[The American Years]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where everyone has a cellphone, and nobody, not one person, has it on a clip on their belt. It’s just not done. They are all in pockets and purses. I haven’t figured this one out yet. Is the American cell phone belt clip a holdover from Old West gunslinger culture? I think I finally have my master's thesis topic!

The Nagoya subway system has a women-only car on each train until 9am on weekdays. I have several guesses why that might be. I'll leave it up to you to hazard your own guesses in the Comments section of this blog.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy a nice bowl of the cereal whose box I've scanned below. A cereal named after yours truly! I had to own it.

My company has a ‘Happy Friday’ policy, which means that all employees must leave the building at 5pm on Friday. It is not a suggestion. It is not a guideline. It is a requirement. As it nears 5:30, managers get out their clipboards and start taking names of those who are sitting in the office.
Since my company has many offices and facilities in this relatively small town, it makes for a traffic crunch starting at about 5:01. Just getting out of the parking lot can take 10 minutes or more. So instead of sitting at your desk and being somewhat productive, you sit in traffic. So even though you leave at 5pm, thanks to the traffic you get home at almost the same time as every other workday. But the company doesn’t care. So long as you’ve badged out and you are offsite, they don’t care where you are. It’s almost like a bar at closing time: "You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here."
My company also believes in ‘flex-time’ where if you come in early, you can leave early, so long as you work some ‘core hours’ from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. So you would think that employees would come in 30 minutes early on Friday, and leave at 4:30, beating the rush. Yes, I would think so too. But nobody does. I left the office last Friday at 4:45 and was the only one.

Why don’t the Japanese rank-and-file leave a few minutes early and avoid the traffic? I believe it’s an image issue. The employees must show their devotion by working every available minute. And it must be a fairly compelling issue, because there is nobody, not one Japanese person, leaving 10 minutes before the bell on Friday. Luckily for me, I’m a gaijin. A foreigner. So no matter how many hours I work, I’m still saddled with an insurmountable image problem: I’m not Japanese, so I can’t be a hard worker.

My leaving a few minutes before the bell on Friday fits the image of the American worker perfectly. Nevermind that I’m in the office up to an hour before most Japanese. That doesn’t get me any image points, because the people who would need to see me in order to bolster my image are not in yet, so I get no credit.
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This weekend we visited the grounds of Nagoya Castle, for a charity walkathon. The walkathon is one of the largest foreigner-organized charitable events in Japan. We went. We walked. Somebody may have done some skipping, but I won't say who.

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An excess of courtesy is discourtesy.
- Japanese Proverb

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