have found a therapist who is a native English speaker. I can walk to his office and while sessions cost $100, it’s worth it. I’ve been twice now and both times have left me feeling better about issues that were previously tying me up, and he’s had some really, really, really good insights that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Like: when I start worrying obsessively about some sensation in my body which could be a symptom of something serious, or start panicking thinking I’m about to die in some way, and how this flares up majorly when I’ve just moved or am in a new and unfamiliar situation – I am using those behaviors as a security blanket. The situation is scary and new, but that thought pattern isn’t, so I engage in it to “comfort” myself even though it actually makes me extremely UNcomfortable and unable to calm down. Wow, just wow. It’s so true! I mean, just knowing that isn’t enough, it doesn’t stop anything or make it better, but I feel like just realizing that is a breakthrough that has the potential to help.

I think the main thing that’s been on my mind though is how much things have changed, how much my circumstances and reasons for being in Japan and future plans have COMPLETELY CHANGED. That’s really the scariest thing; I keep thinking “Do these changes invalidate my previous reasons with which I justified this move, which made my relationship super long-distance?” I dunno. Some of you might know this story but I’ll summarize anyway. Basically, I spent every year since college graduation (2008) scheming ways to get back to Japan. First I thought I’d teach, ideally with JET, and Kirk was interested in going too but I had to wait for him to graduate college too and since he had transferred schools and changed majors, it took a lot longer than both of us anticipated (not until 2010). Then he got a job in his field right out of school, which meant he didn’t want to take a break from a budding career to go do something totally non-constructive for his resume in Japan. So that left me on my own, and I decided I’d rather be a student than teach. Well, that meant I needed a lot of cash upfront, that I didn’t have, so I made some life decisions to be able to save more money (get a new job, move back home) and worked hard at that. However, the scholarship committee for the program I wanted to do saw that as more of a reason NOT to give me money and in the end only coughed up 1/5 of what I needed, leaving me on my own for the majority, and I couldn’t finance it. I was however able to pay for and get funded for a summer Japanese program, which turned out to be completely amazing. Then I finally returned to Japan to teach.

Here’s the important part. My reasons, from the very start, from 2008, fueling EVERY desire to return to Japan? Wanting to be a translator. I’d wanted to be a professional translator since college. I had a grad school in mind and I wanted to go there and then get hired somewhere. But my Japanese wasn’t at the pro translator level yet so I had to work on that first and, to my mind, the best way to do that was to go to Japan. In the meantime, I worked jobs in my hometown related to my English major and love of editing/proofreading. So, when I came to Japan in August, it was all with the goal of improving my Japanese to be a translator. Translator translator translator. I thought for sure when I was hunting for jobs in Tokyo to justify a move there after my teaching contract ended in March, I’d need Japanese skills. I thought I’d likely find a job that required N2+ Japanese. In the end, though? I got a job that doesn’t require any Japanese knowledge, and is in fact done all in English, and ties more to my past experience editing than my desired future experience translating. So… huh?

Have I completely lost sight of the reason I came here??? Or is it okay? Because I really like this job. And I really like the idea of taking the experience I gain here back to my home state and using it to look for science/medical editing jobs, which will likely have NO connection to Japanese. So… is all this Japanese study pointless in the end?! What about translating???

Indeed. I don’t know. I have gained some “professional” experience translating, in that I was accepted to a Japanese first-come-first-serve translation commission website, and was able to snag and complete maybe around a dozen jobs, but aside from that, no pro experience, which makes it very difficult to get hired for real translation jobs. And… I’m not even sure I want to work as a professional translator anymore. Yeah! That’s the really scary part. As a hobby, it’s great fun. I can do everything my way, my rules, no one else edits it or changes it, I have the final say, and the topics are always interesting because it’s song lyrics or interviews connected to things I care about. Pro translating… does not sound like it will be as much fun. It sounds like it will be translating things and topics I don’t care about, that are often frustrating to decipher and render in English, and my work will be subject to editing and changing by others and dealing with the client will always be difficult in some way. I mean, yes, I think I have a unique and strong gift for translation. I want to bring my ability for blending beauty and accuracy to a wider audience; I want it to benefit people and the world. But I also don’t think translating for companies conducting business is going to do that. Literary translation is more my jam, but there is NO way I can just break into that with no real pro experience and no higher academic degree (you ever notice how a lot of literary translators are also professors?).

As my day job… I’d actually like to just keep editing. I like editing/rewriting/proofreading and I’m good at it. Pro translation, if I could someday be able to do it on the side (preferably of the literary bent), would be nice. But right now, it doesn’t sound appealing as a full-time thing.

And yet, that’s the whole reason I came to Japan!!! But if I’ve discovered a new reason that’s just as good… because I doubt I could have gotten this medical/science editing experience back home, which will get my foot in the door of that field hopefully… is it okay? I think it’s okay. But I’m still making my peace with it. It’s kind of a shock, but at the same time, I think that’s just life.

I’m planning to move back in a year. So the question remains: once I am back, if my job doesn’t use Japanese, and I don’t live in Japan, and I’ve achieved the highest certification possible (ideally I’ll pass N1 in December) so have no further study motivations/objectives, how the heck am I going to keep up with it???

Go back in a year. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough. I still have so many shrines to explore! At least I found a place with good coffee where I can study, because I was really slacking on that N1 studying since the move (and since I switched to a job without built-in study breaks). And I have joined a gym which I love – it is the best gym I have ever belonged to – and I am getting into a fitness routine which should help a lot with anxiety. I have also joined a running group which is a good social outlet with a good mix of people (about half Japanese, half foreigners) and lets me explore a different part of the city every week while getting exercise and increasing my endurance. I am getting to see all these people who also live here that I know from basically every phase of my life (we’ve got college people, BTX people, Matsue people, online people, new people…), I’m getting to know my sharemates (we had a dinner out that helped a lot in getting to know them and no longer feeling like I live with strangers; the girl I don’t like also moved out which was great although so did a girl I did like!), I’m learning my area and realizing I live in an amazing location with so many good things within walking distance, and I work in a great location too. I’m discovering favorite places and making lists of where I still want to go. I even made up with my sister and she’s visiting me in a month. So all the pieces are in place to have a great next year here, and hopefully for me to stop feeling so anxious about everything despite that promise. I just gotta be patient and stick out the last of the rough transition period…

Tokyo life part 1

I’ve moved to Tokyo!! ahhhh. Things are still crazy, my room is a complete mess, but my new job is really really great and I’m so excited about the idea of the career doors it will (hopefully) open up for me later. I have so much to say I don’t even know where to begin. First, I love editing again. I love doing a job I can do, that I’m skilled at and good at, that I was hired to do because I possess certain unique abilities (unlike teaching English which anyone can do), even if I’m editing subjects I’ve never touched before (science/medical topics). I also love having a desk job again, and not having to be “on” for a classroom of kids multiple times a day. I also really, really love not being the only non-Japanese person in a workplace. It gets really isolating! You feel like the last of your kind, always a curiosity, always a novelty to be commented upon by anyone, anytime – kids, other teachers and staff, whoever. But no, here I have around ten other native English speaking, non-Japanese people as my coworkers. It is really nice! Also, I am getting a lot of positive feedback from the person training me (the second-in-command of the department). It is a WONDERFUL contrast to the horrible experience I had with my incompetent, socially inept, micromanaging boss at the press release company. I am so happy. Also, the environment is similar to that and the financial printer I worked at, in that there are “jobs” we work on and send out to clients every day by deadlines, but unlike those places the environment is remarkably relaxed in comparison. Of course there’s a sense of productivity, of everyone working hard, but it’s not stressful or exuding an aura of “finish this now! Now! Now! Get it 100% right! Oh my god, you screwed up, I told you not to do that!” which I really hated and which had the opposite effect of making me more self-conscious and liable to make more mistakes. So, I love that aspect.

The other thing I’ve noticed… usually at places like this, there’s a hierarchy. There’s the people who bring in the work, and the people who do the work. And the people who do the work are always on the bottom, while the people who bring in the work swan around like they own the place. At the press release place I worked for almost three months, we were supposed to share kitchen cleaning duties equally. Everyone had a week where they were in charge of loading and running the dishwasher, etc. But there was one guy in sales who never did a damn thing when it was his turn. I guess at home his wife did all the chores and he considered this just not his domain, so he always got away with never doing it. Either his own BOSS (a woman) or an easily frustrated woman in my department would pick up his slack. Even though he seemed like a nice enough guy overall, it sent a pretty clear message: “I don’t have to do what the rest of you do.” It was also like that with the sales team at the financial printer, the first place I worked full-time (even just as a temp). We never even saw them, they sat up in their nice offices while we toiled away on “the floor,” a room filled with banks of desks and printers. In both cases, my department was doing the real work of the company, the backbone that kept it going, but we were the ones with the least respect.

Somehow, it’s different here. I’m not quite sure how. There’s the team of native English speakers – the editors/rewriters – as well as a few translators, and then the rest of the office is Japanese, and largely Japanese women. And maybe it’s because they have to trade vacuum duty but we never have to vacuum, or because they keep up with the typical Japanese office deference-among-coworkers thing and we don’t really, but it feels like they bow and scrape and we don’t have to, so we come out on top, even though they bring in the work and we do it. I mean, I’ve only been here less than two weeks, but that’s how it feels.

The other thing is starting from scratch on the whole “having my coworkers understand and realize that I speak Japanese” thing. Because usually, the assumption is 0 Japanese ability, based on one look at me, by anyone Japanese. Gradually over time at school, especially after talking to me at the dinner parties, my ability was largely recognized (but there was the one guy who’d call for an “interpreter” without even trying to speak to me first). Here, though… you don’t need Japanese ability to do my job, so it doesn’t even occur to anyone that I can speak it. And I’m pretty sure English ability is required or strongly recommended for all the Japanese people in the office, so they just start off with English. Today at lunch I was asked a question in Japanese, and even though I had already begun to nod my head yes, she still self-translated it into English without even pausing to see if I understood. The Japanese first was more like her mistake that she corrected without even giving me a chance! And if someone does start off with English, it feels weird to insist on replying in Japanese just to sort of prove myself. But there are times when I’m not sure if my English answer would be fully understood and I’d really rather just explain in Japanese to ensure mutual understanding. Oh well. And I guess it doesn’t really matter if they know or not. I should be confident in my abilities regardless, and not have to make sure everyone around me knows the full extent of what I can do. But, I just resent the assumption, never questioned, never even thought to be questioned, that I must be spoken to in English. (Also, I feel like I am going to lose a lot of my opportunities to speak Japanese; I have already lost my Japanese study time during the work day which I was really relying on. I suppose if I studied during lunch it would be two birds with one stone (they’d see my textbooks and comment and realize my ability) so I will probably start doing that.)

In terms of the assumption that I only speak English, I resent that in a lot of situations, actually. Going from Matsue (now that I’m gone I’ll say the name) to Tokyo has been a bit of a tradeoff in terms of irritations. In Matsue I got stared at. A lot. Almost everywhere I went, I was conscious of eyes on me at all times. I wanted to think it was in my head, but now I know it’s not. Because I don’t feel that sensation here really at all. Sometimes there will be a small child who doesn’t know any better, but the adults are very studied. They know not to stare at foreigners. “We’re Tokyo people living in an international city, we see foreigners all the time, we’re above staring.” I do think people are a little accomplished at stealing glances while pretending not to be looking (and if someone sees me and is surprised because they weren’t expecting to see a foreigner, they can’t mask that momentary look of shock), but there is at least little to no outright staring that results in the feeling of eyes watching you, which I hate. So I got rid of that… but… another unpleasant thing took its place immediately. Getting addressed in English right away. That never happened in Matsue, because it’s not a foreign tourist destination at all, so people aren’t practiced in speaking English to those who appear to be tourists, and don’t alter what they say to you at all (mostly). Not in Tokyo, though – in Tokyo (I also noticed this in Kyoto) people see a non-Asian person and switch to English, automatically. Especially if you’re at or near a tourist spot, but not even just then. While I know it must be nice and comforting for people who don’t speak Japanese (I remember thinking it was a relief on my first trip to Japan, even though I had a year and a half of Japanese study under my belt by then but was nowhere near practiced at expressing myself and my needs in daily situations), for me it’s been very frustrating. It shouldn’t matter, I shouldn’t need to prove my abilities to everyone I meet, I should be confident even if I’m constantly underestimated, but it still really bothers me. Just because I’m white, the assumption is that I’m a tourist or at the very least that I can’t speak Japanese. I mean, it’s discrimination, pure and simple. It’s like if I saw a Hispanic person and switched to Spanish without even giving them a chance to establish English ability first. If Japanese people see an Asian person, Japanese (even if that person is actually a Chinese or Korean tourist who doesn’t speak Japanese), and a white person, English. Automatically. It’s racism. I love how Japanese people think racism is something that only exists in the US. They have absolutely no idea that it can be a problem in Japan too, and even if they will acknowledge that, it’s still “oh, well, it doesn’t negatively affect the majority of people – the ethnic Japanese people – so who cares about your experience.” Great.

At Kyoto Station I went to consult the map of the bus stops; there was a man in front answering questions so I asked him, in Japanese, where the bus that went to Fushimi-inari Shrine was. He answered me in English and advised that the JR train would be faster. I showed him my Kansai Thru Pass, which does not cover JR. He asked me if I had a JR Pass. Because 99% of tourists in Japan have a JR Pass. I’m not eligible for one because I’M NOT A TOURIST!! I was really annoyed at the time, but actually, looking back on it, the Kansai Thru Pass is supposed to only be obtainable by tourists and their guides. I was going to get one as Kirk’s guide but they didn’t even examine my visa, just looked at my American passport and that was enough. So in the end I did show him a pass only obtainable by tourists (mostly) and then got mad when he assumed I was a tourist. BUT, why would I have both passes anyway? Well, whatever. From the woman at Tsukiji who called out “Japanese sweets!” when I went to get a closer look at a wagashi display (I know what wagashi are, that’s why I was looking at them!!! It soured me and I walked away) to the priest at Togo Shrine who said “Hello” to me as I was checking out the shrine’s array of charms for sale, I just hate being treated like a tourist who doesn’t speak Japanese just because I look white. Stop making assumptions!!!

The other thing about my job is working pretty hard with just a lunch break. It’s not exhausting work, and there’s been no overtime (yet?? It’s in my contract that there could be), but I am used to frequent breaks throughout my day. It really helps to refresh your attention and act as a motivating reward. “If I finish this, I’ll have a break, and then come back to it with fresh eyes when I do the final check.” As a teacher, any class period I wasn’t teaching was mine to use as I wished, and even if I had grading to do I would relax with a cup of tea or coffee and some snacks/sweets pilfered from the teachers’ room supply (another thing I miss – no public candy stash like at school), and when I finished that I could study Japanese or read or play on my phone. As an editor at the book publisher, as long as I got my work done, I could keep one (or several) browser windows open to “fun” sites and email links to my coworkers, go chat for a while in someone’s office, go for walks around the nearby neighborhood, and generally enjoy a lot of freedom. But here… like I said, it’s more like how things were at the press release company, EXCEPT there are no structured 10-minute morning and afternoon breaks like we had in order to comply with American working regulations. Nope, those breaks aren’t required in Japan. There’s just a one-hour lunch break, and from what I can gather some/most (?) people don’t even take the full hour! They just eat, relax, and go back to work. My trainer, for example, takes ridiculously short lunches! You have a full hour and it’s your only real break, use it to the fullest! I have started feeling a little lazy because I take my full hour. This isn’t even a Japanese people thing, like you’d expect, these are the native English speakers too, and yet no one is pressuring them to keep up these appearances, so I really don’t understand it. Everyone works very efficiently and doesn’t appear to have a crushing workload, there should be no need to cut your break short to stay on top of things or anything.

There is a Japanese office culture thing that bothers me though, or actually it’s not just office but in general. Japanese people are trained from childhood to brush their teeth after meals. This means that they have a toothbrush kit they bring to wherever they eat lunch – school or work – and diligently brush their teeth after eating lunch. This means that after most people are done eating, the bathroom sinks are crowded with people accomplishing that oh-so-important task of the post-meal teeth-brushing. In my office, the women’s restroom has two stalls and one sink. It’s pretty small already. When at least three women at a time are in there brushing away when you just want to do your business and have a place to wash your hands? IT GETS A LITTLE RIDICULOUS. Like, is this all REALLY necessary?! It’s not like Japanese people are known for having great teeth. I don’t see what the need for post-lunch tooth brushing is, I really don’t. If you’ve eaten something pungent, sure. But every day??? Also, research has shown that it’s not actually good for your teeth enamel to brush immediately after eating. It’s the same with gargling: people do that here too. It’s supposed to ward off colds and illness, so gargling happens A LOT especially in the winter. Unless you have a sore throat and you are gargling with salt water, it is not going to be effective at all. So immediate post-lunch tooth brushing and gargling to “stay healthy” are two Japanese cultural practices that actually have no basis in science, but every single person is trained from childhood to believe this is right and do it regularly. It’s silly.

All that would be fine if the bathroom was bigger. But the traffic jams are just sooooo annoying. At least at my school where I worked the female staff bathroom had three sinks and wasn’t a tiny space the size of a closet. Also, it had no real door (just a curtain), so there wasn’t any knocking on the door to the COMMUNAL BATHROOM WITH TWO STALLS when someone is going to come in. I don’t understand the knocking. People would knock on the door to the locker room at the gym too. I should probably be knocking on the closed door to the kitchen in the sharehouse before I go in, come to think of it. It’s the kind of unnecessary extreme politeness that is so prevalent in Japan and that I just don’t see a real need for. I guess I’m just a brash, rude American! And I’m happy that way thank you.

I will continue my thoughts later! I am in no way done, and I haven’t even talked about Kirk’s visit here at all!